While Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, is “conquering” the West with his moderate demeanor, his charming smile and billion dollar deals, other Iranian leaders are, once again, voicing their hopes for expanding Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary ideals on a global scale. These hopes are not new: Iran’s first Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini institutionalized the need to “export the revolution” into the Iranian constitution (“The Islamic Republic supports the just struggle of the mustazafun (the oppressed) against the mustakbirun (the arrogant) in every corner of the globe”) and Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has long preached for a Global Islamic Awakening or a New Islamic Civilization with Tehran at its heart.
Some might prefer to dismiss such ambitions as simple demagoguery meant to excite the hardliners but underneath this rhetoric lies a very well thought out strategy supported potenttially hundreds of millions of believers. The call from Islamic unity has been voiced repeatedly from Tehran (and from extremists organizations such as ISIS) but, at least for now, it has not been accepted by most Islamic countries due to sectarian factions and regional rivalry. The facts that Iran is Shiite, that Shiites represent a minority of all Muslims (estimated at 15%) and that Shiites and Sunnis have a long history of not getting along is the biggest hurdle for this vision to turn into reality. The Arab spring which gave Muslims living in Muslim countries a taste of freedom and democracy is another hurdle since many of them view Tehran’s regime as another form of dictatorship that they worked hard to discard. The last big hurdle is the reaction of conservative Westerners (“patriots” and/or “fascists”) who will fight to keep the identity of their countries as non-Islamic.
At the core of this ideology lie many truths in that Western (white) civilizations have ruled the world for the past centuries at the expense of the countries they colonized or exploited and that empires have risen and fallen repeatedly throughout the history of mankind.
This vision is fueled by deep emotional feelings of being abused, humiliated, sidelined, disrespected and denigrated over hundreds of years and these emotions are “non-negotiable” since they are completely subjective. Will this vision ever come to fruition? Will all Muslim nations ever unite? Will Muslims living in non-Muslim nations unite? And if so, when? And if so, how? Nobody knows the answer to these questions but two facts are certain:
- It’s a zero-sum game: If or when Islam goes global, it will be at the expense of the current ruling of the “colonial”, “arrogant” and “oppressive” Western countries who are viewed by Islamic leaders as the core of the suffering of all the non-western countries in the world.
- It’s a game led by Tehran: The regime in Tehran views itself as the core of all Islamic Revolutions due to the success of its own revolution in 1979 it is using this vision of “Exporting the Revolution” or “Global Islamic Awakening” or “Islamic Civilization” as a means to increase its extremist Shiite version of Islam.
So while one may be impressed by Rouhani’s smiles and checks, one must be aware that the visions of global dominance exist at the highest level of the regime within people who have the power to invest enormous amounts of energy to give such a vision a chance to become a reality.
Khamenei: “Today it is Islam’s turn”
Khamenei has been preaching a “Global Islamic Awakening” for years. Here are some from some of Khamenei’s speeches: A speech from 2012, a speech from 2015 and another speech from 2015 which represent his core message:
- The goal: This century is the century of Islam. The goal is Islam. The goal is Quranic and Islamic rule. The goal is to establish an Islamic government that can turn society into the ideal society that Islam wants.
- The timing: Today, it is our turn. Today, it is Islam’s turn. Today, it is the Muslims’ turn to shape a new Islamic civilization with their own determination. We refer to this phenomenon, which we are looking forward to, as the “New Islamic Civilization”. We should be striving for the new Islamic civilization- for the sake of humanity.
- The enemy: For two hundred years, Westerners…occupied Islamic countries: some of them directly, some of them indirectly with the help of local dictatorships. They humiliated the Islamic Ummah as much as they could. Today the arrogant powers of the world feel helpless in the face of Islamic Awakening. Muslim nations must continue their struggle so that they can eliminate the enemy in different arenas.
- The importance of Tehran: The Islamic Republic is an example in this regard. It is a testing ground and a tried and trusted method for the world of Islam.
- The path to success: The battle is a battle of wills. Any side whose will is stronger has the upper hand. They kept us scientifically backward for many years. They trampled on our culture. They destroyed our independence. Today we have awakened and we will conquer the arenas of science one after the other. Muslim nations should come together under the banner of the call to God and the call to Islam. Then the Islamic Ummah will regain its dignity.
