An outsider's perspective of the revolution
By Sayed S. Husein
September 20, 2000
For someone who is not an ethnic Iranian, I am a great admirer of The
Iranian. In the course of some research, pertaining to the 1979 revolution
in Iran, I came across this magazine. I found the articles very informative.
More importantly, the magazine seems to have a distinctive flair for objectivity.
A good measure of my interest in this magazine, apart from specific
academic interest, is simply to connect and share the experience of people
going through somewhat similar political circumstances. Belonging originally
to Iran's neighbor Pakistan, I am no stranger to bad governance, dictators,
or the use of religion in vain. The chronology, or the details might differ,
but the essence is more or less the same.
A survey conducted by The Iranian on how
people felt about the 20th anniversary of the revolution in Iran was
specially interesting and thought-provoking. The response by the readers
showed wisdom, realism, and resolve not to take things at face value. The
pain and suffering which had to be undergone, to create such a perception,
was also apparent.
Although the survey was primarily to solicit the opinion of the Iranian
people, who had been directly touched by the revolution, there are other
dimensions to this revolution which affected, to a varying degree, Muslims
around the world. It is true that a revolution in any country is quite
necessarily personal to its inhabitants. The causes and effects of the
revolution are also explicit to the conditions involved in the subject
country. But revolutions, based on ideologies transcending national borders,
tend to be more than a national event. We saw that with Marxist revolutions.
The Islamic revolution in Iran, because of its ideological disposition
(that is how it has been perceived, in and outside Iran), transcended the
borders of Iran. The reverberation of this revolution, apart from directly
affecting the people of Iran, touched others (mostly Muslims) outside Iran,
and to some extent continues to do so. Hence, what the people outside Iran
felt about the revolution, and to what degree this revolution affected
them, are pertinent questions, which might be of some interest to Iranians.
The initial impact of the revolution worldwide was quite astounding.
It had to be. Iran was an oil-rich country with a population of around
50 million; it had significant geopolitical importance, and also had potential
to be a nuclear power. Thus when Iran gave the world its first radical
Islamic republic the broad ramification was quite predictable. The term
``Islamic fundamentalism'' found a new, lasting meaning and connotation.
The leaders of the revolution denounced both capitalism and communism,
as corrupt and exploitive. As expected, this resulted in suspicion, and
apprehension amongst both. Muslim states, mostly having various forms of
unrepresentative governments, were also generally apprehensive of the way
things were unfolding in Iran. Fear of export of revolution from Iran,
assumed disturbing proportions in many Muslim states, and they braced themselves
to counter it in whatever way possible.
The general Muslim population had mixed feelings; ranging form hostility
to admiration. Majority of the Muslims were then living, and unfortunately
continue to live presently, in countries with uncertain political conditions,
endeavoring to shake themselves free form the shackles of the colonial
past. Coping with the realities of living in a modern high-tech world,
at the same time holding on to their religious and cultural traditions,
was not proving to be an easy task. In most cases it had been difficult
achieving the right, or even workable equilibrium. Democracy, stable economy,
or rule of law were either nonexistent, or still in initial stages and
people desperately looked for change.
The revolution in Iran was thus seen as a possible catalyst for redemption
by a large segment of the Muslim population worldwide. The revolution gave
them hope; after all a Muslim state could be in accordance with the tenants
of the religion, and still be modern and vibrant. There was certain admiration,
even if guarded, for the way people succeeded in removing a well-entrenched
monarch. Off course not everyone saw this revolution in such favorable
light. Many felt that the leaders of the revolution, would unleash repression
of another kind in the name of religion, as the task of running a modern
state would be beyond them. Many others were hostile towards the revolution
purely on ideological grounds.
What happened thereafter is part of history. The revolution set in motion
events and activities which had wide implication for Muslims everywhere.
The extended process of political retribution, just after the revolution,
made people quite uneasy outside, raising fears of cycle of a violence
derailing the revolution form its populist agenda. The Iran - Iraq war,
apart from taking a heavy toll on men and resources of both countries,
had a divisive effect in the Muslim world. The hostage crisis resulted
in hardening of Western, especially American public opinion, not only towards
Iran and its Islamic state. The long drawn Salman Rushdie affair was seized
by a certain section of the world press, to paint anything Islamic as repressive
and a threat, especially to Western civilization.
Outside Iran it was not the revolution which was under scrutiny by world
public opinion, but Islam itself and its notions were put to trial. Anything,
from the veil to the Islamic judicial system to jihad, received wide, and
for the most part, adverse publicity. Jihad especially came to be feared
as something sinister, akin to a modern form of terrorism. The fall out
of such negative images naturally had discriminatory effects on Muslims
Such uproar to some extent was inevitable. A successful revolution,
on the basis of Islam, was bound to tread on many exiting systems, and
apprehension even hostility from these quarters was to be expected. But
the problem was compounded, because the revolution failed to better the
conditions of the people of Iran, and they continued to suffer. It is this
aspect, which placed the revolution to its widely perceived negative image.
An internally successful revolution, in line with the aspirations of the
people, might have endured many external handicaps.
That the revolution could not meet the expectations of the Iranian people
is quite evident form the feelings expressed by them. The revolution, after
two decades of political pulls and pushes, is now becoming more indigenous
in character, gradually responding to local needs and demands. Hopefully
the changing political dynamics, evolved as a result of the revolution,
would increasingly start reflecting the objectives of the Iranian people.
Muslims around the world will also welcome this.
Born in Pakistan, Sayed S. Husein has masters degrees in political
science, international relations and Islamic history. He is a business
consultant and freelance writer in the United States.