The violence of the pen is more lethal than that of the sword.
Our 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.”
It's 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 to deconstruct 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 Washington.
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.
Although they 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 is Great).
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 its borders.
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 produced 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 time.
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 be present 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 a woman 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 like Hijab.
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 is Iran. 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.
The satellite 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. So girls 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.
Or in 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 legacy of the martyrs in the Iraqi imposed war (jang-e-tahmili) of 1980-88 lives forever. As one enters Behesht-e-Zahra in Tehran, the very first thing one sees on a billboard is the famous Quranic verse of martyrdom, where 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 has 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 say that 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 about 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 School of Law >>> Feaures in iranian.com
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