After months of Iraq dominating the headlines, the focus seems to have shifted to Islamic Iran. It began with American accusations that Iran was interfering in Iraq’s affairs, because of the close links between the Islamic state and some Iraqi Islamic leaders and movements. At the same time, in a move chillingly similar to the claims about WMDs made against Iraq, Iran’s nuclear programme was brought to the fore, with the US accusing it of building nuclear weapons, while Iran insist that its programme is only for peaceful purposes. Most recently, the US has tried to exploit the student demonstrations in Iran to portray the Islamic state as a repressive religious dictatorship and itself as a champion of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. Unfortunately for the US, most Iranians know better than to be fooled by its propaganda, and its support is more likely to discredit anti-Islamic elements in Iran than to help them.
Some commentators suggest that the increased pressure on Iran is because of the US’s fear of Iran’s influence in Iraq. This may well be partly true, but so is the opposite: the US’s fear of Islamic Iran and its influence has been a major factor in its policy towards Iraq for well over a decade. Iran’s offences are well known: its steadfast independence , its refusal to accept that being Western is the only way of being modern, its demonstration of the viability of an Islamic state in the modern world, and the inspiration it offers to Islamic movements all over the world, from Africa and the Middle East to Central and Eastern Asia.
It is inevitable that any Islamic state must always face the concerted enmity of the powers of kufr. The degree of that enmity will be directly proportional to the Islamic state’s success in its two key goals of establishing Islamic order and asserting the power Islam. But the enmity of the US is only a part of Iran’s problem. While it is true that much of the political turbulence in Iran is stirred up by the West, and then massively exaggerated by the West-dominated world media, this should not blind us to the reality that the West’s efforts are aided by a number of failures and shortcomings of the Islamic state, which have resulted in the West’s seeds of disorder finding more fertile soil that they should have.
It was also inevitable that the first Islamic State of the modern era would make mistakes, and progress as much by trial and error as by any planned process; such is the nature of human history. An essential part of this process, however, is to recognise errors, and the things that could and should have been done differently, and to correct them and ensure that they are not repeated. The greatest damage is done if shortcomings are denied or ignored, as is often all too tempting, especially if those responsible feel under attack and become defensive rather than open to critical debate among well-wishers and supporters. There are certainly signs that this is happening in Iran, understandably, but damagingly nonetheless.
Equally damaging have been the errors themselves. These include failure by the bureaucracies of certain institutions to maintain the original Revolutionary spirit, particularly the ethos that the Revolution must serve the ordinary and dispossessed in society; failure to recognise the temptations that come with the acquisition of power, and to ensure that they are avoided at all levels of the state infrastructure; failure to convey the essence of the Revolution to the generations born and brought up since its success; failure to prevent the emergence of a totally unreal view of the world among certain sectors of society; and failure to avoid factionalism and in-fighting in the political sphere. These failures are by no means systemic; indeed, in most cases, the majority of those involved have avoided making them. But immense damage has been done even by the fact that they have been made to a limited extent.
Many of these failures – particularly those of bureaucratization and the temptations of power – were foreseen by Imam Khomeini (ra), even before the Revolution; indeed, he identified, analysed and condemned many similar failures in his writings on relations between the ulama and power earlier in Iranian history. The solutions to these failures may be found in the writings and example of Imam Khomeini, in the leadership of the present Rahbar, Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei, or elsewhere; what is important is that they be found and implemented without delay. The survival of the Islamic state is not guaranteed, and its external enemies are by no means the only – or even the greatest – threat that it faces.