The 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution is upon us, and those of us old enough to have been there can’t help looking back.
I remember the weeks and months around the revolution itself. It was a feverish time for political debate. Students, intellectuals, and activists – many amazingly well-read – argued ferociously about the best way forward. The two main camps boiled down to the communists versus the Islamists.
Back then, the communists came in for sustained and fierce criticism. The Islamists – not so much. Plus ca change...
I remember being impressed by the performance on television of one Professor Abdolkarim Soroush, a chemist who had studied in London. He was aligned with the Islamists, and tore into Iran’s communist factions, which included Marxists, the Tudeh Party and its affiliated guerrilla group, Fedaian-e Khalq (which translates as “the People’s Self-Sacrificers”).
Professor Soroush quoted dexterously from Karl Popper’s book Open Society and its Enemies, a defence of open society and liberal democracy. He debunked the idea that Marxism and Leninism would lead to an egalitarian society. (For fellow philosophy wonks – I even remember that Soroush had mastered Popper well enough to deride Marxism as pseudo-science!)
But Soroush failed to mention that Karl Popper would have been equally scornful of religious rule – especially the despotic brand our mullahs were planning.
Professor Soroush did his rhetorical best to defend the clergy back then, but in the end they turned on him. It is a rather nice irony that he was forced to flee to – you guessed it -– the United States. Forty years later, he is remembered in Iran as an apologist for the current tyranny.
He was a good example of someone who talked a good line against one kind of despotism, while tacitly supporting another. There were plenty of such people then, and they are resurgent now.
Take the current political movement that styles itself as the “New Left.” It’s a composite of groups: reformists, revisionists and Marxists who have recanted their hard line. The movement’s views are reflected in a plethora of monthly magazines with names like Tajrobe (Experience), Andishe Poya (Dynamic thought), and Cheshm-andaz (Perspective).
As you might expect, they take aim in print against their ideological enemies that include Bizhan Jazani’s group (which split from Tudeh), the People’s Mojahedin Organization (MEK), based in Paris and the Balkans, and the old Fedaian-e Khalq guerrilla groups that were active in the mid-1960s and 1970s.
But criticize the pillars of power – the Islamist groups? Never.
For example, take the Fedayeen e Islam, established by Navvab Safavi, a Shia Mullah.
The group, founded in 1945, was influenced by – if not formally associated with – the Muslim Brotherhood. It has morphed over the years, but one current offshoot, the Mota’lefe Eslami (Islamic Coalition Party), plays an important role in many social, economic and political branches of the ruling theocracy.
Our clerical mythmakers have turned Navvab Safav into a hero who allegedly stood before the firing squad on January 18, 1956 “without a blindfold, eyes wide open.” His image stares down from posters all over downtown Tehran and he’s even got an expressway named after him.
In fact, he was a nasty piece of work who believed that Islamic society needed to be purified through the elimination of what he called “corrupting individuals.” He is known to have played a role in the assassinations of Prime Ministers Abdolhossein Hazhir, Haj Ali Razmara, Hossein Ala as well as the revered historian and reformer Ahmad Kasravi.
Safavi’s zealous political Shi’ism needs to be examined and re-assessed on this 40th anniversary of the revolution, but no one including the New Left will do it. They haven’t the courage. Over the past 40 years, his admirers and supporters have acquired too much power.
We’ve had 40 years of lies and obfuscation about the brutality and hypocrisy of this regime. The way things look now, we’re in for 40 more.