by Mordechai Kedar
The area between Bangladesh in the East and Morocco in the West is full of illegitimate countries, all of which were established by British, French or Italian Colonialism. Within each country, the borders of which were drawn by the Colonialist occupier, are many types of groupings, including ethnic, tribal, religious, and sectoral, some of which harbor hostility towards each other for many generations. For the most part, one group rules over all of the others with an iron fist, which also renders the government illegitimate. The fact that both the historical/political framework of the country and its government lack legitimacy gives rise to an obsessive desire to create legitimacy "from a vacuum", both for the country itself and for its government. The country tries to create a synthetic national consciousness by inventing one "nationality" that will unify all of the various groups under one umbrella and result in one country and one government.
Iran is no exception to this rule. It comprises seven main ethnic groups: Persians, Azeris, Gilakis, Mazandarans, Kurds, Baluchis and Arabs. The Persians make up less than half the population, but since they are the largest group they are the most dominant. The great majority of Iranians are Muslims, but there are also Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Bahais in Iran. Regarding sectoral groups, most of the Persians are Shi'ite, but the Kurds and the Baluchis, who together make up about one tenth of the population of the country, are Sunni. This is one of the reasons that these two minorities are conducting a guerrilla war against the central government with the aim of seceding and setting up a separate country for each group.
Until the end of 1978 the Shah from the house of Pahlavi ruled Iran with a heavy and brutal iron fist. He was a tyrannical despot, cruel and merciless, who took terrible dictatorial steps in order to impose his Iranian-nationalistic agenda upon all of the various groups, with the aim of having it replace any conflicting loyalties. In 1979, Imam Rouhalla Khomeni took over the country with blood, fire and gallows. Since then he, his successors and his bearded, turban-sporting friends have been imposing Shi'ite Islam on the country and whoever doesn't like it gets the appropriate treatment.
The revolution of 1979 is called "The Islamic Revolution", and it its aim is to impose Islam on all areas of private, public and national life, by means of "wilayat al-faqih", or "Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists". The basic idea of this approach is the assumption that theologians are "plugged in" to He who sits on high, Who guides their steps and guards them from mistakes and errors. From this it is deduced that if religious authorities rule the country and its institutions, then the populace is assured of the best and fairest government; a government that will lead the country to success in all areas. However, the reality in Iran is totally different: Corruption is rampant in all institutions of the government, and the heads of the government are the most corrupt of all; the economy is in continuous crisis, foreign relations are in a dangerously low state and there are threats of war from all sides. The attempt to present the Iranian regime as an example of a perfect Islamic government has totally failed.
In its main task, which is to cause the public to behave in accordance with Islam, the revolution failed: the overwhelming majority of the population - estimated at about 90% - are totally secular, and don't obey the religious commandments; the mosques are empty, morals are low, and offenses against Islam are widespread among the population, despite the fact that the regime constrains women to wear the Chador - the cape with a head covering. There is no official data, but suppression of human rights in the name of religion alienates many people from religion. The Islamic revolution failed decisively as a design model for an Islamic regime that will endear Islam to its subjects.
The regime in Iran, of the Shah as well as of the Ayatollahs, constantly tries to create a common consciousness that will unite all sectors of its population into one unified framework. This is the reason that the Shah developed the nationalist approach, and the Ayatollahs developed the religious-nationalist approach. The Shah was allied to the Americans, but the Ayatollahs saw the Americans as the enemy, the demon, the "Great Satan", and saw Western culture as worthless and degenerate; something that must be rejected. The Shah was a great friend of Israel, but the Ayatollahs spread hatred and animosity towards it, as the "Little Satan". The Shah used Israeli knowledge and experience to build infrastructure, but the Islamic regime tries to build its legitimacy on open hostility towards Israel. The Islamic revolution has failed here as well: the great majority of Iranians don't hate Israel, and if they were allowed to emigrate to the United States, they would do so immediately.
