Today, a great many Iranian opposition blogs and websites trumpet the secular nationalist ideology as the flag of opposition to the current Islamist government of Iran. The pre-historic glory of Persepolis is the other component to the complex Persian/Islamic binary of modern Iran. In its extreme form, this ideology is harshly anti-Islamic, denouncing the current IRI servants of the Arabs who have forced the yoke of Islam upon the Persian masses who would yearn to cast off this alien ideology. Such rhetoric may serve well in riling up opposition to the current government, but it is grossly inaccurate in its analysis of Iranian society and politics.
The monarchist camp of the secular opposition yearns for the days of the Shah, and the more ambitious among them even push for war against Iran. They argue, in a very Chalabist fashion, that the masses of Iranians are awaiting liberation, and they would brave a bloody invasion if it spelled the end of the Mullah’s regime in Tehran. Of course, this camp is well out of tune with the majority of the Iranian public, just as Chalabi was with the Iraqi public. An invasion of Iran would be a lose-lose situation for all parties involved, and most of all for Iranians themselves. A fracturing of Iran in the style of Iraq would result in almost immediate chaos, destroying Iran from the inside.
The retaliation of a dying IRI would probably consist of the mobilization of Iraqi Shia and Lebanese groups against American and Israeli interests, which would probably lead to another disproportionate counter-retaliation by Israel. A crippled Iran would also invite the presence of unwanted Arab (and other) Sunni extremists, eager to push the dagger of Salafi Islam into the heart of the Shia Muslim world. One can easily imagine hoards of eager young Egyptian and Saudi Arabian jihadists lining up to be recruited in the battle against Shia ‘Safawis’. In addition, there would be inevitable that the Americans and Israelis will encourage a tide of ethnic separatism to undermine Iranian unity. It has already been postulated that Israel is training Kurdish troops in the case of war against the Iranian government. Kurds, Baluchis, Khuzestani Arabs, and perhaps even Azeris could be goaded into seeking independence and destroying the unity of the nation known today as Iran.
The monarchist camp is doing a great disservice to Iran by pushing for war, but their image of a postwar Iran is also one that is highly unfeasible. On the extremist anti-Islamic fringe of this group lies a group that imagines an Iran free of Islam (“the ideology of doom”). I do not argue here whether or not Islam has been beneficial or damaging during the course of Iranian history. I do argue that it is impossible to erase Islamic identity from current Iranian identity.
Perhaps the majority of Los Angeles and North Tehrooni bourgeoisie has cast off this ‘backward’ ideology, but the fact remains that the great majority of Iranians are devout Muslims, and even in a postwar era would probably demand a government based on Islamic principles. The secular nationalist dream of an American style democratic and totally secular government in Iran is quite a far-fetched one. Rather, it is more reasonable to push for a pluralist democratic government that is partly based on religious principles, in much the fashion that Iraq is doing today.
At the heart of the extreme secular nationalist push for war with Iran lies the assumption that the American government holds the interest of Iranian people in high priority and is only antagonistic towards the Islamic regime that not only presents a danger to the world but to its own people. But this is not the case, as America has acted against universal Iranian interests often. In addition to having overthrowing Iran’s nascent democracy in 1953 and imposing a dictator, America also supported Iraqis in their disastrous invasion of Iran, in which chemical weapons were used on Iranian civilians (at which point America turned a blind eye).
Today, America is supporting groups that it itself deems terrorist groups to undermine Iran, and is refusing Iran the right to create nuclear energy, even though it just endorsed Egypt’s program (and let’s not forget that the leader of the Sept 11 terrorists was Egyptian, not Iranian). The Iranian government sent a memo in 2003 laying everything on the table in exchange for a security guarantee and the end of support for the MEK, and somehow, the American government refused. Iranians cannot rely on Americans to protect Iranian interests, and therefore should not push for America to change Iran’s regime. Since 1979, the IRI has done great damage to Iran, demoting it to a state not to be taken seriously in the modern world. There is no doubt that something has to change in Iranian governance, but this change must come from within, not without.