The Islamic Revolution lives
All this mumbo jumbo
about a "second revolution" happening in Iran is just
gibberish echoed by disillusioned Iranians in exile
February 6, 2005
The violence of the pen is more lethal than that of the sword.
image of Iran has been so politicized, so dehumanized, since
the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, that we can't see the reality
for all the propaganda. We can't separate the truth from the fiction.
Movies like Not
without my daughter and the majority of Iranian expatriates
in the United States being anti-revolutionary, perpetuates this
propaganda of Iran being a land of "terrorists."
disgusting enough that many of these same people voted for George
Bush with the intent that he invades Iran, an option which became
unfeasible given the debacle in Iraq, although now being propped
up again. This advocacy after witnessing the humiliation perpetrated
against the Iraqi people, especially in Abu Ghraib. These people
are traitors to Iran and have no shame in subjecting the entire
nation of Iran to their own self-interest.
In this article, I
wish to travel down the road of contemporary Iranian politics
the mainstream version of events by Iranian expatriates on
post-revolutionary Iran. The time is more critical than ever for
us to understand
such events as the drums of war are being beaten by the neo-cons
In regards to the contemporary history of Iran, the reality is
that the close affiliation of the Pahlavi regime with the West,
although fruitful in economic terms, proved to be a political liability.
The presence of European and American advisers, technicians, educators
reached unjustifiable proportions. And the ruling elites came to
view their own society through the eyes of the West.
had the same blood and flesh as the rest of the Iranians, they
developed a cultural autonomy vis a vis the rest of the populace.
These people were interested in bringing the West's most decadent
social products and in denigrating the richness of Iran's culture.
The Shah tried imposing a certain model of life on a community
attached to entirely different traditions and values. The Shah
got drunk on visions of military power and neglected the real
elements of fostering modernity.
In an underdeveloped country the things he did were mere images
of modernity. Hence the key to modernity was in the villages. Also
the Shah's regime was a client state, as Israel is today,
which was serving not the interests of the Iranian people, but
rather the interests of the American government in the Middle East.
And today the Shah's exiled son, Reza Pahlavi continues to
live in his father's tradition of functioning as an agent of Western
imperialism, although powerless, so his presence is marginal.
However, the Iranian people rejected this passive and servile
embrace of Western ideas and culture, and Iran's leading intellectuals
such as Dr. Ali Shariati, Dr. Mehdi Bazargan, Jalal Ale Ahmad,
Shaheed Mutaharri, and many others called for an awakening and
resistance to the hegemony of an alien culture. And Shia Islam,
being an indispensable component of Iranian identity became the
source of refuge. The revival of Shia Islam was Iran's most effective
vaccine against the pandemic of "gharbzadegi" (Westoxication).
And since the ulama (clergy) were the only consequential social
group in Iran that did not succumb to the Western domination, naturally
they led the struggle.
Their traditional system of mobilizing from
the mosques and bazaars proved effective. However, it is entirely
difficult for those who do not hold religious views to comprehend
how influential religion could become and what a momentous force
it really is. In a time when it was fashionable for Middle Eastern
intellectuals to advocate nationalism and socialism (i.e. Nasserism),
when others regarded Islam as a dying faith, Imam Khomeini raised
the banner of Islam as the force that could solve the problems
facing Iran and Islam worldwide. If Nietzsche pronounced "God
is Dead," the Iranian revolution countered "Allah o Akbar" (God
It should be noted that the nation had a referendum in 1979,
where not a simple majority, but an almost unanimous mandate, where
the people voted to establish an Islamic Republic. It is true,
that the anti-shah forces all wished the downfall of the Pahlavi
dictatorship and that each group envisioned a particular form of
post-revolutionary regime. That being said, majority of the people
supported Imam Khomeini, the revolution, and idea of an Islamic
state, but disagreed on the NATURE of the theocracy's political
system. This disagreement is still playing itself out in Iran today,
amongst all sectors of Iranian society. In the words of Ayatollah
Beheshti, " with their first selection they will limit their
future selection within the boundaries of the mazhab (Islam)." In
other words, once people freely embrace Islam, they must obey its
laws and limitations.
One can not call this an imposition, but an assertion of the
beliefs of the people, which is embodied in the law. So Iran favors
a democracy, but confined within the boundaries of Islam and Velayat-e-Faqih.
Why does Iran have a Rahbar (supreme leader)? Because the framers
of the Iranian constitution believed that the Supreme Leader would
be the best insurance for keeping Islam the basis of the republic
in checking secular influences. In fact it is quite plausible for
one to argue that had this post not been set up by Imam Khomeini,
the Islamic Republic would have fallen by now.
