While the Islamic Republic was shaping after the 1979 Revolution in Iran, Iranian students continued to resist the new dictatorship. The Islamic regime was initially cautious in its attempt to control the campuses.
Students were in control of the classroom, the physical space, and campus politics. Short after the revolution, students, employees, and professors could create democratic councils to administer their universities. Elections were held in which a majority of students rejected the IRI-dominated Islamic association.
The relatively democratic achievement was a thorn in the eye of any dictator. The newborn dictatorship in Iran could not tolerate this state of dual power.
On April 18, 1980, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, in his Friday Prayer sermon, ordered a holy war (jihad) against the students. He accused the students of turning the campuses into “war rooms” against the Islamic state. After the prayers, armed gangs attacked three campuses. Within the next few days, the gangs wounded hundreds of students and killed at least 24. Students were driven off the campuses, and the government took over all the premises.
On April 19, 1980, the Islamic Republic of Iran launched the Cultural Revolution in Iran. It was the beginning of officially state violence to force islamisation of universities–and in the following years the whole Iranian culture.
The order to fire started with a fiery speech of President Banisadr, the first President of the IRI, following this speech; the universities in Tehran were assaulted by pro-regime students protected by pro-regime thugs.
The following decree issued by the Revolutionary Council on April 20, 1980, was meant to crush the achievements once for all:
1. Within three days, all political groups and related organisations in all universities, colleges and schools must close their offices. If they do not do so, the Revolutionary Council and all its members, including the President, will mobilise the people and go to the universities and destroy these centres of councils.
2. The universities and colleges must develop a plan to complete final examinations by June 4, 1980, and be closed from that day until the government is able to restructure the educational system based on a revolutionary Islamic philosophy and only will new students be admitted.
3. The universities must not hire any new staff.
Following this decree, in the next weeks, universities in Tehran, Shiraz, Mashhad, Rashtese, Bluchistan, Ahwaz, and Isfahan were attacked. Thousands were wounded, hundreds arrested, and more than fifty students were killed. Some of those arrested were later executed.
The universities were finally closed in June, 1980, and the purification process began. On each campus, an administrative body called the Holy Council of Reconstruction was created. Professors and employees, many with a long history of opposition to Shah’s dictatorship, were fired, forced to retire or refused their salaries. The scholarships of students abroad were revoked. According to statistics collected by Tehran Polytechnic, 40% of all professors were fired or forced to resign in the first year.
The Islamic “Holy” Councils were to immediately silence the campuses. Students not affiliated with the state run Islamic student associations were no longer allowed to form any organisations. Muslim student associations were given the mandate to spy on students. Academic freedom was completely abolished. Repression was so extensive that a student secular and democratic movement turned into clandestine or apolitical for the coming decades.
The assault on the universities was the beginning of an Islamic project baptised “the Cultural Revolution”. Khomeini appointed a Cultural Revolution Council to lead the project of integrating the universities into the Islamic state.
The reopened universities and colleges after two years became fully Islamic with medieval theological seminaries, mosques, gender discrimination, and imposed Islamic hijab. Rules were imposed to thwart any political activity of non-Islamic groups within the campus. New students were admitted only if a “local investigation” could prove that they were loyal to Islam and the Islamic regime.
Islamic student associations were in a swift growth mushroomed in the country’s universities. These bearded and veiled students not only supported the Cultural Revolution, but were all fanatically attached to the most aggressive and undemocratic values of militant Islam and its new founder, Khomeini. No independent, democratic, and secular group was tolerated on the campus anymore. Unprecedented political control over universities, the suppression or restriction of non Muslims’ students, more gender segregation, forced veil, crush of any secular attitude were the immediate measures to be taken on campuses.
Another consequence of the Cultural Revolution, which needed a two- year closure of Iranian universities, was the immigration waves of many professors and scientists left Iran to escape the Cultural Revolution and young Iranians hoping to enter universities in other countries.
Most Iranians don not voluntarily go to Islamic schools, colleges, and universities and since there is no one single free educational institution in Iran, many try to find a way to enter a university abroad.
Under the IRI, nobody is allowed to claim that students’ rights should override any religious and ideological considerations. Actually, the issue of whether Iranian students have the right to have modern and secular universities stands against the Islamic philosophy of IRI’s constitution.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran considers educational institutions based on Islamic principles and norms. The constitution does not tolerate any modification in form and principle.
Educational system is of course exemplified by the nature of such an Islamic concept in which gender segregation remains its main characteristic. In other words, Iranian children from primary school are deprived from mixed-sex school and consequently a psychological development of their Oedipus Complex.
The long-term objective of the Cultural Revolution is to root out any aspect of non-Islamic culture from the society by introducing a greater portion of Arabo-islamisation in its place. It is to promote the existing Islamic educational system into a pure Islamic set of beliefs. What concerns the educational institutions; they should become all the relics of theocracy schools in Qom (Iranian saint city).
Based on this objective, the process included, among others, a whole change of materials, and books of higher education.– it weakens the academic values of universities, especially in the fields of human sciences.
Although, the IRI uses experiences of cultural revolutions under other ideological dictatorships, but comparing Chinese and Iranian Cultural Revolutions through similarities of violence in process between the two is conceptually wrong. The fundamental differences are in goals and orientation: while the Chinese one in 60th was an attempt to hasten a socialist society, the one in Iran is a regression to revaluate the norms and values of primitive clan society of Arabia in the époque of Muhammad, the Prophet.
Arabo-islamisation of Iranian culture is the ideological goal of the Cultural Revolution for the coming generations in Iran. It stipulates a violent and anti-Iranian process in which any non-Islamic components, including those of pre-Islamic Persian ones, must be rooted out. The process is in fact an negation of most Iranians’ national identity–the case which was once imposed by Muslim Arabs, when they occupied Iran about fourteen centuries ago.
The IRI’s constitution has implied this goal by saying, “since the language of the Koran and Islamic texts and teachings is Arabic, and since Persian literature is thoroughly permeated by this language, it must be taught after elementary level, in all classes of secondary school and in all areas of study.” Therefore, lesson of Arabic language and reading of the Koran will gain more compulsory character despite abhor of an increasing majority of students.
The Cultural Revolution was continued by in the following years under “the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council. It became the highest body for general islamisation of culture and education. Though, the body is not even stipulated in the Constitution, but was formed under the pressure of hardliners for more state control over student bodies, arbitrary dismissal of professors, and paving the path for further cultural revolutions.
Today’s student movement in Iran is another topic. In short, it seems a potential force with a vague and double characteristic, while it is only allowed to exist as long as it remains a relic of the IRI, at the same time, is influenced by the plight of Iranians under the plague of the same IRI.
All existing Islamic associations, from pro-Ahamadinejad Basiji students to “pro-reformists ”, have roots in various factions of the IRI. Today, three decades after the plague of the IRI, an increasing majority of Iranian students are being conscious of realities and are looking for an independent, democratic and secular student movement.
Although, in the past years, some members of Muslim student associations, by trying to demand reforms, became less docile sheep of the IRI’s cattle, and some of them were brutally punished, an independent, secular, and democratic student movement does not or cannot officially exist under the totalitarian IRI.