The Islamic state damaged by career diplomats and quietist ulama

Developing Just Leadership

Abu Dharr

Rabi' al-Thani 13, 1425 2004-06-01

Guest Editorial

by Abu Dharr (Guest Editorial, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 4, Rabi' al-Thani, 1425)

During the heyday of the Islamic Revolution, under the capable and visionary leadership of Imam Khomeini, Muslims were faced with two accusations in response to the challenge posed by the Islamic leadership, the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic state to the powers that be...

During the heyday of the Islamic Revolution, under the capable and visionary leadership of Imam Khomeini, Muslims were faced with two accusations in response to the challenge posed by the Islamic leadership, the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic state to the powers that be. The first was that Islam itself as a form of government is outdated and reactionary; and the second that Islam is a spiritual religion that should respect itself and not risk its good name by venturing into the world of politics. These accusations, which continue to be fired at us to this day, are part of a strategy of "cutting Islam down to size" – reducing it to a form acceptable to the West because it does not challenge the West's hegemony in any way. In view of this strategy, it is worth examining the role of two sets of people who should have taken the war of ideas on to the enemy's turf.


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.

The first are the diplomats and officials whose task it is to set up and regulate the structure of the Islamic State in Iran. These are the representatives and emissaries of the Islamic state, who should be resolute and decisive when they walk the corridors of power, wherever in the world their assignments take them. In an international institutional order based on Western experience and modes of politics, they were charged with being a new brand of officials, going beyond the facades and niceties of diplomatic protocol to set a new, principled, Islamic example. During the early years of the Revolution many of these officials largely succeeded in living up to their Islamic duty in this regard. But in the last several year a strain of diplomat has arisen, who no longer live up to those Islamic standards. These appear to have absorbed all the norms of the West-dominated international order, and become political game-players of the worst kind. It seems as though, in their true selves, many of them have become tired of the "idealism" of Islam. The consensus seems to have emerged that it is time for them to be practical and pragmatic, and so they have shed their Islamic character and assumed a more comfortable persona as representatives of a Iranian nation-state rather than as representatives of the Islamic State of Iran.

This is an area in which the "Islamic Republic of Iran" is no longer what it used to be during the high-minded years of Imam Khomeini. Gradually, in international affairs, the influence of these types in the foreign ministry is beginning to reduce the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the roles of the so-called "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" or "Islamic Republic of Mauritania". Time was when the ambassadors and envoys of the Islamic Republic were comfortable in the company of the ordinary, humble Muslim peoples of Africa, America and Asia. There were iftar get-togethers in Ramadan when Islamic brotherhood united the followers of the Imam, acting as diplomats for the Islamic state, with grassroots Muslims and Islamic movement activists from one side of the globe to the other.

This comfortable, natural relationship has degenerated over the years. The new generation of Iranian diplomats no longer circulate among the Muslims and the oppressed; instead they seem to feel more at home among the ‘elites’ of society. If they need to move in such circles, as part of their duties, fair enough, although it would be nice to think that they would prefer not to. But surely their closest and most intimate relationships should be with the oppressed and with Islamic circles around the world, which they now seem to consider incompatible with their position as members of a global political and diplomatic class. These emissaries, coming out of a profound experience (profound in its historical depth and profound in its contemporary range), should be able to move the lines of Islam forwards, instead of letting the arrogant powers of the world move in on them and mold them into just another set of diplomats behaving as they are expected to behave.

Another vacuum created by the retreat of Iranian foreign ministry diplomats is the havoc that has become Iraq. At a time when anti-American feeling is widespread virtually everywhere, the spokesmen of the Iranian foreign ministry appear satisfied with a chilling silence towards the American occupation of Iraq, despite what that may mean in the long term for Islamic Iran itself. The suspicion which arises is that the apparent indifference of these Iranian officials at such a crucial juncture of history is simply their way of sitting on the fence until the result of the American transformation of Iraq takes shape, despite the implications for the future of the Islamic state itself. Is this conduct worthy of the government and officials of an Islamic state? Should they not be offering leadership and guidance for Muslims everywhere, and shaping events in the Muslim world, rather than waiting on them?

Complementing these pseudo-Islamic types in the Iranian foreign ministry are the legions of quietist and reactionary ulama in the hawzahs. These scholars-in-theory are a disaster in practice. They were never convinced of the bold ideas of Imam Khomeini (ra); many of them secretly resented the unforgiveable bid‘ah – to borrow the terminology of their salafi counterparts – in Imam Khomeini's theory of wilayat-e faqih. To them, Imam Khomeini was a heretic in terms of their traditional religiosity, much as ‘Isa (as) was a heretic to the Jewish religious establishment of his time. Instead of these respected ulama understanding and accepting their responsibilities as scholars and leaders of a Revolution based on the recognition of Islam as being practical, essential to governance, and capable of standing on its own Divinely-inspired qualities, these ultra-conservative types have abandoned this responsibility and chosen to return to a passive role in society and history. And of course nature was not going to recognize a vacuum in Iraq, so the US is now established in and around Najaf and Karbala, and at the heart of the governing establishment in Baghdad. In the process, they have militarily completely encircled Islamic Iran, and psychologically penetrated the ranks of certain Iraqi religious scholars.

We are where we are now, and Iraq is where it is now, partly because many Iranian diplomats and officials have failed to fulfill their responsibilities as representatives of an Islamic state, and partly because ulama in both Iran and Iraq, as well as elsewhere, have become as detached from the real, practical, earnest concerns of human life as dead leaves blown from their trees in the fall.

Abu Dharr.

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