Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Saint and the Devil

The Saint and the Devil
Iran-US on the Verge of War

Ali Asghar Kazemi*
October 17, 2006


Amidst spectacular news about American naval build-up and deployment in the Persian Gulf with skillful and deliberate leakage of Pentagon contingency plans to strike Iran’s major strategic targets, the controversial hard-line president of the Islamic regime made further revelations about his heavenly ties with the outer world. Among other eye-opening contentions, he alluded to his close relations with the Almighty God who motivates him in his political conduct and assures him of His grace, while accusing his adversary (the U.S. President) as being inspired and manipulated by the devil. This reminds the old story of the eternal confrontation between “the Saint and the Devil.”

Politics and the Clash of Faiths

Religion is serving as a medium to politically and spiritually alienated people, to look for a savior, a “saint.” Whereas both American and Iranian new conservative leaders are believed to be faithful to their religious precepts and claim to be guided by reason and moral constraints, they both seem to be prisoners of their dogmas and seized by pure instinct in two distinct political environments: one is an open democratic society whose leaders are supposed to be accountable to their people; and the other is a semi-closed society under a fundamentalist religious rule which is accountable only to God. The truth of the matter is that they both have a tendency to overlook the realities of our time and material world imbued by evil forces of greed, intolerance and conflict.

There is no doubt that all religions have their saints, their martyrs, their mystics and dogmas. The saint is the religious man par excellence.[1] He symbolizes faith, tradition, behavior and values of a religion in its social context. The eternal order is revealed in the mystic experience and vision of the saint. Whereas the natural order of the world is revealed to the intellect and to science.[2] When our perception of the world order is scientific, the frame of reference is nature, and mystic experience is subjective and metaphysics is considered as an illusion. This is the truth presented by atheism, skepticism, and naturalism. [3] But when the frame of reference is the eternal order, then the world and natural order is mere illusion.

Kant believed that there can not be a compromise between these two realms, though man is an inhabitant of both worlds.[4] The argument is not always supported and many believe that there is a mystical side of human nature just as there is a rational side.[5] To what extent these two realms can coexist, and what are the wider implications for our world order?

The New World Disorder

Viewing the disappointing horizon of our international system and the present world order, threatened by the permanent danger of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, intolerance and fanaticism, a query is appropriate at this point. Is this whole disarray a real manifestation of a clash of civilizations, faiths, or merely a conflict of national interests? Are we to believe that the international system is doomed to incomprehension and constant insecurity and dialogue between cultures and societies is closed for ever? What about the revolutionary religious regimes challenging the status quo and the prevailing norms of world order?

Some scholars admit that if the domestic structures, political institutions, social and cultural constraints were viewed out of historical and environmental context in isolation, the answer to the query would be total frustration.[6] But, it is rightly argued that states do not live in a vacuum, and no matter how tall the walls behind which a political unit or a nation can hide, ultimately it is forced to respond to the requirement of the political environment including the established civilized norms of the international system.[7]

It is suggested that science, technology and improved communication in a globalized world may gradually lead to the emergence of a common culture.[8] This is indeed a cheerful picture of an unknown future, but unfortunately, evidences of the past and present do not lead to optimism. In the meantime, the contemporary international order would inevitably be under the pressure or traction of two opposite forces.

The Prophet versus the Statesman

Henry Kissinger has viewed the controversy in contemporary world as the cleavage “between two styles of policy and two philosophical perspectives.”[9] The two styles are defined as the “political” against the “revolutionary” approach to order. When the distinction is viewed from the types of leadership or personalities, it may represent difference between the “statesman” and the “prophet”,[10] with divergent characteristics that bring them into a face to face confrontation.

