Why Leftist Dogmas Failed During the Islamic Revolution in Iran

Developing Just Leadership

Tahir Mustafa

Rajab 17, 1442 2021-03-01

News & Analysis

by Tahir Mustafa (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 1, Rajab, 1442)

Despite constant internal and external sabotage, the Islamic Revolution in Iran has reached the 42-year milestone of existence. It also continues to capture global attention. While Iran’s achievements in many spheres are acknowledged by objective analysts, imperialist powers and their surrogates continue to put forward false narratives aimed at downplaying Islamic Iran’s successes.

One such narrative is that the Islamic movement in Iran “hijacked” the revolution from an array of groups, mainly of supposed leftist leanings. It is important to first understand what a narrative is.

According to economist Robert Shiller “a narrative is a telling of a story that imbues it with emotions, with morals, with views of the world, how it works. It’s a story that we willingly communicate because we think that it’s useful or enlightening or pleasurable or just dramatic. People love dramatic stories.”

Narratives are not simply a set of raw data. While they are often composed mainly of factual data, they are presented to the public through a particular spin. Thus, it is often difficult to see through a narrative, especially when a confirmation bias is added to the mix. Therefore, it is important to identify the bias of the corporate media when it delegitimizes the Islamic movement’s ascendancy to power in Iran.

The primary pillar of the “hijacking” narrative pushed against the Islamic governing system by Western power centers is built on the West’s own negative experience with Christianity. Religion in the dominant Western mindset is by default a regressive social force which cannot be a pathway to progress. This is a default premise of Western intellectuals since the 1500s. Thus, if Western academia and power institutions admit that an Islamic movement came to power through popular legitimacy and contribute to the establishment of a progressive society, it undermines the ‘Enlightenment’ phase of Western history and contemporary secularism, dominant in Western societies. Thus, it exposes the West’s anti-religion narrative built not on rationality, but on hasty generalization and false cause fallacy.

Taking the above concepts into consideration, let’s look at some widely established facts when it comes to the process of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

It is true that in the process leading up to the victory of the Islamic Revolution, many socio-political groupings took part in the anti-Shah struggle. Some were sizable and others were miniscule. Some had a coherent socio-economic program, but most had no idea what they would be doing once the despotic regime of the Shah was overthrown. This is a phenomenon present in most socio-political processes. There is a genuine organized opposition and there are critics, whose opposition activities consist only of criticizing the existing order. Donald Trump manifested this type of criticism-based opposition when he became president; he had no coherent socio-political program.

Also, recently in the US, a mass movement to drive Trump from the presidency included an array of groups. From observant Muslims, to Jews and staunch leftists. However, if we were to say that corporate America in the face of Joe Biden’s clique hijacked the anti-Trump movement, the Western media and the dominant social forces in the West would not accept this reading of events, even though they are true.

During the process of the Islamic Revolution, it was the religious institutions and societal actors which put forward a program for the post-Shah Iran. The Islamic movement had scholarly, political, economic, and social organizations in place that were ready to take on the role of the state and build a new governing system. Other groupings were either mainly intellectual, militant, or social. No other socio-political movement in Iran except the Islamic movement had in place political, social, economic, and military branches within one coherent ideological framework working under the guidance of one central leadership authority.

Most importantly, the Islamic movement under the prudent leadership of Imam Khomeini (rh) was able to unite a diverse group of Islamic leaders and activists. Diverse thinkers and revolutionaries like Morteza Motahhari, Ali Shariati, Sayyid Mohammad Mousavi Khoeiniha, Mostafa Chamran, Ayatollah Behesti and many others were accommodated by the dynamism of the Islamic movement in Iran, which no other revolutionary grouping could provide. A slight difference in views among most anti-Shah groups in Iran led to factionalism and bitter infighting. The Islamic movement did not experience this due to Imam Khomeini’s charismatic leadership. This reality is hard for most Westerners and their native informers to swallow. An “ancient” worldview that the Westerners and their policy centers endlessly tried to dismiss and demonize ended up being more progressive and forward thinking than their ivory tower intellectualism ever could.

