Asadi on Iran: “Today’s Internal Affairs, Tomorrow’s Global Impact”

Houshang Asadi writes in a guest op-ed for Informed Comment

Iran: Today’s Internal Affairs, Tomorrow’s Global Impact

The international community’s demand that clemency be shown to a woman condemned to death for adultery, possibly by stoning, has once again grabbed the world’s headlines. 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 statues in Bamyan, the former has these days masterminded the “disappearance” of a few bronze statues of national, secular heroes in the streets and public parks of Iran. The fact that the stolen statues were all post-revolutionary installations, with one in particular being the statue 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 just been published by Oneworld Publications.

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Responses | Print |

19 Responses

  1. The IRGC has also been involved in selling pre-Islami artifacts from historical site without ever getting the approval of the government to European dealers.

  2. The conservatives are partially right. The leaders of western society are demonic. While the death of a woman for adultery is a very tragic and brutal and backward act which attracts a lot of attention, the speculation by western billionaires which drives up the price of rice by 300% and wheat by 100% as occurred in 2008 and causes a brutal death for millions goes practically unnoticed in the world press. In my book that makes the west 10,000 times more backward than even the Taliban.
    Khameni and his followers are also right about the hidden Imam. He or she is here in this world NOW. He or she is surrounded by his or her enemies but is protected by a squadron of loyal Turkish bodyguards. But what will shock the conservative Muslims is that the hidden Imam is no longer a Muslim but is now a Unitarian Universalist Buddhist! If you think that will piss off the Shia’s, the Hidden Imam is pretty pissed off at what has become of his community as well. More than likely he will get feed up at disappear again.
    NO kidding!

  3. Jul 09“My Bitter Memories” | A Letter by Majid Tavakoli on Anniversary of University Attacks
    | (Posted by: Free Iran)

    HRANA – Majid Tavakoli, imprisoned Amirkabir University (AUT) student writes a letter on the occasion of the anniversary of attacks on the student dormitories that took place on July 9, 1999 (18 Tir). According to HRANA, the full content of the letter is as follows:

    My Bitter Memories

    The 11th anniversary of the July 9th attacks on the student dormitories is upon us and yet our pain remains unhealed. On the eve of this 11th anniversary our candles continue to burn for an era when our freedom was sacrificed in a conspiracy that included serial murders and the banning of all newspapers. As always, students were at the forefront of this struggle against authoritarianism, but alas, the crimes that occurred at the university dormitories only speak of unprecedented atrocities. Go to original article…
    link to

  4. Saturday, July 10, 2010
    What Was Going on in Iran This Time Last Year
    From: link to

    This was last year at the same moment in Iran…

    Mr. Amir Javadifar, 24, was a song writer and a technology management student at the Azad University of Qazvin. He liked acting and was an acting student at the Karnameh Institute. According to a person close to him, he was “full of lust for life.” He was distanced from politics and had no political affiliation. He participated and voted in the 2009 election at the urging of people close to him.

  5. (S)He lies hidden among the masses. (S)He is the child of Thomas Paine and Buddha.
    (S)He is the cousin(in?) of Mohammad. (S)he is the master of humor. If you do not get it you are not listening. (S)He is very modest.
    NO kidding!

  6. Informative piece Asadi, however I do not buy into a few of the arguments.

    You mention Khamenei translating the works of Sayyed Qutb (the man whose works inspired AQ’s No 2 Al Zawahiri) and say his works are well known to the Revolutionary elite. I would argue that Ali Shariati’s works had an infinitely more important effect in the thinking behind the Iranian revolution, especially his translations of anti-colonialist thinkers like Frantz Fanon. His works fused Anti-Colonialist/Militant Leftist views and put a Shi’a spin on it.

    Also to add if they were followers of Sayyed Qutb they would ban all elections since Qutb said governments usurp the will of Shari law.

    Also you say:

    “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.”

    I think the leaders of Iran are a lot more pragmatic than this because they would not to able function with such a rigid moral belief. If being an Islamic nation is considered Divine and all others considered Satanic how would the Iranian leadership maintain such close relations with powers like China and Russia (both largely secular). Iranian hostility to the West seems to be more grounded in hating Western imperialism than hating Western secularism since Iran has never acted against secular Russia (in Chechnya) or China.

    In short I think that many in the leadership of the Islamic Republic stress the fusing of Marxist/Anti-Colonialist goals with the cultural symbols of Shiism. As Shariati himself said “by fighting for social justice you hasten the coming of the 12th Imam”.

  7. This is just an invitation for America to brutalize Iran as we have brutalized Iraq and are brutalizing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Enough of this fear-mongering and vilifying.

  8. Its interesting how this essay is at odds with a more benign reading of the potential of Islamic Rivivalism on the broader world, and what we often read on this website when it recurrently debunks the hyperbole of the neocons. We might agree Bernard Lewis’s blather about “Islamofacism” is overblown (although perhaps leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy), but a more nuanced reading such as this leads credence to the larger conflict of civilizations hypothesis.

