The Saker interviews Aram Mirzaei on Iran

The Saker

June 13, 2019

The Saker interviews Aram Mirzaei on Iran

[This interview was made for the Unz Review]

Introduction by the Saker:

For a while now we have been lucky enough to have a wonderful Iranian member of the Saker community writing analyses for the Saker Blog: Aram Mirzaei has brought a wealth of expertise and priceless insights into Iran and everything Iran-related. Clearly, after the DPRK, Syria and Venezuela – Iran is now the target of Trump’s ignorant hubris and threats and it is therefore extremely important to debunk of AngloZionist propaganda about Iran and its role and actions in the Middle-East. This interview with Aram Mirzaei is just the first step of a major effort by the Saker community to report more often about Iran. Expect much more in the near future. In the meantime, I will let Aram introduce himself and then reply to my questions.

The Saker

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My name is Aram Mirzaei, I’m 30 years old and live somewhere in Europe. Originally, I hail from western Iran, a place that is deeply rooted in my heart. Ever since my teenage years, I’ve had a passion for history and politics, a trait I inherited from my mother who was an Iranian revolutionary. Naturally, this passion made me choose to study political science all the way up to my Master’s degree. Having supported my country against foreign threats my entire adult life, I became an activist for the Resistance Axis when the Syrian War broke out in 2011 and have combined my passion for writing and politics, to contribute to the propaganda fight that runs in parallel with the fighting on the ground. Thus, I have endulged myself in anything related to Iran, in an effort to have a complete understanding of the land that I was born in and where my forefathers once dwelled in. Aside from these interests, I also love philosophy, sociology, religion, football (soccer) and trading, with a specific focus on crypto currencies.

The Saker: Please explain what an “Islamic Republic” is and how it is different from any other republic? What makes the Iranian political system unique? How democratic (vs theocratic) is it? Do you consider Iran to be a democratic country (in the sense that the will of the people is the highest, sovereign, authority)?

Aram Mirzaei: These are very relevant questions as this issue is something most outsiders have a hard time understanding. Growing up in the West, I myself had a hard time understanding this system until I read Imam Khomeini’s manifesto: Islamic Governance – rule of the jurisprudence.  Here, Khomeini offers a very unique viewpoint and insight into his ideas of a modern Islamic form of government. Khomeini views the Western democratic system as a foreign way of governance, not suited for Muslim countries, while he also correctly identifies the deep flaws within the contemporary Islamic forms of governance, that they are outdated monarchies prone to corruption and decadence.

Simply put, Khomeini offers a compromise between Western Democracy and Islamic Sharia law. To understand this form of government, one must understand the background of Shia Islamic scholarship and the theological debate regarding Islamic government. As many already know, modern Twelver Shia faith rest on the pillar of the Occultation, the belief that the messianic figure, also known as Mahdi, who in Shia theology is the last (Twelfth) infallible male descendant (Imam) of the prophet Mohammad, was born but disappeared, and will one day return and fill the world with justice and peace. In this time of post-Occultation the theory of Velayat-e Faqih (Rule of the Jurisprudence), holds that Islam shall give a Faqih (Islamic jurist) custodianship over the people, in the absence of the Hidden Imam.

The doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih has been an issue that has divided the Shia Islamic scholars between the ideas of a so called Limited Guardianship and an Absolute Guardianship of the jurisprudence. Traditionally, Limited Guardianship has been the dominant interpretation where Mujtahids (Islamic scholars) have left secular power to the monarchs while the Ulema’s (clerical class) role has been limited to non-litigious affairs. This interpretation holds that the Ulema should only assume an advisory role to the monarch who is responsible for the task of protecting the country. For centuries, especially during the time of the Safavid Shahs, Iran was ruled this way, with the Ulema assuming an advisory role in the royal court of the Shahs. Only during the Pahlavi dynasty of the 20th century did this begin to change as Reza Shah Pahlavi, initiated radical secular changes to the Iranian society as a whole.

The idea of Absolute Guardianship hails from the belief that collective affairs fall under the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist. Before Khomeini, there had been a few scholars arguing for Absolute Guardianship, yet none of them gained the amount of influence as Khomeini did. He presented the concept as necessary to protect and preserve Islam during the Occultation of the Imam. According to Khomeini, a society should be governed by those who are the most knowledgeable about Islamic law, this is his main argument in what an Islamic Government actually is. In his manifesto, Khomeini argues that monarchy is un-Islamic. In a true Islamic state, those holding government posts should have knowledge of Sharia, as well as having intelligence and administrative ability. Thus the monarchy becomes redundant in such a governing system, paving the way for a Republic to take its place instead. Specifically Khomeini argued that the un-Islamic government “though it may be made up of elected representatives does not truly belong to the people” in the case of Muslim countries.

Where Shia Mujtahids have tended to remain outside the active political sphere, Khomeini argues that leading Mujtahids also have inherited the Prophet’s political authority by explicating several ahadiths of the Shia Imams. An example is his analysis of a saying attributed to the first Imam, Ali who in addressing a judge said:

The seat you are occupying is filled by someone who is a prophet, the legatee of a prophet, or else a sinful wretch.”

Khomeini reasons that the term judges must refer to trained fuqaha (jurists) as they are “by definition learned in matters pertaining to the function of judge” , and since trained jurists are neither sinful wretches nor prophets, by process of elimination “we deduce from the tradition quoted above that the fuqaha are the legatees.” He explains that legatees of the prophet have the same power to command Muslims as the Prophet Muhammad and (in Shia belief) the Imams. Thus, the saying, `The seat you are occupying is filled by someone who is a prophet, the legatee of a prophet, or else a sinful wretch,` demonstrates that Islamic jurists have the power to rule Muslims.

According to the constitution of Iran, an Islamic republic is defined as a state ruled by the Fuqaha. In accordance with Qur’an and on the basis of two principles of the trusteeship and the permanent Imamate (bloodline of the Prophet), it is counted as a function of the jurists. Also it is explained that only the jurists that are upright, pious and committed experts on Islam are entitled to rule . Also those who are informed of the demands of the times and known as God-fearing, brave and qualified for leadership. In addition they must hold the religious office of Marja (the highest rank in the Shia clerical establishment) and be permitted to deliver independent judgments on general principles (fatwas). The Marja has only the right to rule the Islamic Republic for as long as the Twelfth and final Imam remains in Occultation.

In this sense, the Islamic Republic of Iran is unique in comparison to other so called “Islamic Republics” such as Pakistan and Afghanistan as they are governed by secular constitutions and are only Islamic Republics by name rather than in practice.
In both theory and practice, the Velayat-e Faqih differs radically from any other form of government, both Western and Eastern models.

Whether or not this system can be considered “democratic” is really a subjective matter. I personally dont like the contemporary opinions on what constitutes a democracy as they are very much formed and dictated by Western ideas and standards. The generally accepted tools of measurement on democracy in the world follow liberal democratic criteria formulated by liberal thinkers and scholars. This narrows down countries into liberal democracies, so called true democracies and non-liberal democracies, also known as “flawed democracies” in their world view.

As I mentioned earlier, the Islamic Republic is a compromise between Western democracy and Islamic theocracy, which makes it hard to compare to the western notion on what constitutes a democracy, and since there aren’t any other Islamic Republics to compare it to, it makes it even more difficult to measure how democratic it is. But let’s begin by stating the obvious, the Islamic Republic is a republic, which means that the state belongs to the people and not a ruler. The Supreme Leader, or Rahbar Enghelab (Revolutionary Leader) is not a monarch and the title is not hereditary.

Lawmakers are directly elected by the people, as is the President as well. The Iranian elections are considered not “free and fair” by western standards due to the vetting process by the unelected Guardian council, but this is where the theocratic nature of the Islamic Republic becomes prevalent, as the vetting process is important for the elimination of anti-Islamic elements in the government. Another point of confusion is the role of the Supreme Leader, a role that many outsiders have misunderstood. The truth is that while the President rules the government and politics of the country, the Supreme Leader’s role is one of oversight. Think of the Supreme Leader as the U.S Supreme Court, where the Supreme Leader has a duty to uphold the Islamic Republic’s core values, much like the Supreme Court in the U.S upholds the constitution.

The Supreme Leader is chosen by the elected institution called the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with overseeing the performance and activities of the Supreme Leader. The Assembly of Experts also has the power to impeach a Supreme Leader if needed, thus not even the Supreme Leader is untouchable. The Supreme Leader in turn then elects the members of the Guardian Council who are responsible for the vetting I mentioned above. So you can see that the Islamic Republic is a system filled with checks and balances between elected and unelected institutions.

The Saker: Wikipedia (hardly a trustworthy source) has this picture of the Iranian government structure: 

 

Is it correct?

Aram Mirzaei: I would say that this depiction of the Iranian government structure is not exactly inaccurate, but it also fails to offer a comprehensive picture of the checks and balance system that plays a huge part in Iranian politics. This depiction focuses a lot on who is elected and who is not, instead of focusing on the different branches of government and their roles. Let me explain: The Supreme Leader as mentioned above is a superintendent, who oversees the Executive and Judiciary branch, while he also acts as commander of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic. The Supreme Leader in turn is appointed by the directly elected Assembly of Experts which is made up of 88 Mujtahids, and as I mentioned before, the Assembly of Experts has the power to remove him if necessary.

The Parliament and the President are directly elected by the people. While the President chooses his cabinet, the Parliament is responsible with electing 6 out of 12 members of the powerful Guardian Council, these 6 members are nominated by the Head of the Judiciary, who in turn is appointed by the Supreme Leader. These 6 members are non-clerical jurists while the other 6 members appointed by the Supreme Leader are faqihs.

The Guardian Council, acts as an upper consultative assembly. It is charged with interpreting the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, supervising elections of, and approving of candidates to, the Assembly of Experts, the President and the Parliament. Any laws made by the parliament must be approved by the Guardian Council.

The Expediency council is an advisory assembly set up in 1988 to act as an intermediary between the Parliament and Guardian Council whenever conflicts occur. It is directly appointed by the Supreme Leader.

The Saker: The western media always loves to think in terms of “hardliners” and “liberals” in each country they don’t control. To what degree are these categories applicable to Iran?

Aram Mirzaei: The terms as you say, is a way for the Western media to simplify the different categories of political movements in Iran. I would rather say that a better way of dividing the political spectrum in Iran is to say that there are Reformists and Conservatives. While the term “conservative” is difficult to apply on Iranian society, the existence of a conservative movement, or as they prefer to be called, Principalists, is a reality. The Iranian political spectrum can somewhat loosely be defined as a division between the Islamic left (Reformists) and the Islamic right (Principalists).

The Iranian Principalist bloc of today emerged as a response to the rising power of the reformist movement, headed by known figures such as former Iranian President and cleric Mohammad Khatami and to some extent former President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the richest people in the country.   Iranian principalism however dates further back in history. It roots back to the early 20th century with the constitutional revolution, which demonstrated the power of the clerical class as the Qajar dynasty was disposed by Reza Khan (later Reza Shah Pahlavi), a man who clashed many times with the clergy.  The Shah had initiated a set of reforms aimed at modernizing the country. Along with this modernization effort the Women’s Awakening movement gained strength. This movement sought the elimination of the traditional Iranian chador from Iranian society. This movement was backed by the Shah who sought inspiration from western clothing for his society. The religious establishment were fiercely opposed to this and organized protests against obligatory Western dressing in Mashhad, resulting in the Shah ordering his soldiers to shoot at the crowds protesting.

The policies of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the son and successor of Reza Shah Pahlavi, further sowed division between the clergy and the royal court. The young Shah’s role in the 1953 coup against the democratically elected Prime Minister Dr Mohammad Mossadeq, the failed “white revolution” which only served to further accelerate his unpopularity. Once more the clergy assumed the position of anti-imperialists in the Iranian political spectrum, arguing that the Shah was a dictator put in place by a non-Muslim Western power, the United States. As witnessed several times before, the clergy and the powerful merchant class, the Bazariis played a crucial role in forming the Iranian political landscape, this was also the case in 1979 when the clergy and the merchants came together to overthrow the monarchy.

The Islamic revolution in Iran brought about a total change to the political landscape of Iran as Iranian politics was now contained within an Islamic framework, free from foreign meddling, imperialism and dependency.  This is the platform which the modern Principalist movement still use in their political campaigns.

Principalism focuses on broad conservative principles: loyalty to Islam and the Revolution, obedience to the Supreme Leader, and devotion to the principle of Velayat-e Faqih.

This set of principles implicitly endorses the status quo and the current power structure. It is also a response to the reformist parties’ emphasis on change: free elections, freedom of the press and assembly and individual rights, and, implicitly, curbs on the almost unlimited power of the Supreme Leader, and limits on the authority of the Guardian Council to disqualify candidates for elective office.

The Principalists include dozens of small cliques and political organizations each centred around a limited number of politicians, activists, clerics, and members of parliament and state institutions.

The conservatism of these groups varies too. They fall generally into four categories:

  • Traditional conservatives may stand firm on social issues, such as Islamic dress for women and bans on gender mixing. But they are more open to possible reconciliation with centrist reformers, albeit with many caveats.
  • Another group of new conservatives cares less about social issues, but they are closely aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) military-security nexus whose influence has grown markedly in recent years.
  • A third conservative wing is closely allied to the bazaar merchants, importers, and shopkeepers.
  • A fourth branch, championed by former Ahmadinejad supporters, is populist in temperament and intent.

In their drive for unity, almost all the conservative politicians now label themselves “Osul-garayan”, or “Principalists.”

The reformist era of Iran is generally accepted to have occurred between the years 1997-2005, during President Khatami’s two terms in office.

Khatami and his allies were the remnants of the Islamic left faction, hardliners who from 1979 to 1989 were the driving force behind many of the Islamic Republic’s signature policies. Domestically this included violently eliminating the political opposition to the Islamic Republic, enforcing strict Islamic morality through revolutionary committees and nationalizing Iran’s economy. They were behind the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran and were instrumental to the founding of Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the first decade of the newly found Islamic Republic they had been strongly backed by the Vali-e Faqih or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and governed through the Executive under then Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi (1981-1989).

Between 1988 to 1991, with the end Iran-Iraq War, the fall of the Soviet Union and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, political stabilization of the state through social change, the Islamic left’s fortunes rapidly declined. Firstly the end of the war put an end to the state of emergency under which the Islamic left exercised their influence. Secondly, the collapse of the Soviet Union delegitimized the statist economy which had been used to govern the Iranian economy in the first decade of the Islamic Republic. Thirdly, the passing of Ayatollah Khomeini, the staunch backer of the Islamic left was a huge blow to their political power.

Their rivals, the Islamic right faction, capitalized on this by selecting their own Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the new Supreme Leader and Rafsanjani as president, eliminating the Premiership from the constitution, veto-ing Islamic left election candidates through the Guardian Council, purging them from unelected state institutions, and more. Having been eliminated from the system, the Islamic left entered a period of retreat in which it reassessed its place in the Islamic Republic. They emerged from this process “reformed”, the namesake of their faction.

