Challenges to Iran’s revolution

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(Published in The News)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Having various friends and contacts in Iran, I think the response which all of them would resoundingly give to Dr Muzaffar Iqbal’s two recent article titled “Challenges to Iran’s revolution” would be: the spirit of revolution is no longer about the turban-wearing mullahs responding appropriately to the disenchanted youth — it is about the disenchanted youth redefining freedom for themselves (as Dr Iqbal himself said). If they wish to adopt western notions of freedom to escape tyranny, is that a sin? The assumption (as always) in Dr Iqbal’s pieces is that everything coming from ‘the west’ is evil and out to destroy the Muslim world.

He suggests the Iranian youth are impressionable and easily led astray by the cultural hegemony of western ideas. Well for one, the notion of personal, individual freedom and liberty is not solely the property of the west and nor is it the only place it has occurred indigenously. Secondly, not all things coming from the west are evil. Thirdly, Dr Iqbal’s sleight-of-hand suggestion that the Iranian youth are deluded in their choices and will be swayed by forces either good (Islamic regime) or bad (the west) is an insult to the intelligence of the public he cites. It should never be assumed that people are dumb and cannot make choices – that’s what sparks revolution eventually.

Jahanzaib Haque


Challenges to Iran’s revolution

Friday, July 03, 2009
By Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

“I hate mullahs,” the young man said with passion, “and what they want us to do.”

“And I hate this thing they want us to put on our heads,” his “friend” joined in, pointing to her headscarf. “I want to be free, wear what I want to wear and do what I want to do,” she said in a voice that expressed frustration, despair, anger, even hatred for the system established after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Ali and his friend had taken me to the beautiful Alborz Mountains that surround Tehran. Sitting on a hillside, surrounded by green trees, gushing clean and fresh water, we ate our lunch and discussed Iran’s post-revolution era. Both were young students of Tehran University, both had an active interest in their country and its destiny, but both were adamant in their rejection of the “mullah-dominated polity,” as Khanum said in her broken English. They were not the westernised elite of northern Tehran, but children of affluent parents who had been to the West at one time and who had returned to Iran when their children grew up. “Our parents hate them as well,” they both said, “my father cannot stand the turban-wearing mullahs,” Ali said. His father was a professor at the university.

Ali and Khanum are not alone; if the results of the 2009 elections are an indicator, then even by the official count, 33 percent of eligible Iranian voters have become disenchanted with the revolution and its leadership. This is a huge percentage given the fundamental nature of the Iranian Revolution and the thirty years it has had for solidification of its institutions and ideology. Certainly, something has gone wrong in the post-revolutionary decades. What is it that has made the revolution a thing of the past for such a large section of the Iranian population? After all, the revolution was one and the only successful event of its nature in the recent history of Islamic political forces anywhere in the world, and Imam Khomeini, its spearhead, was one of the unique and extraordinary human beings who reshaped the destiny of a whole nation through a long struggle against the despotic regime of a man who was thoroughly westernised in his own lifestyle and who served as the strongest ally of the Western powers in the region. Since that “something,” which has made a sizeable section of the Iranian populace look elsewhere than the Islamic Revolution, is not going to go away with the dust that must settle one way or the other in the aftermath of the 2009 elections.

What is important for any serious exploration of the political and social aspects of post-revolution Iran is neither the startling victory of the revolution, nor the depth of thought and degree of fortitude of Imam Ruhollah Mousavi Khomeini, but the lack of captivating power of the revolutionary spirit as for as the post-revolutionary generation is concerned. In a way, it was natural, even inevitable, for Iranians born after 1979 to have a critical distance from the pre-revolutionary era, but for young Iranians to have a passionate dislike, even hatred, for those who now personify the spirit of that marvellous revolution which produced a U-turn in Iran’s journey on the world stage, is symptomatic of a much deeper, much more serious flaw in the way the manner Iranian leadership has managed the affairs of the country, especially during the last decade.

Since most of the opposition to the revolutionary ideals is concentrated in Tehran and in the well-to-do segment of the Iranian population which is relatively young in age, it is important to keep in mind the fundamental aspect of this discontent: it is all about freedom. Freedom to do what the young want to do and the freedom to wear what the young want to wear. Of course, there are various degrees of economic, political, and social currents in this discontent, but a large part of it is based on the notions of personal freedom. Where does this come from? What is behind this desire to do what I want to do and to wear what I want to wear?

I recall the answer of a Frenchman I met a few years ago in a conference. He had become a Buddhist and had abandoned France to live in Tibet. In response to a young woman’s outburst, he had said: “Have you ever given thought to the possibility that what you call freedom might, in fact, be enslavement? You want to do what you want to do, but where does that ‘want’ originate? Where is the source of that ‘freedom’? True freedom is to master your inner self, not be its slave. So, when you say I want to do what I want to do, have you truly considered the place from where this desire emerges? Is it not enslavement rather than freedom?

The Iranian youth has become disenchanted by the revolution because of two basic reasons: the personal character of some of the turban-wearing mullahs they consider as personification of revolution; and (ii) the notions of western-style freedom which they have seen through their increasing exposure to it. If the spirit of the revolution is to be revived in Iran, both of these require appropriate responses.

As an outsider who has been interested in Iran since childhood and who has, for more than a quarter of a century, observed various cultural, political and social currents of that marvellous country, I must say that the post-Khomeini Iranian leadership has miserably failed on both counts. Fortunately, time has not run out completely for corrective measures, although it is now rushing with increasing pace. There are still things which can be done to change the general course of direction in Iran, but these measures require well-thought-of planning and equally subtle implementation. A basic outline of these measures is the topic of the next Quantum Note, Insha’Allah.

(To be continued)

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:


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