The politically organized people of Iran erupted against centuries of misrepresentation and misrule twenty-six years ago. Under the fearless and forward-moving leadership of Imam Khomeini (ra) and the politically conscious ulama with him, Iran was declared an Islamic Republic. It also proclaimed itself to the bi-polar Cold War world as belonging to neither America nor the US; the proud boast of the time was: “NeitherEast nor West; Islam is the best.” It also presented itself as a fresh alternative to the Sunni-Shi’a dichotomy, determined not to be distracted or consumed by sectarianism: “Neither Shi’i, nor Sunni; rather an Islamic Revolution.”
This independence from hegemonic powers and the vision to rise above “factional” Islam caught the hearts and attention of oppressed peoples and struggling Muslims from the hinterlands of the underdeveloped world to the heartland of Islam. Islamic Iran was bold, confident and inspiring in its determination, political outlook and, as an imposed war was launched against it, the commitment and courage of its people. Revolutionary leaders in Iran did not hesitate to challenge the lies and false reality of the USA, nor to highlight the true nature of the “Israeli cancer of the Middle East.” The combination of truthful words and dedicated jihad produced a generation of Islamic statesmen who reminded Muslims of the early years of Islam. Truth was their standard and jihad was their modus operandi.
But then the war imposed on Iran by Iraq, at the behest of regional and international allies, ended withIran having to accept the terms of a United Nation’s resolution designed to ensure the survival of Saddam Hussain’s regime. Imam Khomeini (dignified be his memory) passed away. President Khatami was elected in reaction to what was perceived as a “mullahs’ monopoly” of power. And then what had been a good example of a modern Islamic State began to atrophy. What is called “realpolitik” gained a foothold in this Islamic governmental structure. All of this was happening in a rapidly changing world. In the course of a decade and a half, the geopolitical landscape around Iran underwent what we may call a political tsunami. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was created by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, under American supervision.Iraq’s Ba’athist regime lost the support of the US. The Central Asian Republics (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan,Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) were ‘converted’ from communism to capitalism. Officials inTehran responded to these changes in a variety of ways, notably by pushing for the end of the Taliban and finding common purpose with Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance. At the time this was in defiance of the American agenda in Afghanistan, but it would lead eventually to Iran’s not-so-subtle support for Karzai asAfghanistan’s new president after the US occupation of the country.
While these inexperienced Iranian officials were making signs and overtures to the Bush neo-con administration, that ultra-nationalist regime responded by accusing Iran of being an exporter of “radical Islam”, a supporter of “Islamic terrorism”, and a “nuclear wannabe” belonging to what Bush called an “Axis of Evil.” When the American military moved into Iraq to finish off a former client regime that they had turned against and crippled by a decade of political, economic and low-level military warfare, some unsophisticated diplomats in this politically metamorphing Iran jumped for joy: the US had actually destroyed a regime that was responsible for a war that had consumed the lives of a million Iranians and Iraqis. For the moment, the Islamic Republic of Iran was no longer menaced by an American “Islamist” regime in Kabul and an American secular regime in Baghdad.
Now the US itself is the ruler in both Kabul and Baghdad, and there are no doubt officials in both Tehranand Washington who would like to see improved relations and cooperation on the basis of their shifting interests, extending from the Indian subcontinent to Asia Minor and the Arabian Peninsula. The new generation of political pragmatists in Tehran is probably now anxious for American political feelers and proposals. After Baghdad fell to the US, there was a degree of Iranian interest in doing “political business” with Washington. Some Iranians and non-Iranian Shi’as living in America launched a “charm offensive” to persuade American officials to consider the supposed mutual benefits of a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Paul Wolfowitz and an Iranian official with decades of service to the International Monetary Fund/World Bank financial complex were jointly booked for a speaking engagement. At about the same time, Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, was approached with suggestions on how to re-establish “normal” American-Iranian relations. From the Iranian side, the establishment of bilateral relations between Tehran and Washington would have meant that Iran’s relations with Islamic Jihad and Hamas would be ended, and some in Tehran were happy to live with that. As for Hizbullah inLebanon, Iran could agree to Hizbullah completing its transformation from a military resistance movement into an ordinary political party.
These overtures – unofficial as they may have been – contributed to a debate about US policy towards Iran in Washington, and an apparent rift between Brent Scowcroft (former national security adviser), Thomas Pickering (former US ambassador to the UN), Colin Powell (secretary of state at the time), and Powell’s deputy Richard Armitage on the one side, favoring a rapprochement of sorts with Iran, and Donald Rumsfeld (secretary of defense) and Douglas Feith (the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy), on the other, who were and still are proponents of “regime change” in Iran. Some of the over-optimistic diplomats in Tehran may even have thought they were making progress in manipulating the US.