So while the notion of separation of church and state may make
sense in light of American history, other countries such as Iran
have different histories, beliefs, and values. The notion that
Islam can be reduced to a matter of purely personal devotion of
cultural significance, that it has no concern over the political
realm can not be sustained with the history of Islam, its authoritative
sources, and even contemporary Islam. Moreover, the personal is
the political. In fact the revolution in Iran was not a mere internal
event for changing a political system, its impact went far beyond
Lebanon which used to be called the West's great political
market in the Middle East ("Beirut is the Paris of the Middle
East") has now been transformed. The Hezbollah of Lebanon,
which is a product of Iran, has imposed its identity on the West.
And today in Iraq, what one finds are the Shia's who have deep
ties with Iran soon to assume political power. As for today, Iran's
government is really the only independent, credible, and legitimate
government in the Middle East, but it finds itself encircled and
threatened by America's unwanted presence in the region. Mohammad
Khatami is the democratically elected leader of Iran.
In fact, he received more votes the second time in 2001 when
he ran than the first time in 1997. In a country where 90 percent
of the electorate showed up to vote, while in America one can hardly
expect more than a 50 percent turnout, which reflects the apathy
prevalent in the American political system. No doubt, the reform
movement in Iran will have its ups and downs, but god-willing Iran
will move forward. After all, Iranian voters are not fair weather
fans, they stick by their president.
Thus, all this mumbo jumbo
about a "second revolution" happening in Iran is just
gibberish echoed by disillusioned Iranians in exile, most with
previous ties to the former regime. These monarchists have no understanding
of the political reality in Iran. They remind me of the Cuban exiles
in Florida, which still speak about overthrowing Castro. The Iranians
in exile are politically insignificant to Iran as evidenced by
their calls of boycotting the elections going unheeded. The vote
for Khatami was an embrace for reform. The movement for change
is within the regime, its part of political evolution, which is
a great sign. Iran's democracy today is a minefield. I see the
system in Iran for what it is, flawed, but full of potential. Today's
losers may well be tomorrow's winners.
The revolution has made Iranians focus on themselves and their
values. The Shah used to say that he wanted to make Iran the "Japan
of the Middle East." This was his problem; he suffered from
an inferiority complex, always looking to the outside for source
of inspiration. But what else can one expect from a man educated
in the West (Switzerland) and whom preferred to speak French rather
than Farsi to his prime minister (Hoveyda) in private meetings.
Well today the Islamic Republic of Iran has made Iran the "Iran
of the Middle East." Iran today truly is a regional superpower
to be reckoned with. The Islamic Republic of Iran is the symbol
of Islam in the world today, and as a symbol of defiance and champion
of Islam in the world, it is the last formidable power to Western
hegemony over the globe. For this reason America has made no secret
of its hostility and opposition to it. Moreover, the transformation
from an American manipulated dependency under the Shah to a proud,
independent, self-sufficient Islamic Republic should be appreciated
by all Iranians.
The revolution gave Iran its self respect back,
which has been its most important legacy. The kind of conversation
that exists in Iran today never existed before. In Iran, newspapers
are financed not through advertising and circulation, but rather
by political parties and organizations. The articles written
in newspapers in Iran today are highly political and a reflection
of the maturity of the Iranian people.
As mentioned earlier Iran leads the Islamist resistance against
the United States and Israel, which violently and systematically
seek to divide, undermine, control, and humiliate Islamic societies.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been a champion of the Palestinian
plight. The Islamic Republic of Iran was the first nation to cut
its ties with Apartheid South Africa back in the 80s, something
Nelson Mandela never forgot. Iran was also the only state actor
on the face of the planet which sent arms to help the Bosnians
despite a United Nations embargo against it.Their proud record
of resistance should be lauded.
Culturally, prior to the triumph
of the Islamic revolution, television programs were in isolation
from mainstream Iranian culture and tradition and were dependent
on foreign and imported programs. Before the revolution, Iran
would import films from Hollywood and musicals from India. In
contrast, today majority of films in Iran today are domestically
and Iran is an exporter of films and Iranian cinema is acclaimed
internationally. Just look at all the awards it wins in Cannes
in film festivals. Moreover, today serious educational and
current affairs programs receive a large segment of television
In regards to the problems Iran faces today, it should be noted
that 8 years of conventional war and revolution, compounded by
a drastic decline in oil prices and an equally drastic rise in
population (36 million population at time of revolution as opposed
to roughly 68 million today), brain drain, capital flight, have
all generated a host of economic problems for Iran. These economic
problems add to the existing social tensions.
As for the propaganda
about woman in Iran, it should be noted that there has been tremendous
increase in women's higher education in Iran over the past 2
decades. Unlike, some other Islamic societies, women appear to
everywhere and are hardly invisible. Work in many professions,
including news casting and parliament. Women are virtually in
every government office. In fact today, Iran's Vice President is
by the name of Massoumeh Ebtekar. Last time I checked, the United
States has not appointed a woman as a Vice President, yet they
have the audacity to speak about woman in Iran.
