by Iqbal Siddiqui (Perspectives, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 12, Muharram, 1429)
At a time when the entire world of Islam is under intense attack from external enemies, most of them directly or indirectly associated with the United States of America, the sole superpower of the modern world, it is sometimes easy to forget the key objectives facing Islamic movements. Defending our lands and societies from outside attack is undoubtedly essential, but our main objective must be the establishment of Islamic institutions and orders in our own societies, most importantly Islamic political orders. All over the world today, Muslim societies are dominated by political orders and state structures that exist not to serve and promote the interests and values of Muslim peoples, determined by their Islamic commitment, identity and political culture, but to serve the selfish interests of ruling elites and the foreign powers that support them. All Islamic movements recognise the need to reform our political structures and processes, and to cleanse our societies of un-Islamic influences; achieving this is a very different matter.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran, whose 29th anniversary is being marked around the world this month, was the first time in modern history that a Muslim people rose to overthrow their authoritarian and secularising pro-Western state and replace it with a state based on Islamic principles and values, and led by a figure steeped in the traditions of Islamic leadership. Developments in Iran in subsequent years have not always been smooth. The structures and procedures established there have not always worked as well as many supporters might have hoped, and Muslims in Iran and around the world are all too aware of the many errors that have been made. This was only to be expected; the problems of centuries could never have been solved overnight. Those who hoped and expected that the Islamic Revolution would result in an ideal or utopian society were deluded in the extreme. Iran is still a country and society like any other, beset with social and economic problems, and struggling to handle them as best it can in what is far from an ideal political environment. Like any country, it is proceeding through trial and error, feeling its way in the dark, and bumping into obstacles more often than managing to avoid them such is the nature of human society in this world, as it has ever been.
Genuine, deep-seated political and social change has to emerge through, and be consolidated by, processes over decades, even generations, rather than the events of a few short years. The Islamic Revolution radically changed the framework within which the future development of Iranian society would take place, making it possible for that development to be shaped by indigenous forces rather than external ones. It could not have been expected to establish ideal institutions and achieve optimum results in the short term. Only the simplistic within the movement interpret the principles of Islam as formulaic panaceas for all problems that can arise in a society. The reality is more prosaic: Islam provides us with principles and guidelines on which to base our attempts to address our problems, and the promise that if we succeed in applying them as best we can, we will have steered a path through these rocky waters avoiding the worst problems as far as possible, and coping as best we can with the problems we have met. It will still be a matter of trial and error, but we will pass more of the trials and our errors may be minimised and cause less damage.
Politics is about processes and evolution, not utopian solutions and fixed institutions. These processes and evolutions are shaped by a number of factors in any society. The most important achievement of the Islamic Revolution may be that it has enabled the political development of Iran over the last 29 years to be shaped predominantly by indigenous political forces. Virtually everywhere else in the Muslim world, the paths that political energies have taken have been distorted by the malevolent influence of Western interference and influence. What is happening in Pakistan today is perhaps the most obvious case in point. This independence of development is why Iran today has the most vibrant political scene of any Muslim country, and is the only Muslim country that is capable of pursuing an independent line in international affairs.
This, above all, is what is unacceptable to the US; this is what challenges the US’s ambitions to have every institution in the world operating under its hegemony. And this is why Revolutionary change like that brought about in Iran 29 years ago is still the path that every other Muslim society must pursue.