What is the significance when Iranian academics in the US have lectures and conferences on the Islamic Republic of Iran, when not a single one of them shares in either the Islamic premise of the revolution or in the Islamic convictions of the masses? The outcome of such a scenario produces analysis which is essentially disingenuous and self-serving. The knowledge which is manufactured by such scholars, all of which happen to be secular, often reflects their own desires of how they feel Iran is and the path it should take in the future.
It is an irony that the only academic expert on Iran in the US that supports the Islamic Republic is not even Iranian. However, Dr. Hamid Algar of UC Berkeley, an English-born Muslim speaks the Persian language better than most Iranians and shares the Shia' Islamic values of the Iranian populace, unlike Iranian academics in the west, which instead share the secular Enlightenment values of the French populace. During his academic career, Dr. Algar has humbly undertaken the arduous task of translating in English the works of Iranian revolutionary intellectual figures such as Dr. Ali Shariati, Jalal al-e Ahmad, Shaheed Motaharri, and of course the revolutionary leader himself, Imam Khomeini.
One can safely say that he knows and understands the country far better than most Iranian academics in the west. Indeed, Dr. Algar was one of the only scholars in the US at the time to predict the Islamic revolution of Iran, a fact which the late Edward Said attested to in his book ” Covering Islam: How the Media and Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World.”
But given the fact that Dr. Algar is virtually isolated by Iranian academics in the US and almost never invited to participate in their conferences, points to the lack of intellectual diversity amongst “experts” on Iran, producing a narrower as opposed to more broader viewpoints. By ignoring him and what he represents they do so at their own peril. The problem of intellectuals in most societies is they are alien to the masses and are often under the impression that they can shape the future culture of the “backward masses” by attempting to either uproot or bypass their present culture.
This is particularly the case of Iranian academics and cohorts alike. It is this fallacious thought process, which has left most of them befuddled about most political developments inside Iran, and nothing more so than the ascendancy of Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
If these academics speak of “democracy” in Iran and all that it entails, but fail to include voices such as Dr. Algar's here, then they fail to include the millions and millions of Iranians inside Iran which he thinks like. They should practice in the US what they preach for Iran. Until then, it appears that these academics commitment to democracy is nothing more than rhetorical. They can continue to claim that the “time” of the Islamic Republic is up and that the revolution is “dead,” but this simply doesn't corroborate with the political reality inside of Iran, which is high voter turnout in presidential elections and large participation by the masses every year celebrating the anniversary of the revolution on 22 Bahman.
What is equally problematic is the position of treasonous academics and imperialist cheerleaders like Abbas Milani, who works at the Hoover Institute aka think-tank which has been briefing the Bush White House on Iran, and Azar Nafisi, who's book ” Reading Lolita in Tehran,” became a best-seller thanks to the help of her friend “Paul”, whom she dedicates it to, that is Paul Wolfowitz, neo-con and artichect of the Iraq War. These are not academics, but opportunists, which one should NOT expect to get an objective analysis about Iran. It is clear whom they work for and get their money from and thus what their agenda is. Yet it is they who are given access to Fox and CNN to speak about Iran. It is they who are writing Op-Ed's in NY Times, perpetuating the mis-information and lies about Iran like the American politicians they serve.
These same scholars never fail to remind us of the current demographics in Iran, informing us that around 60% of the country's population is under the age of 35 and thus somehow concluding from this statistic that Iran will inevitably be secular and by extension result in the regime withering away in the annals of history. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who has traveled Iran, notwithstanding certain segments of North Tehran, can tell you that Iranian society remains traditional, conservative, and religious, thus precluding a truly democratic polity in being either secular or liberal in Iran. The fact that the majority of the country is young is more of an economic issue than anything else, but somehow this is always transformed into a political issue.