- The force is with him: This is primarily addressed to religious scholars and sincere intellectuals. I am not hopeful about politicians anymore.
In other words, Khamenei wants to change the rules. He is thinking on a global scale and in his case, he is willing to put a lot of money to fulfill his dreams. It’s worth noticing that that he doesn’t believe that these dreams will be fulfilled through politicians or diplomats but through grass-roots revolutions.
Khamenei is not alone
While these words may sound to some as the lone delusions or aspirations of an old, albeit very powerful man, the reality is that these visions are supported by most hardliners in Iran, by the IRGC, by the Larijani clan and by Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Akbar Valayati, Khamenei’s adviser who is a crucial link between Khamenei and Moscow has repeatedly gone on record in regards to “exporting the revolution”. It was he, who called Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain “revolutionary nations” in the regional and global struggle to free the “oppressed” from the “oppressors”. It is these states that make up the infamous “Shiite Crescent” which is promoted by hardliners and suppressed by moderates in Iran.
Much like the Kennedy family in the US, the Larijani family is one of the most influential family in Tehran boasting the Chairman of the parliament, Ali Larijani, the chief of Justice, Sadeq Larijani and the chief of Human Rights, Javad Larijani. All three support Khamenei’s vision in different degrees: Ali Larijani is a great supporter of Islamic unity which he calls the “great truth” of the Islamic Revolution. Sadeq Larijani explains why Iran should be at the core of such a unity because Iran has become a “serious alternative to Western Liberal democracy“: “Once the West saw the world shackled by its secular ideology; now it faces a strong and indomitable Islamic Republic of Iran as a serious rival alternative to its order…now they would acknowledge that the Islamic Republic of Iran is an example for Muslim countries”. Javad Larijani also credits the Islamic Revolution for initiating the “Islamic Awakening in the Muslim world” and he now sees how the waves of the Islamic Revolution are “sweeping through Europe”.
But the message of a Global Islamic Awakening is not a vision for hardliners only: Zarif, who is easily regarded as one of the more adept diplomats in the country and who is far from being a hardliner makes it very clear in his book that it is the “duty” of Tehran to “Export the Revolution”. Tehran, he claims, has a “viewpoint that has the potential to be projected globally and change the international order…why doesn’t Malaysia face such problems? It is because Malaysia does not seek to change the international order…it may seek independence and strength, but its definition of strength is the advancement of its national welfare”. Iran’s goals aren’t focused on the welfare of the Iranian populace but on revolutionary ideals which define the country: “without revolutionary goals we do not exist …our revolutionary goals are what distinguish us from other countries.”
Iran the nation or Iran the cause?
Henry Kissinger famously summed up his view on Iran by stating that Iran must decide “whether it is a nation or a cause“. His insight definitely hits the spot: Were Iran a “nation”, it would channel all its energies into increasing the welfare of Iranians over increasing the influence of Iran in the world. But if Iran is a “cause”, such goals seem meaningless since they have no repercussions once they are achieved and instead, Tehran would choose the spreading of its influence over the welfare of Iranians.
So while Rouhani is trying to portray Iran has a peace-loving and stable nation, the decisions of Iran in the region (and the world) point to the fact that many leaders in Iran, including the most powerful one, Khamenei, continue to view Iran as a cause:
- Iran has been investing approximately $10 billion a year in Syria alone for the past four years while the Iranian economy was floundering.
- Iran transgressed numerous IAEA regulations which invoked crippling sanctions despite the fact that Tehran claimed that its nuclear program was peaceful.
- Iran continues to support Shiite militants in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, Nigeria etc…in efforts to overthrow the local governments instead of living in peace with them.
- Iranian leaders continue to rants on visions such as a Global Islamic Awakening instead of focusing inwards to Iranians.
Iran, for now is definitely a cause. It’s a simple and megalomanic cause which plans to overthrow the Western domination of the world and supplant it with an Islamic domination with Tehran at its heart and as long as this cause beats in the hearts of Iranian leaders, it can never be looked on as “just another” country nor can its denials in regards to militarizing its nuclear program be taken too seriously.