After having lost their standing in the Islamic Republic’s powerful non-elected institutions, the newly formed Reformists under Mohammad Khatami regained political power by appealing to Iran’s restless segments of society yearning for change, and channel popular frustration through elected institutions.

In an interview with the Rah-e No newspaper in 1998, Reformist theoretician Saeed Hajjarian characterized this strategy for achieving their goals as “pressure from below, negotiations from above.” The barren political landscape in Iran during the 1997 presidential election, including the lackluster Islamic right candidate Nateq Nouri, and the tacit support of Rafsanjani who by this time had distanced himself from Khamenei and the Islamic right, resulted in a landslide victory for Khatami.

The initial shock of Khatami’s electoral victory did not faze the Islamic right who rallied under the banner of “preserving the principles of the revolution”, thus rebranding themselves as the Principalists.

The reformists won the Majlis elections of 2000, and Khatami was re-elected in 2001, the Principalists however were able to effectively block them through institutional obstructionism. In the 2004 Majlis elections, many prominent Reformist politicians were deemed unfit to stand for office by the powerful Guardian Council, an appointed and constitutionally-mandated 12-member council that wields considerable power and influence in the Islamic Republic. This strategy crippled the pillars of Reformist theoretician Hajjarians strategy of “negotiating from above”, by excluding them from political institutions.

While the first incarnation of Hajjarian’s “pressure from below, negotiations from above” had failed, it was reinvented by the 2009 election campaign and its aftermath. By conducting an electrifying electoral campaign and using social media, Reformists would use the deep discontent that had built up during Ahmadinejad’s four years in office among certain segments of the population, and bring “pressure from below” by mobilizing this group onto the streets.

This gave Reformists a new weapon to wield against Principalists in case of perceived electoral irregularities, using popular pressure to overturn the election results, elect Mousavi as president and thus restore their ability to “negotiate from above”.

On June 12th, they used this weapon when the election results were announced in favor of the incumbent Ahmadinejad. While there were no actual evidence that proves electoral fraud, the widespread perception among certain segments of the Iranian population took to the streets en masse. This was made possible through the heavy use of social media by the Reformists. The Green movement, once more gave birth to Hajjarians “pressure from below, negotiations from above”.

It did however not take long until the “pressure from below” resulted in severe consequences for the Reformists as their movement most resembles the color revolutions of former Soviet bloc countries such as Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. In color revolutions one faction within a regime creates “pressure from below” by mobilizing popular energy and channelling it into “negotiating from above” and improves its own position in the regime, usually in the context of allegations of electoral fraud. While this strategy was successful up to a point in the semi-authoritarian former Soviet bloc, in Iran the Principalist faction and IRGC rapidly mobilized to crush the uprising. Through the act of applying popular pressure on the IRI, the Reformists had crossed a ‘red-line’ and from this point were effectively purged from the system, once again destroying their ability to “negotiate from above”.

The Saker: It is often said that the IRGC and the Basij are the Iranian “hardliners”.  Is that true?  What is their real political influence?

Aram Mirzaei: Well, it is true that the IRGC and the Basij are connected to the so called “hardliners” or rather the conservative bloc. This is because The Pasdaran was from its inception an ideologically driven force that recruited heavily from the faithful supporters of the revolution’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In Iran, it is known even today that the most devout and faithful supporters of the Islamic Republic are those that join the IRGC and the Basij volunteer forces. Furthermore, most of the conservative bloc’s candidates for parliament and the presidency are former IRGC members and veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. As the veteran commander of the IRGC once said: “Unlike the army […] the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps is in charge of safeguarding the revolution and its gains […]. we in the Revolutionary Guards give primary importance to the ideological and political dimensions more than the military ones.

For a deeper insight into the IRGC, I would recommend you read my extensive article on the IRGC and the Basij here.

The Saker: In the West, the IRGC and, especially, the Quds force are considered as evil “terrorists”.  How are they seen in Iran?

Aram Mirzaei: It really depends on who you’re asking. There are those that would answer that the IRGC are the saviours of the Islamic Republic, especially considering their role in defending the country against Saddam Hussein’s invasion in 1980. On the other hand, there are also those who despise the IRGC and the Basij due to their staunch loyalty to the Islamic Republic and their efforts to eradicate deviant elements of the daily political life. After all, the Islamic Republic made great efforts during the 1980’s to eliminate all opposing movements aiming at establishing alternative systems in Iran, such as communists, liberals and separatists. Needless to say, the IRGC and the Basij are very unpopular among most Iranian ex-pats and Sunni minorities such as Kurds and Baluchis, as both of these ethnic groups have relatively large separatist sentiments among their populations.

The Saker: what are the various political forces/currents/movements in Iran today?  Can you please list them, the main people who represent these forces, and what they political views/goals are?

Aram Mirzaei: As mentioned above, the current divide in the Iranian political spectrum is between the Reformists and the Principalists. There are however a lot of fringe movements both inside and outside the country, with different goals and views. These range from islamists, to separatists, to monarchists and “liberals”.

I’ve written before about the different separatist groups in Iran and their foreign backers. Mostly these can be found among the Sunni minorities of Western and Eastern Iran, but also among the Arab minority in Khuzestan who are fuelled and backed by the Gulf states in their anti-Iranian campaigns.

Furthermore, there are terrorist groups such as the so called “People’s Mujahideen” (MEK), lead by Maryam Rajavi, the wife of the late Massoud Rajavi. The MEK is said to be driven by some mix of Islamic and Socialist ideology, something that they themselves deny. The U.S government claims that their ideology is a mix of Marxism, Islamism and feminism, but no one can really know for sure. What however can be said for certain is that the MEK’s main aim is to overthrow the Islamic Republic, despite having helped overthrowing the U.S backed Pahlavi regime and ever since the early days of the revolution. They have ever since changed many of their stances in pursuit of ideological opportunism, such examples include the shift in their anti-Zionist position to becoming “allies of Israel”.

Since the Revolution, the MEK has also engaged in a lot of terrorist attacks, having killed an estimated 16 000 Iranians over the years. Key figures of the Islamic Republic have also been targeted such as Army Commander Ali Sayad Shirazi, Asadollah Lajevardi, director of Iran’s prison system, former President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, former Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar and former Chief of Justice Mohammad Beheshti. In 1981, they failed to assassinate Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei but left him permanently disfigured, losing use of his right arm. Recent assassinations include targeting Iranian Nuclear scientists at the behest of Zionist orders.

Ever since their failed invasion of Iran in 1988, the MEK has remained in exile in Iraq and nowadays in Albania where they continue to operate against the Islamic Republic.

Other fringe groups are also the Communists, which used to be the second largest movement during the revolution after the Islamists. The Communists had a lot of members and mobilized themselves during the early days of the revolution, offering an alternative to the Islamic Republic. I don’t think I need to explain what the Communists were seeking to establish, but they failed mainly due to their own shortcomings rather than the animosity they faced from the Islamists. Yes, it is true that the Islamic Republic went to lengths to eradicate these Communist movements, but their greatest enemy was their own division where the largest parties split into several splinter factions due to internal disagreement between Maoists and Stalinists. The Communists were mostly destroyed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, along with most other Communist movements across the world and remain today a very small group of ex-pats who pose little to no threat to the Islamic Republic.

Lastly, there are the Monarchists. They mostly went into exile during the revolution, opting to pack up their wealth and moving to the U.S along with the Royal family. They continue to support the so called “heir” to the throne, Reza Cyrus Pahlavi, the son of the late Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to re-establish the monarchy, albeit with some minor “changes” to it. In their own words, they aim to establish a constitutional monarchy where the Shah is supposed to remain only a figurehead much like the European monarchies. Ironically, this is the same promise his father made to Iran before reneging on his promises and ruling the country with an iron fist. The Monarchists often align themselves with the MEK in their attempts to discredit the Islamic Republic, and often jump at any chance to do so. Just take a quick look at Twitter if you don’t believe me!

The Saker: Islam can come in very conservative and in very progressive “modes”.  It seems to me that thinkers like Ali Shariati or even Sayyid Qutb would represent a more progressive version of Islam, especially in social, economic and political terms.  Is this correct?  Who are the main thinkers, besides Ayatollah Khomeini, who influenced the Islamic Revolution and who are the most influential thinkers in Iran today?

Aram Mirzaei: I would argue that Shariati was a Socialist Muslim thinker who tried to blend Shiism with a revolutionary fervour. He referred to his ideas as Red Shiism in contrast to what he perceived as black Shiism, the same kind that was prevalent during the Safavid Shahs and the Qajar dynasty. Black Shiism in this sense can be compared to the Limited Guardianship of the Jurisprudence as explained above. Shariati played a much larger role in the Islamic Revolution and the formation of the Islamic Republic than he is credited for. He suggested that the role of government was to guide society in the best possible manner rather than manage it in the best possible way. He believed that the most learned members of the Ulema should play a leadership role in guiding society because they best understand how to administer an Islamic value system based on the teachings of the Prophets of God and the 12 Shia Twelver Imams. He also argued that the role of the Ulema was to guide society in accordance with Islamic values to advance human beings towards reaching their highest potential—not to provide the hedonistic desires of individuals as in the West.

At the same time Shariati was very critical of the contemporary Ulema and defended the Marxists. “Our mosques, the revolutionary left and our preachers,” he declared, “work for the benefit of the deprived people and against the lavish and lush… Our clerics who teach jurisprudence and issue fatwas are right-wingers, capitalist, and conservative; simply our fiqh is at the service of capitalism.” Despite this criticism of the Ulema, even today, many in the Islamic Republic, such as Khamenei praise Shariati for his influences.

Another main influencer of the Islamic Revolution was the late Ayatollah Beheshti who served as Chief of Justice before his assassination in 1981. Beheshti was known to be the second in command of the Revolution, after Ayatollah Khomeini, and had it not been for his early death, he would most likely have been the one who succeeded him as Supreme Leader. Beheshti is also known to have been a mentor figure for several prominent politicians in the Islamic Republic, such as current President Hassan Rouhani, former President Mohammad Khatami, Ali Akbar Velayati, Mohammad Javad Larijani, Ali Fallahian, and Mostafa Pourmohammadi. Following the Revolution, he was part of the original Council of Revolution and played an important role in the formation of the Islamic Republic’s economy, promoting cooperative companies known as Ta’avoni. Instead of competition, in Ta’avoni companies there is no mediation between producer and consumer. He also asserted that in such as companies, rights belong to humans rather than stocks.

The Saker: Tehran is the political capital of Iran.  Qom is often considered the spiritual capital of Iran.  Is that so?  If so, how much influence/power does Qom have as compared to Tehran?

Aram Mirzaei: Yes, this is true, but one must also remember that the Mujtahids, both the ones in the Assembly of Experts and the ones in the Guardian Council, including the office of Supreme Leader are all educated in Qom. Thus Qom holds a significant influence over Tehran’s policies. One should not see these two cities as rivals as Qom mostly provides Tehran religious legitimacy. In this sense Qom holds a lot of power over Tehran as a centre of religious learning, offering guidance to Tehran’s policies. This was however not always the case as Qom stood as a major rival to Tehran during the pre-revolutionary times. Ayatollah Khomeini for example led his opposition to the Monarchy from Qom where his seminars played a major role in mobilizing the Ulema to unite under his banner.

The Saker: Which are the officially “protected” religions of Iran and what is their status today?  Would you say that these religions enjoy all the freedoms they need?  What is the state’s view of these non-Islamic religions?

Aram Mirzaei: Iran is home to many different religions and faiths, all of which have a long history in Iran. Iran is home to almost 300 000 Armenian Christians of the Armenian Apostolic Church and 20 000 Assyrian Christians, some 10 000 Jews and some 60 000 Zoroastrians.

The officially recognized religions in Iran, aside from Islam of course, include Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. These religious minorities are protected by law and constitution, thus they are also entitled to hold parliamentary seats and have the right to exercise their faiths. Two seats are reserved for Christians in parliament, the largest minority faith, while Jews and Zoroastrians are allocated one seat each.

Christianity in Iran dates back to the early years of the faith, pre-dating Islam. During the era of the two great Persian Empires, Armenia used to be an important part of Iran, as such it has always been a minority religion relative to the majority state religions (Zoroastrianism before the Islamic conquest, Sunni Islam in the Middle Ages and Shia Islam in modern times), though it had a much larger representation in the past than it does today. Currently there are at least 600 churches in the country, mostly found in northwestern Iran and the Tehran region.

Jews have lived in Iran since the ancient times of the Persian Empires, and used to number about 50 000 citizens in Iran, many of which have today emigrated to Israel. Still some 10 000 Jews remain in Iran today and enjoy the same freedoms as Christians and Zoroastrians do. Ayatollah Khomeini even met with the Jewish community upon his return from exile in Paris, when heads of the community arranged to meet him in Qom. At one point he said:

“In the holy Quran, Moses, salutations upon him and all his kin, has been mentioned more than any other prophet. Prophet Moses was a mere shepherd when he stood up to the might of pharaoh and destroyed him. Moses, the Speaker-to-Allah, represented pharaoh’s slaves, the downtrodden, the mostazafeen (oppressed) of his time.”

At the end of the discussion Khomeini declared, “We recognize our Jews as separate from those godless, bloodsucking Zionists” and issued a fatwa decreeing that the Jews were to be protected.

Zoroastrianism is the native religion of Iran and was the state religion of the two Persian Empires long before Islam was introduced. Even today, Zoroastrianism plays an important part in modern Iranian culture, as can be seen with the continued celebrations of the Iranian new year Nowruz. Low birth rates have affected the Zoroastrian community in Iran as their numbers have been on the decline for some time now. In 2013, they did however make headlines when Sepanta Niknam was elected to the city council of Yazd (a major stronghold of the Zoroastrian community) and became the first Zoroastrian councillor in Iran.

The Saker: is there a big generational gap in Iran, especially in terms of politics?  How would you compare the views/goals/beliefs of young Iranians vs the older generation?

Aram Mirzaei: There is a debate today on whether or not there is a big generational gap in Iran. I would definitely argue that there is, as the difference between the older, revolutionary generation and the modern youth in Iran is pretty prevalent. Let us not forget that the Revolutionary generation grew up in much harsher conditions, in a very backward Iran that lacked infrastructure, education and many of the freedoms that the younger generation enjoy today. Furthermore, they never experienced the eight year long war with Iraq, thus they don’t remember the sacrifices that the Revolutionary generation had to make in order to save this country. Another point that should be made is the introduction of modern technologies in Iran. This has given the younger generation access to Western culture and influences, something that is much more of a threat to the Islamic Republic’s survival than any U.S threat of military action in my opinion. Ayatollah Khamenei often speaks about what he calls cultural warfare, or rather poisoning of the mind. I tend to agree with his analysis as many young people in Iran today have taken much of the decadent Western influences at heart and yearn for the Western lifestyle, something that I have witnessed myself whenever I’ve returned back to Iran. Comparing the Revolutionary generation, where politics played a major role in everyone’s lives, with the post-revolutionary generation who remains rather apolitical and care much less about the political lives of their parents, I can clearly see a pattern where passive Western values have gained a foothold in the minds of the younger generation. Whenever I’m in Iran, I often notice that the older generation often partake in political discussions whereas the younger generations prefer to occupy themselves with trivial matters.

