This is the second on the interviews carried by Iran Press Servie with leading Iranian scholars, experts, political analysts about different aspects of the internal and international situation of Iran.
In the following insterview, Dr Mehdi Mozzaffari, professor of international politics at the copenhagen Aahrus University, looks ast the situation of Islam.
after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iranians became witness of an “imam-making” process.
Iran Press Service – An Arab political and religious analyst is reported to have warned recently that “if one day Islam disappears, it would be because of Iranians”. May be he should have said the present Iranian regime. Regardless that he is wrong or right, but the fact is that in Iran itself, the view of the people about Islam has dramatically changes since the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran 27 years ago. Don’t you think that this regime present a real danger for the future of Islam in the Muslim world and Shi’ism in Iran?
Dr. Mehdi Mozaffari – In my view, what we are witnessing in Iran is the emergence of a religious disobedience. We have had civil disobedience is many places and societies in the world, but probably this is the first time after the renaissance and the Lutheran and Calvinist movements, that we stand witness of a deep and fundamental Islamic disobedience in Iran and is the Muslim world: a rebellion against religious despotism and there are several factors to this phenomenon.
Statistics shows that more and more Iranian families give pure pre-Islamic Persian names to their children instead of Muslim/Arab ones; in Iran, the movement and struggle for democracy and secularism that is based on the separation of religion from politics has never been as sustained, widespread, generalized and strong. A random survey of Iranian sites and blogs takes you to astonishing names such as “bikhodayan” (The Atheists). This is the first time ever that a group dares to give itself such a blasphemous name and sign their names. The reason for this frustration is that all the movements from early nineteenth century up until our days aiming at the creation of a world-wide Islamic State, including that of the of the Egyptian Hassan al Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, have failed. The Islamic Government of the World was never established.
The victory of the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979 and the subsequent creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Grand Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini could have partly realized the dream of Sunni Muslims who wanted to create an Arab Sunni government or caliphate on the graveyard of the Turkish Ottoman empire, with the difference that to their chagrin, this Islamic Government was Shi’a, not Sunni.
One interesting fact here is that at the beginning, Ayatollah Khomeini and other Iranian clerical leaders did not talk about Shi’ism, preferring to consider themselves as the pioneers for all Muslims. To give you an example, during all the years he was ruling, Ayatollah Khomeini never sat foot in Mash-had, one of the holiest shrines of the Shi’as.
Another interesting fact is that after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iranians became witness of an “imam-making” process. As you know, in Iranian Shi’ism there are only twelve imams, with the last one being absent. In Iranian Shi’ism, only these twelve are named “Imam” and no one else can ever pretend to that sacro-saint title. But we saw that Mr. Khomeini, a simple cleric, though of high rank, was given this title of “Imam” and after his death, the shrine erected for him near Tehran is no doubt rivaling with those of Imam Reza (the Shi’a’s eight Imam, buried in the north-eastern city of Mash-had), Imam Hussein (the third and most venerated of all the imams, in Karbala, Iraq) and Ali (the first Imam, in Najaf, Iraq) etc…. Anyway, people saw by themselves how one become imam, and then they asked themselves maybe the twelve imams they adore are also same people as Khomeini and not saints.
Another point is that Iranians, ruled now by an Islamic government, started to demand themselves what Islam had brought them in the past 1.400 years? What was its benefit for them? Why should they venerate and prostrate in front of non-Iranian saints?
If it is correct to say that Islam brought glory and grandeur for the Arabs, it is also correct to say that it brought nothing but shame, suffering and humiliation and decadence for the non Arabs, like Iranians, which lost their culture, language, social life and traditions. In one word, I don’t think you can find an Iranian telling you that he has got something positive from that religion, which was imposed upon him.
More over, one has to bear in mind that Iranians were the first people who invented monotheism much before Islam. The result is that not only Iranian got nothing from Islam, but they lost their identity in the process.
The result of all these complex events is duels between Islam and Iran, Islam and nationalism, islamism and iranianism, secularism and theocracy etc… What is interesting is that this tendency is not limited to non-Arab Iran, but extends itself in some Arab countries with pre-Islamic history, culture and civilization, like Egypt where each year millions of tourists from all over the world go there and spent billions of much needed dollars to admire historic sites as the Valley of the Kings, Abou Simbel, Luxour, the Pyramids and hundreds other beauties and marvels dating from the time of the Pharaohs, the very ones that not only are rejected by the ordinary Egyptians, but the word “pharaoh” is an synonymous to an insult and Pharaohs are even rejected by the Coran, Muslims holly book. Hence, the “revolt” of some leading Egyptian intellectuals and writers, reminding that Islam has brought nothing to them to be proud of, except some mosques, which are forbidden to non Muslims.