    It may be alarmist to talk about “them” being out to “conquer the world”, but the resolution of such an internal Iranian dialectic that empowers their extremist elements may well lead to a larger region-wide conflict between sunni and shia states, in a way that more informed and rational analysts than Lewis have comtemplated for a number of years.

    Maybe we really should engage the Middle East more energetically, versus backing-off on our involvement, with some notion of letting the wounds of colonialism heal.

    • Mr. Asadi’s essay cannot be used for imperialist, neocon projects, since he rejects such intervention in Iran.

      • But seriously, it is being used for such imperialist, neocon projects. The extremely generalised, polarized, Manichean view of good versus evil in Islamic society is precisely what drives much of “the west”, whether or not Mr. Asadi approves.

      • Asadi essay may repudiate that idea and itself could not be hijacked for the purpose of the neocons (“neocons” being kindof a lazy catch all label here), but isn’t that a fine point? Demonstrably “they” do have an agenda that will twist anybodies words, as they certainly have with Huntington and Michael Doran. Its what they do.

  9. The fight continues
    They can feel our breath on the backs of their necks
    by Reza Mohajerinejad

    This time of year, every year, I remember. On the evening of July 8, 1999, I slept in the dormitories of Tehran University when it was attacked. We woke to the sounds of the Basiji as they screamed at us in the name of a god who was merciless. They beat us to a pulp. The sounds of that night have never faded from my memory. Students were battered, their bones literally broken like branches pulled from a tree. There were shots fired and the sound of breaking glass filled the night air. Students screamed in disbelief and horror as their sense of security was forever shaken.

    link to

  10. Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi (Leader of Hojatieh Sect)
    Campaigning hard to become next Vali e Faghih

    Wikipedia: Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi (born 31 January 1934 in Yazd) is a hardline Iranian Twelver Shi’i cleric and politician who is widely seen as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s spiritual advisor. He is also a member of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the body responsible for choosing the Supreme Leader, where he heads a minority ultraconservative faction. He has been called “the most conservative” and the most “powerful” and “influential … clerical oligarch” in Iran’s leading center of religious learning, the city of Qom.

    link to

  11. I disagree with this statement: “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. ”

    While this statement might be technically correct for some future time, it assumes two things: a) that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and b) that a “Taliban” “victory” is feasible in Iran.

    First, he is presuming that Iran has a nuclear weapons development and deployment program. How, then, does he explain that the Supreme Leader has declared that nuclear weapons are “un-Islamic.”? If the Supreme Leader is on the side of the faction who regards the West as “satanic” and therefore believes as the author suggests, why does he view nuclear weapons as being against Islam? Or is the author’s depiction of Khamenei’s beliefs too simplistic?

    I think it is clear that the Iranian military would like to know how to build nuclear weapons in advance of the national leadership declaring a deployment program. This is perfectly rational for any military threatened by other nuclear powers. This does NOT mean that the Iranian national leadership has some hair-brained notion that they can compete with even Israel, let alone the United States, in nuclear weapons. The author is suggesting here that they do.

    Given that the author does not mention Khamenei’s view, it leads me to wonder whether his opinion of the overall thrust of Iranian theocracy is accurate as well. I have no doubt that there are some persons of authority in Iran who may well believe what the author claims and that this even may guide their actions in the international, as well as domestic, sphere.

    But this article is basically arguing that those who believe Iran is being led by “irrational actors” are correct. It is not a nuanced piece. My impression from many other writers who have been to Iran is that the situation is not so clear cut and that there are more nuances here than this article reflects.

  12. A very informative article. Thank you.

    This sounds strangely like the idealistic factions in the US and other western countries. The end of days Christians vs. the liberals; the Israeli supporters…their demonization of the Muslim world; their belief in Armageddon, which they are working very hard to make happen, their “Left Behind” novels physical and spiritual Ascension to heaven etc., etc.

    With all of these nuts trying to rule the world (or destroy it) I’m surprised any of us are still here.

  13. Interrupted Lives
    Stories of repression against students

    Interrupted Lives, is a short documentary created by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF) to illuminate stories of the repression and interruption of the lives of students under the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The documentary examines documented human rights case histories of students imprisoned, tortured or executed for voicing religious or political dissent since the 1979 revolution. The film will be shown at the Interrupted Lives traveling exhibit… For more information contact ABF at:

    link to
    link to
    link to

    Cyber memorial for victims of IRI sine 1979
    link to
    link to

  14. Very informative and clear article explaining the power struggle within the isalmic republic’s establishment. I completely agree to what has been discussed , however with reference to two different readings of Islam (Liberal and Fundamentalist) its not clear whether this compromise in power could ever take place and lead islamic societies towards the foundation of secular democracy. The hypothesis requires further analysis, as fundamentalists readings in practice leads towards foundations of any religious authoritarian establishment and since it’s aim is connected with rule of Allah (the ultimate) its not very easy to think that such compromise may actually take place in reality or the advocates of this school would be prepared to open up and negotiate with their rivals. Simply becuase any negotiations hits their main reason for existence

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