Insider’s perspective on political events in Iran

Developing Just Leadership

Dr. Saam Mahdi Torabi

Rabi' al-Thani 16, 1431 2010-04-01

Special Reports

by Dr. Saam Mahdi Torabi (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 2, Rabi' al-Thani, 1431)

To examine the roots of post-election events in Iran from the Iranian perspective, Crescent International invited Dr. Saam Mahdi Torabi to contribute a guest column for this edition. Dr. Torabi obtained his PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and has taught at universities in the US. He is currently Lecturer in International Relations at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

Bismillahi al-Rahman al-Rahim

The events that occurred after the elections in Iran are neither new nor unprecedented. They are a continuation of the policy of destabilization of the Islamic Republic by the US and its allies over the last 31 years.

Contrary to popular perception, destabilization policies are not aimed simply at causing trouble for the target country. Destabilization policies are aimed at regime change, either through “velvet”-style upheavals or through internal militarized conflicts. In either case, the goal is a change in regime to put in power those who would tailor their policies to serve the strategic and economic goals of the US and its allies.

In the case of Iran, attempts at destabilization by the British and the US have always been conducted first and foremost through the use of internal personalities, parties and movements in the classic method of divide and conquer. Britain and the US have always focused on highlighting and sharpening natural internal divisions that occur in every society. The bases for divisions are completely irrelevant to London and Washington: they can be denominational, ethnic, political, social, economic, and even generational. It does not matter as long as they can exploit them to facilitate regime change. Usually they exploit existing divisions, such as their historic support for Bahais in Iran.

Sometimes they create fake “grass-roots” movements; in the context of US domestic politics it is called “astro-turfing”, such as the mob-for-hire “popular” anti-Mossadegh demonstrations preceding the 1953 coup d’etat. The “Green Movement” is another of these fake movements. The defining characteristic of this movement is its lack of popular support in Iran. Of course it is more sophisticated than the anti-Mossadegh crowd, but it is basically the same operational model. It is an attempt to create a “popular” movement where no such thing exists because the US and its allies cannot openly support an elite, undemocratic coup d’etat in a country such as Iran which has republican institutions based on mass popular elections. In a country like Saudi Arabia they can support attempts at elite coup d’etats. Apparently this is what seems to have occurred recently in the case of Prince Bandar’s failed coup d’etat and his subsequent disappearance from public view. Notice that Western officials, academics and media have said little or nothing about the disappearance of a key member of the Saudi family, a person who was nicknamed “Bandar Bush” and who at the time of his disappearance was the National Security Advisor to the king of Saudi Arabia. This raises more than a few questions for any keen observer of political events in the kingdom.

The Rahbar, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei described the events accurately in his famous Friday Khutbah on June 19, 2009, a week after the elections. Paraphrasing him, he said that the enemies of the Islamic Republic think that Iran is like Georgia, referring to the velvet-style upheaval that led to a US-pliant regime in that country. He then added perhaps the most significant point that has been mentioned in the recent debate about Iran: that the enemies of the Islamic Republic do not really know who the Iranian people are.

He implied that the enemies — foreign and domestic — conduct analyses and make plans for Iran based on inaccurate understanding of the Iranian people. This of course leads to failure from their perspective. The view of Westernized and secularized Iranians — many of whom have no direct contact with ordinary Iranians because they live in the west or in the “ghettos” of north Tehran — is that eventually most Iranians will abandon religion and want to become like them. There might be some difference of opinion between them as to how many, when or in what shape this transformation will occur, but there is basic consensus on this thesis and analysis of Iran’s society.

One group that believes in this basic thesis is the so-called Islamic liberals whose understanding of Islam is contaminated by Western secular thinking; it is not rooted in Qur’anic knowledge. They compare Islam toChristianity and the historic development that occurred in Western societies, especially European countries, as Christianity became less relevant to people. They are essentially secularized European intellectuals transplanted into an Islamic society with which they have little in common.

This basic thesis has existed in Iran for more than 100 years. What is truly amazing is that reality has consistently disproved this thesis but these elites continue to cling to it. The success of the Islamic revolution itself is clear manifestation of the fact that Islam is a key element of modern Iranian identity, perhaps the key element. And when one says “religion” it is not some abstract theoretical concept as perceived by secular Europeans. Religion means Twelver-Imami Shia Islam as practised and lived on a daily basis in Iran, the Islam as taught by Ahlul Bayt, by Imam Ali and Imam Hussein (Å); it is “Islam-e Mohammadi” as described by Imam Khomeini which he contrasted with “Islam-e Amrika’i”. By American Islam he meant a Westernized, secularized version of Islam that has nothing to offer in terms of social and international justice.

