Friday, November 7, 2008

Iran's Modern History: Beyond the Legacy

It is with great joy that I am publishing the first article in a series on a topic which is practically *never* seen anywhere: the Shia point of view on the events in the larger Middle-East. This is something of a pet project of mine every since I got involved, more than a decade ago already and quite by chance (the Middle-East never was my formal area of expertise), in the analysis of events in Lebanon: the more I looked into the Hezbollah phenomenon and then, later, into the developments in Iran, the more I began to be convinced that the Shia represented a *qualitatively* different force quite unlike any other regional actor.

The deeper I dug, the more the usual "garden variety" explanations (training, money, weapons, circumstances, etc.) for the truly phenomenal force of the Shias fell aside. I then did what I was trained to do: I dug deeper following Arthur Conan Doyle's advice "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". After a decade long "digging spree" I came to the only possible conclusion: it is the Shia spirituality, the Shia ethos, which sets them aside from all their adversaries. The next step was then very simple: to understand Hezbollah and Iran one must at least have a basic understanding of the Shia faith , history, culture and worldview.

Look at this paradox: all the pundits and "experts" are pontificating about Iran and Hezbollah offering their "great insights" and yet not only are all these pundits and "experts" never Shia themselves, but they mostly completely ignore the Shia mind, the Shia soul and the Shia world view. Go to your local library and check the books about Iran. They are either written by highly secular Americanized Iranian immigrants or by Jews. They are never, *ever* written by a pious Shia or an Iranian living in Iran.

Anyway - let me get off my soap box and simply conclude here that I am deeply grateful to "Ya_Baqiyatullah" (a pseudo, obviously) for finally agreeing to my numerous requests to write a series of articles for my blog. "Ya_Baqiyatullah" is neither Lebanese nor Iranian - he is from Pakistan - but he has travelled (very recently) to Iran and he plans on attending the famous seminaries in the holy city of Qom. He knows what he is writing about.

His first article today is somewhat of a "general" introduction to the series to follow which will gradually become more and more focused on specific topics (the next one, which I will publish next week will address the SOFA the US is trying to impose on Iraq).

"Ya_Baqiyatullah" has told me that he will be available for Q&As in the comment sections so I urge you all the use this opportunity to interact with him, challenge his views and share your critical comments with all of us.

The Saker
Iran's Modern History: Beyond the Legacy

by Ya_Baqiyatullah

Since the revolution of 1979, we find that Iran as a country has been under immense pressure to bow to the demands of International heavyweights. These demands only intensified in recent years due to a propaganda cycle generated by the United States and Israel regarding the Iranian nuclear program. Despite 29 years of sanctions, threats, and war one has to ask what is the motivation that has kept the Iranian nation so steadfast and firm on their path despite these countless obstacles?

The answer to the above question lies in different aspects of the Iranian History. One has to explore the history of this nation deeply to see why they are so firm on this path regardless of the struggle they are facing. Iran is a stronghold of Shia Learning, and one of the most talked about and important subjects regarding the Shia faith is the tragedy of Karbala. The story of Al-Husayn [a], the grandson of the Prophet [p], and his revolution against the oppressive forces of Yazeed may sound like a simplistic battle between good and evil, but beyond the apparent, there is much more which is applicable to the lives of many Shias around the world today; be it in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq or Pakistan. This tragedy is a source of inspiration for all and most importantly it was the foundation for the revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini.

His first speech against the Shah was given on the 15th of Kordad which coincided with the day of Ashura. It was the perfect starting point to a revolution which would change the world for years to come. In one of his speeches, the great Ayatollah had stated ‘They call us a nation of tears, but with these tears we have overthrown an empire’ – this statement in itself shows how important the tragedy of Ashura was in success of the revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Iran, a country like many others, bears a past of oppression and tyranny, but the fragrance of freedom and the aroma of independence can be noticed in the masses who laid their lives to make this revolution a living present. An 8 year war which Saddam Hussein had initiated against the Iranians and was backed by several Western governments did not deter the Iranian nation from their path. One only has to look as far as Beshte Zehra, the Garden of Zehra, which is a graveyard for the martyrs of this nation who fought in the war against the Saddam and those who were killed in the revolution. The belief in martyrdom over a life of humiliation stems from the tragedy of Karbala. These people understood the essence of martyrdom and were ready to give all they had for their country but most importantly to safeguard the religion. One of the shining examples of this is MostafaChamaran, the defense minister under Ayatollah Khomeini. Defense ministers are known for their tactics and strategies in war and in survival of the country but this man had not limited himself to just giving orders. He practiced what he himself ordered others and fought alongside many of the young soldiers in the Iranian army and embraced martyrdom on the war front.

In the recent years we find that the Iranian nation has successfully progressed in many fields, most notably in the discipline of science. Iran being a nuclear entity is something which threatens most of the Western powers and especially the Israeli regime. Since the turn in the presidency, we find that the Western powers have left no leaf unturned in their agenda to slow down Iran’s advancement. After having visited Iran many times and speaking to the people there, the general attitude is way different than that is portrayed by the media in the Western countries. Many Iranians are unfazed by the talk of war and people believe it is simply hype created by the media with little substance. They fear nothing, simply because they believe they are only seeking their right by being nuclear. Many, if not most of the Iranians actually believe that the Government is doing well given the current situation. There will always be a small minority who would play down the Government regardless of their work in the betterment of the country. These individuals even if given the luxuries they demand would be impossible to please, hence to listening to them is futile.

The reason as to why Iran has remained so strong despite the sanctions and threats is due to the differences in their ideologies in comparison with other states and even other people to an extent. When the focal point of one’s every action is influenced by religion then one will evolve to be steadfast and be able to take the challenges head on Iran, from past to present, has done this quite openly, most notable example was the war by Saddam. It is a nation in their majorities who are vigilant and have faith in Almighty alone. They do not seek the luxuries nor do they seek a way of living which will cause them to delve into greed or diver them away from their purpose of life. For them religion is everything and in the examples above that have been mentioned that has been the common denominator: Islam!

"Ya_Baqiyatullah" is a 23 year old Pakistani Shia Muslim who has spent a few summers in Iran studying and in the near future will be moving to Iran for studying full time in the Seminary in Qum. He has been living in UK for nearly a decade after spending much of his early years in Pakistan.