The state does recognize this and for this reason it has done its utmost to counter this terrible influence, hence why social media outlets such as Youtube and Facebook are from time to time banned in Iran. This lack of interests in politics has also dumbed down the youth in Iran who often fail to see that the suffering economy and hardships in the country are mostly to be blamed on U.S sanctions and economic terrorism by the Zionist Empire. Rather many tend to believe in the MEK’s Twitter lies that all of Iran’s money is going to fighting “freedom loving rebels” in Syria and “terrorizing the peaceful nation of Israel”, hence why the rioters and protesters earlier this year directed a lot of their chants against Syria and Palestine in an effort to vent their frustration towards rising prices on commodity and fuel instead of actually seeing the correlation between Washington’s reintroduction of sanctions and the failing economy of the Islamic Republic.

 

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This Happens In Saudi Arabia, but What Is Still Hidden Can Be Even Worse

Zeinab Daher

In an interview with religious cleric Sheikh Hassan Saleh, a resident of Awamia who has been outside his homeland since 2015, and currently lives in the Iranian city of Qom, home of the world’s largest center for Shia scholarship, al-Ahed News learned some information about how the families of detainees and martyrs are living, but we are quite sure that many brutal measures are still unlearned.

Following last week’s massacre during which the Saudi regime beheaded, executed and crucified a total of 37 men, falsely claiming that they practiced ‘acts of terror’ inside the kingdom, Sheikh Saleh told al-Ahed News some still unknown fact, hoping that they reach the world amid the total silence intended to take place inside the kingdom of terror.

Asked about the families of martyrs following the tragedy, Sheikh Saleh said they signed papers not to demand the bodies of their relatives.

“Any contact between them and any media outlet or on social media about their current situation, they will be punished by the authorities, their sons will be detained. They also have other sons on death row. For example, the Al Rabie family sacrificed two martyrs and still has another son behind bars who is also on death row. Such families fear for the other beloved ones as they were threatened. They were also banned from holding memorial ceremonies. Some people were detained because they participated in memorial ceremonies of previous martyrs.”

He further explained that it is very hard to learn the real situation via the Saudi media.

“There is oppression against Shia. When speaking of Shia, I don’t mean that they are being oppressed by the Sunnis. No! The tyranny is practiced by the Wahhabi ideology there. Some people thing that the Shia are oppressed by the Wahhabis, Sunnis are also oppressed there. The Wahhabi ideology had involved itself among the Sunnis.”

“The Wahhabi oppression against us was not practiced against any people in the world.”

Organ theft

“We’ve witnessed –at the time when the government was still handing people the bodies of their martyrs- many signs of autopsy on many bodies of the previous martyrs. Many of our martyrs, who fell on the ground, were hit with non-fatal shots. At the time, when the bodies were returned, we used to witness the signs of autopsy. Many physicians also indicated that the organs of those bodies had been removed.”

For those who were recently executed, bodies were not handed to their families. Any Shiite the government kills, it doesn’t hand his body. This is a proof on the body organs theft of those martyrs, the cleric said.

Relatively, many of the martyrs became disabled as a result of the torture; Said Skafi, Mujtaba Sweikat, Munir Adam… also Martyr Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, had disability before they beheaded him. The regime doesn’t need their ‘forced consent’ to remove their organs.

Torture until death

Martyr Said Skafi suffered from severe trembling as a result of torture on the first days of his arrest. He continued suffering from face hemiplegia for over a year. After starting to recover, Said then started suffering from hemorrhoids for which he repeatedly demanded treatment but was always denied. Consequently, Said’s both physical and psychological health deteriorated, he was later anesthetized for some three days inside the hospital of the General Investigations Prison in al-Dammam. He received the last visit on April 11, and had his last phone call with his family on April 16, a week ahead of his beheading, without learning anything that this would be his fate.

Burying the bodies

“The Saudi regime does bury the bodies in a special place designated for those it executes. Yet martyrs are not buried as per the rituals of the religion they belong to. They also don’t set any gravestone that indicates to whom this tomb belongs. They pretend that the body of any executed individual has not sanctity, what if it belongs to the Shia,” Sheikh Saleh said.

“As per the Wahhabi ideology, we are infidels! We don’t have sanctity when we are alive, then what about after we die. The matter is not only about those martyrs, we have around 100 martyrs whose bodies haven’t been handed yet. Some families have bodies of two of their sons not handed…the al-Faraj family for example sacrificed more than 4 martyrs.”

The farewell call

As every week, the martyrs called their families on the same day they were executed. They saluted their families without having any earlier notice that it is the last day of their lives. The families even didn’t believe as they learned the news from social media and news outlets. They thought they were rumors. They didn’t believe it at first.

Personal testimony

The Sheikh told us of his own story of suffering with the Saudi authorities

My brother was arrested only because he contacted me. As an opposition member, I am not allowed to talk to my brother.

Back to my brother, he was arrested because he contacted me in an issue the government wanted him to talk to me about. My house was among the many houses destroyed in the al-Mosawara neighborhood, and my father died when I was outside the country; so, as per law, I have to sign whether I allow them to destroy the house or not. I didn’t sign the papers to destroy mu house, I neither signed the papers to receive money in exchange of the house. My brother contacted me in this regard. He said he wanted an authorization from me so he can receive the money, but I didn’t accept. Later on, they detained him.

They also wanted to trap me. I have a disabled son who is studying at a specialized rehabilitation center in Jordan. My detained brother used to take care of my son as I couldn’t go there. So, after they detained my brother, they banned my family members from visiting my son there. Now, it’s been almost two years since I last contacted them. After that, my son’s school called me saying if I didn’t go there they will expel him after a week. I told them how comes you expel him and he is disabled? They said it is not of their business because the Saudi embassy doesn’t accept that anymore. I myself was delaying the issue until the Jamal Khashoggi case emerged to the surface and everyone was busy with it, then my son’s issue was neglected. Otherwise, they wanted me to go there for him so they can take me to Saudi Arabia or perhaps do the same as they did with Khashoggi.

My brother’s only crime was contacting me, they further threatened him that they will bring me and kill me in front of his sight. They also summoned my mother and threatened to detain her but said they won’t because she is old. My mother is 80-years old, she was summoned for interrogation just because I contacted her on the Eid al-Fitr of two years ago to greet her. After that, my family sent me through a friend a message not to contact them anymore.

In the spotlight

There are still many detainees who are suffering from disabilities and diseases as a result of the torture and being denied medical treatment. In addition, they are on death row making their life in grave danger so that they might be executed at any moment, not to mention that all of them were forced to sign on committing the crimes they are accused of. Some of them attempted to commit suicide due to the torture. Some of them see death better than being humiliated and tortured on a daily basis. Some of the martyrs had signed on committing crimes that happened while they were already behind bars! The regime claims that they have taken part in killing servicemen, however, there is no evidence that they had carried weapons over the course of their lives.

Martyr Ahmad al-Rabie was executed because he ‘covered up’ the place where his brother Hussein was. Many were arrested because of ‘covering up’ the whereabouts of their relatives.

For example, martyrs Abdullah al-Sreih, Hussein al-Rabie and Muntadher Subeiti were human rights activists. They had peaceful demands and organized peaceful protests. But the regime wants to deliver a message to the Shia before Sunnis that any movement is considered against the kingdom’s guardian and hence considered an ‘act of terror’.

When the family of Sheikh Mohammad al-Atiyah held a memorial ceremony for his martyrdom, the Saudi regime forces’ came up with armored vehicles, they stormed the area and banned them from continuing the event.

The Saudi regime’s hostages

In the same context of terrifying people, the Saudi regime took from every family of a martyr, detainee or a wanted a hostage member so that –fearing the fate of the other ones- the families won’t demand for the bodies of martyrs, and the detainees be forced to sign the papers that find them guilty despite not committing those crimes, and the wanted ones would surrender. Besides, the regime also bans the families of the detainees and the wanted from the essential living services.

This is a story of what we have learned, bringing it to the world to share it until everybody knows that there is a people in a forgotten land, who are suffering to survive with dignity.

And as late martyr Ayatollah Sheikh Nirm Baqir al-Nimr had once said, “Either we live on this land as free people, or be buried inside it as dignified,” the people of Qatif will still sacrifice.

This is our story to you, if you have learned any other one, humanely do not hesitate to share!

Interview of Sheikh Imran Hosein on Islamic Eschatology and the NZ Massacre

March 25, 2019

In The Saudi Kingdom of Vampires, There Is A Place Called Qatif

Source

Zeinab Daher

Once upon a time, in a kingdom whose ruler is a vampire, people staying at their homes had to suffer and suffer, but they had no right to resist… otherwise, they will live unsafely forever, or perhaps not forever…

Where Mohammad bin Salman, until-the-moment Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, practices his “open-minded” regime over his own citizens, this is the case.

There is no wonder that the one who ordered the most brutal crimes over his few years in power oppresses a minority living over the Saudi soil, and holding a Saudi citizenship, just because they belong to a sect he cannot tolerate.

Others-intolerance is just one of the problems with the guy. The young ruler has killed, massacred and caused injuries among thousands of Yemenis, and is still killing them slowly with the blockade and military campaign on the impoverished country, leaving their children short of food and essential medical supply, among the many other forms of suffering.

He also caused the increase in unemployment rate in the supposedly oil-rich country, leaving scores of people begging for food, while he and the royals enjoy an overstated luxurious lifestyle.

Furthermore, he mastered the policy of silencing any person who voices opposition, criticizes, or even calls for reforms.

The latest example of them all, and perhaps the most savage, is ordering the murder of chopping Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi in a bone-saw machine while he was alive.

So he won’t skip the Kingdom’s Shia-populated Qatif eastern province as a spot that may help ease his psychological disorders.

On Wednesday, October 17, 2018, Saudi forces blockaded Qatif, raiding a number of neighborhoods and using live rounds and stun grenades against civilians.

The Saudi regime forces stormed the area under the pretext of chasing some wanted activists.

The attack resulted in the martyrdom of a man, injuries among other, with the injury of young lady confirmed, not to mention that many family members of the raided homes were detained during the offensive. Additionally, a residential apartment was burned due to the shelling.

The injured lady was reportedly shot as bullets ripped through the walls of her apartment.

Saudi forces used RPGs and heavy weapons against the areas’ unarmed civilians.

They also surrounded the place with armored vehicles in which they thought they can ban those wanted from fleeing the area.

Also a month earlier, three martyrs were raised as a result of similar raids targeting Saudi dissidents.

Qatif has been the epicenter of reform-demanding protests since 2011, and this is the reason why it has since been a target of the regime’s military campaign.

Until the day Saudi Arabia may be managed by a rational ruler, the people of Qatif will keep dreaming of the day in which they will live safe at their homes, but until then, and before all, they will keep defending their dignified being against any attempt to silence their activism.

Source: Al-Ahed News

‘Martyrdom and Martyrdom’ & martyrdom: understanding Iran

August 09, 2018

by Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog‘Martyrdom and Martyrdom’ & martyrdom: understanding Iran

“We are the nation of martyrdom, we are the nation of Imam Hossain, you better ask.” – Iranian Major General and Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, July 27, 2018

That injunction for education was in response to US President Donald Trump’s threatening “all-caps tweet” to Iran. The exchange provides a rather timely news peg for this article, and it also confirms its necessity; this article relates the importance of Imam Hossain in modern Iranian society.

Despite the good advice, I doubt Trump will ask anyone about Imam Hossain, and it appears certain he lacks the intellectual stamina for “such a long” article.

The previous part of this series – ‘Cultural’ & ‘Permanent Revolution’ in Iranian Revolutionary Shi’ism – is rather necessary reading in order to understand this part…unless one is already familiar with the life and death of Imam Ali, is aware of the foundation of the Sunni-Shia intellectual schism, and also has (at least) an areligious historical perspective on the political situation of the early Islamic era immediately following the death of Prophet Mohammad. Hossain immediately followed Ali, his father, so such background knowledge will help one to fully grasp the historical-cultural-political-religious links presented here.

In this previous segments of this 11-part series I have mainly discussed facts: Why the World Socialist Web Site’s 3-part series claiming that “Islamic Socialism is a sham” is false and blind; how the centrally-planned economy of the Shahs paved the way for the socialist-inspired economy of the Islamic Republic of Iran; why “privatisation” in Iran is a misleading misnomer; and a 4-part sub-series on the Basij, a much-misunderstood institution which actually reflects the attempt of revolutionary Shi’ism to redistribute wealth and power to the poorer classes & to solidify support for Iran’s unique structure and culture.

While the goal of this series is to show how Iran is the ignored success story of socialism, it is also to shed light on the Western blackout of honest, accurate & balanced discussion on modern Iran. Therefore, I thought that discussions of Imams Ali and Hossain should have gone first, as they are the major motivating force of modern Iran…but that would have immediately turned off the receptivity towards learning new perspectives on Iran among the often anti-religion Western leftists. Therefore, I have saved these two religious-philosophical & cultural discussions for the end, because I wanted my discussion of Iran’s unique creations to be factual & structural and not philosophical. We can’t argue the clear facts which prove Iran’s socialism – not anymore.

But Iran’s (now totally-clear) socialist policies cannot be explained or understood solely by an intellectual lens of “socialism” – “socialism” does not fully explain the unique creation of the Basij, the unique creation of the post of Supreme Leader, the unique creation of the bonyads or state charity cooperatives to help run 10-15% of the economyetc. For full comprehension, religious-cultural knowledge must be added.

Because Iran is a unique (revolutionary) country, this means they have implemented policies which truly have no parallel. It also means the reasons for such policies are often not accepted by others, and even more rarely understood. The WSWS refuses to add in this component of “religion” – thus, their series could only falsely claim that Iran’s revolution was seemingly totally inspired by the Iranian Communist Tudeh Party, in a rather selective rewriting of history which aimed to marginalise the role of religion in Iran.

All of these unique (revolutionary) polices, structures and ideas can indeed be explained by socialism because they are socialist…but something crucial will still be lacking; one cannot fully understand them without clarifying additional philosophical, cultural and religious tenets which run deeper in Iran than the obviously vitally nourishing economic-democratic ideas of 19th-21st century socialism.

Is this more new scholarship linking Iran and socialism? Possibly, but links have already been made for many decades

The previous part drew the parallel – and quite likely for the first time ever – between Imam Ali’s failed “Cultural Revolution”, after the original political Revolution of Islam, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Similarly, I cannot report finding internet links between Imam Hossain and the Trotskyist theory of “Permanent Revolution”, either.

However, I am not here to take credit. While I feel that Ali / China link was perhaps not able to be made in the heyday of the Iranian Revolution – as it is quite possible the true aims / goals / results of the Chinese Cultural Revolution were not known – the link between Hossain and “Permanent Revolution” was quite clearly obvious.

I contend that if I can’t find a record of this historical parallel being explicitly made there are clear reasons why:

The internet does not include the the cassette tapes, mosque lectures and fragile mimeographs which were the method of political communication in 1970s Iran.

Perhaps most Iranian thinkers wanted to give more credit to Islamic revolutionary figures, who were more relatable to the average Iranian.

The Revolution of 1979 was intensely patriotic: A repeated claim was that Iran already contained all it needed to have a modern, revolutionary, just society – holding up non-Iranian figures hurts that claim. And it’s not as if Trotsky, Mao or other foreigners were going to sue Iranians for using their ideas without attribution….

Iranian socialists were discredited-by-association in the 1980s by the horrific, detested, traitorous, totally illegitimate, most definitely NOT socialist cult known as the Mujahideen Khalq Organisation (known as the MKO or MEK, or People’s Mujahideen in English). Their unthinkable actions – stealing corpses to inflate body counts for propaganda purposes, fighting alongside Saddam, massacring Kurds, assassinating Iranian scientists, thousands of other terrorist acts, etc. – likely caused many to step away from proudly espousing the socialist intellectual lens which was so prevalent in the 1970s. It is mind-boggling to me that intelligent Western leftists ask me about the MKO as if they are some sort of viable leftist option in Iran…but it’s a big world, filled with too many insane cults – on the left, right and centre – to keep track of. The unforgivable MKO has also been gallingly whitewashed in the West by hundreds of millions of dollars from the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and France (where they are now headquartered). Support for the MKO on the part of West repeatedly sends the Iranian government into an absolute tizzy, and rightly so – it is proof of the West’s appalling and murderous intentions against Iran (as if more proof was needed….).

I will quote extensively, as in the previous part, from seminal Iranian Islamic revolutionary thinker Ali Shariati – I think readers will see for themselves how very clearly he adapted some key Trotskyist ideals in his modern portrayal of Imam Hossain. Whether Shariati admitted it or not, “Permanent Revolution” is all over his ideas, slogans, analyses, etc.

I can verify from personal discussions with older, politically active that (duh!) Trotsky was indeed one of the key figures on their minds in the 1970s and beyond.

But I am only a journalist reporting what I have found: the explicit link is not found, but I am both a poor journalist and poor researcher. I do not seriously expect Iranians to tell me that Imam Ali-Mao links were widely made, but I do expect them to tell me Imam Hossain – Trotsky links were.

Regardless, credit for linking Ali / China & Hossain / Trotsky – plus another $0.50 – will only get me a cup of coffee, as the saying goes (at least it did prior to inflation); the main thing is to understand modern Iran in order to promote human brotherhood.

The huge misunderstanding on ‘martyrdom’ between Iran and the West

It is often said that “self-sacrifice” and “martyrdom” are the main principles of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and Iranian society today…but this fact is of almost of no value to Westerners, because in 2018 there is a fundamental misunderstanding between the West and Iran on what “martyrdom” means and is.

Two parties cannot create mutual understanding if definitions of words are totally different. This article aims to rectify that.

But to do that, it is necessary for non-Muslims to learn about Imam Hossain, the grandson of Mohammad, the son of Imam Ali, and the 3rd Shia Caliph but who was not a Caliph for Sunni because Hossain was cheated out of it by Muawiyah, founder of the Umayyad dynasty and the 6th Sunni Caliph (this last statement is a universal historical consensus and not solely a Shia one – this was all explained in the previous part of this series).

In short: in 680 AD Imam Hossain (spelled Husayn or Hussein or Hossain in Arabic) marched off to certain death at Karbala, Iraq, rather than sanction the government of the Umayyad dynasty, which Imam Hossain and his father perceived as insufficiently Islamic and insufficiently revolutionary. This martyrdom has inspired a feeling of “Permanent Revolution” within Shia Iranians.

Many anti-religion leftists falsely assume this martyrdom was solely the result of a dispute on religious doctrine – I suppose it was, but I am 100% certain it was an intensely political act as well. Nobody is forcing anyone to accept the religious aspect – Islam can never be forced – and this means that non-Muslims can view Ali and Hossain in a purely political, areligious, historical context. But the widespread failure to do this has had huge consequences in modern political analysis.

The yearly pilgrimages to Karbala, Iraq, to commemorate Hossain are among the largest peaceful gatherings in human history. Even though 10-20 million people attend, they are totally ignored by Western media. That’s a pity, because even though “God is dead” to Western culture, the Arba’een pilgrimages shows how very, very, very living it is to Shia. Like that or not – this galvanising power cannot be ignored. As Soleimani said to Trump: “you better ask” about Hossain.

As I explained in the previous article, the Revolution of Islam was a sweeping & immediate political revolution as well as a revolution in religious thought and practice. This duality cannot be argued in the slightest, nor is there a single reason why they should be contradictory. Therefore, socio-cultural-historical parallels abound with other the great political revolutions in human history.

Non-Muslims and Westerners have much to glean politically from the Revolution of Islam, if they can only set aside their anti-religion bigotry. Again: one can examine the early Islamic age from an areligious perspective because it was a political & social revolution, unlike Christianity after the life or the death of Jesus son of Mary.

Regardless, the political structures and daily life in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2018 cannot be understood without grasping the importance of Imam Hossain in our collective unconscious. Unlike Jesus in the secular West, Hossain is a constant, universal presence in Iran (and for the many non-Shia, as well), and a perpetual reminder of the need for moral political action.

The second, failed generation of Islamic revolutionaries

As the previous article described, to many Iranian thinkers like Ali Shariati, after Prophet Mohammad’s death Islam was literally hijacked by slackening revolutionaries who forgot the socio-political message of Mohammad in order to create the imperialist Umayyad empire.

In 656 Imam Ali became Caliph and tried to stop this ideological and religious slackening, and thus represents, in modern terms, the Cultural Revolution in the Revolution of Islam, just as China had a Cultural Revolution years after their Chinese Communist Revolution (or quite similar to how Iran had the world’s only other official Cultural Revolution, from 1980-83).

But, in 661 Ali is assassinated. Ali’s son Imam Hassan becomes the Caliph (the 5th to Sunnis, the 2nd to Shia) but he has inherited a shattered administration. He is forced to abdicate to the politically & militarily powerful governor of largely Christian Damascus, Muawiyah, who is declared Caliph. The wishes of Mohammad are denied, the bloodline of Mohammad is broken, and the officially-secular & imperialist Umayyad dynasty is founded.

Imam Hassan, daughter of Mohammad’s daughter Fatima and Imam Ali, retires to Medina and dies in 670. After Ali’s death Umayyad clerics spent 60+ years making state-ordered ritual curses of Ali during public prayers, so Hassan was clearly in a very weak position. When he dies he is even denied burial next to his grandfather, Prophet Mohammad, and his relatives in Medina. I quote from Ali Shariati’s Martyrdom and Martyrdom:

“Imam Hassan, the manifestation of loneliness and isolation in Islamic Society, even in the Medina of the Prophet, clearly shows how the Truth-seeking party in Islam is utterly shattered. The new force of revolution completely overwhelms everyone and everything and conquers in every domain. Now it is Hossain’s turn.”

That “new force” is those who split off to create Sunni Islam, which is why the Shia Shariati continues, unequivocally:

“Hossain inherits the Islamic movement. He is the inheritor of a movement which Mohammed has launched, Ali has continued and in whose defence Hassan makes the last defence. Now there is nothing left for Hossain to inherit: no army, no weapons, no wealth, no power, no force, not even an organized following. Nothing at all. ”

Not only does the first two sentences of that paragraph name nearly all the males in my family, but it should emphatically make clear the historical-ideological view of Shia Islam, and how it obviously sharply differs from Sunnis.

The post-Mohammad era: When Shi’ism was truly an underground & political movement

Just as I wondered if Mao had any idea of Imam Ali’s message of Cultural Revolution, I wonder if Lenin had any idea of what Hossain stood for? I rather doubt it, but I’m certain the he, too, would have approved.

To paraphrase Shariati, who is paraphrasing Lenin: Hossain and the very few true revolutionaries are aware that the revolution is being compromised, and are asking – “What should be done?”

Certainly, there were no lack of ideas of appeasement being flung at Hossain: fatalism (God wishes it this way), are you so innocent that you can rectify the whole community, jihad is not the only path to God, asceticism is so personally pleasing, don’t oppose a Damascus which is spreading Islam, people judge by what they see so Islam must show a rich face to the Byzantine Romans and Persians to win them over, many temples and churches have been replaced by mosques, Islam is gaining in importance, Muslims are getting the top jobs, don’t cause trouble when there is Holy War against Christians in Europe and Zoroastrians in Iran, opposing those aristocrats is unrealistic and combative, we must win over our own aristocrats, do not mix earthly matters with heavenly ones, etc.

It all adds up to a call of: support the ruling system, and end your idealistic, permanent revolution.

This is something rejected by revolutionary Shi’ism, because the results of such a choice are clear:

Sixty years have passed since the migration of the Prophet. Everything earned by the Revolution has been destroyed. All of the successes earned a century before have been abolished. The Book brought by the Prophet is placed on the spears of the Umayyad (literally, during their first war against Imam Ali). The culture and ideas which Islam had developed through jihad, struggle and efforts in the hearts and minds of the people became a means for explaining the Umayyads rule.

Yes. In these black times the ignorance of aristocracy is being revived. Power is being dressed in piety and sacredness. The desires for liberty and equality created by Islam in the hearts of those sacrificed for power or policy are breaking down. Tribal (sectarian) ignorance has replaced the humanitarian revolution.

Jihad has become the means for massacre. Religious taxes are a means of public plunder. Prayer is a means of deceiving the public. Unity has been covered with the mass of profanity. Islam has become a chain of surrendering.

Nations are being taken into slavery as before.”

Obviously, Marxist- and socialist-inspired condemnations abound, as is the desire for modern revolution.

It is perhaps natural that when the Iranian Shia Shariati focuses on the 50-year period between the death Mohammad until the martyrdom of Hossain – from 632 until 680 – he is intensely critical of the lack of political revolutionary commitment on the part of the entire second revolutionary generation except for what is a very real “Shiite Resistance Movement”, which is truly an underground political phenomenon.

Imam Hossain answers Lenin’s question

In 680 the Caliph Muawiyah dies. Muawiyah’s betrayal of the House of Mohammad culminated in the handing of the caliphate to his son, Yazid. This ended the consultative and democratic caliphate and inaugurated monarchy and the Umayyad dynasty.

Yazid would go on to commit terrible atrocities at the Battle of Al-Harrah, which led to the looting of Medina by the Syrian army in 683, and then even an unthinkable siege of Mecca, leading to the burning of the Kabaa. The siege only ended when Yazid died from falling off his horse. These acts obviously damaged Umayyad authority among the People and strengthened the argument of the early Shia.

By 750 the Iranian-Iraqi Abbasid Revolution would kick the Umayyads out of the entire Middle East, while the Great Berber Revolt had kicked them out of the Maghreb just a few years prior. West and East Africa were not yet Muslim at this time.

The ethnic (Arab) elitists but religiously-tolerant Umayyads only found fertile soil in Europe, ruling Spain for several centuries. The Abbasid Caliphate would rule Islam for five centuries, replacing the feudal Arab Caliphate with a multi-ethnic, religiously tolerant Islamic Golden Age that lasted until the Mongol Invasion in 1258. The Mamluks of Egypt fought off the Mongols, thus sparing not just the Maghreb but all of Africa, and also allowing the Abbasids to re-center the Caliphate (religiously, but not politically) until the Ottoman conquest in 1517.

Thus a truly “Muslim World” – one in which unity is based only on Islam and not Arab ethnicity & Islam – does not begin until after the Umayyads. Shia obviously feel that Imam Ali and Imam Hossain perceived this sooner than anyone.

Shariati describes the view of Hossain back in 680: Hossain surely foresaw the crumbling of the Umayyad’s legitimacy – due to an obvious slackening of revolutionary integrity, the corruption of revolutionary ideals and culture, and the renunciation of political & social involvement;

“Imam Hossain, as a responsible leader, sees that if he remains silent, Islam will change into a religion of the government. Islam will be changed into a military-economic power and nothing more. Islam will become as other regimes and powers.

He is alone, unarmed. Opposing him is one of the most savage empires of the world which is being covered over by the fairest and most deceiving cover of piety, sacredness and unity which the ruling power possesses. He is alone. He is a lonely man who is responsible to this school of thought.

Whoever is more aware is more responsible, and who is more aware than Imam Hossain? What is his responsibility? He is responsible to fight against the elimination of the truth, the destruction of the rights of the people, annihilation of all of the values, abolition of all of the memories of the Revolution, destruction of the message of the Revolution, and to protect the most beloved of cultures and the faith of the people, for their destruction is the aim of the most filthy enemies of the people. They want to once again create the unknown, mysterious deaths, exiles, putting people in chains; the worshipping of pleasure, discriminations, the gathering of wealth; the selling of human values, faith, honor, creating new religious foolishness, racism, new aristocracy, new ignorance and a new polytheism.”

It’s a powerful historical analysis, and one which combines modern, socialist-inspired political thought with Abrahamic morality. The Shah had obviously re-created these evils, but it’s clear that just toppling a tyrant is no guarantee of revolution.

It should thus be clear how Iranian Revolutionary Shi’ism was created, how it was shaped by the lenses of socialism, and why it galvanised mullahs and masses far more than the Tudeh Party ever did.

But Hossain was totally weakened and could not depose the powers in Damascus. Therefore, he used his one weapon – his certain, aware death at Karbala.

The death of Imam Hossain – the birth of ‘living artists’ in the future

Hossain, then in Mecca, was invited by the people of Kufa, Iraq, (the future first seat of the Abbasid Caliphate 70 years later, showing they maintained their revolutionary zeal & culture ) to be their leader. Kufans had come around after 20 years of rule by Muawiyah. Hossain accepts.

However, Hossain gets word that Yazid’s troops were killing his sympathisers and blocking the gates – going to Kufa thus means certain death, given Hossain’s lack of power and resources.

Imam Hossain had two choices: go to Medina and swear allegiance to the new Umayyad dynasty, or march to the certain death at Kufa. Sanctioning imperialism is never Islamic, nor a modern revolution. Seventy kilometres from the Kufa gate Hossain’s band of family and loyal companions, 72 people, chose to fight the Battle of Karbala.

“He leaves Mecca to reply to the question, ‘How?’… (to) all those who can see, feel, understand and thus suffered and felt themselves responsible, who are thus looking for a revolution, (and) are then asking “What should be done?”

Clearly, the aware death of Hossain was selected by revolutionary Shi’ism as a direct answer to the title of Lenin’s famous pamphlet, which he took from a Russian book from 1863 which called for socialist self-sacrifice (martyrdom, to Iranians).

