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The Islamic Revolution in Iran: An Inspiration, an Example and an Experiment

By: Iqbal Siddiqui
The anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran is celebrated in February every year. It was on February 1, 1979, that the Iranian Muslims' defiance of the shah and his regime culminated in Imam Khomeini (r.a.) arriving in Tehran, where he was greeted by enormous crowds, from Paris to take over the country's governance. The shah of Iran had flown the country on January 16.
On February 11, the Iranian army announced that it was halting its attempts to suppress the Muslims who had come into the streets to fight the shah's government, and was returning to its barracks. Its ability to resist had been defeated by the sheer numbers of protesters and their willingness to die for Islam, as well as by the soldiers'increasing reluctance to fire on them. Later the same day, Shahpur Bakhtiar, the shah's last prime minister, announced his resignation and was replaced by Mahdi Bazargan, who had been appointed prime minister by Imam Khomeini.
The Islamic Revolution neither began nor ended in February 1979, of course. Its victory that month was the result of years of struggle and sacrifice by hundreds of thousands of people, dating at least as far back as the dark days of 1963, when more than 15,000 people were shot down in Qum for protesting against the government. It was at this time that the Imam had been exiled. He would undoubtedly have been killed had the shah not feared, even then, for the consequences. And nor did the the Revolution end that month; it is no exaggeration to say that it is continuing to this day, as Iran's Muslims struggle to implement Islam in practice under the leadership of the Imam's successor, Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Khamenei.
The events in Iran in February 1979 were about far more than simply overthrowing a tyrannical ruler. Had that been the sole object of the exercise, western governments would have been happy enough to accept the new reality, and work with the new government. And Muslims around the world would quickly have been disillusioned and lost interest in the Revolution.
However, Imam Khomeini's objective, supported by the Iranian people, was more than simply overthrowing the shah; it extended to replacing Iran's pro-western system with an Islamic social order and political system in order to create an Islamic state - the first of the modern era.
The external signs of the Revolution's Islamic nature were not difficult to see. Most importantly, they lay in the total condemnation of the west's immoral and exploitative role in the world, the influence of zionism and the Jewish occupation of Palestine, and the denunciation of the pro-western Muslim regimes.
The harder task confronting the Revolution was inside Iran: cleansing the society of the immorality that had been introduced under western influence, and restructuring it to ensure collective morality and social justice. These are tasks which are still underway; in the timescale of history and social change, 21 years is a very short period of time.
Writing in 1980, in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, when Muslims around the world were both exultant and very optimistic, Dr Kalim Siddiqui warned of the dangers of inflated and unreasonable expectations.
"I want [people] to understand," he said, "that our model is only the first model... a prototype, so to speak... an experimental model. It is going to take a considerable period of time, and a process of trial and error, for the new Islamic state to find its feet in the world, and learn to function at the same level of efficiency as other states in the world today."
"What is important," Dr Siddiqui said in another paper, "is that we identify ourselves with the model irrespective of its level of performance... The proof that Iran is that new reality is to be found in three ways: the internal make-up of the Islamic movement in Iran, in the worldview of the movement, and in the reaction of the opposing civilisation."
The experiment of the Islamic State has not been a failure by any means, despite the clamorous propaganda of its enemies. In fact, huge social changes have been brought about in Iran, including the provision of basic services to Iran's ordinary people who had been marginalised under the pro-western order, and their empowerment through the reform and massive expansion of the academic system. Thousands of miles of new roads have been built, electricity, running water and primary health-care taken into rural areas which had been ignored as irrelevant in the shah's 'modernization' programmes, and literacy levels raised to almost 100 percent.
What is more, these successes have been achieved even though the experiment has hardly been conducted in laboratory conditions - the eight-year war waged by Iraq on the west's behalf, the economic sanctions, the international isolation, and the manipulation of oil-prices, are just a few of the tactics that the western powers have used to try to undermine the 'experiment'. Other factors - which are more difficult to attribute to western interference - have also had to be overcome, not least a near-doubling of the population since the Revolution.
Among Dr Siddiqui's proofs of the nature of Iran's Revolution was the reaction of the opposing civilization, the west. The fact that the west is continuing to regard Islamic Iran as a source of danger, and to fight it at every step, is a key sign that they continue to fear its example and power, despite their propaganda that the experiment has failed. The hysterical western coverage of recent political developments in Iran must be seen as part of this fight, deliberately designed to exacerbate the situation in Iran.
It is interesting to note three points about the current political debate within Iran. The first is that it is taking place almost entirely within the established political system. The Islamic system is never supposed to be rigid and closed, and discussion and debate about the nature and direction of the state are inevitable and desirable. The sort of debate taking place in Iran is unimaginable in any other Muslim country today, where any sort of dissension from the secular received truths are harshly repressed by the pro-western governments. That itself is a sign of Iran's political and systemic maturity. Trial and error being an essential part of the political experience, debate on the system's performance is inevitable, indeed essential, and a sign of the system's strength, not its weakness.
Secondly, the success of the revolution over the last 21 years is not questioned. No one doubts that the revolution was necessary, that Iran's ordinary people have benefited hugely, and that any return to the pre-Islamic system is out of the question. The debate is about consolidating and building on the achievements of the Revolution, not reversing any failures.
And thirdly, western support and sympathy remain a kiss-of-death in Iran. A few misguided youth - mainly from the classes that lost most of their ill-gotten gains through the Revolution - may yearn for the material luxuries and hedonistic 'freedoms' of the west, but for the vast majority of Iran's people, even those called 'reformers' in the west, support for the Islamic system and enmity to the west remain unquestionable. The massive and spontaneous demonstrations in support of the Vali-e Faqih and the Islamic system in Tehran in July, following student protests against police actions in which some students were needlessly killed, gave the lie to the west's claim that Iran's people are 'pro-western'.
Twenty-one years after the Revolution, it is impossible to say that the experiment could not have gone better; but what is clear to Muslims all over the world, despite the west's propaganda, is that the experiment remains alive and well, and is making progress. The Islamic Revolution remains a model for all Islamic movements, and an inspiration for all Muslims, who eagerly await future developments, insha'Allah.
Muslimedia: February 1-15, 2000

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