Hazem Saghieh

45 Years Since the Tragedy 

As supporters of the Iranian state celebrate the 45th anniversary of its revolution’s victory, there is no harm in revisiting the elements that combine to form the multi-layered theory of Khomeinism. The headline above avoids labeling this theory "Iranian," because being fair and accurate means not blaming all Iranians for the evil deeds of their regime.

The same is true for the "Persian" - which has been circulating broadly since Saddam Hussein popularized it in the 1980s - due to the racist connotations that the term has come to imply, and because it drags an ancient civilization into contemporary political issues. In fact, the Khomeinist regime presented "Islamism" as the polar opposite of "Persianism," which it repeatedly denounced and characterized in all sorts of negative ways.

This does not negate the fact that the regime’s religiosity is nonetheless at the service of its nationalism and imperial tendencies, while providing its authorities with means to reproduce themselves and allowing them to confine political power to tried and trusted hands. However, in contrast to this balancing act we find within Iran, between the degrees of Islam and nationalism, Khomeinism undermines patriotism and nation-statehood in neighboring countries.

If the function of Islam in the metropole is to serve authoritarian nationalism and its state, then in the peripheries, national states’ function is to serve an Islam whose extreme politicization only makes it more ambiguous, obscure, and protean.

Under the weight of religion-turned-populist-outcry, the program to crush patriotic sentiments and states continues to move forward, fragmenting these countries’ societies. That is evident in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, with only minor, nominal differences distinguishing each of these cases. Thus, while the metropole is safeguarded by averting entanglement in direct wars, the annexed peripheries are rendered battlefields that form a protective belt around that same metropole.

Indeed, sects and sectarianism lay under the thin cloak of a unifying religion, and they are evoked and with an acrimony unprecedented in the modern history of the region. It is as though the intention is to elevate sectarianism - after it is venerated by being referred to as "Islam" - into both a source of legitimacy and the focal point of allegiance, at the expense of nation-states’ patriotism.

Within these confines, real injustices (be they historic or recent) are exploited, making them the sole entry point to the future, which can only be seen through the lens of a rancorous past. As such, the region is fated to remain caught between an overt civil war and another that is latent, along with the bigotry, backwardness, poverty, and mass refuge that emerge and aggravate as a result.

Along these lines, stability is driven out as a result of the state, nationalism, and progress’s expulsion. Tension is declared a way of life that the glorification of death and martyrdom is tasked with aestheticizing. And what cause contains more fodder for these flames than the Palestinian cause and Israel’s belligerence, and by extension, what cause is more in need of a firefighter who can create the illusion that he is extinguishing these flames as he waits for another to break out?

Accordingly, it is highly indicative that Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution coincided with the successful conclusion of the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David Accords in 1979. It was as though two parallel lines were etched into the horizon of the region, one opening the door to a solution, which could be both criticized and built upon and improved, and the other closing the door to all solutions and offering nothing but to cover the protective belt around Iran with blooming killing fields.

However, the most perilous manifestation of this theory in the longer term has been the militiazation of the region. After having been confined to Lebanon in the 1970s following a brief stint in Jordan before its war of 1970, Khomeini's Iran - backed by "Assadist Syria" and helped by the US occupation of Iraq - transformed militazation into a regional regime passed down from generation to generation, one that is characterized as carrying the legacy of popular struggle and the building on the heritage of resistance.

When we say "militia," we are not only talking about the dissolution of states, but also the erosion of the economy, morality, and value-systems. It thereby infects societies with a poison that is not easy to heal from in the near future. Meanwhile, social demands, day to day issues, women and youth’s rights, and all other forms of political opposition, are sidelined. Indeed, rejection, condemnation, and accusations of treachery befall anyone calling for reforms that undermine the broad regional regime, its arrangement of priorities, and how it deals with those priorities - mind you wars, battles, and confrontations that are called fateful always top the priority list.

These are all matters decided by the masters in the metropole alone. Although these decisions bear heavily on whether they live or die, the slaves in the peripheries are not entitled to a say.

In general, with the regime established by Khomeinist theory, we are not contending with a bad, oppressive, or reactionary regime, as the Shah’s regime and many other regimes in the region and the world have been called. Rather, we are faced with a tragedy that has plagued the Iranians and plagued us along with them.

One of its manifestations was, and continues to be, Iran's transformation into a colonizer that bears none of the responsibilities colonizers have towards their colonies, save the promise to bring about the demise of the latter's people.

These days, this tragedy is celebrating its 45th anniversary.