I quote Shariati at some length, because I cannot decide what should be omitted, and also because Western readers must drastically re-orient their conception of the word “martyrdom” if they want to understand the Shia and Iranian version (and the version very close to Sunni Muslims, as well.)

“The great teacher of martyrdom has now arisen in order to teach those who consider jihad to relate only to those who have the ability, and victory to be only in conquering. Martyrdom is not a loss, it is a choice. A choice where by the warrior sacrifices himself on the threshold of the temple of freedom and the altar of love, and is victorious.

Hossain, the heir of Adam, who gives life to the children of mankind, and the successor of the great prophets, who taught mankind ‘how to live’, has now come to teach mankind ‘how to die’.

Hossain teaches that ‘black death’ is the miserable fate of a humbled people who accept scorn in order to remain alive. For death chooses those who are not brave enough to choose martyrdom. Death chooses them!

The word shahid, martyr, contains the highest form of what I am saying. It means being present; bearing witness; one who bears witness. It also means that which is sensible and perceptible; the one whom all turn towards. Finally it means model, pattern, example.

Martyrdom: to arise and bear witness in our culture and in our religion is not a bloody and accidental happening. In other religions and tribal histories, martyrdom is the sacrificing of the heroes who are killed in the battles of the enemy. It is considered to be a sorrowful accident, full of misery. Those who are killed in this way are called martyrs and their death is called martyrdom.

But in our culture, martyrdom is not a death which is imposed by an enemy upon our warriors. It is a death which is desired by our warrior, selected with all of the awareness, logic, reasoning, intelligence, understanding, consciousness and alertness that a human being has.

Look at Hossain. He releases his life, leaves his town and arises in order to die because he has no other means for his struggle to condemn and disgrace his enemy. He selects this in order to render aside the deceiving curtains which covered the ugly faces of the ruling power. If he cannot defeat the enemy in this way, at least he can disgrace them. If he cannot conquer the ruling power, he can at least condemn it by injecting new blood and the belief of jihad into the dead bodies of the second-generation of the Revolution revealed to the Prophet.

Quite a passage – far from being a tragedy or a screaming kamikaze pilot hopped up on speed, Iranian martyrdom is based on intelligent and sensitive awareness. It is obviously highly political, and contains an urgent and progressive (anti-reactionary) political message.

In summary, in our culture – contrary to other schools where it is considered to be an accident, an involvement, a death imposed upon a hero, a tragedy – (it) is a grade, a level, a rank. It is not a means but is a goal itself. It is originality. It is a completion. It is a lift. It itself is midway to the highest peak of humanity and it is a culture.”

This is the “martyrdom” which is imbued in Iranian culture. How imbued is it? Iranians hear the word multiple times daily in the common greeting between two friends or even two strangers: “Gorban-e-shoma” (“I will be your martyr”). Many Iranians will say that I am over-exaggerating the literal importance of this phrase, but that IS the literal translation. To me, commonplace linguistic phrases reveal a culture’s true soul; but it is true that nobody is really promising immediate martyrdom on the other’s behalf.

(I always thought this Farsi phrase grew out of Koran 4:86 – “Answer a greeting in kinder words than those said to you in their greeting, or at least as kind. God keeps account of all things.” What could be a kinder greeting to a total stranger than promising to die for them?)

However, only the thick-headed would imagine Iranian martyrdom to be only concerned with death – such a society would quickly empty itself of inhabitants.

Martyrdom is also the constant little sacrifices of one’s individual well-being for the sake of society, and in much, much less drastic forms than death. Martyrdom essentially exists in order to activate the “living artist” who improves society by moving beyond mere individualism.

Martyrdom and Martyrdom and ANOTHER Martyrdom

“In European countries the word ‘martyr’ stems from ‘mortal’ which means ‘death’ or ‘to die’. One of the basic principles in Islam and in particular in Shiite culture, however, is ‘sacrifice and bear witness’. So instead of martrydom, i.e. death, it essentially means ‘life’, ‘evidence’, ‘testify’, ‘certify’.”

Martyrdom is, of course, one of the central messages of Jesus to Christians…but not as significantly to Muslims, however: the Koran explicitly rejects the idea that God could allow a messenger and prophet of God to be killed in such a way. Indeed, for Islam Jesus was not killed on the cross – it was only made to appear that way by God. In Islam faith always wins over evil, therefore the death of Jesus on the cross is illogical – how could Jesus’ executioners have won?

That is a complicated issue, but bringing it up helps us clarify the roots of the difference in the meaning of “martyrdom” to Muslims and Westerners. It also helps illuminate why the martyrdom of Imam Hossain is so important in Islam – he is essentially the primary Abrahamic martyr to Muslims.

But I think Shariati rather significantly misunderstands “martyrdom” as defined in the West. Although he is correct that they view it in a far more negative fashion than in Islam, I think Shariati’s view is wrong by failing to include two key points:

Firstly, Shariati does not acknowledge that – for Christians themselves – there is also a positive message of Jesus’ martyrdom: which is, that the key is to emulate Jesus when it comes to his martyrdom.

However, I believe that West European Christians (not East European) have proven incapable of grasping this positive message. Therefore, the point is moot for the Western half of the continent.

Secondly, Shariati did not grasp that many West Europeans mistakenly appear to think that because Jesus died for our sins, Jesus thus ended the need for more martyrdom. This quite significantly compounds the disagreeableness of “martyrdom” to Westerners.

Indeed, “martyr” is a term used only to disparage in Western European cultures. The only time one hears it in English is in the phrase “Don’t be a martyr”. The word and concept are similarly totally absent in French.

The word “martyr” is never even used to describe who has died unjustly (the primary view in Sunni cultures) – not for a Palestinian protester killed by Zionists, nor a Jew killed in the Holocaust.

For the West, I believe that martyrdom has evolved to mean “an unnecessary exaggeration of suffering” – as though you are pretentiously claiming that you are doing something on the level of Jesus Christ. When it comes to martyrdom in the West the message is unambiguous: don’t do it at any time. As I am aware of the Iranian version and its elevation of martyrdom, I always found this cultural difference quite, quite surprising.

I think the negative Western view reveals two flaws, as martyrdom is clearly a positive thing: a fundamental cultural indifference to unjust suffering, at least when compared with Muslim and Iranian culture, and also a distaste for suffering on behalf of any cause. The latter observation is caused by the rampant individualism of the capitalist West: anyone suffering for a cause necessarily and annoyingly reminds them of their fundamentally self-centred lives – thus their society discourages it.

There is also rampant nihilism in the West, which is not at all the same as religious fatalism, and which is yet another cause of their distaste for martyrdom: if all is pointless, why die for anything? Martyrdom is thus negatively associated with a needless death, when for Sunni Muslims martyrdom is associated with an unjust death, and for Shia it is associated with a selfless death.

Thus Westerners view “martyrdom” as both a needless death as well as a negative, self-aggrandising act, while Sunnis view it positively but primarily as an act of injustice, whereas Shia & Iranians view martyrdom as a necessary, positive way to effectuate social change. Therefore, we really are talking about “Martyrdom and Martyrdom and Martyrdom”.

Martyrdom to Iranians is thus actually the equivalent of English “altruism”.

But, just like martyrdom, altruism conflicts with Western capitalist-imperialist ideology, as it is the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

We should thus not be surprised that “altruism” is a word which almost never heard in Western daily discourse, nor in their political discourse.

Therefore, even prior to Basij teenagers being forced into wartime self-sacrifice by Western aggression, “martyr” was something with negative connotations for Westerners and positive connotations for Iranians.

The Western denigration of martyrdom forces the denigration of Iranian revolutionary Shi’ism

This Iranian conception of “martyrdom” should explain much in the first 8 parts of this series, no?

Why wage revolution against the Shah for decades? Why sit in opposition to East and West? Why be so uncaring of Western public opinion? Why be so stridently revolutionary? Why condemn Israel when it only reaps trouble? Why give 15% of the economy to charity foundations? Why create the Basij? Why refuse to participate in the dominant neoliberal ideology of global imperialist capitalism?

I cannot see the Iranians agreeing to continue to suffer while Tehran continues to finance foreign movements like Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Houthis in Yemen,” Jean-François Seznec, professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, told France24 media just yesterday. You can’t see it, really, Mr. Hotshot professor? I can, because I understand the Iranian conception of “martyrdom” – you clearly are another clueless academic.

(And I know that polls show that all of these non-Iranian revolutionary movements – as well as in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere – are massively supported in a democratic majority in Iran).

Martyrdom – in the unique Iranian definition, of course – is a large part of the answer to all those questions I just posed. Whatever the West wants to hide, forget or put a smiling capitalist-imperialist face on – Iran chooses martyrdom, or would like to.

So we must relearn what Iran means by “martyrdom” – they are talking about “Iranian Shia martyrdom”. The right terms in English are really: self-sacrifice, altruism, social justice.

These desires explain why 10-25 million Iranians have joined the Basij – for the overwhelmingly majority it is essentially just a social hobby which encourages (moderate, dull) self-sacrifice for societal betterment. You do get some social and monetary benefits, which are especially of importance to the lower class, but for many Basiji it also fills this emotional need that “I need to martyr some of myself and my time for others”. This emotional need exists exactly the same in the West, but it does not exist in the same intensity, nor does it exist in a government-supported form.

The West, with their different definition of “martyrdom”, and in combination with their hatred of socialism & Islamic democracy, wants people to believe that Iranian “martrydom” is all wild-eyed death when it it is 99.9% the mere provision of some rather mundane civil service / community improvement instead of watching TV. Iranian are not THAT great at being martyrs!

Yet the West hears “martyr” and assumes the worst about those who support Iranian revolutionary Shi’ism,

For an example, I return to the book on the Basij I reviewed in this series, Captive Society, by Saied Golkar. It is the only book ever written about the Basij in the West, but it is clearly a book which is against the Basij.

Golkar is discussing the WSBO – the Women’s Society Basij Organization, which is the main Basij group for women.

“The ideal family, which is promoted by the WSBO, is called the Islamic Revolutionary family or ‘family of holy defense’. The Islamic revolutionary family has specific features, according to WSBO head Minoo Aslani. The family is the place of modesty and chastity, where women take moral care of their family members. It is a place where women encourage charitable and spiritual affairs among their children and husbands, and where women should speak about religion and the Islamic Revolution.”

To many this is a happy, typical, politically-modern home concerned with moral social conduct. For Westerners and those who oppose modern Iran – this is some sort of horror, because the government should never get involved with these types of values, as they are purely personal (and thus should vary extremely wildly, apparently).

Golkar thus descends into fear-mongering, and surely finds plenty of receptive minds in the West: Golkar refers to a scholar which labelled this kind of family a “martyropath family”. He believes that Basij women are being brainwashed into training a “martyropath,” or a person who is enchanted by death and wants to die to preserve Iran.

To me the only “-path” of any sort here is Golkar, for so obviously trying to portray Basij families as fascist psychopaths. It is incredible that this supposedly-objective scholar is trying to portray a “martyropath” as a credible description of an average Basiji.

But this is what people always do with Iran – they portray them as insane, death-loving, religious fundamentalists instead of human beings.

No Iranian woman (who does not belong in a mental institution) trains their child for martyrdom – they only train their children to be altruistic and selfless. There should be no doubt that in probably every single case of martyrdom known to man, it was ultimately done against the mother’s wishes (and a father’s). I am not a parent myself, but I think any parent would immediately agree with that.

As has been reported for the case of martyrs in Iran during the Iraq war: to choose a martyr’s death is a lonely and individual decision, and families did their best to stop it. However, this does not mean that – after the deed was done – families did not also see the glory in the death of defending their community, family, nation; this is no different than in any other nation with any of their soldiers.

The reality is this: Basiji women are merely being encouraged to be modern revolutionaries, and that is what is frightening to the counter-revolutionary West.

Just as there is a downside to the West’s “never martyrdom” approach, there is a downside to Shia Iran’s “martyrdom please” approach as well. For example, missing a couple meals during Ramadan does not make one the world’s greatest Muslim martyr. It is quite easy for Iranians to puff themselves up as great Muslims and revolutionaries because they have mentally accumulated 10 million insignificant instances of where they put the needs of someone else first, i.e., simply done the right thing. If any culture could break their own arms from patting themselves on their own backs, it is Iran.

However, a society full of martyrs is certainly far, far more desirable than a society full of self-serving individualists, no? This is essentially the point to take away from this article, I think.

The message of Imam Hossain remains a political beacon

The willful ignorance of the revolutionary, unique and socialist-inspired structures of revolutionary Shi’ism which created Iranian Islamic Socialism is only dangerous for Westerners: they are the ones who are misled about the nature of modern Iran; they are the ones who have such a terrified, “Muslim martyropaths will get me” worldview; they are the ones who are deluded by the paranoia that it is Iran which is targeting them and not the other way around; and they are the ones whose societies are worsened by the failure to transplant some of Iran’s unique solutions to modern problems in their own country; I could go on and on listing such problems.

It should be now quite clear that Iranians have re-intepreted the martyrdom of Imam Hossain to coincide with something quite similar to the Trotskyist socialist concept of “permanent revolution”.

We should see how something like the Basij – whether one approves of them or not, and I am officially neutral on their value – clearly was originally created to try and incarnate this idea of Perpetual Revolution for which Trotsky (and Lenin and other socialists) had different yet very similar notions. By constantly recruiting new members, training them in modern revolutionary Shi’ism and granting them affirmative action spots in the universities and government, it is clear that they are an effort to constantly refresh the Islamic Revolution and to constantly reshape Iranian culture in favor of Iranian Islamic Socialism. Again, I merely condense here the objective conclusions proven in my 4-part sub-series on the Basij and do not judge nor promote.

Obviously, revolutionary Shi’ism did not sprout overnight, nor did it need a war to make its values widespread; it has all existed in Iran for some time, yet it was the Islamic Republic of Iran which made these the officially-sanctioned values of the government for the first time ever.

Hopefully people will realize that Iranian “martyrdom” and its “permanent revolution” is something which is based both on ancient sources of unimpeachable morality as well as the unimpeachable modern political ideas of democratic progress and economic equality. The slogans of 1979 – “Every place is Karbala!” and “The martyr is the heart of human history! – reflect this reality.

“Every place is Petrograd” and “The revolutionary is the heart of human history” could have been taken from Trotsky.

Agree with Iranians or not, modern Iran is indeed revolutionary, and thus quite in keeping with its ideological heroes – Prophet Mohammad, Imam Ali, Imam Hossain, Lenin, Mao, Trotsky, Castro, Algeria and others. It is clear who deserves top billing; it’s amazing that Western leftists still do not even know the cast of main characters…but that is out of ignorance or willful blindness.

I hope these articles have also shown that one need not be an Iranian nor a Muslim to accept that the Iranian Revolution is proof that Islam can be a progressive revolutionary force once again. One also does not have to be a Muslim to see that socialism will not advance globally without first accepting those facts.

