Cutting free from dependency

On the anniversary of the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, Mohammad Haghir assesses Western attempts to delegitimise the Iranian government on the basis of constructed myths

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 one of the West’s principle objections  to the Islamic Republic of Iran has been the Western claim that the latter  has no legitimacy for its existence. Indeed, the fiasco thrown up by Western  politicians and the media after the 2009 Iranian presidential elections is  a very good example of the legitimacy argument put forward by the West (notwithstanding  its own hidden role in that event). How true is the Western claim that the  IRI is not a legitimate representation of what the majority of Iranian people want.  We know from experience that Western attempts to label ‘Others’ with various adjectives  (fundamentalist, illegitimate, non-democratic, etc., see Islam Today, November  2013) are, in reality, normal but hidden exercises in Orientalism which the West  employs to achieve its geostrategic goals. This is no different in the case of the IRI.  Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett (both former members of the US National  Security Council, with Flynt also a former CIA analyst), in their 2013 book, Going  to Tehran, reveal how even highly educated Americans’ perceptions of Iran and  the Iranian people are simply ’wrong’. The Leveretts attribute this ignorance of any  reality about the IRI to a process of myth-making prevalent in American foreign  policy applications vis-a-vis the ME in general, and in ‘Orientalism’, and ‘Zionism’  in particular. According to the Leveretts, there is ‘…a campaign to remake the Middle East in line  with American preferences’. In order to achieve this objective the US makes use of  concepts and slogans such as ‘manifest destiny’, that is, the American destiny to  remake the Middle East; “Imperialism of righteousness” to make the world “safe for  democracy”…“the forward strategy for freedom”…”leader of the free world”’. These are  slogans in the name of which American foreign policy has been enacted throughout  its short history. In the 2009 Iranian presidential elections the green movement  became the face of all these and other similar concepts. Thus, for example,

statements  about the status of human rights in the IRI are issued due to their, primary  myth-making value rather than any inherent truth in these statements. All of these  slogans and concepts are ultimately representative of the Orientalist approach to  the IRI.

The Leveretts identify four political groupings that actively pursue a hostile policy  towards the IRI: ‘neoconservatives on the right, liberal internationalists on the left,  the pro-Israel lobby, and Iran[ian] expatriates.’ It is through the work of these groups  and all that they can control (economy, media, politics, culture, etc.) that Americans  have come to understand everything about the IRI. These groups have conjured up  and propagated a mythical and imaginary image of the IRI using Orientalist ideology  and language.  As to how falsities could be propagated to acquire the status of knowledge, this  is exactly where myths and myth-making come into their own. It is not difficult to  understand the role of myths in recent Middle Eastern history. Indeed, Israel was  formed utilising a series of myths (see Islam Today, April 2013).  In this context, we can see how using the same strategy, the legitimacy of the Iranian  government has also been mythologised on the basis of the claim that all Iranian  people support the green movement. It is not the case that the green movement has  no supporters. The point is, that in the Western representation, the truth regarding  the 2009 presidential elections was lost in the myth that the green movement had  won it.  The Leveretts write that the (Zionism’s) and ‘America’s Iran mythology continues  long-established patterns of thinking…about the Muslim world. This is where Orientalism …construct[s] summaries of Islamic culture and societies, ascribing qualities  to them that [are] the diametric opposites of modern Western values like rationality,  equality, and individuality’, meaning that the Middle East and its peoples are irrational  and alien to the concept of equality. Thus,

from the Orientalist perspective, the world of Islam has little, if any, legitimacy in the modern, Western-created world.

In this deliberate creation, that which is Western is legitimate and, therefore, that  which is not Western is illegitimate. For the Leveretts, this is how ‘…the British and  French…helped legitimise their interventions [in the Middle East]’. Now the US is  doing the same thing, with the IRI as its main target.  Interestingly, when it comes to the politics of the Middle East the West does not  tolerate any indigenous involvement other than that of Western puppets. This line  of Western behaviour is not new and has historical precedents. Thus, just as in  the ‘…1919 Paris peace conference Britain worked to keep Iranian delegates who had the opposite view from being seated’, so too now, in 2014, Western powers  problematise the IRI’s inclusion in the Syria Geneva 2 conference. As can be seen,  with a gap of nearly a century, these two different events have given rise to the same  kind of Western behaviour towards Iran.  So, given the inadequacy of Western knowledge about the IRI, it follows that we  cannot rely on its understanding of the country. How could we ascertain whether  the IRI is, in reality, a legitimate state with its own style of government, chosen by its  own people? Perhaps the most obvious area to look at for an answer is the power  base of the IRI. In this regard, consider Imam Khomeini’s ‘message to the pilgrims’  delivered on the occasion of Hajj in September 1979, when the revolution was  barely seven months old.  ‘It is undeniable…that…Islam, the religion of divine unity, condemns individualism.  Islam is the religion [that]…liberates [human beings] from the bonds…of material  nature…both in [their] inner being and in [their] outward life.’  ‘…unfortunately, the Muslims throughout history have never been able to make  proper use of the divine power represented in…[Hajj]…’  ‘…summon the people…to unity; overlooking the differences between the various  Muslim groups…Such a united front…could…overcome all their problems on the  basis of Islamic brotherhood.’  ‘…in whatever country you may live…defend…the peoples and countries of Islam  against their enemies – America [and] international Zionism…’  ‘… superpowers…are plundering all our…resources, and have placed us in a situation  of political, economic, cultural, and military dependence. Come to your senses…  Endure oppression no longer…’  Even a superficial understanding of the above message highlights the broad base  from which the IRI was born and has been drawing its power. It is not just Iranian  Muslims that have been on the receiving end of Western bad behaviour, it is non-  Western civilisation in general, including the whole Islamic umma (community) in  ‘whatever country’ they are. Thus, Imam Khomeini prescribed a ‘united front’ by all  Muslims of all creeds. Only then could and would the Muslims of the world ‘liberate’  and ‘defend’ themselves against the onslaught of those who wish to dominate them.  This basic tenet of voicing the plight of the downtrodden everywhere and calling  them to action remains an integral part of the philosophy of the IRI. It is this same  philosophy (the presentation of an all-encompassing Islamic world unity) that in  Iran has produced the most democratic state in the Middle East, even by Western  standards, as evidenced by the election of Hassan Rowhani in the 2013 Iranian  presidential elections. In this light, the Arab spring of the early 21st century can be  traced back to the ideals of the Islamic revolution.  If the Islamic unity which Imam Khomeini called for becomes a reality it  would mean that all the oppressed Muslims (and non-Muslims) of the world  would take control of their own resources, affairs, and destinies. And this is  the IRI’s power base today. It is therefore not at all surprising that Western  powers, headed by the US, should engage in all kinds of machinations and  trickery in order to prevent such unity amongst Muslims. The principle of  ‘divide and rule’ is very much in operation here.  People’s participation in political life is an expression of democratic ideals.  It is true that the Iranian constitution includes a concept of religious order  within the state, based on divine precepts, but the bottom line is that the  management of the public domain in the Islamic Republic of Iran is based  on a democratic vision. The Iranian constitution as it was formulated by the  founding fathers envisages people’s participation in the political process.  The Iranian system has an elected parliament. Taking into  consideration that the West has no monopoly on democracy  and that a democracy can have many shades, it follows that  democracy can be constructed also within a religious framework  and does not necessarily have to be a facsimile of the  Western liberal model.

(Originaly published in February 2014)

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