Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Beyond Abolhassan Banisadr...

Beyond Abolhassan Banisadr...

Wednesday, 13 October, 2021 - 08:30

At 88 years of age, Abolhassan Banisadr passed away in Paris. The passing was quiet and cold, and the man who passed is almost unknown.

Banisadr is not an anonymous person, or his anonymity is not that simple. He was elected Iran’s first president after it was declared a republic. As for how he got there, it was simply by being Ayatollah Khomeini’s political kin, with the latter even describing him as “my son.” He had been out of the country since leaving as a young refugee in 1964, but being the Ayatollah’s “son” sufficed to allow him to overcome everything in his path. He thus received nearly 80 percent of the vote in 1980.

The republic’s first president quickly found himself under suspicion. The clergy, led by Mohammad Beheshti, could not stand this secularist coming from France, where he had lived, studied, and taught. Being a member of an influential religious family in Hamadan, and the friendship between his biological father, the cleric Nasrallah Banisadr, and his ideological father, Khomeini, did not make up for it. His piety and religiosity also did not reduce the acuteness of his difference. That is because his faith was marred by other “polluting” factors, such as his Parisian influences and his political activity as a youth in Iran, when he was a militant student with the National Front, whose origins go back to Mohammad Mosaddegh. On top of that, he was not enthusiastic about the rule of the clergy, as he bet on the revolutionary regime being a prelude to the “rule of law” that would bring about democracy with an Islamic flavor.

Banisadr’s opposition to the persistence of the war between Iraq and Iran lit the disputes’ fuse, and things ended with the “father” dismissing his prodigal son in the mid-1981. And with his efforts having gone in vain, he returned to where he had come from and settled in Paris as a refugee once again.

Thus, within just 17 months, Banisadr became an unknown figure once again after he had gone from being a president to a conniving traitor. It is the shortest route from “pre-revolution” to “post-revolution….” All of that happened with a hand gesture or a blink from Khomeini. No one poses questions. No one argues. It is a familial matter between a father and his son.

Banisadr, when he joined that father, certainly knew about his dark ideology and his domineering personality. He certainly knew that Khomeini had been behind the theory of Velayat-e Faqih, according to which the clergy should control the political system, and he knew about Khomeini’s views on women, democracy, and agrarian reform... In all his positions, one cannot find a single ray of light.

That experience goes beyond Banisadr and applies to many intellectuals who were infatuated with a particular idea or a particular leader whom they had made a father figure, leaving them turning a blind eye to many things and ending up ostracized, imprisoned, or killed. As for those who survived those fates, they would spend the latter parts of their lives describing the experience’s bitterness, how their conscience had gone numb, or how they had been deceived in one way or another... In every case, it seems that the state of affairs they had helped create turns out to be worse than it had been under the regimes they helped overthrow. This applies when the people and country’s interests are taken as the criteria but especially when their conditions are being considered.

Many elements of Banisadr’s experience can be seen, in one form or another, in the experiences of other Iranians like Ebrahim Yazdi or Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, or Russian and Western, especially French, intellectuals who were infatuated with Stalin, or Arab intellectuals, such as Michel Aflaq, Munif al-Razzaz or Hassan al-Turabi, who found themselves preaching the virtues of Saddam Hussein’s leadership or the vision of Hafez al-Assad or Omar al-Bashir.

Some may find that this phenomenon can be explained as opportunism or attempts to ride waves. Nevertheless, the matter, in all likelihood, is more complicated and broad, as well as being more connected to a world in which there is no political democracy and which is brimming with myths and apocalyptic world views.

It is well known that myths are very powerful in captivating intellectuals, who, by definition, are myths’ creators and architects. Such myths frame the mythical leader who accompanies them, infatuating and numbing the intellectual for a period, as was the case for Banisadr with Khomeini, or forever, as was the case for Goebbels with Hitler. Because of the myth, the isolated intellectual thinks the leader will reserve a place for him in the heart of the masses and designate him a maker of history. However, the leader swiftly removes him from both positions and throws him in a cell or gifts him to the guillotine.

We are also aware of the trick that culture plays on the intellectual, as it arms him with what he believes to be absolute and coherent righteousness or the virtue that must be imposed, leaving him advocating a dictatorship of virtues. Delusions, in this sense, push the intellectuals to believe that they can refound history, time after time, from zero, while they alone can give some meaning amid the overwhelming void and emptiness. These ghosts and shadows often produce theories about political action that always give primacy to a “primary contradiction” and forget about everything else, including the leaders’ sick ideas and despotic character. What was important, for Banisadr, had been toppling the Shah and doing away with US influence, whatever happens. One of the things that happened, later on, is Banisadr dying as an anonymous person in Paris.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks