As the Day of Ashura coincides with the anniversary of US embassy take-over 35 years ago, analyst believes Iranians see the US as Yazid of this era.
November four marks anniversary of US embassy hostage crisis in Iran when university students rampaged into the embassy. 35 years after the event, the date coincides with two major events in Iran and the United States. While Iranian Muslims -surprisingly to the west, both Shia and Sunni- commemorate Ashura which marks martyrdom of Third Imam of Shia Muslims Imam Hussein, Americans will cast their ballots in midterm elections across the State.
The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and capture of the embassy in Tehran were among rare cases of foreign politics which directly – and to Jimmy Carter devastatingly – influenced American politics. In its November first edition cover story, The Revolution is Over, The Economist claims that the Islamic Revolution ‘has changed’ and ‘its revolutionary fire has been extinguished.’ The author translates urbanization of life, modern lifestyle and high number of university-goers in Iran (more than half of population) into westernization of life in Iran. Although in terms of culture and daily life, the claims can be true to some extent and for a minority in the country, but the bigger image is something different from what Economist’s author has depicted.
Millions of Iranians attend massive mourning rituals across the country to mark Ashura. Some 14 centuries ago, in October 680, Imam Hussein who had refused to pay allegiance to tyranny of Yazid, was martyred along with his 72 companions during the Battle of Karbala. As the battle is symbol of confrontation between good and evil, Imam Hussein is the icon of resistance and dignity. According to Imam Khomeini, the Islamic Revolution of Iran follows this icon of resistance who, before the battle, said that “either we win the battle or we lose it and be martyred, both are finally pleasant and victory to us.” That’s what has been followed from the very beginning of the Islamic Revolution in Iran; and every year, Iranians, regardless of their political affiliation, mark Day of Ashura and highlight sacrifices he did for the sake of Islam. That’s why Imam Khomeini once said “Muharram and Safar (two Arabic months in lunar calendar) have kept Islam awake.”
This year, tens of thousands of Iranians gather in front of former US embassy, better known in Iran as Den of Spies, to mourn Ashura on the very anniversary of the embassy takeover. As Imam Khomeini called the United States as Great Satan many years ago, many Iranians still share the idea. A reecent survey conducted in capital city of Tehran in August 2013 and September 2014 shows that Iranians distrust in US has deepened since last year. While in 2013, 25 per cent of participants believed that the US is ‘highly trustworthy,’ the figure has after a year decreased to 21 per cent, whereas 61 per cent of people saying the US is ‘never trustworthy’ has seen a 2 point increase and now after a year of Rouhani’s presidency and Joint Plan of Action, 63 per cent of people in Tehran see the Americans totally untrustworthy. Meanwhile, along with traditional posters and ritual marks for mourning ceremonies, new posters have also appeared on different parts of the city and have gone viral on social networks since about ten days ago which read “Recognize Shimr [one of Yazid’s troops who brutally killed Imam Hussein] of your era.” In one of the posters dome of White House can be seen among red tents, representing tents of Yazid’s army. Another poster shows feet of a soldier with American Army uniform among feet in red clothes, again representing Yazid’s troops.
Since 35 years ago, the US has always been considered such an enemy to Iran and in spite of the fact that the American values have opened their ways into the society, yet they have not dominated the religious nature of Iranians. In particular, when it comes to US-led sanctions against Iran, even secular Iranians consider it as an unfair oppression and interpret it according to the Battle of Karbala and do not accept their national pride and dignity be damaged by force.
The Economist considers high number of university students in Iran as a western value which more seems to be a view out of American exceptionalism. In fact, Iran has witnessed one of fastest growth rates in contribution to science in the world. In a region where girls are deprived of even basic education in some countries, where Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai was attacked and almost killed, Iranian girls occupy nearly 60 per cent of university seats. In his meeting with female scholars and activists in last April, Ayatollah Khamenei enumerated higher education as a virtue for Muslim women. Iran has pioneered in several modern sciences such as nanotechnology, nuclear technology, aerospace, medicine and health, cyber and biotech in the region and world. Iran is one of few countries who have achieved and own an indigenous science of nuclear technology.
Despite its oil-dependent, currently rather fragile, economy, unlike its oil-rich neighbors who are buying western technology, Iran has advanced and developed its own in spite of decades of unilateral western sanctions against the country. Contrary to stereotypical belief of conflict between science and religion resulting from renaissance conditions, Islam has always supported knowledge and has encouraged its followers to seek knowledge. Therefore, knowledge-seeking in Iran is a religious attitude in policy making of the country which supports education for more and more people.
In terms of foreign policy, the influence of Karbala can also be seen. Eight years of war imposed by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was a symbol of the same unfair war where many western countries were supporting Saddam’s army with weapons and intelligence, while Iran was under sanctions. It was indeed the same philosophy of ‘final victory in the battle by winning or martyrdom’ of Imam Hussein which helped Iranians resist for eight years. Within a bigger image, Iran’s foreign policy can be interpreted in terms of Karbala as well, where it is based on rejecting and resisting against oppression.
The article and many western powers accuse Iran of dictatorship and support for so-called terrorist groups in Lebanon and Palestine. Iran has held an average of one election per year since the Revolution in a region where countries such as Saudi Arabia, a major oil-rich ally to the US, have never held any elections and even deprive women from suffrage. But the issue about Iran is that it does not accept US dominance and its values (in fact double standards) for democracy. Unlike almost all the countries in the region, Iran has never let any American observation and meddling into its internal affairs and elections. That is why Iran has turned from a major ally four decades ago into a serious rival in the region for the United States. Iran has in these years significantly increased its influence in the region. While the US failed to bring peace and stability to Iraq and now has failed along with its coalition against ISIL – again a result of US double standards in its so-called fight against terrorism – to confront the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, Iran has successfully supported Iraqi army. While the US-led campaign has sufficed to carrying out air raids in mountains and has several times dropped aids and weapons ‘mistakenly’ for ISIL terrorists instead of besieged Kurds, images of Iran’s influential IRGC commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq appeared on media and the internet. In fact, without being involved in fight against terrorist in Iraq and Syria, Iran has supported the central government and its army with strategic consultations which led to major achievements latest of which has been retaking Jurf al-Sakhr strategic region.
Even in Syria, where the United States invested financially and politically to overthrow Iran’s ally Bashar Assad, he is still in power and was reelected as president in a general election; Tehran has from the very beginning had said Syrian politics should be decided by its own people. In Lebanon, popular Hezbollah plays important role in the country and region and is influential in politics of the country. In Yemen, pro-Iran Houthis have gained more power in the country. In the most strategic and volatile region in the world which is the source of energy, Iran seems to have the upper hand against the US by being honest in its fight against oppression and outside meddling and supporting true democratic values for each country.
Iran has doubtlessly turned into a regional power and it has been achieved by lessons the country has learned through centuries from the Battle of Karbala to fight against oppression. Unlike what the Economist believes, Iran has used the revolutionary fire to reach stability, independence and progress. It doesn’t mean that Iran has no problems at all; especially in terms of economy, the country is still facing difficulties. But the general direction of the country is progressive and is turning into a role model for other countries in the region.
In other words, as the Economist article says, Iran has changed from 35 years ago, but unlike what it claims, Iran has turned into a country to which the United States should talk. As the deadline for nuclear talks looms, the United States and Iran both need to reach an agreement to benefit both of them. November 4 midterm election in US can to some extent show the popularity of Democrats. But for 2016 presidential elections, Obama administration needs to at least reach an agreement with Iran, after many failures in its foreign policy, so that Democrats can hope for another Democrat president after Barack Obama.