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The Khomeini Dream and the Arab Nightmare - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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According to the proverb, honesty cleanses the heart. The first Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs following Khomeini’s revolution, [Ebrahim Yazdi] was being honest when he said, “I’m not worried for Islam in Iran as Islam has God to protect it, and it is not the Mullahs who protect it; I’m concerned about the republic and democracy in my country,” in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper last Sunday.

What is going on in Iran is more important than many people think. It goes further than the national Persian and the doctrinal Shia frameworks, Lebanese wrangling, the Iraqi manoeuvres after the reduction of the US presence in the country, and than the issue of Syria’s location on the Arab regional map.

What is going on in Iran surpasses all of these issues and raises questions about the future of man and the relationship between religion and politics in this part of the world. This question represents a start and end point each time there is a new controversy in the region regardless of what it has to do with religion in its direct and explicit form.

For example, if we were to look at an Arab or Islamic controversial issue or a deep-rooted disagreement over the economy, education, political parties, or even literature or arts, one would see that discussions and claims decrease more and more and come together like water courses that eventually join one channel of religion and cultural identity. The controversy either stops or water spills out onto other meandering streams.

Arab and Islamic nations have pinned a lot of hopes and dreams of salvation onto the discourse of religious enlightenment and on rekindling historical pride by relying on the past glories of their Muslim predecessors. They believe that such glories came about as a result of their engagement in political-religious duties and that religious discourse has all the solutions and answers to their questions. Up to this point the words are understandable and reflect a natural feeling of identity and pride, and a necessary reliance on memories so that the exhausted body would not collapse. It is a natural emotion and defence of collective identity but this “necessary” psychological gratification turns into a disaster if a particular team or class embarks upon the embodiment of that dream and monopolizes its achievements on the ground. In this case, the dream becomes a nightmare, and feelings are usurped and retained by the leader or guide raised by an influential class that bases its legitimacy on the idea that the authority will achieve the masses’ dream.

It was impressive that veteran reformist Ebrahim Yazdi said that he was not worried about Islam in Iran thus elucidating the tension surrounding the Supreme Guide and his [political] circles because this logic strips them of their divine glory and brings them down from the heavens of guardianship back to reality. For this reason, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, an ultra conservative and member of the Guardian Council reacted strongly to Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, the godfather of the reformists and a shrewd Khomeinist. Yazdi was angered by Rafsanjani following the political controversy that Rafsanjani caused after delivering his recent Friday sermon in which he acknowledged the fact that there has been a state of distrust in Iran since last month’s disputed elections. Rafsanjani put forward suggestions to the Assembly of Experts to end the crisis, which included a proposal to rebuild and restore trust in the republican system that has been shaken by the elections, according to Rafsanjani. Ayatollah Yazdi accused Rafsanjani of ignoring “Islamic principles.” The turbaned hardliner said, “People’s support doesn’t bring legitimacy to a government; in the Islamic system, legitimacy is solely given by God.”

The logic that Ayatollah Mohamed Yazdi follows is very explicit in expressing the real feelings that are pushing religious figures towards political deliberation and the philosophy of democracy. Democracy is nothing but a means to reach power, and people’s votes, in the best cases, are merely for the sake of civility.

These blunt words stated by Ayatollah Yazdi follow the same logic as the great Ayatollah Khomeini. Even though he went from Paris to Tehran to topple the oppressive, corrupt and dictatorial Shah regime, promising the opposite of all of this, deep inside Khomeini was a hardliner jurist like Yazdi, as the issue of democracy and modern human concepts do not concern him.

The Iranian writer and politician Ataollah Mohajerani mentioned in an article published in Asharq Al-Awsat on16 July 2009 that “Jalal Farsi, a famous radical cleric gave an interview to the Abrar newspaper in which he said that Ayatollah Khomeini cheated the West. Khomeini’s objective was always the Wilayat al Faqih, even when he pretended to be concerned with democracy and freedom and defending the republic. This is a very important conclusion as Farsi was responsible for editing Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches about the Wilayat al Faqih in 1970 which were later published in ‘Hokmut-I Islami: Wilayat al Faqih’. Controversy surrounds this book, especially over how much of this book’s success is due to its persuasive power, and how much is as a result of the political skill of its author.”

The danger of Khomeini’s theory of Wilayat al Faqih and pure and revolutionary Islamic rule lies in the fact that it served as a launch pad for negative, worn-out energies in our political and cultural milieu. On one hand, it launched counter-sectarianism in Sunni states so as to confront the Khomeinist eruption and create concrete “buffers” against Khomeinism and of course there is no easier and faster buffer than the instinctive sectarian one. However, on the other hand, the Khomeini revolution launched and rejuvenated the burned out forces of political Islam, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood and all its subdivisions, let alone the Hezbollah model in its internal social, cultural and political context. It was difficult for the enlightenment forces to have influence on a climate replete with sectarianism or resist the attacks of forces of political Islam that drove the task of opposition to the street in front of terrifyingly suffocating horizons.

There is a split in Iran, as I said in my previous article, and it cannot be repaired effectively. A question must therefore be raised: is it too late to repair or rescue the theory of Wilayat al Faqih in Iran? I believe that it is too late, and this is what the Iranian veteran politician Ibrahim Yazdi fears. Perhaps only reform is left, such as Gorbachev’s reforms and we all know the outcome of those.

Why are the events in Iran more important than other areas in the Middle East and in what way have they surpassed the expectations of Iran’s friends and foes in Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf? The answer is that the events taking place are more than incidental political battles. We are talking about a civilization battle and a collective psychological confrontation to the Islamic identity. We are talking about the greatest test that the philosophy of politicized Islamist movements has ever faced. We do not want to exaggerate in our analyses of the impact that the events in Iran will have on our region; Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian political analyst, wrote in an article for CNN that ‘In either case, there is a domino effect of Ahmadinejad’s weakened second-term presidency in the region.’

Similar comments were made about the impact of events in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the domino theory. But we are yet to see major influential parties in Iraq. However, let us focus on Iran.

There is no doubt that the collapse, or at least the emaciation of the idea of the Islamic Khomeini revolution in Iran is having a dramatic and continuous impact on the idea of revolutionizing Islam and monopolizing its political energies at the hands of certain currents, movements and countries, and this is the best outcome of the events in Iran.

As for Islam itself as a religion, identity, civilization, or a condition for the existence of Arab identity, it is above all movements, currents, countries and empires. It has been well-established in people’s hearts since its birth in the valleys of Mecca.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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