IPS – At the start of this interview, you mentioned “religious/islamist disobedience”, don’t you think that this movement started in Iran after the establishment of the IRI and the awakening of Iranian people to their religion?
The “political Islam” is falling down, collapsing, defeated, mostly in Iran.
M M – There is no doubt that millions of people who were dreaming about an Islamic government, once it came to power in Iran, saw by themselves the realities of such a government and governance: its oppression, its dictatorship, its despotism, its cruelties. They realized that the Islamic Government of their dream is based on injustice, discrimination, segregation, apartheid instead of justice and equality of all people, regardless of their gender, faith and ethnic. They realized that a bunch of people are concentrating all the powers in their own hands without having the slightest competence for the powers they have grabbed. They realized that in an Islamic State, every one has to think and behave the way the leader thinks and dictates; that they have no rights, that they are treated as minors, mentally retarded. They realized that the Islamic Government of their dreams is nothing but a myth, a mirage and finally they realized that the true Islam is not compatible with freedom, free thinking, democracy, pluralism, justice, human rights. In one word, and in answer to your question: Yes, this could be a turning point in the weakening process of Islam as a political and social order, but certainly not as a religion. The “political Islam” is falling down, collapsing, defeated, mostly in Iran.
IPS – What about other Islamic countries?
M M – The situation is the same everywhere, with different velocity. All forms of political Islam have been defeated. The violent ones, like that projected by Al Qa’eda and company, almost completely. It is for this reason that others, like the Muslim Brotherhood, has resorted to peaceful political confrontation in places like Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
Mistakes by present rulers in some Arab countries, I would say almost same mistakes the Shah of Iran made: closing political doors but letting open economic and religious ones, would, in my view, create same upheavals in countries like Egypt and Syria. At the same time, the same as the rise of Khomeinism in Iran was welcomed by the United States, the emergence of Ekhwan al Moslemin (Muslim Brotherhood) as a political force opposed to resident Mobarak is regarded as an opportunity by Washington, engulfed in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
IPS – Many political analysts make a rapprochement between the rise and fall of the Islamic Republic with the period of inquisition in Europe and the subsequent years of Lumieres, or Lights, that brought democracy, secularism, equality etc.. and adds that once Iran is out of the present tunnel of Islamic obscurantism, it would at the same time offer the Middle East, Arab and Muslim worlds with two prestigious gifts of democracy and secularism. Do you agree?
M M – I’m not that optimistic, for it depends of many factors; first and most important of all of them all: how deep ideals of democracy, secularism, justice, freedom is felt by the society, most particularly the intelligentsia, as necessary. In Europe, the Inquisition was followed by a very clear discourse that was backed and formed by great philosophers, thinkers, writers, intellectuals in France, Britain, Germany, Italia etc.. supported by a strong bourgeoisie that was acting outside the control of the states.
In my view, all these factors are missing in Iran. Most of our so-called intellectuals, branded as national-religious, are against secularism and democracy, calling for an illusion described by them as religious/islamic democracy. Their discourse that “you can keep your religion and have also a little bit of democracy” has a wider appeal for the public. The present bourgeoisie in Iran is almost totally linked to the leadership, which is clerical-led, anti democracy, anti secularism. This means that the social class that can back the struggle of the “enlighten” intellectuals, help publish their works, support their families when they are in prison, spread their thinking etc is missing, or at best nascent.
On the other hand, some of the leftist forces are still in the same atmosphere of the Stalin and post-Stalin periods. Not only these forces do not help the process of democratization, but they weaken and harm it. This political soup made of islamist, nationalist, Communist, Maoist ingredients is bewildering.
Outside the country, the situation is not better. Anti-regime forces gather together around labels instead of ideas. Some say they are republicans. But one can be republican and dictator. We have also republicans that are democratic and secular, but again, republicanism is the master word for them. On the other side, we have constitutionalists, monarchists, constitutional monarchists for whom monarchy is more important than democracy.
However, as you see, the road is still very long, very bumpy and very uncertain. What is more regrettable is that democratic forces in the region are not helped by democratic nations. But nevertheless, you are right. The day democracy and secularism is to be born in the Middle East, Iran the best place with the best earth where these beautiful flowers can be planted, flourish and spread their perfume. ENDS MOZAFFARI
Editor’s note: Mr. Mozaffari is Professor of Political Science at University of Aarhus, Copenhagen. He has published several books and hundreds of papers on Islam, terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, including Fatwa, Violence and Discourtesy; How Combat Islamist Terrorism without Combating Islam etc…