Many pundits analyzing ideas and actions of leading figures of Iran’s Islamic movement during the process of the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s and 1980s assume that simply because some of them had thoughts and ideas similar to Communism, they must have been communists. Often this is done deliberately. It is done to strip Islam of being progressive or rational. That is a hallmark of only secular dogmas.

For example, a common mistake made by some Muslims and non-Muslims when examining the views of Ali Shariati is attributing his thoughts to leftist dogmas. Careful examination of his works immediately brings forth its total Islamic ethos. Centrality of the Prophetic role model is summed up by Shariati in the following words: “the Prophet, through the inspired method of his work, shows us that if we understand, and if we put his method into action, we will have accepted a most enlightened and correct way.”

Many contemporary so-called Muslim “imams” lack the confidence to make this claim about Islam while living in non-repressive societies. Shariati boldly argued this point while living under a despotic and anti-Muslim rule of Iran’s Shah. A communist would not risk his life to advance the importance of the Prophetic model. Today many Muslims are embarrassed to advance the rationality of many Prophetic Sunnahs in order not to be labeled as “extremist” or “backward.”

On a purely intellectual level, it would not be an exaggeration to state that intellectual and philosophical works of Imam Khomeini, Morteza Motahhari, Allameh Tabatabaei and Ayatollah Beheshti made the writings of Karl Marx and Lenin look like essays of amateur schoolboys. Leftist intellectual works mainly focus on economic policies and leave many other issues affecting humanity aside. The Islamic approach to issues is holistic and the economic aspect is but one dimension of human existence, not its entirety as leftist dogmas make it appear. Therefore, leftist dogmas were behind the Islamic movement in Iran in terms of its intellectual and political capabilities.

At the political level, leftists in Iran did not gain wide public support because the central and most organized leftist group was Iran’s Tudeh Party, which acted as a satellite of the Soviet Union within Iran at the expense of the country’s interests. The role of Tudeh Party to break up Iran by supporting separatist movements in Iran’s Gilan province in the 1920s and Azerbaijan province of Iran in the 1940s left a bitter legacy in the Iranian national consciousness. Thus, the Tudeh Party and its leftist ideology were integrated into Iranian consciousness as a socio-political grouping with external allegiance. Most Iranians came to view the Tudeh as a treacherous group.

In today’s Iran, no sizable leftist socio-political opposition exists. Some of the leftist ideas on economics were absorbed by Islam’s own socio-economic framework and lost their relevance. Most importantly, leftist-ruled countries abroad are Iran’s political allies. Countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Vietnam view Islamic Iran as a political comrade whose existence does not undermine Venezuela or Cuba but adds to their strength.

Leftist movements in Iran were purely an imported phenomenon which did not appeal to Iran’s Islamically conscious population. Once the external plug—the Soviet Union—was pulled, leftist dogmas melted away.

Therefore, today, when one hears of leftist leaning groups and views among the anti-Islamic governance groups paraded by the Western media as the so-called Iranian opposition, it reflects the West’s poor understanding of Iran’s internal social dynamics. Western journalists and think-tankers that parachute into North Tehran for a few days and spend most of their time conversing with mainly likeminded secularists at Five-Star hotels, are simply acting as an echo chamber of secularism to the global public. This misinformation of course is done deliberately to peddle the narrative that Iranians want secularism.

The primary objective of Western institutions to parade a segment of the anti-Islamic groups as leftists, carries the objective of reviving the pre-Islamic revolutionary political factionalism inside Iran with the hope of internally destabilizing Iran. This is a primitive strategy rooted in the pre-Islamic revolutionary period which has no relevance today. For the past 40 years, it is the Islamic movement which has produced tangible achievements from science to geopolitics. The so-called Iranian opposition groups, leftist or not, have received millions of dollars from Western regimes since 1979 and if they could not achieve a tangible victory against the Islamic governance in Iran over several decades, when Iran was far more vulnerable than it is today, they are not going to be successful anytime soon, Insh-Allah.

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