Iran is on the verge of national maturity and cultural transformation, says Behrooz Sabet, and the opportunity for the country to embrace democracy and reclaim its heritage will be profound.
Iran is on the verge of national maturity and cultural transformation. Naturally, looking into the future as a field of study does not have the certainty and accuracy of physical and mathematical sciences. Still, futurology must rely on facts, as well as reflections, observations, beliefs, and social theories, to give a realistic view of the past and present and a potential forecast for the future.
In this context, a reading of Iran's future suggests that Iranian society is moving toward the maturation of national identity, accompanied by the revival of Iran's historical and cultural heritage and the greater consciousness of global solidarity. This type of speculation, discussed in historical sociology, believes that societies and cultures are not mechanical phenomena; they are living entities involved in change and transformation or the dialectic of collapse/crisis and construction/revival.
Iranian history shows us a continuous rise and fall, life and death, and civilization's cyclical return. The current situation is also reminiscent of the same pattern of decline and regrowth.
After the Arab invasion and Muslim domination, Iran's treatment of Islam was rooted in two attitudes: The first was to accept it; the other was to modify it into Iranian culture. The tension between the two has shaped Iran's approach to Islam throughout history. According to the historian Bernard Lewis, such tension has led to the emergence of two Islams: the Islam that grew in the Middle East and North Africa, and the Islam that emerged in Iran.
By preserving their language and cultural identity, Iranians exerted significant effects on Islamic thought. The center of the Islamic world was influenced by Iranian culture. This influence was advanced by the Ottomans, who had used Iranian tradition and creativity for centuries. The emphasis of Iranian thinkers on scientific and logical knowledge, aesthetics, the establishment of communication and dialogue between philosophy and theology, the rejection of hypocrisy and false asceticism and religious fanaticism has had far-reaching effects on the evolution of Islamic thought. In a nutshell, the history and culture of Iran fertilized Islamic civilization. Furthermore, Iranian religions, philosophies, and social theories, such as Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, Manichaeism, and Mazdakism, exerted influence on European culture and Judeo-Christian traditions of beliefs and rituals.
Struggle Between the Old and the New
Between 1905 and 1911, the first movement associated with modernity was set into motion with the Constitutional Revolution. The Constitutional Revolution's main goal was to create a national identity and promote social justice, the rule of law, and new education. However, traditionalism's transition to modernity faced fundamental cultural, political, economic, and legal challenges. The transition to the modern era was not something that could work overnight.
Iran's independence was under pressure from foreign powers and domestic separatists. The government of Reza Pahlavi strengthened the political and cultural boundaries of Iran as a nation-state and consolidated the independence and territorial sovereignty of the country. He made advancements in bringing modern technology, economic improvement, and social reform to Iran. His top-down governance also attempted to establish modern education, introduce the mandatory unveiling of women known as Kashf-e hijab, and reform the judiciary and finance.
During the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, economic and social reforms continued at an accelerated pace. However, during the Pahlavi era, change and reform did not penetrate the deeper layers of society. The traditional culture, ideology, norms, and identities remained intact. The contradiction between tradition and modernity remained deep in the Iranian's minds and souls until the Islamic Revolution. This weakness – the marginal replacement of the old by the new – paved the way for the rise of a reactionary reading of tradition in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
With the conception of the Islamic Revolution, Iran entered a new stage: Catharsis or the process of suffering, pain, and tragedy, ultimately leading to intellectual clarification and psychic recovery. Historical and sociological evidence has shown that catharsis can lead to a new birth, a social transformation arising from the rubble. The Islamic Revolution challenged the forces of renewal that had been active in Iran since the second half of the nineteenth century. The intense pain and suffering, catharsis, can eventually lead to the refinement of thoughts and feelings, disqualification of prejudices and superstitions, and liberation from entanglements, humiliations, subdued rages, and historical failures. It is not clear when Iranian civilization will resume its life. However, there can be no doubt that catharsis will pave the way for a fundamental and spontaneous cultural transformation.
Characteristics of the Emerging Iran
One of the characteristics of national maturity is to create a progressive and stable democratic system based on justice, freedom, equity, and the separation of religion from politics. Iran could also play a key role in democratizing and demilitarizing the Middle East and contributing to the international system's advancement toward collective security. Moreover, Iran must free itself from the historical entanglement and contradiction between tradition and modern socio-cultural norms.
In the arena of religion, the transition from religious and jurisprudential rule to political rationalism and secularism is inevitable. Iran is moving toward the post-Islamic era, denouncing political and jihadist Islam. The transition from political Islam to an open society with religious and cultural pluralism has already started. However, questions such as the purpose and future of religion, the crisis of spirituality, and metaphysical anxiety in light of the worsening global situation will continue to be raised in Iran's future. Hence, post-Islamism will not be defined solely in its conflict with political or jurisprudential Islam. It must also redefine its new identity in the context of universal values independent of racial, national, political, or ideological boundaries. Therefore, it can be said that one of the basic concepts of post-Islamism is that Muslims learn that their faith is best served through cooperation and consultation with all nations and religions of the world in a culture of peace.
National and cultural maturity requires neither militancy nor self-destruction. It separates patriotism from extremist and monopolistic nationalism. It tends to distance itself from religious and cultural dogmas and use its historical and cultural capacities on international cooperation, improvement of world peace indicators, and the consolidation of human rights.
National maturity is the transformation from within so that the country can independently uphold democratic values and institutions. The process of national maturity in Iran is moving painfully and as yet steadily beyond a clumsy show or mere imitation of the West. Democratic values are gradually rising to the point that even if Europe and the United States neglect the principles of freedom, pluralism, and respect for human rights, Iran can remain committed to those principles. National maturity and cultural transformation mean that Iran can independently uphold democratic values and institutions even as democracy is losing some strength.