The statesman manipulates reality, whereas the saint or the prophet creates his own reality.[11] The statesman is conscious of human failure, and will try to avoid certain experiments, not because he would object to the results if they succeeded, but because he would feel himself responsible for the consequences if they failed. The prophet, on the other hand, offers his vision as the test and his good faith as a guarantee.[12]

The statesman’s first and primordial goal is survival; for him gradualism is the essence of stability; he represents an era of average performance, of gradual change and slow construction. Whereas, for the prophet gradualism or liberal approach to problems is like a sin as an unnecessary concession to circumstance. He will risk everything, even his national survival and the very life and existence of his people, because his vision is the sole and primary significant reality to him.[13] Thus, he is much more intolerant to dissention, opposition and political challenge than is the statesman. To him, claiming legitimacy from God and Holy Scriptures, disobedience and opposition mean revolt against the will of Almighty God.

Endeavor toward material progress and economic efficiency for improvement of earthly needs of man is subordinated to spiritual and moral achievement for after life and outer-world rewards and recompenses. Whether these heavenly objectives are attainable or not, whether the prophetic appearance of a leader is true or mere pretension for acquisition of supreme political power in a religiously loyal society, the implications for world order look frustrating.

According to Kissinger, the prophet type of leader in the present international system “represents an era of exaltation, of great upheavals, of vast accomplishments, but also of enormous disasters.”[14]

When the prophet and the statesman come to a face to face confrontation, the statesman will seek to reduce the prophet’s vision and intuition to the existing realities of the world structure, balance of power, accepted norms of international law, customs, practice and behavior. While for the prophet such an approach is almost sacrilegious, because it means the triumph of expediency over what he believes to be the truth and universal principles. To the prophet, negotiation and dialogue, as necessary mechanism of stability for the maintenance of the world order and settlement of international disputes, mean nothing but manipulation by the opponent, since truth, by definition, cannot be compromised.[15]

The Perpetual Conflict

History of mankind bears good witness to this perennial conflict between the two approaches. The political approach dominated European foreign policy between the end of religious wars and the French Revolution and again between the Congress of Vienna (1815) and the outbreak of World War I.[16] The prophetic mode was in the ascendant during the great upheavals of the religious struggles and the period of the French Revolution, and in the contemporary uprisings in major parts of the world.[17]

The Islamic revolution in Iran and its subsequent development, both internal and external, provides a unique case in which the above argument finds a thorough relevance. In fact, in no other historical occasion we can find so many similarities between the model explained above and the factual events; i.e. perpetual confrontations between “the political” or statesman and the “revolutionary” prophet.

The war between Iraq and Iran, which after a series of bloody push-and-pulls transformed into a contest between the leaders of the two Moslem neighboring states, is an example of confrontation between the traditional statesman, the “Devil”, and the prophet or the “Saint”. The statesman- Iraq’s deposed president Saddam Hussein-an opportunist, despotic and ambitious ruler of the Arab world, who invaded on 22 September 1980, the newly-born Islamic regime of Iran with the hope of crushing the revolution and preventing its expansion toward neighboring Iraq. At the same time he pursued other aims, including the leadership of the divided Arab World,[18] with a calculated risk.[19] The statesman failed to achieve his objectives and soon sought for a peaceful settlement of conflict which never came about.

The prophet, on the other hand, took the opportunity of war as a blessing of God which destined not only to strengthen the Islamic revolution but also the vision of Islamic “Ummat”.[20] In effect, the war proved to be a blessing for national cohesion, reorganization of the torn-up armed forces, seriously damaged during the revolution, and last but not least the “ export” of the revolution. The expectation of a new confrontation in the region may well repeat the experience of recent history.

The New Challenge

With the passing away of the architect of the 1979 revolution, the main thrust of revolutionary fervor gradually faded out and the consecutive ascendance into power of pragmatists and reformists’ figures induced new identity to the Islamic regime more attuned to the prevailing norms of international order. However, with the coming into power of the new-conservative hard-liners in 2005, the whole endeavor collapsed and failed to achieve the expected results.

The political victory of the new junta, emerging from the core of the revolutionary guards Passdaran and Bassij (the devoted conscripts), ushered a new era in Iran’s political configuration. A new “saint” was born amid the nuclear crisis and negotiation stalemate. The newly elected president, claiming to be in close relations with the outer world and God, took bold and risky course of actions with respect to domestic as well as foreign policies[21].

