by Abu Dharr (Guest Editorial, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 2, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1428)
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.
Something easy to get is easy to lose, as the Japanese say. Their neighbors the Chinese would say: the lone sheep is in danger of the wolf. The ancient wisdom of these people is not lost on Muslims of Imam Husain’s heritage. Our only Islamic Revolution and Islamic state (as imperfect as they appear from time to time) were not easy to come by; and therefore should not be easily relinquished. The Yahud, our main enemies in the world, know this very well. That is why now, behind the scenes, they are sharpening their weapons; the razor-sharp lancet that they are now working into the very heart of the Muslim Ummah is a narrow-minded adherence to party, sect or denomination by rudimentary “Shi‘is” and vestigial “Sunnis.” Unfortunately, they have found that such old feuds are easily revived and that Muslims are peculiarly open to this line of attack.
Muslims must beware! The zionist-imperialist camp are doing everything they can to thwart the achievement of the Islamic movement in Iran. Ever since its inception, this Islamic-established order has been a spear in the ribs of the zionist-imperialist body-politic. The memory of a benefit vanishes, but that of an injury sticks fast in the heart. Zionism and imperialism were injured in a mortal way by the first modern expression of an organized, institutionalized civic Islam that emerged a generation ago in Iran. The zionist-imperialist instigated war of aggression that Iraq waged on Islamic Iran in the 1980s delivered no tangible success; instead, its failure and its after-effects ensured that the USA and Israel – the main imperial power and the sole zionist state of the time – have been sucked into the cesspool that they themselves created in their reaction to the Islamic movement in Iran.
The inner circles of zionism and imperialism are doing all they can to bring Islamic Iran to its knees. These custodians of injustice, oppression and aggression are using their international organizations and regional agents to turn up the pressure, from international action via Interpol to seek the capture of “Iranian officials” and a “Hizbullah leader” whom they accuse of planning the bombing in 1994 of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, to the EU’s promotion of their Iranian flunkeys the so-called “People’s Mujahideen of Iran” (PMOI – better known as the Munafiqeen-e-Khalq), to accusations that the Iranian government is “meddling in Iraq”. Such political pin-pricks as the US raid on the Iranian consulate in Mosul, and the arrest of several Iranian officials working there, and the kidnapping of a senior Iranian official in Istanbul, followed by reports that he had “defected”, are parts of the same process, designed to add to the pressure on Iran, while also creating the perception of Iran in global public opinion as a “rogue state” deserving of attack. Just last month, more than 5,000 delegates to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were on Capitol Hill to press US legislators to toughen US penalties on companies, banks and governments that trade with Islamic Iran.
In the meantime, Washington’s imperialists and Tel Aviv’s zionists have been steadily increasing their military presence in the countries and seas surrounding Islamic Iran, including the lackey states of the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf. But the economic warfare of the US has gone nowhere in the last four years, beyond further exposing the hostile nature of the regimes in the Holy Land [Israel] and in the hollow land [the US]. All of this and much more is only to be expected from such plunderers and exploiters as the zionists and imperialists. All of it will be dealt with by Islamic Iran and the Islamic movement in the real world, in real time. And the results will be to the disappointment of Henry Kissinger, Bernard Lewis and other “intellectuals” and “experts” whose ideas are providing the intellectual justifications for these ungodly policies, the modern equivalents of the “ulama-e sultan” in Muslim history.
The much greater problem is the virus of sectarianism in the hearts and minds of some Muslims. Because of what the regimes in Washington and Tel Aviv have managed to get away with so far in Iraq, many Muslims have been aroused to their “Sunni” and “Shi‘i” identity. We even have some intellectuals and analysts speaking about a Iraqi Shi‘i government along with the Sunni governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan! Since when have the kings and colonels of Riyadh, Cairo and Islamabad been “Sunni” in any meaningful sense of the word? The words “Sunni” and “Shi‘i” were virtually obsolete before this grand war against the Islamic state in Iran – now they are haunting the contemporary Muslim conscience! Blessed were the days when we considered ourselves Muslims first, rather than these newly-found identities of “Shi’i” and “Sunni”, which have mutual antagonism built into them, thanks as much to the small-mindedness of many Muslims, ulama included, as to the gleeful manipulation of the likes of Bernard Lewis, Fouad Ajami, and Daniel Pipes. In this context a strong remedy for evils is simply to ignore them.
All of this being said, let us not lose sight of the moving picture. And that is that thezionists and imperialists have their guns and missiles firmly trained on the Islamic base in Iran. Let us give them credit for having learned from their misjudgements of the 1980s. Now they know that firepower alone is not going to bring down an Islamic state. So what do they do? They try to turn the Muslims themselves against it by exploiting the element of Shi‘is vs. Sunnis. The broad strokes of the plan are not hard to see. They take over Iraqand then begin to stir the sectarian pot as they have been doing in the past four years. The scenario that unfolds shows the “minority Sunnis” in Iraq being oppressed and victimized into surrender and humiliation by the autocracy of “Shi‘is”. This causes the majority “Sunni Muslims” outside of Iraq (or rather, the political leaders claiming to act in the name of Sunnis) to react by doing the same to the other side: the “minority Shi‘is” of Iran – a minority in the Muslim world and Ummah – are targeted in turn by a newly constituted front of “Sunni nation-states”, which in reality will be hand in glove with zionism and imperialism. And where does it go from here? If the Yahud and Nasara get their way, the Muslims of the world are being set up for a civil war that emerges from Iraq, with no visible end in sight.
If we may borrow Shari‘ati’s insight, we may say that “Black Shi‘ism” is alive and kicking in Iraq with the help and support of imperialism and zionism. It has a course cut out for it and the results are catastrophic for all the Muslims; especially, ironically, those of Islamic Iran. Then we have Red Shi‘ism in Lebanon, which breathes and demonstrates the principles of justice, liberation and revolution. In Iran, meanwhile, we have elements of both: those who continue to follow the revolutionary line of Imam Khomeini, and those who effectively undermine the Islamic Revolution by harking back to Shi‘i traditionalism.
Dr ‘Ali Shari‘ati was very discerning when he pointed to “Black Shi‘ism” and “Red Shi‘ism”, the former being the traditional and emotion-consuming practice of later “Shi‘i” generations, and the latter the revolutionary and justice-centered Shi‘ism of early generations. It is as if a few students of Bernard Lewis picked up on this and are setting events into motion. If we may borrow Shari‘ati’s insight, we may say that “Black Shi‘ism” is alive and kicking in Iraq with the help and support of imperialism and zionism. It has a course cut out for it and the results are catastrophic for all the Muslims; especially, ironically, those of Islamic Iran. Then we have Red Shi‘ism in Lebanon, which breathes and demonstrates the principles of justice, liberation and revolution. In Iran, meanwhile, we have elements of both: those who continue to follow the revolutionary line of Imam Khomeini, and those who effectively undermine the Islamic Revolution by harking back to Shi‘i traditionalism. The writing is on the wall. This is becoming a fight for the soul of “Shi‘ism”, or even, to rise above sectarian analyses, a fight for and against the soul of Islam itself.
If events continue on their present course, it will become the responsibility of the Muslims who are capable of rising above the “Sunni-Shi‘i” discord to rescue the Ummah from this disastrous course: the good news being that there is ample evidence that many Muslims, both Sunni and Shi‘i, in all parts of the world, are succeeding in avoiding this pitfall being laid for us.