After all, if we want to speak about demographics, the areas which usually produce the largest amounts of children tend to come from the rural areas or from the urban poor, which in turn means many of those children will be raised in conservative religious families and likely grow up as Basij or Pasdars aka supporters of the Islamic Republic. It seems like the system has this uncanny ability to continue to perpetuate itself due to this fact. No wonder, Dr. Ahmadinejad last year called on Iranian families to have more children, because he knew those that would heed his call would be those supporting the system.
The Islamic Republic has an institutionalized base of support and more or less ideological coherency amongst its many supporters, while those who oppose it tend to be extremely divided and splintered, thus posing no serious challenge to the system. In other words, the system can and does perpetuate itself due to the reality of the Iranian proverb ” anha do nafar boodan hamra, ma sad nafar boodeem tanha.” (they were two united, we were a hundred divided).
Recall that after the assassination of many of the prominent personalities of the revolution, government officials, and attempted coups by former royalists in the heyday of the revolution many analysts predicted the demise of the regime, but to no avail. In fact after the assassination of Dr. Beheshti, the people were chanting Imam Khomeini's words, “What does the enemy think? Iran is full of Beheshtis.” After the invasion of Saddam Hussein against Iran, many predicted the demise of the regime, but to no avail.
After the death of Imam Khomeini, many analysts predicted the demise of the regime, but to no avail. Very few analysts predicted the landslide victory of former President Mohammad Khatami, and almost none contemplated, let alone predicted the election of “hard-liner” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The fact that in 2007, 28 years after the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, Iran has a popularly elected conservative president speaks plenty about how wrong “they” have all been. The fact that these events were never able to deal a fatal blow to the Islamic Republic owes to two indisputable facts, the faith and courage of its people and the resoluteness of its revolutionary leaders thus far, Imam Khomeini and Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
Not only has revolutionary Iran withstood the plots of all its enemies, but a few years after the Islamic revolution most analysts prematurely concluded the revolution failed in its ability of exporting itself. Yet today one finds Shia Islamists in Iraq, Hizbollah in Lebanon, HAMAS in Palestine, all currently occupying positions of power today.
Most importantly these groups ascension to power has been through popular vote, not imposition, thus lending them legitimacy and credibility. And the fact that the US opposes these political movements lends credence to the notion that they are in fact opposed to democracy, despite their rhetoric, which is full of hypocrisy and lies. The reality is that the US is in pursuit of subservient regimes, not democratic and independent ones, which will pay attention to the needs of their people as opposed to US business interests.
Anyhow, these are essentially the type of Islamic movements which Iran hoped would emerge when talking about exporting its revolution. Indeed these groups all had the training and support of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. So not only did the Islamic Republic not “die,” but it grew stronger, and its enemies grew weaker or better yet for them “died.” The lists of weakened or dead adversaries includes the accursed and former tool of the West Saddam Hussein, the treasonous and despicable MKO (Mujahideen-e-Khalq), the tyrannical former superpower USSR, and the oppressive Taliban. It is interesteing to note that most of the ” marg bar” (death to) chants of the Iranian people have now materialized. Now one can slowly begin to understand Imam Khomeini when asked by a journalist on the Air France Flight back to Tehran after 15 years of exile and right before the triumph of the revolution how he felt and replied ” ehsasi nadaram” (I feel nothing).
The ball was not even in the court yet nor had the game even started and yet they expected him to somehow be jubilant. For Imam Khomeini it was never just about Iran and that is why he simply was and could not be excited. He had not even overthrown the Shah just yet, nor established an Islamic Republic, nor even awakened the Muslims all over the world in his attempts to export the revolution. In the words of Imam Khomeini, “the culmination of the Ummah will be with the liberation of Palestine.”
Thus, in the eyes of the Islamic Republic the game continues to be played and the championship game awaits them in Al-Qods (Jerusalem). Even with all those ambitions, Imam would still not be satisfied, for he had one last goal. His final mission was in preparing for the return of Imam Mahdi. See, most political observers will never understand Imam Khomeini because he was not your ordinary politician, in more ways than one. In the words of Dr. Algar, “it must finally be stressed that despite the amplitude of his political achievements, Imam Khomeini's personality was essentially that of a gnostic for whom political activity was but the natural outgrowth of an intense inner life of devotion.”