The majority of Iranians are religious; they do not want a liberal secular government and voted for Ahmadinejad because he most closely and accurately represented their personal and social values. Iranians are not intrinsically pro-US, pro-Russia or pro-China but believe in their own unique identity and as mentioned the key element of modern Iranian identity is the Islam of Imam Hussein (a). That is why the Green Movement tried to co-opt Imam Hussein (a) for itself but there was a fundamental contradiction in this sophomoric attempt. One cannot raise the slogan of Imam Hussein (a) and then abandon Islamic law; claim to help the poor domestically but abandon the oppressed and occupied peoples in Palestine or Lebanon, or compromise with the US and Israel internationally. One cannot on the one hand say Imam Hussein (a) and on the other act in ways that are diametrically opposed to his practical example. Describing this as a sophomoric attempt is the kindest way to describe it.

Another facet of the issue of who the Iranian people are is related to the fallacious view that the Islamic Republic is some sort of an exclusive elite construct set up by Leninist-type vanguard elite unconnected to ordinary people. Nothing could be further from the reality in Iran. To put it very clearly: ordinary people rose up against the Shah in the 1960s; ordinary people conducted the revolution; ordinary people defended their homeland against Saddam’s army and traitors such as the MKO; ordinary people rebuilt the country after the war and it was ordinary people that maintained their Islamic values in the face of a government-led attempt at secularization, commercialization and de-Islamization during the Rafsanjani and more particularly Khatami administrations. And in the demonstrations on the 9th of Dey and 22nd ofBahman it was the ordinary people who safeguarded the Islamic Republic. Imam Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei have repeatedly told certain politicians over the years that whatever rank and fame they have reached in this country is based on the efforts and sacrifices of ordinary people, especially the martyrs. Some politicians like Ahmadinejad instinctively understand this; others like Moussavi, Karroubi and Rafsanjani perhaps refuse to understand this.

Unfortunately some people such as Moussavi, his wife or Behzad Nabavi whose own political genealogy is rooted in Marxist-Leninist movements are the least democratic minded and most elitist people in Iran. They consider themselves as elites who want to move Iran from feudalism to bourgeois liberalism and secular social democracy. For them religion, in this case Islam, is just a cultural tool that is to be used in a feudal society. One gets the impression that such people perhaps do not truly believe in Islam as revealed in the noble Qur’an and practiced by the Ahlul Bayt (Å). They appear to believe in an Islam that is based on their own desires.

Another interesting point is that these people attempted to ally themselves with the most feudal politician in Iran, namely Rafsanjani. What I mean by that is that Rafsanjani’s political culture is a patron-client political culture. His political culture is neither democratic nor Islamic. He operates as the center of a familial patronage network which is basically the way Iranian provinces were run for centuries. He has brought that patron-client system from Kerman and many people have benefited from being associated with him. And the US and UK that are used to dealing with royal families, sultans and emirs as their interlocutors in the Muslim world, felt comfortable with Rafsanjani.

So basically, on the one side, there is a group of domestic secularized and Westernized actors that view Europe as their civilizational model, and a feudal patronage network whose main goal is to maintain wealth and power. Then, on the other side, there is the group represented by Ahmadinejad with the backing of the Supreme Leader and the large majority of the population — as evidenced by voter participation, election results and mass demonstrations — that is attempting to conduct domestic and foreign policy based on the Islam of Ahlul Bayt (Å). All this is occurring in an international environment where the Islamic Republic has transformed itself from a client-state of the US to a major regional and global player and whose state interests are in many places in direct conflict with the US and its allies. Now it is not too hard to figure which domestic groups will be supported by the US and its allies. And it is clear that all instruments of state power, hard and soft, will be utilized in this conflict.

What is interesting for any person who is a Muslim and who reflects on the teachings of the Qur’an is how the Islamic Republic has survived and flourished despite these massive fitnas for 31 years. Of course this goes against the propaganda of what we are told in the Western media about Iran. Briefly these would include a general spiritual awakening among millions of people in the world where God was pronounced dead, the transformation of people in Iran from passive royal subjects to active participants in the political processes and historical events that shape their lives, the transformation from a client-state in the service of non-Muslims to a global player whose central message is Islam, the transformation from a country that imports the bulk of its industrial goods to a country that has created an industrial base in many fields, the development of high-tech research and production in the fields of electronics, space, nanotechnology and genetics, military self-sufficiency, food self-sufficiency, mass literacy and a mass university system in addition to the elite university and of course mass healthcare, especially in rural areas.

Now for somebody whose primary concern is not wanting to wear a headscarf in public or who would like to buy alcohol publicly or who would like the right to blaspheme, these things might not be important, but for the majority of Iranians these transformations are unique in Iranian history. The Islamic Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic are one of the most significant and positive events in Iranian history — yes, all 7,000 years of it — and a major turning point in the history of the Muslim world whose effects will reverberate continuously. The events that occurred after the recent legitimate and historic elections, far from being the end of the Islamic Republic, are the beginning of seismic changes in the Muslim world and because of its geographic, strategic and economic centrality in the world, the beginning of significant changes in the international system. The Islamic Revolution and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran are the beginning of the end of the Anglo-American political order in the Muslim world with all the attendant consequences this demise has for the world.

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