“Those who believe in the imminent collapse of the Islamic Republic underestimate its resiliency and misconstrue the nature of the popular discontent.”
— University of South Florida Professor of Politics Mohsen M. Milani
Allow me to extend my congratulations to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, governmental officials and all the valiant people of the Islamic Republic of Iran on this auspicious occasion of the 35th anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution. To U.S. leaders and western pundits: Despite your dire predictions to the contrary, the Islamic Republic has endured; it is high time to give up wishful delusions of regime change!
To paraphrase the famous American author Mark Twain, the reports of the Islamic Republic’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and indeed the western pundits began predicting the expiry of the Islamic Republic practically from before its inception. Ervand Abrahamian writes, “In the hectic months of 1979 – before the Islamic Republic had been officially declared – many Iranians as well as foreigners, academics as well as journalists, participants as well as observers, conservatives as well as revolutionaries, confidently predicted its imminent demise.”
Iran’s former Minister of Finance Jahangir Amuzegar in 1993 wrote, “Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran in February 1979, not a year has passed without some voice in the opposition predicting the new regimes approaching if not imminent collapse.” Yet for 35 years, the Islamic Republic has patiently persisted, defying all fanciful forecasts of Iran’s impending implosion, some humorous highlights of which are listed below.
1980 – Christian Science Monitor overseas news editor Geoffrey Godsell, in an article entitled “Is Iran nearing point where revolution is spent?” asked, “Are we coming up to the Iranian revolution's ‘Thermidor’?” referring to July 1794 when the French Revolution lost its momentum and saw the emergence of Napoleon Bonaparte.
1981 – New York Times correspondent John Kifner wrote, “Iran's bitter political infighting has grown even fiercer since the release of the American Embassy hostages, casting doubt on the future course of the revolution, which is two years old this week.”
1982 – Iranian expatriate scholar Sepehr Zabih pontificated, “That the regime is in serious trouble can hardly be disputed. In a real sense the embattled Khomeini regime has long been engaged in a three-front war. ... On no front has the regime been able to act conclusively.”
1984 – Journalist Terence Smith reported, “The prospect is for a prolonged and possibly violent power struggle. Anticipating this, Iranian exile groups with headquarters in Paris spend their days preparing for their chance to play a political role in Teheran.”
1993 – Left-leaning, award-winning liberal journalist Chris Hedges stated, “Fourteen years after the overthrow of Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi, the Iranian revolution has failed to achieve either prosperity or sustained hope. ... Discontent is so widespread that even Government officials wonder aloud how they managed to lose so much support.”
1995 – In an article entitled “Second Revolution Brews in Iran,” freelance journalist Lamis Andoni observed, “The April 4 demonstration in a working-class Tehran suburb is starkly reminiscent of the protests during the 1979 revolution, when the US-backed shah was ousted.”
1997 – Naval Post Graduate School senior lecturer Michael Rubin, writing in the Middle East Quarterly using the pseudonym Fred S. Eldin to allow reentry into Iran, forecasted, “Also, when change comes, Americans will gratefully be remembered as standing up to the regime; Germans, French, and others will be seen as having appeased the dictators.”
1998 – Washington Post foreign editor Douglas Jehl reported, “Iran's economy is growing sicker by the day. ... And in their quest for further remedies, Iranian leaders seem dwarfed by the country's troubles.”
1999 – In an article entitled “Time Is Running Out for Tehran Regime,” Middle East scholar Sandra Mackey wrote, “The Iranian people are battling in the streets of Tehran for the right to chart the future of the Islamic Republic.”
2001 – In an article entitled “Don't Throw a Lifeline to a Failing Iran” Michael Rubin advised, “The last thing the United States should do is talk to a government that is at the very least teetering and may actually have begun its fall.”
2003 – Opposition activist Ali Javidi stated, “The Islamic regime is not a stable system at all. Economically, it is a defeated project. ... The fall of the regime is an inevitable outcome of these situations.”
2007– Foreign policy analyst Michael Ledeen openly called for regime change. “I have therefore advocated open calls for regime change in Iran,” he declared, emphasizing that “it would be the morally and politically right thing to do, even if Iran were not at war with us, and even if there were no nuclear program.”
2009 – Military strategist Edward Luttwak predicted, “At this point, it is only the short-term future of Iran's clerical regime that remains in doubt. ... Each of these things has its own dynamic and timetable, but this is not a regime that can last many more years.”
2010 – Iranian-born author and academic Majid Mohammadi wrote, “The Islamic regime in Iran is now on a path to demise and it is time to discuss the arguments for and against its survival.”
2012 – Wall Street Journal editor Sohrab Ahmari foretold, “Even absent an outside intervention, a combination of domestic discontent and rapid economic deterioration resulting from crippling sanctions could precipitate regime collapse in Tehran in the coming months and years.”