Now the question that remains is why do the political developments of the Islamic Republic continue to confuse and surprise these analysts and academics alike? Is it that the developments do not cater to the future they envision for Iran? How can these academics which are neither living and working in Iran, nor actively participating in campaigning during national elections share a similar perspective as Iranians inside the country which are engaged in the political process and such activities. These academics in a way are no different than the governing elite under the Pahlavi era, which were alien to the predominant culture of the people. In essence like the Shah and his advisers, these academics too are outsiders in their own country.
This is not to say that all of them deny the reality, not even the US and its advisers do that, but it is often that their displeasure of the reality leads them to the conclusion that this reality on the ground is of a temporal nature and subject to their intellectual molding. Given the absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries their is a lack of intellectual and cultural dialogue, which often leads to this misunderstanding. Given the hostility of most Iranian academics inside the US against the Islamic Republic, this further leads to a distorted picture of Iran and its people. It might be the voice that the US government likes to provide a platform for, but hearing what you want and hearing the truth are two completely different things.
In the end it should be remembered that the average Iranian lives a simple and pious lifestyle and earns a meager income. The average Iranian saves up enough money in a single year so they can for instance make pilgrimage to Mashhad and visit the shrine of Imam Reza. When the average Iranian dreams of going outside of Iran it's to Karbala, Najaf, and Mecca, not Paris, London, or LA. The average Iranian has never worn an Armani suit, drove a BMW, or ever been to Champs Elysees, nor probably cares to. The average Iranian will probably never have the chance to travel outside Iran or the Middle East, yet this should not result in a drowning of their voices abroad.
This piece has been written with the purpose of reminding you of their unheard voices and untold stories. On behalf of the average Iranian who's voice is suppressed in the stories of the Iranian “bourgeoisie” in Diaspora. The same Diaspora, which when they travel back to Iran, typically visit their “bourgeoisie” counterparts in North Tehran. Such travels serve only to reinforce these “Gucci revolutionaries” micro-environments. After all how can such people claim they know the average Iranian when half of their trip back “home” is spent secluded in the high rise apartments of Niavaran and the other half in their million dollar villas along the Caspian Sea.
These expats along with their counterparts are far too selfish, self-absorbed and materialistic, the very opposite of what it takes to be a revolutionary and thus foment oppositional change. This is why they are mockingly referred to as “Gucci revolutionaries.” This particular breed of expats and their domestic counterparts in opposition will simply never be much of a challenge to the Islamic Republic, CIA assistance included. Moreover, a fact that the fickly opposition should bear in mind is that the regime's true supporters will never put down the flag that Imam Khomeini raised.
Recall that exactly two years ago, the average Iranian showed up on June 24, 2005 to vote for the populist candidate, son of a blacksmith, Dr. Ahmadinejad. This is the reality the US government, Iranian academics in the west, and expatriates must face. An Islamic nation which has raised its flag up high, with the hand of its own revolutionary people and declared its refusal to submit to any power other than God. Undoubtedly, this nation will change and grow. After all, Iran is rich and dynamic. But it will do so on her own pace, measured by her own yardstick, and from her own people, within the framework of her own Islamic revolution, no matter how much this upsets some people. After all, this was the very desire of a revolution which declared “Neither east nor west.”
Lawrence Ershaghi graduated from University of California, Irvine with a degree in Political Science. He also recieved a Juris Doctor degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law. In the Summer of 2005 he interned at Clifford Chance law office in Dubai and last summer he interned at University of Tehran's Faculty of Law and Political Science Center for Graduate International Studies. He is particularly interested in issues such as cultural imperialism and Islamic political movements. He plans on practicing International Business law in the near future.