This month Muslims around the world will mark the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, which shook the world and has dominated international affairs ever since. ZAFAR BANGASH, director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, discusses its success.
If we were to mention just one achievement of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, it would surely be that it is still standing tall and strong 29 years after Iran’s people overthrew the Shah’s US-backed regime in 1979. For defying the US, Iran has had to pay a heavy price, but freedom and independence do not come cheap, which is why Iran is the only genuinely independent country in the Muslim world. It is a myth that any country in Asia, Africa and the Middle East is independent, despite the formal end of colonialism. All that happened is that power was transferred from the colonial masters to their brown- or black-skinned agents in those countries. In the last few years, however, a number of other countries have followed Iran’s example and stood up to the US’s over lordship. Cuba has defied the US since 1959 but others, like Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, have recently joined the list. There are also movements, such as Hizbullah and Hamas, that have successfully resisted US-zionist gangsterism.
This was the first time in contemporary history that Muslims had succeeded in overthrowing an imposed order without any outside help, and withstood all attempts to undermine them
Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has been subjected to every sort of attack that the US and its allies could conceive of, but with Allah’s help and the support of its valiant people, the Islamic Republic has thwarted all such attacks. When the Revolution succeeded, there was great euphoria among Muslims and other oppressed peoples everywhere. This was the first time in contemporary history that Muslims had succeeded in overthrowing an imposed order without any outside help, and withstood all attempts to undermine them. The Islamic Revolution was far more than just another palace coup, which had become the standard mode of regime change in other Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Immediately after the success of the Islamic Revolution, it came under attack from liberal, secular, pro-Western fifth columnists such as Bani Sadr, Ibrahim Yazdi, Sadeq Qutbzadeh and their ilk, who had latched on to the Revolutionary bandwagon without sharing the principles and commitment of Imam Khomeini. They were quickly exposed and sidelined; some like Bani Sadr fled, while others were arrested. Qutbzadeh was executed for plotting to assassinate Imam Khomeini. At the same time, a terrorist outfit, the Mujahideen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), better known in Iran as the Munafiqeen, launched a vicious campaign of assassinations and bombings in close cooperation with the US. Within a few months, several leading figures of the Revolution were martyred, culminating in a six-month period in 1981 in which 4,000 leaders and revolutionary activists were martyred.
The current Rahbar, Ayatullah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, suffered massive injuries in an assassination attempt in June 1981, when serving as the Imam’s representative on the Revolutionary Defence Council. He miraculously survived a bomb attack while delivering the jumu‘ah khutba, but lost the use of his right arm. A few days later another bomb explosion, this time targeting the Islamic Republican Party headquarters, was far more successful. Seventy-two leading members of the Revolution, among them Chief Justice Ayatullah Seyyed Husain Beheshti, four cabinet ministers and nineteen members of the Majlis (parliament) were martyred. This was followed in August 1981 by the martyrdom of the country’s new president, Muhammad Ali Rajai, and its youthful prime minister, Muhammad Bahonar, during a meeting in the presidential office; America’s agents had penetrated so deeply into the system that they could plant a bomb even there. Had Iran undergone a mere palace reshuffle, the Revolution could not have survived such blows. Despite these major setbacks no emergency was declared, the constitution was not suspended and elections were held on time to elect the president as well as members of the Majlis.
This terrorist campaign was, moreover, taking place when Iran was desperately defending itself against an American-backed invasion. On September 22, 1980, Ba‘athist Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, then a close ally of the West, invaded Iran. This invasion was backed and financed by the confederacy of kufr that included all the Western powers, as well as the Arab regimes in the Middle East, just as the Prophet’s (saws) Islamic State in Madinah had been attacked in 5 AH by all the mushrik and Jewish tribes in Arabia (in what is referred to as the Battle of the Ahzab). For eight years the Ba‘athists subjected Iran to near total warfare, from targeting its civilian infrastructure, such as oil wells, refineries, pipelines, factories, towns and villages to using chemical and biological weapons. The US, Britain, Germany, France and Canada were all complicit in Ba‘athist crimes; they supplied weapons and chemical ingredients, while the Arab regimes poured billions of dollars into Iraq’s coffers to enable it to continue the onslaught against Iran. Donald Rumsfeld, acting as US president Ronald Reagan’s special envoy, twice met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 1983 and assured him of full US support. Through their valiant resistance, the people of Iran, however, demonstrated how to confront and frustrate the conspiracies of the enemies of Islam. Led by their deeply spiritual, charismatic, principled and courageous leader, Imam Khomeini, the Iranian people refused to surrender or give up. Despite the help and support of the entire world, the Ba‘athists were pushed to the verge of defeat several times but were rescued by the Americans, by the supply of new, more deadly weapons and of intelligence data.