An additional goal of the Islamic Revolution was to export the revolution, meaning to create a wave of Islamization in every country in which Muslims live, with the aim of removing the secular regimes and establishing Islamic regimes in their place. Here it is important to note that the Iranians supported not only Shi'ite movements such as Hizbullah, but also Sunni movements like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. They invested huge sums of money in weapons and equipment in Lebanon, to bring the Shi'ite community out from under the steamroller of psychological and social oppression that it has lived under for many generations, and to empower it, so that when the time comes, they will be able to take over Lebanon. "Exporting the Revolution" to the Arab world depended upon creating an Arab ally, Hafez al-Asad, the despot of Syria. Because he too, as a member of the heretical Alawite minority, needed legitimation. The Ayatollahs gave him that by means of a religious ruling stating that the Alawites are a legitimate Shi'a community. But there is not even one serious Sunni who takes this religious ruling seriously. Moreover, it's nothing but a fig leaf that fails to hide the fact that the Alawite regime that has ruled in Syria since 1966 has no legitimacy at all.
Because of the Islamic Revolution's web of failures we can understand the obsession of the Ayatollahs to succeed in something that will prove to the Iranians that Allah still supports the Ayatollahs, and the nuclear project fills this role. They stick to it no matter what the cost and they are ready to go with it to the end. They will not give it up despite the difficult sanctions because it is for them an "insurance policy"to protect them from the thing that they hate most in the world: the interference of Western infidels in their internal affairs. It is important to note that the nuclear project was begun in the time of the Shah, but he was liked by the West. His reason for developing nuclear capability was to strengthen Iranian nationhood, but the Ayatollahs continue the project in order to strengthen Iranian Shi'a Islam.
They do not yield to external pressure and use every means possible to fool the world, lie, deceive and hide their true intentions. They draw out the negotiations and play for time so that they can progress towards their goal: to turn the "Islamic Republic" into an invincible superpower. The Ayatollahs see in this achievement the victory of Islam over heresy. Therefore no external pressure such as economic sanctions will deter them. They look at it from a theological point of view: They are the true believers of Allah and He gives them the technological ability to do what he leads them to do. Anyway, who gave the pig-eating, booze-swilling infidels the right to tell the true believers in Allah what to do and what not to do? The rulers of Iran don't accept the international institutions as legitimate, since they were established by the "Istakbar", the arrogant, Islamaphobic Westerners who still see "the natives" with colonialist eyes.
The Persians are an ancient people, whose accomplishments over thousands of years are recorded in the brilliant pages of the history books of humankind. They take great personal pride in the significant scientific accomplishments that they have achieved in the thousands of years before the tribes, the peoples of today's Europe, arrived on their continent from the steppes of Asia. Who is the United States, a country that was founded 235 years ago, compared to Persia's existence of thousands of years? Why should an Iranian even listen to an American? What gives the immigrants to America, who committed murder and decimated the Indians, the right to tell an Iranian who lives on his own land for thousands of years to honor human rights, and the rights of women and minorities? Did the Americans honor human rights and the rights of women and minorities of those who were in America before them? The Iranians see all modern international institutions as hypocritical and unethical; therefore there is no need to relate to their illogical demands.
However, within the ranks of the Iranian leadership there are significant differences of opinion regarding the way the government should behave in order to survive as an Islamic regime: should it tighten the pincers upon the secular majority in order to prevent angry demonstrations, or perhaps the government should introduce reforms that will reduce the pressure on the population so that they will not want to demonstrate and follow in the footsteps of the throngs of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, who succeeded in overthrowing those oppressive rulers. There are some in the West who see this difference of opinion as a conflict between dictatorship and democracy, but this notion is totally wrong: both sides have the same aim: to continue the Ayatollahs regime, and the argument between them is only about the best way to accomplish this: by a conservative approach or by instituting reforms.
Meanwhile, there are internal threats to the unity of the nation: the Baluchi and Kurd minorities are daily engaging in guerrilla warfare against the Iranian regime, and carrying out attacks that cause many fatalities among the fighters of the "Revolutionary Guard", who repress them with great cruelty. And the Mujahadin-Halk Militia arouses great concern within the regime, because they can infiltrate its people into Iran without being detected, since they are residents of the area and it's easy for them to blend into the population. The rulers of Iran fear that the explosions and assassinations that are damaging the nuclear and missile projects are carried out by local people, the people of the Mujahadin-Halk or by the Baluchi or Kurd minorities, who are inspired, guided, funded and trained by the U.S. and Israel. These events arouse the fear that the infrastructure that is used for the attacks might be used against the heads of the regime personally. There is great suspicion and the tension among the decision-makers in Iran is considerable.
