The past year's events in Iran, which have attracted the world's attention to a country dubbed 'the crossroads of history', not only serve as the driving force behind radical changes at home, but are also playing a decisive role in a world balanced precariously on the verge of yet another war.
Since 9/11, a force rising from the depths of bygone eras to challenge the West has been busy recruiting supporters among Muslims throughout the world. This force derives its strength more from ideology than from money and guns.
The leading ideologues of this Islamic revivalism offer a fundamentalist reading of Islam that divides the world into two clear-cut camps: divine and satanic. For them, Western civilization, with its deep roots in humanism and liberalism, is the manifestation of evil par excellence. Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda is usually credited as the main militant representative of this view, which is grounded in the Sunni branch of Islam. However, as the post-election events in Iran might have indicated, the Iranian regime also favours the aforementioned world-view, which puts Shi'a fundamentalism next to Taliban ideology; whereas the latter manifested itself in the destruction of the Buddha statutes in Bamyan, the former has these days masterminded the "disappearance" of a few bronze statutes of national, secular heroes in the streets and public parks of Iran. The fact that the stolen statutes were all post-revolutionary installations, with one in particular being the statute of Shahriar, the favourite poet of Iran's supreme leader, illustrates the extent of shared ideology between the Taliban of Afghanistan and their Iranian half-brothers.
In fact, what we are witnessing right now in Iran is a hard-fought battle between the liberal and fundamentalist readings of Islam. Just over a century ago, the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, the first of its kind outside the West, collapsed when it came face to face with the fundamentalist reading of Islam. What followed was a compromise between the two aforementioned readings, which resulted in the formation of a secular state with a nod to the rulings of a sharia-compliant constitution. The self-contradictory nature of this constitution would later give birth to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Since its inception, the Islamic Revolution has sought to suppress civil society by replacing civil law with sharia law as the legal basis of the Iranian society. But the long-lasting conflict between liberal-minded clergymen and their fundamentalist colleagues has only surfaced recently as Ayatollah Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, has taken drastic measures to turn the 'Islamic Republic' into the 'Islamic Caliphate'.
There are now two distinct camps in Iran. The first faction is composed of Shi'a fundamentalists who support Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei's views have three major influences: First, the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are generally seen as the founding fathers of Islamic fundamentalism in modern times. Before the 1979 Revolution, Khamenei personally translated into Persian from the original Arabic the important works of the leading intellectual of the Brotherhood, Sayyed Qutb. Qutb's views, especially his profound hatred of the West, are easily discernable among Iran's ruling clergy today.
The second group that has influenced Khamenei is known as Fadā'iyān-e Islam (devotees of Islam), the first followers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iran led by Mujtaba Navab-Safavi, who carried out some of the earliest acts of religious terrorism in modern Iran. Khamenei has repeatedly referred to Navab-Safavi as his role model in politics. That he has named his eldest son Mujtaba might be an indication of Khamenei's admiration for this man.
The third sphere of influence is a group known as Hujjatiyeh Society, which sees as its mission to pave the way for the reappearance of the Mahdi, the 12th Shi'a Imam, who is believed to have gone into a millennium-old occultation and whose ultimate return in the End Times is expected to bring peace and justice to the world. Recently it has been revealed that each Wednesday, Khamenei visits Jamkaran, a well in the city of Qum that is regarded by many Shi'as as the hiding place of Mahdi. Eyewitnesses have reported that Khamenei has been seen in a state of deep prayer, allegedly communicating with the Hidden Imam.
The members of the second camp see themselves totally at odds with the other faction whose views and actions they regard as nothing short of catastrophic for Iran's future. The vast majority of the country's intellectuals, the middle class, the youth and a significant portion of those who work in "the system", belong to this second camp, and are collectively referred to as the Green Movement. From the perspective of the Shi'a fundamentalists, the members of this movement are no better than infidels. As such, they can be imprisoned, tortured, raped etc.
The outcome of the ongoing power struggle between these two opposing factions carries great significance not just for Iran but for the international community. A victory by the Iranian "Taliban" will take Iran on a downward spiral and would place the country's wealth and geopolitical powers entirely at the disposal of those who believe Islam's global hegemony is possible through violent jihad, which is why they wish to secure nuclear capabilities. Bearing in mind that Iran has long served as a source of inspiration for many social and ideological movements in the region, it becomes clear how critical is the outcome of the battle between these two camps in Iran for the country, the region, and the world at large.
Houshang Asadi is a journalist. He was imprisoned during the Shah's rule where his cellmate for nine months was the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei. In 1983, after the Islamic Revolution and following the Iranian government's crackdown on all opposition parties, Asadi was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran. He was kept in solitary confinement for almost 2 years, during which time he was severely tortured until he falsely confessed to operating as a spy for the British and Russian intelligence agencies. He opposes US military intervention in Iran. His memoir, Letters to My Torturer: Love, Revolution and Imprisonment in Iran, has justeen published by Oneworld Publications.
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