The nuclear obsession and intransigence to surrender to the demand of the U.N. Security Council to halt the presumed suspicious nuclear activities further pressed the hardliners to opt for controversial positions which resulted to further radicalism and consequently further isolation and confrontation with the West.

Thus far, with the diplomatic stalemate to manage the nuclear crisis, neither the statesman nor the prophet has come to a mutually satisfactory settlement and both sides continue to accuse the other for uncompromising positions. The prophet seems assured of his vision, the victory of Islam, and sees nothing but the triumph of his perception of the attainable truth. He cares more for the fate of Islam than the destiny of a whole nation. The statesman on the other hand is confused about the Saint’s version of reality and has lost vision while trying to manipulate facts by resorting to gunboat diplomacy and coercive measures. His ego for political survival is still dominant, since, bitterly he claims, the credibility of the whole free world is at stake!

The statesman of our time, guided by the zeal of national interests and self-preservation, has gone beyond the moral requisites in his political behavior. By so doing, he has unconsciously invited the prophet with his illusion of faith and reality. But, whether the prophet can satisfy the demands of our new societies; and whether the statesman can resist the challenge of the saint, the answer is not yet clear, though the confrontation seems unavoidable.

The statesman, helpless and demoralizing is faced the prophet, ruthless and uncompromising. Indeed the truth shall prevail, but whose truth? History will answer to the question. But even history is said to be written by the victorious. Whether the statesman will later be called as chevalier liberator of the free world, or whether the prophet will be remembered as a deceiving “demagogue” or a savior of Islam, is a matter beyond historical accounts but a duty of a sane human judgment.

“Let us leave to others with more talent for illusions the privilege of speculating on the conclusion of the adventure, and let us try not to fail either of the obligations ordained for each of us: not to shy away from a belligerent history, not to betray the ideal…”[22] our duty is to subdue the irrational by shedding light onto the evil side of the world of willful insanity. /[23]



* Ali Asghar Kazemi is Professor of Law and International Relations at IAU, Science & Research Branch, Tehran, Iran. For detail see:

[1]. CF. W. T. Stace, Religion and Modern Mind (London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd. 1953) p. 239.
[2]. Ibid. p. 257.
[3]. CF. Idem.
[4]. Ibid. p.255.
[5]. Ibid. p. 256.
[6]. CF. Kissinger, Ibid. P. 45.
[7].Cf.: Idem.
[8]. Cf.: Jaguaribe, “World Order, Rationality and Socioeconomic Development,” Daedalus, vol. XCV (Spring 1966) pp. 607-626. Quoted in Kissinger, Ibid. p. 46.
[9]. “Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy” op. cit., p. 46.
[10]. Idem.
[11]. Ibid. pp. 46-47.
[12]. Here we are reminded of Hostage taking of the American Diplomats in Iran (1981) where both the statesman and the prophet failed to attain their intended goals. The statesman’s experiment failed in Tabas during the rescue operation and he (U.S. President Carter) admitted the fact seconds after the incident. The prophet’s vision in Iran failed through Algiers accord, but he never admitted the fiasco.
[13]. I have found this portion of Professor Henry Kissinger’s outstanding essay on “Domestic structure and Foreign Policy” op. cit. precisely fitting into my analysis. Therefore, I have used the argument and in some instances have developed some of its allusions in order to align them with my own synthesis.
[14]. Kissinger, Ibid. p. 47.
[15]. Ibid. p. 48.
[16]. Idem.
[17]. Idem.
[18]. The world of Arab was seriously divided after the Camp David accords in 1977.
[19]. See e.g. Adeed Dawisha, “Iraq: the West’s Opportunity”, in 41 Foreign Policy (Winter 1980-81), pp. 134-153.
[20]. Islamic Ummat (Ummah) represents the union of all Moslem nations of the world without consideration of color, language, territory, ethnic and similar characteristics gathered under the rule of Islam.
[21] See my various papers on the matter on nuclear crisis in:
[22]. Raymond Aron, Peace and War, A Theory of International Relations, op.cit.p.458.
[23] . Some portions of this paper have been taken from my book: Ali Asghar Kazemi, Religion and Politics, Monograph, 1995.

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