Iran in World Politics

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Active ImageBy: Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Hurst & Company, London 2007

Olga Dalaka - Panayiotis Tsitsis

In Iran in World Politics, Arshin Adib-Moghaddam proposes new ways to study Iran in a critical perspective. The book aims to present different possible theories that interpret Iran’s image in world politics. Adib-Moghaddam’s approach is to analyse instances of Iran’s political image since the revolution.

As Adib-Moghaddam is interested in dissecting post-revolutionary Iran’s attitude in foreign politics, he begins with examining the trends that the revolution carried into the present-day system, calling this influence ’Islamic utopian romanticism’. The Pahlavis’ rule gave Iran a monarchic identity and emphasized the idea of Persianism. Iran was considered a superior Aryan nation, distant from both Arabs and Islam.

Thus, the opposition to the Pahlavi state highlighted Shia-Islamic, anti-imperialist principles. Confronting Pahlavi ideals, intellectuals such as Shariati and Al-e Ahmad introduced these revolutionary ideas to the public. Shariati strongly opposed imperialism and dependency on the West.

According to these ideas, Iran redefined its international role in the context of its new Muslim, revolutionary identity. These ideas acquired their own dynamism and foreign policy elites in Iran accepted them and institutionalized them. Through this process, Iran’s contemporary identity and national interests were constructed.

As far as the consensus in Iranian politics is concerned, Adib-Moghaddam explains that the rapid transformations and policy changes should not be attributed to power struggles between pragmatic reformers and pan-Islamic conservatives.

Different institutions may follow different agendas but the only true struggle is between progressive Islam and fundamentalist Islam. Nevertheless, one of the most essential principles is the preservation of the post-revolutionary Islamic identity of the Iranian system.

Considering the relations of Iran and post-Saddam Iraq to be of high importance, Adib-Moghaddam takes the chance to dispute several myths surrounding the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). The dominant perceptions on the causes of this war are an Arab-Iranian animosity with historic roots along with the Ba’athist state’s insecurity towards the Iranian Revolution.

From a realistic point of view, Saddam Hussein seized a suitable moment to pre-empt the newly established Iranian state. Adib-Moghaddam presents counterarguments to show that this war was not inevitable. To begin with, Adib-Moghaddam argues that Iraq committed to the containment of Iran because of its self-perception as a regional Arab power. Moreover, it seems that Saddam Hussein was convinced that there would not be international objections to the invasion as the international community never opposed to this. Through a process which Adib-Moghaddam calls ’inventing reality’, the Ba’athist leadership promoted the notion of a historical conflict between Arabs and Persians.

The writer suggests that the conflict was not promoted just to validate the existing anti- Iranian perception, but was an outcome of growing Iraqi-Arab nationalism as well. Saddam was truly worried about the Iranian threat, but at the same time used the image of the Persian enemy to legitimize this war. The revisionist attitude of the Iranian revolution and its insistence on removing the Ba’athist regime was threatening the regional status quo and thus the Ba’athist party in Iraq needed to reassure its Sunni rule over the political ambitions of the Shia majority. Apart from Iraq’s domestic concerns, the US and Israel were interested in weakening Khomeini’s leadership and re-establishing previous cooperation with Iran.

Adib-Moghaddam concludes his argument by rejecting the view that the Arab-Persian enmity and the Sunni-Shia divide condemn West Asia to permanent conflict.

In the second half of the book the author emphasizes the connection between American neo-conservatism and Iran’s image in today’s international relations. American neo-conservatism, in recent years, managed to produce a "virtual" reality in which Iran is a pariah and a rogue state, ruled by fanatical Islamic fundamental tyrants who threat international security with a possible nuclear assault.

The author analyzes how neo-conservatism in the USA gained critical access to the fields of national and international politics through its influence on the media and through the process of "institutionalization". Institutionalization is what Adib-Moghaddam calls the transformation of this ideology into a political line linking institutes, think tanks and other similar organizations. This procedure attempts and succeeds to lead the domestic and international audience to the conclusion that Iran’s Islamic Republic is an arch-enemy of United States’ culture, of United States’ allies (such as Israel) and an enemy of the Western way of life.

In the fourth chapter he informs the reader about the future of Iranian democracy contrary to major Western misconceptions about the country. Iranian civil society, including Iranian Women Activists, students, intellectuals and reformists, is trying to find its own place in what we call the decision-making process. The new generations want to participate in politics by changing the ways of the past so that the Islamic Republic finds its true identity. Changes in the social and economic structures are important in order for reform to take place, and this is a view held not only by modern reformists, but by more conservative factions in Iranian society as well. And the key word in achieving such changes is, according to Adib-Moghaddam, pluralism.

Nevertheless, the writer admits that this so-called romantic impression of the Islamic Revolution created by the Sariati Al-e Ahamad group is far away from today’s Iranian reality. However, as he rightly points out "the Iranian revolution did not emerge as an outcome of an armed insurgency" but as a result of non-violent action. "Such non-violent action against the state" he maintains "has a long history in Iraq".

For much of the Iranian modern history, democracy and citizens’rights were not the most pressing priority of Iranian intelligentsia, being overshadowed by a long struggle against social and economic backwardness and injustice. Now, the struggle to attain democracy is gaining a pluralistic momentum.

For the sake of this momentum Adib-Moghadam’s book is becoming central to any discussion about Iran.

About the Author

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is lecturer in the politics of West Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Previously, he held the Jarvis Doctorow Junior Research Fellowship at Oxford University, and is the author of The International Politics of the Persian Gulf.

Source: Centre for Mediterranean, Middle East & Islamic Studies
Middle East Bulletin

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