In part because the universities were purged and declared "Islamic" in
early 80s, more conservative families allowed their daughters to
go to college now more than under the Pahlavi monarchy. In fact
the revolution took traditional people and introduced them to modernization.
The use of religion made them comfortable with it. However, one
of the unintended consequences of this is the questioning of traditional
values. Today women comprise 60 percent of all university students,
which is a historic change, and they are challenging the prevalent
values of a male-dominated society.
An example where this is evident
is women get married at a later age in Iran today and "arranged
marriages" are becoming less common. Also, differences in
women's lifestyles and appearances can be seen as one travels from
a large city to a small town. Additionally, I have yet to hear
of one reference in the Western media about the Fatemeh Medical
University, which was founded by Imam Khomeini in 1988.
It is the only institute of empirical sciences in the world that
is entirely run by women. This is the only medical school in Iran
whose administration, clinics, hospital, and teaching staff are
100 percent woman. One of the major purposes of the school was
to serve as a showcase. The school wanted to both show the men
of Iran what women were capable of and to show the world the independence
that Iranian woman have. Instead of drawing light to these achievements
of women in Iran, the West continues to be preoccupied with issues
As for the Iranians who go back to Iran from the United
States and speak about Iran, their stories should be taken with
a grain of salt. The overwhelming majority visit only Tehran,
which is the least typical Iranian city and speak as if Tehran
Tehran is 12 million of the 68 million. In fact, we who are ethnically
Persian, tend to neglect Iran's minorities in our discussions,
from Kurds to Turks to Baluchi's to Luri's.
Furthermore, most Iranians who go back visit not just Tehran,
but North Tehran, which is significantly different than the south.
North Tehran is bicultural, meaning Western and Iranian culture
more or less co-exist. One easily finds taggings ranging from 2Pac
to Eminem to Backstreet Boys on the walls. It is somewhat disappointing
to visit Iran and see these things tagged on the walls. What's
sad is the youth in Iran only pick up the negative aspects of Western
culture. They are acquainted with Eminem, not Mozart, with Angelina
Jolie, not Maya Angelou. Even Imam Khomeini advised reactionary
clerics at the time of the revolution who believed music to be
haram (prohibited) and wished to ban it, that classical
music was not only permissible, but soothing for the soul.
television is one medium which introduces the youth to the negative
aspects of Western culture. All day and night this satellite
plays music videos of women dressed provocatively enticing men.
in Iran get the impression that everyone in America dresses and
parties like this. Moreover, why should we be promoting Western
culture to Iran, a culture where the ideals say we should strive
for glamorizing materialistic gain, narcissistic pleasures, and
pursuit of narrow individualism.
The youth in Tehran come to believe that everything that glitters
is gold. Unfortunately, the West's notion of freedom infiltrates
Iranian culture, and the youth only value that which is restricted.
They also come to think that life is only happiness, not the difficulties.
They only want to experience the highs and not the lows. Interestingly,
many of my friends from Iran who have immigrated to America have
realized this very point, that the grass is not necessarily greener
on the other side.
In fact many feel betrayed by the glorified
images Hollywood produces of this country and after a few years
of residency here, most yearn to go back to Iran. Unfortunately,
when we Iranians from the United States go back we perpetuate this "glorious" image
of America to the youth, which creates a symbolic, almost mystical
view of the West. All we end up doing is feeding the false image
that has been constructed for them. The West would love nothing
more than to have Iran as their market and subject everyone to
their consumer values.
But being in Iran brought me something very valuable, liberation
from self, rather than an encounter with it. Tyranny of the self
with its constant frivolous wants disappeared while in Iran. While
in Iran, it was no longer about "I," but about "We." Being
in Iran truly helped me enjoy the simple things in life, the things
we all take for granted here. Attending the park and picnicking
is common, until late at night, something we rarely do here. The
parks in Iran truly revive the spirit and bring joy to the heart.
The public parks help unify society.
I loved traveling in a country
free of commercialism. Free of billboards advertising semi-naked
women and alcohol.
A nation where family gatherings occur at least a few times a
week, if not more, particularly on weekdays. How often do we even
have family gatherings on weekdays in America? Do you not
see we are losing all the things that bring people together back
in Iran? A country where you visit the local store and the shop
owner knows your name. But in Corporate America, all these things,
the things that make life worth living are non-existent.
Iran many escape to the mountains and go hiking and enjoy nature
on Friday afternoons. In this society where we are taught to
look after ourselves, where we send our elderly to retirement homes,
how can one expect communal values to exist and persist? No wonder
the act of "taroof" is alien to many of the Iranian
youth in the United States.
