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)