Most scholars of Iran in the west have based their prognoses of the fall of the Islamic Republic of Iran on three factors: first, the alleged institutional weight of a 2500-year-old monarchical tradition; second, the devastating socio-economic impacts of the 8-year-long war imposed by Iraq known as the Sacred Defense in Iran; and third, the isolation enforced upon Iran by the so-called international community – the U.S. and its European allies – from the Islamic Republic’s inception. Similarly, most western scholars have held as axiomatic that there exists an inevitable progression toward western democratic secularism in all societies, and have either disdainfully ignored or refused to consider religion as an important social and political factor. The same scholars also insist on ignoring the fact pointed out by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett that the shah was brought down mainly due to his insolence towards Islam.
Mark Whittington illustrates the typical perspective taken by U.S. political pundits, some of whom have made careers of predicting the imminent collapse of the Islamic Republic. He writes, “The fall of the theocratic regime in Iran, presumably to be replaced by something resembling a democracy, would be an earth-shattering event. It would have a number of immediate effects, almost all to the benefit of the United States.” However by eliminating two of Iran's worst enemies, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam in Iraq, Washington has actually aided Tehran, which by capitalizing on the U.S.-created regional instability, has managed to expand its influence in the Persian Gulf and develop close ties with Kabul and Baghdad. “It is ironic that US policies have also helped transform Iran into a regional power,” Mohsen Milani writes, adding, “Thanks to the United States, the single greatest threat to Iran was eliminated, and Iran’s role as the most powerful indigenous force in the Persian Gulf has been solidified.”
Islamic movement journalist and commentator Zafar Bangash explains another flaw in the thinking of western (or westernized) “authorities” on Iran. Western “experts” base their conclusions about Iran upon western models of “democracy,” where only a limited number of elites have their hands on the levers of power. This is not the case in Iran’s governmental system designed by Imam Khomeini, where power is distributed among members of an elected legislature, an executive branch and a judiciary, all overseen by clerical supervision. He writes, “The campaign of assassinations and bombings, instigated by the US and Zionist Israel, should have led to the collapse of any government that operates on the West’s model. Islamic Iran was not based on this model and its survival was not dependent on the West’s goodwill.”
To explain the remarkable resilience of the Islamic Republic of Iran, many western scholars have embraced the illogical view that over the years, Iran’s government has become very adept at crisis management, using each calamity from the U.S. hostage crisis on to extract increased loyalty from its citizens. However, this argument does not exclusively apply to Iran, for any stable government must have attained some degree of crisis management ability. Of course, the most obvious account remains that Iran, with its deep roots in Shi’a Islam and pre-Islamic quest for monotheism, has created a unique form of Islamic representative government that apparently suits the desires of a majority of its citizens. Unfortunately, this evident explanation is habitually rejected by western scholars who, ignoring religion as a potent social and political force, simply negate it as the argument put forth by the proponents of the existing Iranian government, which is clearly insufficient grounds for its refutation.
Moreover, other theories advanced for the unexpected endurance of the Islamic Republic are inconsistent with a number of historical points affirming Shi’ism’s central role: First, without the connection to Shi’ism, how do we explain the crucial role of Imam Khomeini’s lectures in mobilizing the disparate forces of the revolution; second, without Shi’ism, how do we explain the relative smoothness in the transition of power after the Imam’s death; third, how do we explain the extraordinary level of self-sacrifice shown by Iranians during the 8-year-long Sacred Defense; and finally, how do we explain the widespread rejection of the former shah’s western-styled reforms? So while scholars may speculate about Iran’s ability “to hold its ground against economic pressures by means of some unidentified source of strength,” clearly, that source of strength comes from the Iranian people’s devotion to Shi’a Islam.
The plight of Iranians under the shah before the victory of Islamic Revolution bears a striking resemblance to the abysmal conditions of the Arabs before freedom was brought to them by Islam. Describing those circumstances in the second sermon of the masterful work Nahjul Balagha, Imam Ali (AS) expounds, “At that time people has fallen into fitna whereby the rope of religion had been broken, the pillars of belief shaken, ... guidance was unknown and darkness prevailed.” Ayatollah Seyed Khamenei explains that the word fitna means “a dusty climate in which one cannot see anything. In such a climate, one cannot see the path and he does not know what to do.” This was precisely the environment in which the people of Iran found themselves under the shah, but because of their historical link with Shi’a Islam, they enthusiastically grasped the rope of guidance offered by Imam Khomeini.
So again, congratulations to the people of Iran on this joyful occasion of the 35 anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. U.S. leaders advocating regime change should learn from Saddam who, expecting weak resistance when he invaded Iran in 1980, found the Iranian people united against him. The time has come for the U.S. to recognize the Islamic Republic, which, no doubt, will continue to show its remarkable resilience well into the future. To U.S. officials: The Islamic Republic of Iran is here for good – get over it!
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