***********************************

This is the 9th article in an 11-part series which explains the economics, history, religion and culture of Iran’s Revolutionary Shi’ism, which produced modern Iranian Islamic Socialism.

Here is the list of articles slated to be published, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!

The WSWS, Irans economy, the Basij & Revolutionary Shiism: an 11-part series

How Iran Got Economically Socialist, and then Islamic Socialist

What privatisation in Iran? or Definitely not THAT privatisation

Parallels between Irans Basij and the Chinese Communist Party

Irans Basij: The reason why land or civil war inside Iran is impossible

A leftist analysis of Irans Basij – likely the first ever in the West

Irans Basij: Restructuring society and/or class warfare

Cultural’ Permanent Revolution’ in Iranian Revolutionary Shiism

‘Martyrdom and Martyrdom’ & martyrdom: understanding Iran

‘The Death of Yazdgerd’: The greatest political movie ever explains Iran’s revolution (available with English subtitles for free on Youtube here)

Iran détente after Trump’s JCPOA pull out? We can wait 2 more years, or 6, or…

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.

The Essential Saker II
The Essential Saker II: Civilizational Choices and Geopolitics / The Russian challenge to the hegemony of the AngloZionist Empire
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The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world

‘Cultural’ & ‘Permanent Revolution’ in Iranian Revolutionary Shi’ism

August 03, 2018

by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog‘Cultural’ & ‘Permanent Revolution’ in Iranian Revolutionary Shi’ism

Trotsky was and, in as much as he lives in his writings, remains the foremost strategist of world socialist revolution. Hence the indissoluble association of his name with the theory and strategy of Permanent Revolution—an association familiar even to those like Mazaheri….”

That is a quote from the World Socialist Web Site’s 3-part series designed to rebut my work popularising the concept of “Iranian Islamic Socialism”, and by extension to also rebut “Islamic Socialism”, “Christian Socialism”, “Hindu Socialism”, etc.

Well, a supremely important association which I think is not at all familiar even to those like the World Socialist Web Site is that, for Shia, Imam Ali “remains the foremost strategist of world cultural revolution”. Nor are they likely at all familiar that the conscious martyrdom of his son, Imam Hossain (spelled Husayn or Hussein or Hussain in Arabic), makes him “the foremost strategist of world permanent revolution”.

This article will show that there is room for all of them in socialism, and in the fight against capitalism and imperialism.

The reason for this is because Prophet Mohammad, unlike Jesus son of Mary, undoubtedly led the greatest, most immediate and most sweeping religious and political revolution ever. This undeniable fact of humankind’s history can certainly continue to be ignored, but it will remain a historical fact.

This should be quite relevant to the WSWS in 2018 because the messages of Imam Ali and Imam Hossain have been combined, over many decades, with socialism to arrive at the unique culture proclaimed in the 1980s and which I refer to as “Iranian Islamic Socialism”.

That is a on an undeniable socio-political-cultural level. On an intellectual level it is just as crystal-clear: 20th/21st century Iranians re-examined Islam through the intellectual lenses provided by Marxism, Trotskyism, Maoism and all the other socialist schools of thought, and this led to the intellectual concept known as Revolutionary Shi’ism.

All of these facts can certainly continue to not be discussed outside of Iran, but Iran will keep adding layer upon layer of solder upon these two ideas from two different historical eras – the early Islamic era and the modern era of socialism – and certainly all without me clarifying it or commenting upon it.

It is unfortunate – because it shows their lack of crucial & objective historical knowledge – that just as Western leftists do not appreciate the political-economic-social revolutionary aspects of Prophet Mohammad, even fewer appreciate the similar qualities of Imam Ali. That will be the basis of this part, while Part 9 will discuss the related political qualities of Imam Hossain. These are not two figures I have plucked from obscurity – they are the two key leaders of the Shia religion, as well as successful revolutionary political beacons in two eras separated by 1300 years.

For the WSWS, Western leftists, and many Western rightists, religion is not and should not be political. People keep telling this to Iranians as if we have not heard it before…and quite obviously totally ignored it!

“It is surprising! For what purpose then, was the Prophet fighting? For what purpose was Imam Ali fighting? Is it not the question of politics? Is it not the fact that criminals are ruling over the people?”

In these two articles on Ali and Hossain I will often quote from Revolutionary Shi’ism proponent Ali Shariati and his Martyrdom and Martyrdom, a collection of his lectures on this issue.

Westerners may believe that religion and politics must be separated in a government: to use their sacred, inviolable and individualistic phrase, they “have that right” in their own countries. What they cannot believe – unless they willingly wish to remain in error – is that politics and religion are somehow two fundamentally unrelated socio-intellectual domains: both endeavour to tell us how to live, after all. It is notable that the Western view also lacks the democratic majority in a global sense – perhaps one finds that significant.

What is certain is that if one side does not give up…we will just go around in circles endlessly: Westerners with their dogmatic secularism and rabid laïcité (both of which latently support Christianity), and on the other side people like Shariati, myself and countless billions of others with: It is surprising! For what purpose then….

How imperialism dies: Learning from socialism’s mistakes and unlearning capitalist propaganda

The WSWS seems to think that I have invented something new:

“He again insists that socialism in Iran can galvanize the masses only if fused with Shia Islam. This argument is far easier to make if one ignores, as Mazaheri does, any consideration of the pivotal role of the Stalinist Tudeh Party in the development of the Iranian workers’ movement.”

I am not insisting anything about the galvanising power of Shia Islam in Iran – this is what has already happened. Truly, I am a journalist just reporting the facts. These are facts which are, unfortunately, not reported by many others.

However, this article will provide some new scholarship on Iran: I will show how there is a clear parallel between the aims of Imam Ali and Mao, both of whom attempted Cultural Revolutions after they perceived their initial political revolutions to be failing.

This is of vital interest, precedent and perspective to all political revolutionaries, and not just Shia and Chinese ones.

Now, I don’t want much credit here because I will use Shariati’s own scholarship to show that he essentially proved this…but he did not know it. The likely reason is that people like Shariati (died 1977) did not have the chance to unlearn the anti-socialist propaganda about China’s Cultural Revolution, which I helped debunk here. Furthermore, Shariati was so powerful because he was incredibly and uniquely adept at employing Marxist perspectives on Islam, but he was also anti-Marxist in the sense that he did not want formal communists to come to power in Iran – he was not inclined to openly laud Chinese communists, perhaps. Indeed, much of Shariati’s writing on communism is negative and filled with now-outdated ideas that communism is inescapably totalitarian, whereas modern socialist countries are not the USSR in 1942.

While there is much writing on Marxism and socialism on the Farsi-language internet, there is apparently no claim like the one I am making. Nor is there much on the claims of the next part in this series – the link between Imam Hossain and the need for “Permanent Revolution”, but it is not the desert of the Imam Ali-Cultural Revolution claim. However, I feel certain these links are easily proven, and that they likely were made in the revolutionary heyday of the 1970s…back when Revolutionary Shi’ism was disseminated via cassette tapes of Shariati and Khomenei lectures and flimsy mimeographs. I’m glad the internet makes the registration of such ideas seemingly permanent.

The continued moral failures of capitalism and imperialism mean that socialism – from an economic and democratic perspective – is the only way forward. Iran, and others, will never give up religion, so that is a non-issue, but understanding historical parallels shows the universality of the human economic-political experience. The ability to appreciate Prophet Mohammad, Ali, Hossain, Jesus, Moses, Mao, Trotsky and others as common socio-political liberators draws us all closer together, and closer to the goal of peace and shared prosperity.

This what’s makes the above claim by the WSWS rather pernicious, and it marks a turning point in their tract: it’s when the WSWS tries to appropriate the credit for the 1979 Iranian Revolution away from Revolutionary Shi’ism in order to give it to the Iranian Communist Party. And to give it lock, stock and barrel, furthermore. This is why the bulk of their series discusses the history of the Tudeh Party. Both ideologies existed, but one obviously prevailed; both ideologies existed, and to completely ignore one of them is obviously bad history. This appears like the rather common modern practice of rewriting Iranian history by Westerners, which is misleading, dangerous and self-serving. Of course, Iran is not alone in being victimised like this.

Certainly, it was not communism which ultimately galvanised the masses: by the late 1970s communism had already been present for decades, just as it was in every other nation in the world. Indeed, as Iran was never subject to colonial domination, it is a fact that communism had far more latitude and influence than in many colonised nations. But the truly-atheist Tudeh party members (which were truly few in Iran, where polls show less than 5% are atheists today) faced the same problem the WSWS does today: you may educate the Iranian masses all you want on Trotskyism, but that doesn’t mean they will also renounce viewing Imam Ali as a religious and political model.

While their series was informative on the topic they preferred – although it was clearly exaggerated – WSWS readers would have learned much more about Iran if they had instead talked about the enduring political influence of Imam Ali.

Indeed, the refusal to even consider the possibility that Ali, Islam or religion can have a positive and enduring political influence is what dooms Western leftism to political marginalisation in Iran, and elsewhere. It is also creates obvious enmity, discord, sanction & murder.

Imam Ali’s failed Cultural Revolution: the ideological schism between Shia and Sunnis

It is impossible to understand Iran without at least passing familiarity with Ali and with his son Hossain.

In short: Imam Ali, the very first male Muslim, Mohammad’s son-in-law, the 4th Caliph to Sunnis and the 1st to Shia –in the historical context of a perceived slackening in Islam’s revolutionary, political and moral integrity – cemented the ideological Sunni-Shia schism by trying to implement a Cultural Revolution after the initial political Revolution of Islam.

(The schism was officially created decades before: Mohammad repeatedly & openly declared Ali to be his successor at the event of Ghadir Khumm, but this decision was surprisingly reversed on the very day of the Prophet’s death at the Saqifah. This decision installed tribal dominance instead of the will and house of Mohammad, and Ali was not able to resist this decision. Ghadir Khumm is why Shia consider Ali to be the first Caliph, and is truly the root of the split, but Ali’s future actions – described here – would considerably exacerbate it.)

Perhaps all peoples of all times have reinterpreted religion to better understand and to improve the times in which they have lived?

It’s certain that many reinterpret religion to make their times more reactionary: drive through the United States and you will hear on radio station after radio station the combination of Christian fundamentalism and anti-government / pro-capitalist ideology. This is no exaggeration – for them the “beast” of the Bible is actually a symbol for the government, which is inherently evil. It obviously fits perfectly with the neoliberal view. There is also plenty of airspace reserved for “prosperity gospel”, where faith in God is only needed to make you rich. These are obviously not distortions of a failed Christian creed, but of a failed capitalist-imperialist one.

Instead of delusionally reinterpreting Jesus as a way to make money, the application and promotion of leftist perspectives on Ali and Hossain provided more inspiration for the common masses than the Tudeh Party ever did or possibly ever could.

Leftists fail to see that Prophet Mohammad was a political revolutionary

Don’t worry: This section will not be long, nor will it involve quoting the Koran.

I could do that, but many leftists have closed ears, and “God confounds whom He will” (couldn’t resist that one short, oft-repeated quote!).

What this section will recap is the political humanitarian revolution which Prophet Mohammad created. These basic historical, sociological and political aspects of Islam are facts which cannot be denied, and should be of intellectual interest to atheists at the very least.

As I have said often before: Shariati was just one of many, many similar Iranian political thinkers who was / are intensely Muslim and also politically leftist. His work is marked by superb political insights combined with an intensely urgent and open concern for morality.

For an example of his political insights, Shariati noted that the social origins of Jesus and Mohammad – the two Abrahamic prophets of whom we have definitive historical proof – were not the aristocratic ones of Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Zoroaster, Aristotle, Plato, etc. Indeed, all the founders of schools of pre-Enlightenment thought in Europe, China, Iran and India fundamentally supported their aristocratic, elitist, hyper-conservative political establishments. However, the primary Abrahamic messengers (including Moses, who was born to an enslaved people and then orphaned) were drawn from the People and openly opposed the existing power structure.

This helps explain why the main Abrahamic prophets were explicitly sent to free people not just spiritually and morally but politically as well. Unlike Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism or Taoism, “Abrahamism” has always been decidedly political and decidedly against the establishment: Abraham against the ruling polytheists and his father the idol-maker; Moses against Pharaoh; Jesus son of Mary against a slave-owning, imperial Rome which lacked political compassion; Mohammad against the oppression inherently imposed by polytheism (the humorous and sad delusion that God or gods are actually working against you), the meagre cynicism of materialism (scientific, not material), aristocratic privileges, social castes and tribal divisions.

Indeed the Western-created “Sunni-Shia divide” could only be created by non-Muslims because Mohammad ENDED tribalism, sectarianism and nationalism ,and every Muslim is aware of this. This is easily proven: Watch any gathering of Muslims and you see people of all hues and ethnicities – it is beautiful, politically, and the direct result of the humanitarian revolution espoused by Islam. This is absent among the insular “chosen” Jews, and far less present among Christians; indeed, the presence of multiple races in Christianity is largely due to their legacy of forced conversion, a practice barred in Islam.

All of this helps show why Islam is the undoubted political updating of Abrahamic thought. Mohammad had a mission of unification because he repeatedly confirmed the previous Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity (the Torah (Old Testament) and New Testament), and because he also created a unification of time and space by pointedly declaring Islam to NOT be a “new” religion – it is simply a continuation of the one true religion of monotheism.

This idea (tawhidis the indispensable base of Islam: it is the oneness of God, which implies the oneness of all things (from atoms to people to galaxies, as everything is under the direction of a limitless, all-knowing, all-seeing God). This is a fundamentally unitarian concept, accommodates both Western and Eastern concepts, and is also fully in accordance with the last great confirmed scientific theory, the Theory of Relativity.

A fun scientific sidebar!

The Theory of Relatively is far from being just the equation E = mc2 – that’s just the part to say to appear smart. Its theoretical importance is this: when observing the universe no one place is any better or different than another – the laws of nature are universal no matter where or by whom they are described, i.e. there is this egalitarian tawhid on a galactic level.

When scientists inevitably find a “theory of everything”, that too will logically confirm tawhid.

There is one scientific and cosmological debate left which, I must concede, still threatens the victory of tawhid and which could prove the polytheists correct: What is the true nature of the universe’s continual expansion?

If expansion never stops, that implies an eventual thinning out of matter, and thus cooling, and thus death – in theological terms, the Day of Judgement. But what if there is never a day when the universe stops expanding but – instead of thinning out – a day when it actually contracts upon itself? And if that occurs, does it then expand again?

The latter is posited by Hinduism, which believes that the universe has an infinite number of deaths and rebirths; Big Bang, contraction and reversal, then back to the same Big Bang; have all been here before, and we will all be here again. Does time run backwards during a contraction?

This is all scientifically plausible because it has not yet been disproven.

The key appears to lay in solving the mysteries of black holes, if that possible.

Another key lays in the possibility of being able to discover the nature of matter by finding the truly “smallest particle” – we may just keep subdividing forever: molecules into atoms into quarks into…. If we subdivide forever, that seems to support tawhid, because God is limitless. If we reach an end, that seems to support Hindu cosmology.