A little over a year ago, the American Santa Claus returned to Iran for the first time since the Islamic Revolution, seeing and being seen, and delivering official American goodies, in the aftermath of the Bam earthquake. The occasion prompted the first official American congressional visit to Islamic Iran, which may also have been the opportunity for behind-the-scenes diplomacy. The Iranian ambassador to the UN has already broken new ground on Capitol Hill. Still the amateurish Iranian diplomats (seemingly stripped of any Islamic political principles during these short years, although they seem like a lifetime) have their eyes focused on American promises of rewards for cooperation, totally oblivious to American threats. The reality these diplomats ignore is that there is a pool of influential haters of Islam and Iran swarming around Capitol Hill, spilling over the White House, and streaming into the Pentagon, whose open agenda it is to topple the government in Tehran and the Islamic State itself. Richard Perle, Reuel Gerecht and Michael Ledeen are the tip of the neo-con iceberg that is apparently willing to sink America for the security of Israel. The slapdash Iranian diplomats, evidently devoid of any Islamic understanding, insight or instincts, are so thrilled to have American diplomats smiling at them that they have forgotten the barking Rumsfeld and Feith. This Israeli-Jewish lobby in Washington is working on several fronts that the Iranian foreign ministry is evidently blind to.
It is this lobby that is financing the numerous satellite television stations beaming all types of programmes into Iran to wean the Iranian people away from their commitment to Islam the deen. These satellite stations – at last count there were about 24 of them – have been chipping away at the Iranian people’s active commitment to Islam for about ten years. Then we have the Shi’i ulama who want to relocate the center of Shi’i Islam away from Iran and back into ‘Iraq, from Qum to Najaf and Karbala, despite the fact of American political influence on all elements of political life in Iraq at this time, compared to the unique independence of Islamic Iran. Many of the Iraqi Shi’i leaders that these ulama are dealing with have been in and out of the White House and the Pentagon, and established relations of various degrees of closeness with American officials of difference kinds in recent years. American officials – all with equal allegiance toIsrael – are trying to push the Iranian regime into a corner. They talk of an American-inspired domino effect in the Middle East; democracy will take root in Afghanistan and Iraq, then all the other regimes in the area will fall like dominoes. Of course, these do not care one bit about whether Pakistan, Tajikistan or any other Muslim country becomes ‘democratic’; their real object is regime change in Iran, the only truly independent country in the Muslim world.
At the same time that Bush officials are ratchetting up talk of a possible military attack on Iran, with every weapon in their armoury, American diplomats are approaching Iran with all the sweet words in their dictionary. In response, Iranian diplomats appear to be falling for Washington’s rhetoric. The only hope for the survival of the Islamic Revolution is that there remains ulama and institutions in Iran that remember and understand the true example and line of the late Imam, and committed to protecting it, the role traditionally performed by the Revolutionary Guards. Without this awareness, Islamic Iran is liable to be subverted into a Shi’i-Persian equivalent of ‘Islamic’ Saudi Arabia or secular Turkey.
The Islamic Uprising in Iran a quarter of a century ago is too important and too special for Muslims to simply watch it wander from its original and true course. We remember all too clearly the impact this breakthrough had on Muslims everywhere. For the first time in modern history, Muslims had risen against a corrupt government and its imperialist and zionist sponsors, and were able to take control of their own country, and begin to show the rest of us how things should be done.
Of course, the road forward was not likely to be smooth. The sponsors of the Pahlavi regime could not be expected to sit and watch a people shape their own future on the basis of their Islamic faith and commitment. Throughout the last 25 years, America and Israel have been working to bring the Islamic government in Iran to its knees, with the support of their Western allies, Iran’s pro-Western neighbours and even supporters within Iran. Iran’s borders amount to some 8,000 kilometers; American troops are now based across six thousand kilometers of this border. This grim scenario has been gradually built over 25 years, and has passed almost unnoticed by most Muslims, and even most Iranians. There has never been any cessation of hostilities between the followers of the line of Imam Khomeini (r.a.), who refuse to compromise when it comes to the independence and sovereignty of the Islamic state, and the numerous other interests wanting to shape the state on their terms.
Part of our object in this new column is to look at some of the gaps that have developed since the passing of Imam Khomeini (r.a.), many of which are rooted in earlier events, and how these gaps have caused serious problems about which we can no longer remain silent. But before we walk into this sensitive area, one point needs to be made absolutely clear. This is that none of the points we make are intended to express any criticism of Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the successor to Imam Khomeini (r.a.) as Rahbar of the Islamic State. Many of the points we make will be highlighting natural processes in the evolution of post-Revolutionary state and society. Others will indeed involve criticism of errors and failures in Iran, mainly on the part of those who have been responsible for aspects of Iranian government and policy at the executive level. It was inevitable that such errors and failures should emerge over a quarter of a century in an unprecedented and highly-pressured historical situation; unfortunately they have contributed greatly to what many now see as the Islamic experiment’s current stagnation.
Sometimes frank statements of truth can be bitter pills to swallow; we hope no-one will consider this column to be too bitter a pill. We say what we say only to express our honest understanding of the issues. If we are correct, we appeal earnestly to Allah to accept our humble words to our humble readers. If not, we request Allah’s forgiveness and correction from anyone able to do so; without, we hope, descending into personal issues or hidden agendas. Ameen.