Seyed Mohammad Marandi
Much wisdom about empire can be acquired by observing the decades of running commentary on Iranian “abnormality” in Western discourse. Subsequent to the Iranian parliament’s almost unanimous vote to nationalise Iranian oil – and until the successful Anglo-American coup in 1953 – the then Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was widely and relentlessly derided in the Western media as a fanatical and irrational fool pushing Iranians towards communism, misery, and destitution.
The British Royal Navy imposed an embargo on Iranian oil, BBC radio Persian was deployed to generate sedition, fear, and despair, and ultimately, the coup was carried out as the CIA paid both pro-communist rioters as well as pro-shah counter-rioters to sow fear and chaos in Tehran.
Virtues aside, among Mosaddegh’s fatal flaws at this sensitive and historic juncture were his naive trust in the United States, attempts to preserve a corrupt and subservient pro-Western monarchy, an inclination for monopolising power, and the marginalisation of political persuasions other than his own.
A warranted mistrust
Despite Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s warranted mistrust towards US intentions, throughout different administrations he refrained from impeding presidential initiatives to ease bilateral tensions, even as he would support measures to safeguard the country from the almost inevitable American traditional backstab.
His sensible reservations about proposals from pro-Western liberal policymakers and elites, whose views often mimic those of Western policymakers and mainstream “intellectuals” and are also well represented in the Iranian media, did not hamper the extensive negotiations held with the regime in Washington.
Despite Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s warranted mistrust towards US intentions, throughout different administrations he refrained from impeding presidential initiatives to ease bilateral tensions
Despite endless attempts by Western-backed Persian-language media outlets to reinforce rumours, create anxiety and division as well as subtly encourage violence in the well-kept tradition of their predecessors, Ayatollah Khamenei has successfully kept most feuding politicians and diverse social forces from sliding down the slippery slope of polarisation.
The current heads of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government are of notably dissimilar political persuasions from their predecessors as well as one another, yet all have served or are serving their full terms in office in relative calm.
Reformists, moderates, conservatives, and independents all engage in the messy and highly complicated chessboard of Iranian politics, but unlike under Mosaddegh, Western powers have had only limited success in manipulating Iranian politics or legitimate protests.
A portrait of former prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, who was ousted in a coup in 1953 (Jonathan Steele/MEE)
Through Western-funded NGOs, Persian-language television channels, the internet, and social media in 2009 they encouraged division, violence and sedition by pushing unfounded allegations of electoral fraud after an emotionally charged and divisive, somewhat class-based presidential election.
More recently, in a speech at an event in Paris organised by the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), once listed by the US as a terror organisation and is regarded by Iranian people as a terrorist organisation, Trump’s lawyer and confidante Rudy Giuliani admitted that the riots in Iran late last year were not spontaneous but happened because of “our people” in Albania and Paris.
Iran’s political order has successfully withstood 40 years of onslaught from an empire that has unapologetically downed a civilian airliner and used everything from chemical weapons to sanctions and terror to break the nation
Nevertheless, the US recognises that Los Angeles-based monarchists, the MEK and the many self-exiled individuals who live comfortable lifestyles thanks to ridiculously expensive “regime change” projects funded by the United States and allied regimes in Europe and the region, are not going to bring about change inside Iran.
That is why former US president Barack Obama’s “crippling” and Trump’s “brutal” sanctions were designed to drive innocent Iranians into economic destitution and suffering (like Yemen without wedding and funeral air strikes), so that a desperate public would put pressure on, or ideally, overthrow the Islamic Republic so that the US would show mercy.
A latent orientalism
The general consensus among Western establishment media, pundits, and “experts” is that Washington should work to bring about change to what they call the “mullah regime”. This language represents a Eurocentric inability to comprehend a sophisticated Iranian political model with a constitution and a complex system of checks and balances.
A demonstrator at the University of Tehran protests against the state of the economy in December 2017 (AFP)
Iran’s political order has successfully withstood 40 years of onslaught from an empire that has unapologetically downed a civilian airliner and used everything from chemical weapons to sanctions and terror to break the nation. These are the same people who are, ironically, enraged about alleged (and dubious) claims of Russian interference in the ‘Which Corrupt Billionaire Should be President?’ show.
If the “collapsing” “mullah-run system” is so inherently unpopular and incompetent, how can it also be a rising threat to global security? Only a powerful and latent orientalism can “resolve” this seemingly irresolvable paradox.
If the Islamic Republic is viewed by Iranians as inherently illegitimate, why the need to strangle the population and engage in extensive psychological warfare to force change?
Even as US presidents threaten to destroy Iran, why do British and American state-owned Persian-language media outlets need to struggle to convince Iranians that they do not need a missile defence capability or a strong military? In the words of the narrator in Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man: “I’m invisible, not blind.”
A repeat of 1953
Interpreting economic dissatisfaction and calls for an anti-corruption campaign as public opposition to the constitution or support for external antagonists is a sign of abnormality in the Western discourse on Iran rather than an Iranian abnormality.
Fantasising about the collapse of Iran stems from an inability to comprehend the views of ordinary of Iranians. Rather than pinning hope on such flights of the imagination like a repeat of 1953, it would be infinitely more prudent to heed the warnings of President Hassan Rouhani and the extremely popular IRGC Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a strong country with robust conventional military capabilities, exceptional asymmetrical military capabilities that go far beyond the country’s borders, and an extraordinary religious-bound resilience against injustice. Perhaps that is what makes their 40 years of successful resistance appear “abnormal” to empire.
– Seyed Mohammad Marandi is a professor of English literature and orientalism at the University of Tehran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Supporters of newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani dance during a gathering to celebrate his victory at the Vanak Square in downtown Tehran on 20 May 2017 (AFP)