Alastair Crooke portrays one of the most brutal, repressive and misogynist political systems of modern times as one that defends ‘social justice’. Not only is his historical analysis of the coming to power of the Islamic Republic flawed, but his presentation of the current mass movement in Iran is mere distortion of facts. His essay is an attempt ideologically and politically to justify political Islam.
Ali Shariati, a mediocre writer-thinker influenced by Frantz Fanon’s ideas on post-colonialism, was never considered the ideologue of the 1979 revolution. In 1970s’ Iran, leftist ideas were much more popular than Shariati’s complaints about the ‘invasion’ of western ideas and lifestyles. Shariati’s main concern was not social and economic injustices and inequalities but rather the development of modern trends and the influence of western lifestyles and culture. He was more enraged by the breakdown of traditional social mores and the growth of women’s participation in economic and social life. His vision was not forward looking but very backward, traditionalist and misogynist.
The 1979 revolution began as a wave of protests by different sections of the society against the dictatorship, for more freedom, greater economic equality and socio-economic justice. These protests soon developed into a mass movement against the regime.
In the midst of the cold war, the fear of an increasingly popular leftist movement in Iran brought the western states around the table in a summit held in Guadeloupe to change the course of events in Iran. In a short time, to our shock and bewilderment, the Islamists, who were marginalised in the initial phase of the protests, took over the leadership of the anti-monarchist movement. Khomeini, who was no more than an exiled clergyman, hardly known by the majority of the population, became the leader of the mass movement as a result of careful planning by western powers. Overnight, he became an international media celebrity. A ‘leader’ was born. A revolution for freedom, equality and justice was aborted. This was the beginning of 30 years of bloodshed, oppression, misogyny, gender apartheid, stoning, mutilation and a most heinous political system.
Khomeini, contrary to Crooke’s assumption, did not, in any meaningful practical sense, endorse either ‘the material welfare’ or ‘good education and healthcare for all the people’. It seems that Crooke has accepted the demagogical populist rhetoric of Khomeini and the like as actual facts. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor has become much wider under the Islamic regime; real wages have fallen significantly. According to official estimates, around half of the population lives under the poverty line.
The Islamic Republic has faced opposition to its rule from the outset. The first mass protest was organised by women against the forced veiling ordered by Khomeini on 8 March 1979. This protest led to a week of rallies, meetings and sit-ins in defence of women’s rights, which resulted in a temporary retreat by the regime. The regime was only able to begin its forced veiling and gender apartheid after the brutal clampdown on all opposition groups. In June 1981, it organised a coup d’état-like assault in which thousands were arrested, brutally tortured and summarily executed. It is estimated that there were in the region of 150,000 political executions during the 1980s.
The women’s question has haunted the Islamic regime from the start. The Islamic Republic has been in continuous conflict with the women’s liberation movement, which has grown considerably in the past decade in opposition to the misogyny and gender apartheid of the Islamists. Despite brutal assaults on this movement, the regime has not succeeded in silencing it.
The current mass unrest is proof of people’s hostility to the repressive ideology of the Islamists in Iran. Just as the coming to power of an Islamic regime in 1979 created a renaissance of Islamism as an ambitious political movement, its overthrow will help marginalise political Islam. The left should be clear which side it is on.
Azar Majedi is a writer and chair of the Organisation for Women’s Liberation – Iran. www.womensliberation.net