So for all the opprobrium Muslims and monotheists heap on Hinduism for their idolatry (known as shirk), we still cannot scientifically reject their cosmology. For now, the answer is a question of faith.

I think religious honesty requires us to be open and honest about the limitations of our scientific knowledge – the Koran repeatedly states that one who makes up lies about God is among the most reprehensible of sinners. Indeed, a mind that demands total certainty and cannot tolerate doubt is a fanatical one. I also think every religious person agrees that atheists are far more fanatical in their alleged cosmological certainties than either monotheists or polytheists.

We may never find out, but I have faith in the galactic applicability of tawhid. Fortunately, the Koran forbids forcing a Hindu into accepting tawhid. Nor can you force a Muslim to become a Hindu because Hinduism – it is often said – is not a religion but a culture: there is no process to “convert” to Hinduism – one can only live it. So…Muslims have no problem allowing Hindus to remain peacefully confounded in whatever hundred billion-year cycle they are currently in, and the same goes for Hindus regarding Muslims who refuse to practice Hindusim.

I do not seek to upset the peace of the Hindus, because solving the most difficult astronomical and cosmological questions are far beyond the ken of a daily hack journalist like myself. And maybe there is tawhid in Hinduism which I am perhaps missing?

What this sidebar makes clear is: capitalist-imperialist Western societies have been totally unable to incorporate 20th-century scientific advances into their cultural philosophies. Their People are encouraged in identity politics (where one viewpoint is superior to another, depending on the situation), supporting foreign wars and in exacerbating economic inequalities, all of which contradict the social corollaries of modern science.

They remain quite stuck in their unmodern bourgeois conceptions of humanity, society & science, and this should be expected: they have rejected socialism, which was directly inspired by such modern scientific advances, and which has always sought to reflect it.

Back to something far easier to explain: Iranian Islamic Socialism.

This inviolable unity of all things proclaimed by Mohammad necessary implies a call for socio-political-economic-cultural unity. To say that it does not is to take us back to, “It is surprising! For what purpose then….”

Shariati’s genius was to take Islamic concepts like tawhid and make correlates with them in Marxist socio-economic thought. He did this over and over, and this is why he was so wildly popular and why Iran was so successfully inspired to create a truly modern revolution in 1979. This is also why all of the politics and structures I have described in this 11-part series do not have historical parallels; are decidedly not capitalist; nor are they a return to the 7th century – what has been created in Iran since 1979 is entirely unique (revolutionary).

And I’d say he was right: Tawhid clearly is more politically revolutionary than the insufficient “chosen people” unity of the Jews. Even China’s I Ching explicitly warns of this, in Chapter 13 “Seeking Harmony” – “Seeking harmony within a clan, it is selfish and stingy”.

It is also more progressively uniting than the Holy Trinity of Christianity, which Islam explicitly rejects: God is not three – He is one, and one is all.

In the Abrahamic religion Islam is obviously the most concerned with this idea of egalitarian unity. Indeed, Prophet Mohammad “cornered the market on unity” for all-time and for every time: In Islam (as I alluded to earlier by saying that Islam unified time and space), anyone who has ever believed or will ever believe in monotheism is essentially a Muslim. This insistence also makes it an undeniable reality that there can never be another monotheistic religion in the Abrahamic line – Islam has effectively co-opted all monotheism.

Therefore, the next Abrahamic prophet can only appear on the Day of Judgment… because what else could possibly be offered more than an Islam which offers everything there always has, is, and will be offered regarding monotheistic belief? This is why the Koran begins with praise after praise for monotheistic Jews & Christians as well as plea after plea for Jews & Christians to join this intellectual, social and cultural updating of Abrahamism provided by its latest prophet.

Because another monotheistic prophet is thus a logical impossibility, Muslims believe a “Hidden Imam” (or Mahdi) walks the earth until the Day of Judgment, when he will walk hand-in-hand with Jesus to defeat the false messiah (or Antichrist to Christians) and establish peace and justice on earth This doctrine is not essential in Sunni, but popular, while for Shia it is an essential doctrine.

Many have falsely claimed to be the Mahdi over the centuries, including the fore-runner of the Bahai – that claim was obviously false, because peace and justice clearly do not reign globally. That is why the Bahai are not tolerated in Iran (and this fact predates 1979, of course): there is a rather enormous, Islam-jeopardizing claim which is being made and not fulfilled.

But the galactic nature of tawhid and the realisation that Islam owns all monotheism aside, what needs to be appreciated by non-Muslims is how Mohammad overturned the political order and broke with aristocratic and sectarian values. Just as bus drivers became bosses in 1979 Iran, so in the time of Mohammad slaves with noble natures became higher than aristocrats. From Shariati:

“This is why the Prophet of Islam marked the turning point for slaves who, throughout history, were certain that their fate was slavery…they believed that they existed solely to experience suffering, to carry heavy loads, and to go hungry so that others might receive pleasure. They were born and created for this.

This deprived class, who were convinced that the gods or God were their enemy…. The Prophet of Islam had been appointed in order to complete the movement which had existed throughout history against deception, falsehood, polytheism, creation of discord, hypocrisy, aristocracy and class differences which were all made an object of the spiritual struggle; and by announcing that all of humanity is of one race, one source, one nature and one God, to declare equality for all, with philosophical explanation, and by fighting an economically powerful regime to maintain social equity.”

Clearly, the lenses, ideas and language of Marxism, socialism, class struggle, democratic equality and economic equality are present and have been combined with Islam in 20th century Revolutionary Shi’ism. Combine this by many volumes and you have only Shariati’s output on an issue which captivated Iranian society. “Iranian Islamic Socialism” is not new – it just an apt journalistic catchphrase.

Certainly, the political impact of Jesus son of Mary was only felt after his death, while Prophet Mohammad created political revolutions in land after land, tribe after tribe, ethnicity after ethnicity, and race after race with his creed of total social equality.

Many Christians openly hold Mohammad’s political conquests against him from a moral point of view: this because they clearly fail to realise the revolutionary socio-political demands of Islam, due to their often total ignorance of Islam’s doctrines. Priests in Islam simply are fighters for God and social justice. Islamic preachers are not monks, nor celibate, nor divorced from society, nor unconcerned with society in order to worship God all alone, nor encouraged to live in isolation, nor obsessed with performing rites and rituals, nor plying magic to make it rain (or to do whatever polytheistic / folk shamans do), etc. They are ordered to create social justice.

However, to Shariati and to Shia, this very real socio-political revolutionary aspect of Islam was diminished due to the failure of 2nd and 3rd-generation Islamic revolutionaries to heed Imam Ali’s message.

Imam Ali and his call for Cultural Revolution to preserve the leftist political gains

Because Islam was a political revolution of still unparalleled global consequence, there is much for everyone to study on a historical-political level in the period immediately after Mohammad, who passed in 632. We can view this era from an areligious historical perspective, and it is politically quite enlightening.

This is not the exact same thing as what Shariati and others did – they applied a modern political lens on Islam itself as well as its history. What I am saying here is: Non-Muslims can apply a modern historical lens on the early Islamic era, and we will find the results are almost identical.

We must realise that in 656, when Imam Ali became the 4th Caliph, it was a dire situation for the now-aged first generation of political revolutionaries of Islam.

After all, how many political revolutions haven’t lasted more than a few years before reverting back to the previous & reactionary status quo?

From a purely political perspective, and as Shariati recounts: In 656 it was nearing the end for that first generation of revolutionaries. Ali, the only person ever born in the Kabaa, was 55 years old and had fought in nearly every major battle. He had also retired from politics to work as a farmer – he still mended his own shoes. He had to be pushed into becoming Caliph, and only did so because the revolution was starting to eat its children: His predecessor had been assassinated, factions had appeared, once-liberated areas were rebelling due to poor political governance, while some new converts may have converted for political gain and were thus possible opportunists with questionable grounding in Islam.

It is as if Raul Castro was seeing the growth of parties who want Guantanamo Bay to be legally part of the USA, that the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution were no longer holding meetings, and that state-ownership of the mother industries of the economy were being sold off to Floridians.

Imam Ali assumed the Caliphate and did what he thought was needed – he restored the political revolution of equality initiated by Mohammad.

Ali waged a war against financial corruption and unfair privileges – he was a politically-enlightened (as well as religiously enlightened) revolutionary, after all. He gave the same wages for politicians as he did to slaves, levelled taxes and opposed the reigning nepotism in favor of seniority. There is no doubt that such leftist ideas rarely reign supreme now, either, and that they were just as opposed by the same unenlightened forces back in the 7th century.

Ali’s message of political piety was obviously not appreciated by everyone, least of in largely-Christian Damascus. The governor there was Muawiyah I, the eventual founder of the Umayyad dynasty. After a political marriage to a powerful Christian tribe and many military successes, Muawiyah was powerful enough to not recognise Ali as the 4th Caliph.

The Christian makeup of Damascus was not the problem: the problem was that the anti-reactionary blaze of the Revolution of Islam had so very much to burn. From Shariati, in that typically overstuffed-yet-somehow-not-unnecessary style of Persian carpets and minatures:

“The traditions, rules, etiquette of society, economic and aristocratic systems, thoughts, ideas, tastes, literature, poetry, music, dance, amusements, social relations, ethics and manners of ‘civilized’ Rome and Iran, the social class system and aristocratic regime, the political system of the Caesars and Kings, the type and form of monastic and clerical traditions, the properties which are hierarchical and bureaucratic, the official and classical system of rule, and finally, the progressive (meaning less austere) Iranian and Roman civilizations certainly had an influence upon the simple Islamic communities.

The wealth, power, position and countless ‘spoils’ which had been earned in the Muslim victories make people grow fat and it is because of this that they are no longer listening to Ali’s advice, his goal and his sufferings. The majority of the people are quite happy with the situation. They are no longer fond of such problems. They show no sensitivity whatsoever to them. These people have now changed into being the servants of wealth and power.”

Shariati has clearly recounted a lessening of political fervour which can be seen in seemingly all political revolutions.

Also for Shariati, Ali is so vital in large part because the power centre in Damascus began to manipulate Islam for its own political conquests, fostering a quietism among the religious authorities.

Comparisons of the post-Mohammad-era political culture with the USSR after Stalin and China in the 1960s show obvious parallels…as they must, because all three were the supremely-modern political revolutions of their respective eras.

After the first generation of revolutionaries passed with Stalin, Khrushchev pursued revisionist policies in the name of individualistic anti-Stalinism; then, when the USSR had pulled itself up to the level of the dominant Western imperialists, they preferred the calm Brezhnev era, which was totally stagnant from a revolutionary perspective; finally, Gorbachev’s era had become so estranged from Russian socialist ideals that he foolishly embraced massive tolerance of counterrevolutionary thought (glasnost), which played a major role in subverting the Russian Revolution. Revolutionaries became “the servants of wealth and power,” instead of the deprived classes.

Following 1949’s victory, after many years of similar revolutionary stagnation and at least seven failed official anti-corruption campaigns, Mao and his fellow first-generation revolutionaries listened to the demands of their youth in the 1960s and empowered them to institute the Cultural Revolution in order to restore revolutionary integrity. Thus when Mao died in 1976 the younger generations had personally witnessed the regeneration of revolutionary ideals, and ones extremely similar to those which Imam Ali was espousing 1,300 years earlier. In 2018, when China is close to returning a socialist nation to the same economic status as the dominant Western imperialists, books such as China is Communist, Dammit by Jeff J. Brown are necessary reading not just in the West but inside China itself – rust never sleeps, after all.

Iran instituted the world’s only other official Cultural Revolution immediately after the 1979 Revolution. Even though it expressly rejected anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist thought, as in China, it came at a very different revolutionary period of revolutionary history. This is a vital nuance, but one which does not overshadow the kinship between the world’s only two official Cultural Revolutions. There was talk of a second one in 2005 with the election of Ahmadinejad, the first Basiji president.

In my 8-part series on China I showed how constant Western pressures (blockade, Vietnam War, Indonesian communist genocide) were key additional reasons for China’s Cultural Revolution – it would thus not be historically surprising if the constant Western pressure on Iran does eventually produce a 2nd Cultural Revolution more exactly similar to the first one in China.

The appetite for and unprecedented success in Cultural Revolution is one of the many, many cultural and political similarities between modern Iran and modern China, as I discussed in part 4 of this series.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the non-Semitic Iranians have been so insistent in their accusation that the Arab early Sunnis turned Islam into an imperialist war machine instead of being content to morally improve their own backyards. But it seems historically verifiable: Instead of the values being determined by the Koran and Islam, the values were being decided by Damascus…unless Ali’s ideas prevailed. Did they?

To Shia: The counter-revolution in Islam in generations after Mohammad

No they did not. Ali’s Cultural Revolution created major opposition from the Byzantine elites in Damascus. Governor Muawiyah openly rebelled, demanding autonomy, refusing diplomacy, and thus sparking the First Fitna (Muslim Civil War).

Muawiyah’s army had become accustomed to war, with regular battles against the Byzantines (or Romans, as they called themselves – North European historians apparently insist on this false distinction). The militarily-innovative Muawiyah had just established Arab naval supremacy over the Byzantine / Eastern Roman Empire in the Battle of the Masts of 654, two years prior to Ali’s assumption of the Caliphate. The death of the Zoroastrian Yazdgerd III, Sassanid Iran’s last ruler, occurred in 651 and thus both East and West presented plenty of war booty for thousands of kilometers.

So, in 656, for Imam Ali to come in with his revolutionary piety instead of worldly gain at a historical time when all roads to conquest were wide open….

War between the partisans of Ali (the word “Shia” means “partisans of Ali”) and Muawiyah ensued and, about to be defeated, Muawiyah famously instructed his soldiers to put Korans on the tip of their lances. Inspiration or blasphemy? The soldiers themselves did not know, either, and the confusion stopped the fighting and saved Muawiyah. Diplomacy resumed, arbitration was unsatisfactory and confusion reigned for several years…which was the obvious goal of Muawiyah.

It was his goal because during this break in the First Fitna the powerful new elites in all directions certainly did not grow to appreciate pious Ali’s views. It’s as if Muawiyah was betting on the continued decreasing of revolutionary fervour and increasing of capitalist-imperialist desires. Ali’s soldiers began to be poached and bought off by Damascus. Infighting and discord increases among Ali’s own partisans. Eventually, Ali could not consolidate his position in Iraq, where Muawiyah’s army began invading.

In 661 Imam Ali is assassinated in in Kufa, Iraq – stabbed in the back while prostrated in prayer.

Ali’s legacy is summed up by Shariati thusly:

“The Prophet is the manifestation of Islamic victory on the foreign front – over outright atheism and polytheism – whereas Ali is the manifestation of Islamic defeat within the ranks, at the hands of hypocrisy.”