In August 1983 the Ba‘athists began to use chemical and biological weapons against Iranian troops. The use of such weapons is banned under the Geneva Conventions, except apparently when they are used by the enemies of Islam on Muslims. Crescent International was the first newsmagazine in the world to break the story, in its October 16-31, 1983, issue, in an article written by this writer (then editor of Crescent) after a visit to the war-front. The evidence collected was made available to media outlets in the West but they refused to even consider it at the time. Iran then brought the issue before the UN Security Council. In 1984 the UN sent a delegation to the warfront to verify the use of chemical weapons and discover who was responsible, but under Western pressure the Security Council condemned only the use of such weapons, without naming the guilty party. This was despite the fact that only Iranian victims, with badly blistered skin and coughing blood because of perforated lungs, were being transported to hospitals in Europe for treatment. Neither the Western media nor the UN had the integrity to say who was using chemical weapons because the Iraqi tyrant was at the time an ally doing the West’s dirty work.
It was only years later, after the ceasefire between Iran and Iraq had been agreed, that Saddam’s use of such weapons was reported in the Western press, and then mainly in the context of his use of mustard gas on the Kurdish village of Halabja in March 1988, killing 5,000 civilians. What brought about this change of heart so late in the game? The ceasefire had left Saddam’s army with a huge stockpile of weapons that could pose a potential threat to Israel. This was the great fear in the West. No threat to Israel, however remote, could be tolerated. Plans had to be devised to neutralize Saddam’s power. This was a major factor in the build-up to the first Gulf War. A year before the fateful meeting between Saddam and US ambassador April Gillespie in Baghdad in July 1990, in which she told him that the US had no opinion on inter-Arab border disputes, thus leaving the clear impression that Saddam could settle his border dispute with Kuwait in any way he pleased, American forces were training in the Nevada Desert for a possible operation in an unnamed Middle Eastern country. They were commanded by General Norman Schwartzkopf, the man who led Operation Desert Storm in January 1991 against Iraqi forces in Kuwait and perpetrated the slaughter of some 300,000 Iraqis, many of them civilians. Gillespie left Baghdad immediately after that meeting with Saddam, never to return, having accomplished her mission of luring the thief of Baghdad into a trap.
Even while the US and its Western allies—Britain, France and Germany—imposed punitive sanctions against Iraq, leading to the death by starvation or disease of some 1.5 million Iraqis, most of them children, the West’s hostility to Iran never abated. The people of Iran could not be forgiven for daring to break loose of the West’s stranglehold and to forge an independent policy. This hostility has taken different forms—from trade and economic sanctions to vicious propaganda against Iran. America’s illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were meant as stepping stones on the way to attack Iran. Only successful resistance in the two countries has frustrated American designs, without completely obliterating them. The US and its Western allies continue to accuse Iran of sponsoring terrorism (buzzwords for supporting resistance movements like Hizbullah and Hamas against Israeli aggression), making nuclear weapons because Tehran insists on enriching uranium, as is its right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and not doing enough to stabilize the situation in Iraq. While all these allegations have failed to undermine Iran, there is one area where the US has been quite successful: instigating sectarian differences among Muslims. Regrettably, some Muslims are prone to such machinations and indulge in acts and attitudes that cause enormous damage to the unity and fabric of the Ummah, as we can now see in Iraq and Pakistan.
The sectarian card is used because it achieves a number of objectives simultaneously. First, it isolates Iran from the rest of the Muslim world, where the vast majority are Sunni rather than Shi‘i; second, it undermines plans to forge unity in the Ummah to confront US-zionist plots against Muslims. There are areas where the sectarian card has not worked: Palestine. Iran is the only Muslim country that has stood up for the suffering Palestinian people and refused to be cowed by the Americans or zionists. This has earned enormous respect for Iran in the rest of the Muslim world. Similarly, the bold and courageous stand taken by President Ahmedinejad of Iran over the rights of the Palestinian people, and his refusal to be cowed by hostile Western propaganda, have impressed ordinary Muslims everywhere. Together with Hizbullah leader Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, President Ahmedinejad is the most popular Muslim leader in the world today. Both are able to stand up to US-zionist bullying because they have the backing of their own people.
What Iran’s Islamic Revolution demonstrates is that, once it succeeds in overthrowing an imposed order, a truly Islamic movement becomes impervious to foreign machinations because it enjoys the support of its people. Led by a muttaqi leadership that maintains a simple lifestyle, unlike the ostentatious lifestyle of most rulers in the Muslim world, it will enjoy full public trust and support. At the same time, if the Revolutionary leadership operates above class or other narrow interests, as we see in Iran, the bond with the Muslim masses will remain strong. Such qualities enable the leaders and the country to confront any challenges—internal or external—and continue to march forward with dignity and honour. These are qualities worth preserving in Islamic Iran and worthy of emulation by people elsewhere. Muslims should truly rejoice in the achievements of the Islamic Revolution and look forward to similar breakthroughs in the rest of the Muslim world.