The bloody events in Syria are seen by the Iranians as an act by the West against the Iranian base in Syria. They accuse Qatar of aiding in the American plot to topple al-Asad in order to pull Syria into the Western camp and into the arms of Israel. Qatar, of course, who operates the Al-Jazeera television station, is responsible - according to the the Iranians and the Asad family - for the violence in Syria, by broadcasting lies and fabrications against the Syrian regime for years. The Iranians threaten everyone - Turkey, the Gulf States, Israel, Europe and America - that if the Syrian regime falls, they, the Iranians, will go wild and do unexpected things. Last week the Iranian Navy carried out an exercise to seal off the Strait of Hormuz, the essential passage of oil from the Gulf to its consumers.
The international sanctions do have a negative effect on the relationship of Iran to its satellites: the Iranian monetary support of Hizbullah is significantly cut, and Hizbullah is in such economic difficulty that there are already voices within Hizbullah that call for a reassessment of their connection to Iran. Iran has also stopped giving money to Hamas in Gaza lately, mainly because of the fact that Hamas - despite the Iranian support for many years - has progressed for the past two years from the revolutionary phase to the nation-building phase, from an idealistic organization - Jihadi - to a practical governmental organization. Because Hamas prefers, for now, to lower the flames of battle with Israel, Iran has diverted its support to organizations that continue the active war against the Zionist entity, mainly Islamic Jihad, despite the wishes of leaders of Hamas, who are capable of eliminating Islamic Jihad if they are willing to turn themselves into the Israeli "Border Guard".
The conclusion that arises from the aforesaid is clear: the Islamic Revolution in Iran has failed to achieve its goals, whether in the domestic, regional or global sphere. Their last chance for salvation is the nuclear project, which still wins support from China and Russia, one of which is a country of infidels and the other a country of vodka drinkers. These are who is defending the "believers" from plans that other infidels devise against them. Can there be an ideological conflict greater than this?
My friend and colleague, Prof. David Mansheri, who until lately presided as head of the Center of Iranian Studies in the University of Tel Aviv, says: "For thirty three years after the revolution broke out, many parties have not been satisfied with the results. The leadership level is still stable, but there are cracks within it, especially between the religious leadership, headed by Ayatollah Khamenei, and the administrative leadership, headed by Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Despite the fact that the revolution is Islamic, and its considerations were supposed to be religious considerations, it is rather nationalistic considerations that guide the leadership today, because they are the only matters that can create unity among the public, which is largely secular. The nuclear project is supremely essential in the eyes of the Iranian leadership, and they saw the proof of this lately in the Libyan events: If Qadhaffi had not given up his nuclear project in 2004, as a result of the war on Saddam Hussein, and if he had possessed a nuclear weapon now, NATO would not have dared even to
think about doing what they did to him. Therefore the Iranian leadership, including all of its various factions, despite the internal contradictions, have the same unified approach, which is that the nuclear project is essential to the survival of the regime.
However, the pressure within the regime is palpable, and the populist attacks upon the British embassy are a sign of that pressure. A calm, stable country doesn't behave this way. The explosions and targeted assassinations arouse the fear among the Iranian leadership that they have been infiltrated. America is for them an external enemy which is supposed to unite all of the Iranians under the banner of the leadership. The public perhaps doesn't buy this claim, but in light of the brutality of the regime and the way in which the demonstrations of the youth were dispersed after the elections of 2009, the public has no choice but to continue their daily lives in the hope that the time will come when the nightmare called the "Islamic Revolution" will exist no longer.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the
Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by Sally.
Links to Dr. Kedar's previous articles on this blog:
- And This is the Gate of Heaven
- In the Shadow of the Rising Islamic Crescent
- Who Stole My Revolution
- The Noose Tightens
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.