Thus we have a major cause of the root of the Iranian obsession with hypocrisy, which is essentially the same thing as “corruption” to the Chinese or “opportunism” to Cubans. Of course, capitalists cannot be called “hypocrites” because capitalism is synonymous with hypocrisy, corruption & opportunism in every sense of the words and their practices & applications.

Equal to Iranian hatred of hypocrisy is “arrogance”, which is used synonymously with “imperialism” in everyday Iranian political discourse: imperialists arrogantly believe that they know better than the conquered locals, after all.

In the same way but with none of the same logic, Americans use “imperialism” and “capitalism” interchangeably, even though they are two very separate (but related) practices. Falsely using these two as synonyms explains why Western media essentially instructs (“read: capitalism”) in the rare case they actually even print the word “imperialism”.

“The political, social and international make-up of Ali was the representative par excellence of a new struggle, a struggle between the leaders and the loyalists of the new set of values, of the new faith, who rose up with new and true slogans of Islam and found themselves confronting the greed and worst elements of the revival of the rule of ignorance…. Ali is the manifestation of an age in which an internecine struggle took place between a loyal faithful and anti-movement elements who donned the masks of faith.”

Ali did not represent “only Iranians” or “only Iraqis” or “only Mohammad’s Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe” – he represented the idea of moral improvement: that is what true socio-political revolutions must be based on, while forgetting it means the revolution is nearing its end.

This is why Iranian Islamic Socialism has been proven to be not just some petty nationalist, sectarian or racist creed but a true, progressive revolution. The message of Imam Ali is open to all peoples; his political message is open to non-Muslims, if they would only look….which is rather the point of this article.

“Confronting the ‘neo-ignorance’ and ‘neo-aristocracy’, which comes to life within the context of Islam under the cover of truth and the very heart of the justice-seeking Revolution of Islam, Ali is the base of resistance.”

It is not surprising that a “resistance base” – has been chose as the term for the smallest unit of Iran’s Basij – there are 60-80,000 such small bases nationwide, comprising 10-25 million Basiji.

We also see here how Shia view Ali’s opponents as a “neo-aristocracy” which mistakenly installed an era of “neo-ignorance” (“neo” because it is post-Mohammad, but “ignorance” because they opposed the social revolutionary Ali).

Ali resisted the unjust, and this resistance is most certainly the cause of his still-galvanising legacy in 2018. The Tudeh Party, for all their decades of progressive activity, never approached the impact of Ali in Iran- not in politics, nor in culture, nor in morality, nor in anything. Iranian socialists succeeded because they subverted themselves to Ali, and thus won over the masses.

The effects of Ali’s failed ‘Cultural Revolution’ – revolution devolves to empire

Upon Ali’s assassination his son, Hassan, becomes the next caliph, but he is obviously dominated by Muawiyah. Muawiyah is declared Caliph with the promise that upon his death the Caliphate will return to Hassan or, if Hassan has passed, his brother Hossain.

But infamously, upon his death in 680 Muawiyah reneges on this promise and appoints his son Yazid for his successor as Caliph. The Umayyad dynasty is declared.

Thus, not only is Mohammad’s will disregarded, but the house of the Prophet has been deeply marginalized, and the democratic, consultative government of Islam has ended with the re-establishment of monarchy.

Some say that Muawiyah told his son to be gentle with Hossain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, but it should be clear that this will not be the case.

The Umayyad dynasty, while it was religiously tolerant – indeed, it was officially secular and Christians held top posts – it was ethnically intolerant, as it was pro-Arab. It was also an imperialist war machine which conquered from Spain to Afghanistan. Its legacy is almost universally considered to be negative among all Islamic historians (except by Syrian nationalists). How could it be otherwise? Given its imperialist nature, it was obviously not revolutionary nor sufficiently Islamic.

(Like Alexander, the Umayyads mistakenly thought they could do anything remotely significant to the continent and perpetual superpower of India – claims of victories there by Greeks or Muslims are woefully & shamefully exaggerated, and serve only to amuse Indians. Unfortunately, the belief of such false claims undermine the amazing achievements of India, and thus have produced a huge Western and Muslim under-appreciation for their singular importance and dominance throughout human history.)

While the actual Sunni-Shia schism undoubtedly started on the day Mohammad died, with the refusal to honor Mohammad’s appointment of Ali as the first Caliph, it might have been averted if Ali’s Cultural Revolution had been implemented.

So…we can say this intellectual schism was a cultural conflict between the Byzantine and Persian cultures in early Islamic society – that would seem to rest upon the belief in some sort of native Persian austerity which lays in opposition to a native Mediterranean belligerence. Or we can say that the Umayyads created a wholly new Islamic culture which preferred tolerance and imperialism (how very modern European) to the socio-political revolutionary Islam of Mohammad. Or we can take a political-ideological view – the Umayyad Dynasty only was able to take power because the Revolution of Islam had weakened in its fervour and integrity.

This weakening was not just by the new Islamic elite like Muawiyah, but with the People themselves – to believe otherwise seems to accept a view that history is controlled by the 1%: why did the 99% not rise up with Ali? Clearly, many preferred Muawiyah’s promises, his larger army, his richer allies, his less pious worldview. Islam was a political revolution and people do tire of revolution, after all – not everyone is a seemingly tireless Lenin or “Mr. Dyanmo” Mehdi Ben Barka of Morocco (assassinated in France in 1965, likely with aid from the Moroccan monarchy).

Of course, while under the reign of the Umayyads many would regret this decision – and these are called “Shia” today.

While they would initially headquarter in Iraq and become culturally rooted in the “Shia crescent” (Lebanon east to Iran), Shia are significantly present in nearly every Asian country from Turkey eastward until Bangladesh & China. Thus, Shi’ism is not just a small regional affair as portrayed in the West; this vast presence helps explain why there never any sort of ideological-fuelled war with Sunnis like beween Protestants and Catholics…until Zionism gained the upper hand, that is.

If the Umayyad reign had been more politically enlightened, then they would have likely superseded Ali, correct? Instead, as time went on, Imam Ali obviously became appreciated for the true & just revolutionary he was. Despite nearly 70 years of rather appalling ritual cursing of Ali – the first male Muslim – in public prayers, as ordered by the Umayyad Islamic authorities, Ali’s message grew and now his picture is all over Iran and elsewhere.

I rather doubt Mao knew the story of Ali, but as he was also an undoubtedly poetic soul I’m sure he would have appreciated it…assuming he had dispensed with the blinding anti-religious hatred of early socialists.

Conclusion:

I hope this historical recounting clearly shows how, for Shia, Ali represents a Cultural Revolution within Islam after the original Revolution of Islam. As I said, my terms and historical parallels may be new, but the ideas were present before I was even born. This will become even more clear in the next part of this series, on Imam Hossain. 20th/21st century revolutionary Shi’ism is largely based around the combination of Prophet Mohammad, Imam Ali & Imam Hossain and the political ideas of modern socialism.

The split between Iran and the rest of the Muslim world is not based on religious doctrine, but on political-economic doctrine. Iran was always fortunate to escape the capitalist-imperialist domination nearly all other Muslim nations have been and are still subjected to.

It is unfortunate that it must be tirelessly repeated to combat the dominant propaganda: The “Sunni-Shia divide” is a concoction of Washington and Tel Aviv designed to further their imperialist capitalism. That is very clear from Netanyahu’s 2016 interview with the US television news program 60 minutes: Simply look at the chilling way he responds to the journalist’s question, “Israel and Saudi Arabia: Are you actually developing an anti-Iran alliance in the Middle East?” It’s clear that he has put plenty of time into thinking about this from the way he tries to persuasively respond: “It doesn’t have to be developed – it’s there anyway.” (here at the 4:30 mark) To me it is clear that he is talking about “developing” the Sunni-Shia split, in defiance of nearly all of its 1400+ years of history.

These two articles should illustrate that the so-called “divide” is nothing compared to the Western European Catholic-Protestant divide but much closer to the Theravada-Mahayana discussion in Buddhism, where things were heated temporarily after the split, but then calmed down into peaceful mutual coexistence. Of course, if the Americans had defeated socialism in Vietnam I’m sure they would have exacerbated this difference and would have manipulated the Vietnamese into waging war on the minority Theravada nations of Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Thailand….

Yet Ali does represent a different school of Islamic thought in politics, culture and economics – many would say “the original school”.

Ali poses the question: What is to be done in the face of decreased revolutionary commitment and political counter-revolution? His son Hossain provided the answer: constant self-sacrifice for the benefit of a political-social-moral-cultural-religious goal.

Islam, like communism and Confucianism, views humans as perfectible via correct efforts and beliefs. Thus the martyrdom of Hossain inspires a Permanent Revolution in all Muslims, but especially Shia, and one which is simultaneously personal-moral & social-political.

In my experience, open-minded & religiously-searching Sunnis know, appreciate and are inspired by Hossain and Ali, but more than a few Sunnis seem to have no idea. Of course, how many Christians can truly parse the differences between the apostles of Jesus? Let’s not be harsh – we’re all united here under God (and the concept of tawhid).

However, “martyrdom” is not only about suicide – to believe this obviously extreme idea is to assume so many, many things incorrectly about the Muslim concept of “martyrdom”, and most of which reduce Iranians and Muslims to non-humans.

Clarifying the martyrdom of Hossain, the Western and Muslim views of martrydom, the cultural effects of the promotion of selflessness, and the Iranian governmental policies which have been inspired by this culture, are the subject of the next part in this series.

***********************************

This is the 8th article in an 11-part series which explains the economics, history, religion and culture of Iran’s Revolutionary Shi’ism, which produced modern Iranian Islamic Socialism.

Here is the list of articles slated to be published, and I hope you will find them useful in your leftist struggle!

The WSWS, Irans economy, the Basij & Revolutionary Shiism: an 11-part series

How Iran Got Economically Socialist, and then Islamic Socialist

What privatisation in Iran? or Definitely not THAT privatisation

Parallels between Irans Basij and the Chinese Communist Party

Irans Basij: The reason why land or civil war inside Iran is impossible

A leftist analysis of Irans Basij – likely the first ever in the West

Irans Basij: Restructuring society and/or class warfare

Cultural’ & ‘Permanent Revolution’ in Iranian Revolutionary Shi’ism

‘Martyrdom and Martyrdom’ & martyrdom, and the Basij

‘The Death of Yazdgerd’: The greatest political movie ever explains Iran’s revolution (available with English subtitles for free on Youtube here)

Iran détente after Trump’s JCPOA pull out? We can wait 2 more years, or 6, or…

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.

The Essential Saker II
The Essential Saker II: Civilizational Choices and Geopolitics / The Russian challenge to the hegemony of the AngloZionist Empire
The Essential Saker
The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world

The ’Lust for Murder’ and the Morality of Sayyed

 Sayyed Nasrallah on 2nd Liberation: Lebanon Protected...US-’Israeli’ Scheme Falling Apart

Mohamed Nazzal

01-09-2017 | 08:08

About 2,500 years ago, in China, one of the most famous warlords in history wrote:

“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

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These were the words of Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War, a book that has become a classic icon taught in military institutes and colleges. Tzu was wise, rational, somewhat moral, and paid for it in the end with the King’s “lust for murder”. He was ousted from his position after a record number of victories. It just so happened that “public opinion” replaced the king.

A collective desire to kill, just to kill, to satisfy the tendency of revenge, away from the major objectives of the war.

Something like this happened a few days ago in Lebanon. Public opinion, and this a problematic term that needs to be fixed. The public opinion is upset asking why the rest of the Daesh militants were allowed to leave instead of being killed. It may be understandable if this comes from the people, from various parties, but to be issued by “opinion leaders”, leaders and dignitaries – this is something else altogether.

They are either ignorant, and this is probably true, or they have a psychological handicap, above all else, that makes them rested when they see blood, all the blood, from the trapped Daesh militants and the Lebanese and Syrian armies, to Hezbollah fighters, whose blood would have been spilt more if the decision had been made to fight Daesh to the last man. Often those theorists have no one sacrificing their flesh and blood in the battlefield for them. They wrong Hezbollah for having succeeded in negotiating the exit of Daesh.

They often do not impede negotiations – in its origins. But their problem is that Hezbollah succeeded in it and they have faced repeated failure in previous negotiations along with their failure in the war. Killing during the war is a means of winning the war, but when its won with less blood spilt than expected, what reason remains for it to continue? Who among us does not wish to see those Daesh militants prosecuted for their actions? But this is war. The field for the heroes’ panting and not the noise of the children.

Blessed be Confucius, the Spirit of Tzu, who wrote:

“The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin …. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. Otherwise, fighting, but on one’s own terms, including: shortening the period of war and easing the pain and human losses.”

This is what Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah did. Sayyed is careful with his fighters and allies, as he was with his own son. His son, who fought on the battlefield twenty years ago, was martyred. Is it personal? Certainly not, especially not to him. But it is also foolish to overlook this aspect. He is the leader who has tried almost everything.

Another issue regarding the characteristic of this leader is his moral authority. Being a Shiite has nothing to do with his identity, or the fact that he is a descendant of a Shiite family. It is due to the maturity of his Alawi “war ethics” within himself. It can be said, or rather asserted, that some orientalists understood Sayyed Nasrallah more than many in this region, even though they share heritage, history and civilization with him.

A few days ago, we saw a Hezbollah fighter kneel in front of a wounded “Daesh” militant lying on the ground and say to him in his Lebanese accent: 

“We will provide you with medical treatment, food and water. We will take care of your family. Your family is our family. We do not attack families, and we do not oppress. He said it to him in his Lebanese dialect. The wounded man, just moments ago, wanted to kill him. If he had caught him, he would’ve cut his throat.

This young man, from Hezbollah, is a moral product of Sayyed Nasrallah in his party; he is the product of Sayyed’s understanding of the ethics of war according to his Alawi system. Anyone can disagree with Hezbollah, in politics and others areas. But not trying to deeply understand it is stupid.

Its beginnings should be understood. You will find in the party those who would deviate from that rule. This is normal. They are just human beings. These violations happen in all wars. This workmanship, in which no one knows pain, remains – by all accounts – the “moral rule” of the party. Sayyed has absolutely read the Alawi “war ethics”, read about delaying the fight for daytime: “It is closer to the night. It is better to kill less. The pursuer returns home and the defeated escapes.” And he certainly read about the river water being prevented from flowing to Ali’s camp. And then when he managed to reach the river, he did not prevent the enemy’s camp from getting water. If we became like them, then why do we fight them? It is true that this morality passed onto him eternal grief. The Iraqi writer Aziz al-Sayyed Jassim writes: “The hero was sad, high in his grief. He did not despise those who fought him, but was sad for them.” They are things near to impossible. It is not new that these things are not understandable. But in general, those who wanted to understand Nasrallah – friends and enemies – should understand Ali (Imam Ali). This is not a sectarian call, and not necessarily a religious one. Let it be an abstract anthropological reading between history and the present; a call for understanding. It is a moral battle for Nasrallah, purely moral, and we are the witnesses.

Source: Al-Akhbar Newspaper

 

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