By Ramin Mazaheri
At 42 years the Iranian Islamic Revolution has endured so long that it has seen the reactionary force which rose to counter it – Reaganism – partially defeated by a new faction: Trumpism.
With the return to power – via Joe Biden – of the three decade-long Clintonista ideology Iran hasn’t lasted so very long as to witness a total sea change in US politics, but revolutionary Iran continues to vex, undermine and even defeat mighty Washington precisely because of a key pillar of the Islamic Republic: anti-imperialism.
It’s difficult for me to take Biden and his supporters seriously because even though they claim to represent a progressive leap forward politically one never hears them utter the phrase “anti-imperialism”. In fact, nowhere in US mainstream discourse is this phrase ever heard, and that should be very telling about the true nature of the political factions here.
Anti-imperialism. Indeed, it is a complete sentence. It is a definitive answer to so many questions and problems.
It’s so big that even Wikipedia’s scant page on anti-imperialism relates how it has five different axes: “the moral, the economic, the systemic, the cultural and the temporal”. In one column I cannot discuss all five axes, but I can relate how the phrase is never discussed in both polite and impolite American society. That’s worth repeating because the US is so very aggressive militarily, still.
The single greatest cardinal sin in politics is to attack another country, so from a political point of view the dominant concept behind “anti-imperialism” is an anti-war stance: To be anti-imperialist is to be pro-peace. Therefore, in its political sense “anti-imperialism” is a phrase which implies an inherently internationalist viewpoint which sees weaker – or maybe just less warlike – countries bound together against any colonisingaggressor.
The sad reality is that “anti-imperialism” is not what it used to be.
As I have often related, an accurate analysis of modern human history is that precisely as Iran emerged victorious from the Western-orchestrated War of Holy Defense (also referred to as the Iran-Iraq War) the global anti-imperialist struggle completely collapsed, due to the fall of the USSR and Europe’s Eastern Bloc.
Almost universally anti-imperialism had a crisis of intellectual confidence. This even allowed Western pro-imperialists to insist that Iran was in a laughable condition: it went from being a revolutionary country to an outdated country almost overnight! The sad, but partial, truth of this historical era is not widely understood even in 2021.
It’s an important rejoinder that Iran’s revolutionary mix of anti-imperialism, state economic management and a modern, late-20th century political structure mixed with the revolutionary addition of clerical democratic inclusion has also still not been fully understood by most non-Iranians on both the left and the right.
But for pro-imperialists understanding was not necessary because in 1992 they infamously, abruptly and arrogantly declared the “end of history”, and that anti-imperialism had permanently lost. This explains Washington’s philosophy towards Iran for the last 30 years: waste time – and make things as difficult as possible via illegal and murderous sanctions – until Iran catches up with “history”. Or to put it in the exact terms used today by the Biden administration, which is struggling to gain domestic legitimacy after a deeply-disputed election: wait for Iran to accept “reality” (a “reality” defined by pro-imperialists, of course).
After 42 years Iran is still waiting for many to understand the political and economic modernity of its culture, but most with open eyes have at least partially come to understand Iran thanks to its actions. They see that Iran is consistently a top 10 country in the acceptance of refugees; they see that Iran puts its best and most beloved, like QasemSoleimani, in harm’s way in foreign nations in order to aid their struggles; they see that Iran supports righteous Sunni countries like Palestine; they see that Iran takes major and daring risks to send help to Latino countries like Venezuela; they see that Iran followed all the rules of the JCPOA pact on Iran’s nuclear energy program even when Western signatories did not.
Anyone with open eyes sees that Iran is an internationalist country, an anti-imperialist fighter, a peacemaker and a supporter of righteous global cooperation . Anyone with a modicum of imagination has also wondered just how very successful Iran could be and would have been – with their natural and human resources, and with the exact system they have had in place for 42 years – if the West would end its decades of imperialist blockades on Iran
In the modern digital age – dominated by Western corporations who undoubtedly support pro-imperialist ideologies – eyes are not allowed to be opened, sadly. The pen is not mightier than the sword of deplatforming, censorship and endless Western propaganda.
And yet anti-imperialism remains an ever-powerful sword, because defense of one’s home and sovereignty is always legitimate.
In the post-1991 world who has wielded this sword more than Iran? This is not mere boasting, and proof of humility can be shown by quickly recounting the history of modern anti-imperialist struggles:
Only a know-nothing would say that the USSR, with its 25 million martyrs, didn’t primarily defeat German imperialism. China gave so very much to protect Korea from American invasion, but not as much as North Koreans gave, of course. The sacrifices of the Vietnamese were the most globally galvanising anti-imperialist force in the 20th century – who could ever forget that? Ending South African Apartheid can never be forgotten, but Western media certainly does obscure the role played by Cuban soldiers in repelling attacks from the Western-backed South African Defense Force, which ultimately resulted in the discrediting of the entire South African system and led to the freedom of Angola and modern-day Namibia. And who can forget when Algiers was the “Mecca of revolutionaries”, following the victory of its incredibly inspiring anti-imperialist struggle which overturned 132 years of Algeria “being France”?
Yet Iran’s contributions to the global and supremely humane anti-imperialist movement have been easily obscured by the West’s post-2001 state-sponsored ideology: Islamophobia.
Islamophobia was a very good ideology for pro-imperialists to promote because it has no troublesome economic or class components – it is mere xenophobia. Islamophobia explains why even the few committed Western anti-imperialists so often dismiss Iran’s anti-imperialism with a dismissive wave of their hand: they feel that because of the presence of the religion of Islam Iran is too difficult to even be understood. Sadly, Western pro-imperialists – via the promotion of Islamophobia – have won in many areas for decades.
Iran is concerned with Islam, of course, but Islam differs from Christianity in that there is no possibility for forced conversion, for proselytising monks or nuns or for the forcing of faith on others. Islam, from a political, economic and geopolitical perspective, is simply an insufficient tool with which to define all of modern Iran (believing that it is sufficient is Islamophobic, of course).
Because anti-imperialism cannot die as long as countries are conquered and colonised (openly or via puppets), it must have a center somewhere, no?
It’s laughable to say that the centre of the anti-imperialist movement in 2021 – which began in politics with Lenin and his critiques of Western-style capitalism – could be located anywhere in the United States. Or in Western Europe, for that matter.
I think it is perhaps fair to say the centre in 2021 is in Iran.
If that seems strange to your ears: Isn’t it true that Western Islamophobia has made modern Iran seem to be totally inscrutable, or even not even worth serious analysis? At the very same time, hasn’t the huge reductions in the anti-imperialist movement – which was a global cultural force for nearly a century – made Iran even more atypical? Is Iran so hard to place on the global and historical political spectrums because it is so very revolutionary, or is it that many simply don’t make the effort to accurately understand it’s structures, ideals and actions?
After 42 years Iran’s actions are clear, even if – to some – their motivations and methods are not yet comprehended.
There are other established anti-imperialist nations, as I have noted, and I am not accusing them of resting on their laurels – I simply note here that since 1979 Iran has undoubtedly joined their company in the history of modern mankind. Given the importance of anti-imperialism in establishing global peace, goodwill and cooperation – who wouldn’t thank God for that?