Iran’s schizophrenia heats up the debate

Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri
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As the leadership in Tehran prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the Khomeinist revolution, a growing number of Iranians are wondering whether the time has come for their country to close that chapter and resume its historic path as a nation-state.

The need for Iran to move beyond the Khomeinist revolution was the theme of a seminar last month at Westminster University in London where the return of Iran as a nation-state was highlighted as an urgent need for regional peace and stability. It was also noted that, compared to other 20th century revolutions, the Khomeinist revolution could be considered a failure across the board.

Forty years after its inception, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia had turned a backward pre-industrial country into one of the world’s two superpowers sending the first man into space and that after defeating Nazi Germany in the biggest war in human history. At the same time, the Soviet regime had succeeded in “exporting” its ideology and socio-political system to more than dozen countries accounting for almost a third of humanity.

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The Maoist revolution in China had also scored major successes in its first four decades. By 1990, China had relaunched itself as a major industrial power and taken a path that was to turn it into the world’s largest economy by 2020. At the same time, the “Chinese model”, a mixture of nationalism and Marxism, had found echoes in more than a dozen countries across the globe.

In contrast to both the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the Khomeinist revolution in Iran has failed to “export” its model to a single country while making Iran poorer and more vulnerable than it had been under the Shah.

Iran’s political schizophrenia is also affecting the opponents of the Khomeinist regime. Consciously or unknowingly, most of them also behave as revolutionary forces, albeit against the regime

Amir Taheri

Credible institutions

The main reason for this is that the Khomeinist revolution failed to create a new state structure with credible and efficient institutions. Unable to destroy the Iranian state as it had developed over some five centuries, the new Khomeinist rulers tried to duplicate it by creating parallel organs of exercising power.

The aims and interests of those parallel organs, not to mention their modus operandi, differ sharply from those of the Iranian state, leading to almost continuous tension between the two.

The argument finding a growing echo in Iran is that time has come to dismantle the parallel organs and allow the state apparatus to regain its full authority as a vehicle for pursuing national, as opposed to ideological, interests and ambitions.

“As long as Iran has parallel authorities, decision-makers and executants, no one could be held responsible,” says journalist Nader Sadiqi. The result is that those who have power have no responsibility while those who are held responsible have no power.

The fact that Iran under the Khomeinist regime is suffering from political schizophrenia is also recognized by the so-called “reformist” faction within the regime.

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Saeed Hajjarian, one of the leading theoreticians of the “reformist” action of the regime is now preaching “civil disobedience” as a means of restoring the dignity and authority of state institutions as opposed to parallel revolutionary organs. The method he is peddling is almost identical with that promoted by Prince Reza Pahlavi, the exiled heir to the Iranian monarchy.

Another leading “reformist” figure, Abbas Abdi, warns his fellow Khomeinists that their regime is in deep crisis and may even have reached “the edge of implosion”. Once again, the solution he suggests is to close the chapter of the revolution and allow Iran to reorganize its life as a nation-state.

Classical Iranian historians identify five phases in the emergence of a new state in a country that has seen countless upheavals in its long history. The first stage is conquest when a new force, often a warrior tribe, manages to seize a chunk or the whole of the nation’s territory.

Conquering force

That is followed by a second stage dubbed “domination”, when the new conquering force succeeds in establishing itself as primus inter pares. The third stage is known as “control” when the new force is universally recognized as the ultimate arbiter in any power struggle.

That leads to the fourth stage which is known as “governance” in which the new force operates as the ultimate arbiter of national life. In the fifth and highest phase, the new force creates a “state” of its own with institutions needed to ensure its prennity and advance its interests and ambitions on a long-term basis.

Based on that model of analysis, the Khomeinist revolution, as a new force, has stopped at the fourth stage, which means it has failed to destroy the old state and create a new one capable of developing a synthesis of national and revolutionary interests and ambitions.

The result is the already mentioned schizophrenia that gives the impression that one is dealing with two Irans: one Iran as a state and another as a revolution.

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Iran’s political schizophrenia is also affecting the opponents of the Khomeinist regime. Consciously or unknowingly, most of them also behave as revolutionary forces, albeit against the regime, rather than political movements capable of managing a normal nation-state and solving the problems facing a complex society trying to exit from four decades of crisis.

The good news is that, perhaps out of necessity, a new political culture is taking shape inside Iran, one that instinctively links politics to concrete issues of real life rather than abstract notions linked to revolutionary utopias.

Over the past two years Iran has witnessed more than 100 strikes by people from virtually all walks of life. It has also been shaken by two nationwide uprisings mobilizing millions of protesters.

The important point here is that all those strikes and the two uprisings were prompted by demands that only a normal nation-state and not a revolutionary outfit can understand and satisfy. Therefore, at least implicitly, what millions of Iranians demand is a restoration of the authority of their state which, in turn, requires, the closure of the revolutionary chapter.

“Other countries are also facing the kind of problems we face in Iran,” says Ali-Reza Shoja’i Zand, a Tehran analyst. “But that does not delegitimize the established order or lead to its implosion.”

What Zand misses is that “other countries” do not suffer from political schizophrenia. They are nation-states and as such can always mobilize the resources needed for solving the problems of real life while in Iran the Islamic Republic pursues its phantomatic fantasy of world conquest in the name of a weird ideology.

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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