By Mahdi Jamshidi

The costs of grappling with state liberalism

February 13, 2021 - 14:42

[1]. It's been more than a century since a chain of tensions and shocks hit the Iranian society as a result of imposed presence of "western modernity" in Iran. This trend started from mid Qajar era on, and as time went by, modernity became more and more serious and fundamental within the structure of the society. The modernity flow experienced its climax during the events of the Constitutional Revolution in Iran and marked a huge historical conflict in the country.

In the meantime, the only person who raised the flag of enlightenment and, due to his precise and deep knowledge about the nature of western modernity, recognized its incompatibility and conflict with religious traditions, was martyr Sheikh Fazlullah Nuri who was hanged a while after the movement started and removed from the equations. After this bitter fate, the authoritative, accelerating, and wild modernity was created by Reza Pahlavi. He tried to destroy the entire structure and foundation of native and religious culture to replace it with western modernity. Therefore, contrary to its roots and origins, the Iranian society tumbled down to a different path and turned into a 'tail of western modernity'.

[2]. Western modernity set foot in Iran with both its Marxist and Liberalist branches. Both those branches were fully active in the country. The Liberalistic narrative of modernity was more compatible with the taste of the Pahlavi dynasty, but in response to choosing this narrative by Pahlavi and the consequences of this decision, the Marxist ideology was also formed in the country as an anti-thesis and found a strong social fan base inside the society. For example, the communist party of Tudeh turned into one of the most important and effective groups in Iran. During the following decades, the propagation of the Marxist ideology led to the birth of other narratives which had eclectic ragged nature, including MEK and Forqan cult. It was at this time where the master-mind of Iran's Revolution, martyr Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, stepped in a difficult bloody battle and formed a front against the social wave of communist ideology. Those who had beliefs similar to Motahari and considered the situation as a huge fatal danger were quite a few in number. He took out his sword from the pod, all alone, and rushed into the theoretical battlefield. During this period of time, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi was one of the few people who recognized the specific historical situation and undertook an active enlightening fight against deviation. Mr. Mesbah, during this period, learned the theory of "Materialism Dialectic" which constructs the essence of Marxist ideology. He then taught his findings to his students and tried tirelessly to provide a fundamental criticism of the theory. Ayatollah Mesbah was physically attacked and beaten by the Marxist forces. Motahari, also, was assassinated and removed from the scene by Marxists because he was considered by them as the main/major threat to the Marxist ideology.

[3]. During the last years of the 60s (in the Persian calendar) when the Marxist ideology was out of breath in Iran and had no power anymore, the Liberalistic ideology arrived at the country and soon turned into an affective bold force amongst west-oriented elites and intellectuals. In the early years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Freedom Movement in the country, led by Mahdi Bazargan, took in "the state liberalism" as its core manifestation and agenda. After a while, due to his ideological conflicts and contradictions with the Revolution, Bazargan resigned. But this time, those who were categorized as the oppositions and critics of Liberal ideology and had comprehended Islam through a leftist narrative, inaugurated an epistemological trend which was the sign of a 'substantial epistemological transformation'. The man who facilitated and stimulated this transformation the most was Abdul Karim Soroush. He brought up the theory of "the theoretical contraction and expansion of Sharia" in Kayhan Circle and tended towards "philosophical and epistemological revisions" in realm of theology. There were others who followed him down this path and gradually shaped the liberal west-oriented intellectual movement, inspired by thoughts and reflections of Soroush.

[4]. During this period of time, another considerable evolution was beginning in terms of official and state atmosphere of the country: the birth of the Economic Liberalism Policy on the outset of the 5th administration of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Those technocrat forces surrounding administrations' officials, jump-started a different economic policy called 'economic adjustment' which was derived from policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. This policy, from different aspects, embarked an evolution in atmosphere of revolutionary approaches and values of the country: the rule of technocratic forces, the oblivion of knowledge and culture, pragmatism and development of moment-based logics, the precedence of economic growth, and the production of wealth over justice, creation of a gap between the state and the nation, the emergence of social discontent and urban riots and etc. During this historical period, Mesbah, who was a critic of the situation and worried about it, did not have the opportunity for a transparent debate due to the narrow political space of the country.

[5]. By the occurrence of the third event, the triangle of western modernity according to the liberal narrative was completed in Iran. The third event was the rise of the secular intellectual force to power in the mid-70s (in the Persian calendar) and their placement within the official structure of the state. It was at this point in history that all possibilities and opportunities came together and the forces of modernity, united and apparent, challenged the 'revolutionary ideology'. This wave was very much similar to the wave that was formed by west-oriented intellectuals during the events of the Constitutional Revolution in that period of Iran's history. It was here when Mesbah made his 'decisive decision' and set foot in the middle of strife explicitly and fearlessly; just as Motahari was not afraid of anything in the 50th and had recognized the main jeopardy. This critical and apparent confrontation greatly displeased the official and unofficial liberal ideology forces of the country. As time went on, they felt more and more endangered because Mesbah was squandering their conquests and diverging their social fan base. Mesbah's determination and seriousness in this regard, also made the Iranian liberalism forces more determined in fighting back. Hence, since then, Mesbah became the key epistemological figure and was selected as the main target of media and propaganda attacks on a daily and weekly basis. During that time, no other figure was targeted by the liberal forces as much as he was. Nevertheless, he never retreated and continued his enlightenment and criticism. Thus, a multitude of suspicions, problems, ambiguities, and media objections were formed against Mesbah, and the man who was not much famous until then, suddenly became the subject of the headlines of news broadcast and analysis. The confrontation of state liberalism and west-oriented intellectuals against Mesbah had a deviated nature: it was not originated from "reasoning", but rather "corrupt motifs", "politically wrong intentions", and "greed for power". This confrontation made the thoughts of Mesbah the subject of fragmentation, distortion, propaganda manipulations, and political speculations.

[6]. The destructive attacks against Mesbah were so intense and severe and there were so many small and big lies repeatedly feigned about him that, gradually, the truth was marginalized and a different face from Mesbah was forged which had nothing to do with the truth. We've learned from our real-life experiences that how "repetition of a lie" can turn that lie into a truth. Decades passed and not only many attitudes toward Mesbah have not changed, but there are also newcomers to the club of those who criticize Mesbah. These newcomers are repeating the same null fallacious arguments of state liberalism and west-oriented intellectuals. The same thing happened to Motahari. His personality was assassinated by those whom he used to categorize as "hypocrite materialists" and the price he had to pay for reviving his personality was nothing less than his life. Mesbah, likewise, grappled with "hypocrite liberalists" and paid the price for this grapple as long as he lived. When psychological warfare replaces intellectual debates, and when the world of ignorance casts its shadow over the world of knowledge, and when media sources replace hundreds of volumes of Mesbah's books, and when power violates the rights of wisdom, and when intentionality devours truth-seeking, there is no doubt such a satiation will arise. Even today, "referring to Mesbah" is not a virtue and there is an expense for "being by his side". Mesbah was and will be an ever-accused thinker.

* Mahdi Jamshidi is a faculty member in Institute for Islamic Culture and Thought

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