To reiterate and continue my contention, my biggest problem with
Iranians who go and come back with their stories of Iran is that
they are self-serving. Our opinions are formed by our social strata
and personal experiences while living here and there. Our beliefs
are constantly reinforced by our microenvironment until it becomes
absolute truth. So one may visit North Tehran and say all of Iran
is Western or all kids in Iran do is party and drink, or a person
can visit Masshad and Qom and say all of Iran is religious and
everyone prays from day to night. But neither is the complete truth.
In fact the truth is Iran is both. Iran is a society where the
traditional and the modern co-exist and even overlap, though not
always harmoniously. It is common to find a girl draped in a black
chador alongside a girl with a tight manteau with a bright color
scarf. The point I am trying to illustrate is that it all depends
on the circles one interacts with in Iran.
Or it's interesting, whenever I hear people speak of the Iranian
youth, somehow the religious youth, the Basij and Pasdar are excluded
because people do not agree with their viewpoints. But to exclude
them is to be intellectually dishonest. In fact these were the
beloved youth who sacrificed their lives when the criminal Saddam
invaded our motherland. These are the families of the martyr's
who gave every last drop of their blood to preserve their religion
and country. If it was not for their courageous defense, we would
not even be sitting here speaking of a land known as Iran. Speaking
to them, they feel betrayed by the Westernized youth. They claim
their cousins, brothers, fathers, and uncles all gave their lives
for Islam and Iran, not so kids today can go and listen to Britney
Spears and Eminem.
But let it be noted: no matter how Western kids
in Tehran or Iran have become, when Iran defeated America in World
Cup football in France back in 1998, all those kids, especially
in North Tehran were running
up and down the streets jubilant. Deep down in their hearts they
were excited to have defeated the "Great Satan." Or visit
Iran during Muharram and Ashura and you will see how deeply conservative
the country still is. This is a nation that has the love of Imam
Ali and Imam Hussein implanted in their hearts from childhood and
consequently can never be defeated. This is a nation which seeks
and reveres martyrdom.
After all, the world's largest cemetery,
Behesht-e-Zahra is in Iran. How can one defeat a nation which
glorifies death? And the regime in Iran has made sure that the
the martyrs in the Iraqi imposed war (jang-e-tahmili)
of 1980-88 lives forever. As one enters Behesht-e-Zahra in Tehran,
one sees on a billboard is the famous Quranic verse of martyrdom,
Allah reminds us in Surah Al-Imran, Verses 169-171:
"And those who have been slain in the way of Allah never
think of them as dead; but they are alive with their Lord,
get their subsistence. They are happy because of that which Allah
bestowed upon them of His Bounty and are rejoicing for their
successors who have not yet joined them that on them there is
not any fear,
nor any grief. They rejoice at the favor of Allah and His bounty,
and that Allah wastes not the reward of Muslims."
So next time we speak and think about Iran, we should think about
it from its own lens. Unfortunately too many people subject Iran
to Western values, the very values the revolution rejected.
All in all, I am pleased to see that many Iranian youth in America
these days speak so highly of getting in touch with their roots
and their culture, but I just don't see the youth here leading
that cause in Iran. Their adoption of Western culture prevents
them from being a guardian of Iran's culture and traditions. I
hear many people say we should support the "struggle of the
youth" in Iran. But those same youth they are referring to
are the ones which eagerly desire to embrace Western culture and
all its social norms, the very values which have afflicted social
problems amongst the Iranian youth in diaspora.
The same West,
which one of Iran's famous intellectuals Seyyed Shadman once
admonished Iranians as being its most powerful enemy. He used to
the victory of Western Civilization in Iran will be Iran's last
defeat. That is after the defeat no longer will the Iranian nation
survive. How sad is it that majority of Iranians in the United
States are culturally Muslim, but have never even been to a Mosque
or know nothing about their religion. Many have renounced, even
denounced Islam without even opening the Holy Quran. A nation
which had an Islamic revolution and yet the youth here know nothing
the religion which was the primary motivating force behind the
most popular based revolution not only in the 20th century, but
in human history!
The revolution in Iran was proof that economics
is not the only thing that satisfies man. That man has many needs,
morally, intellectually, and spiritually. These are the very things
that youth here lack. Majority of the ones I have interacted with
here suffer from spiritually malnutrition and are empty inside.
They seek to fill this void and emptiness not just by material
goods, but by attending parties, drinking, and abusing drugs. Sooner
or later they will find that lifestyle unfulfilling and that there
is more to life than that.
So all those who express their "love" for
Iran, its history, its politics, its religion, its literature,
and everything else it entails, as so many Iranians do, more power
to them, but remember it is one thing to profess that love and
another to pour a lifetime of savings into it. The choice is yours.
Lawrence Reza Ershaghi, B.A. Political Science, University
of California, Irvine. Currently Candidate for J.D. at Chicago-Kent
Law >>> Feaures
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