Beyond Conventional Wisdom!
The Logic of Iran’s Defiance
Ali Asghar Kazemi
Those who are dazed about Iran’s controversial behavior in international scene, especially on the nuclear issue, should understand the very substance and roots of the Shiite doctrine within the realm of Islamic principles and its impact upon the political process in this country.
We should remember that Islam’s basic attitude towards the international order is that it must be transformed into a moral order. This is in fact the main thrust of Ben Laden and his followers’ beliefs and in a way is reflected in public speeches and letters of Iranian President (Ahmadinejad) to heads of states in the past two years. These also echo more or less the essential theme of the teachings of the founding father of Iran’s revolution.
This perception is inherently an anathema of the secular international order built on the political premise of the territorial state and the liberty of men to decide their fate. Therefore, Islamic state shall not be viewed as the term customarily applies in modern law of nations; since only religious affiliation determines the extent and the realm of Islamic community which is generally referred to as Dar-al-Islam. Outside this community-state everything else is considered as Dar-al-Harb, which include hostile and aggressor states against the Islamic community.
Islam is a lucid illustration of a religion which in its inception makes no contradiction between ethical theory and political practice. For centuries Moslem scholars maintained that the concept of holy war (Jihad) not quite unlike to Christian bellum Justum had a permanent character in religions among Moslem and non-Moslem territories. Assuming that Islam was, and still is considered a universal religion and system of belief, these two territories would (at least theoretically) be in a state of permanent hostility and war.
More modern liberal Moslem writers stress that the term refers not only to international war but also to the spiritual struggle for perfection within the heart of man. There is no consensus among Moslem scholars about the concept of peace and war in Islam. But the subject is viewed as an integral part of the conception of the international order in Islam.
By putting war and belligerency within the moral code, war in Islam is for the defense of virtue and truth against evil and falsehood. This is considered the authentic Moslem opinion on war which in practice has seldom been observed in the lifetime of Islam. Historical facts and events have proven that whenever religion was used in support of political power as a source of legitimacy, the deviation from the principles of faith has been unavoidable.
As an example, ever since Persia, whose unity was centered around Mazdaean religion, converted to Islam in seventh century it identified itself with the Shiite doctrine which was at variance with the established Islamic orthodoxy practiced elsewhere in the Middle-East. Thus, just at the time Europe was returning in the great upsurge of the Renaissance, a politico-religious conflict emerged between the two great powers of the time, i.e. Iran and Turkey. The Ottoman Empire, the instrument of Turkish imperialism presented the Sunnite orthodoxy and the Iranian Empire founded on the Persian national ideal incorporated in the Shiite doctrine. The two opponents threw themselves at one another’s throats. The outcome was bloody long wars which ultimately established a new balance of power shared between two Moslem empires of diametrically opposed viewpoints.
The argument which certain Western scholars have advanced with regard to the state of permanent belligerency of Islam stems from the interpretation of the principle of Jihad or the Holy War against Dar-al-Harb. This is the principle of perpetual enmity with and of coercive attitude and aggressive behavior against the unbelievers and infidels. From a moral perspective the struggle is viewed as permanent confrontation between truth and falsehood. On the assumption that Islam is the universal religion and should ultimately bring the whole world under its reign, these scholars hold the view that war and belligerency are the fundamental and necessary institution of Islamic state.
Although the concept of Jihad has gradually lost its strict warlike belligerent character, due to past failure of Moslem rulers to call and organize for holy war, in recent years, especially after the 1979 Revolution in Iran, the concept has regained some relevance in national and international scenes. The new Islamic crusade calls for a return to fundamentalism, a holy war against decadent, Western inspired modernization in Moslem countries. Convinced that Western influence erodes Islamic principles and fails to solve social problems, militant Moslems seek a strict interpretation of the Qur’an. The fundamentalist movement has gradually turned into fanaticism, social unrest, political assassinations, upheaval and terrors throughout the tormented world. The trend is fearfully regarded as a serious threat to the international democratic social and political order.Ideally, Islam, as the name itself indicates, is the religion of peace, brotherhood and compassion. War and violence would therefore be contradictory to its very spirit, unless it is waged in self-defense and for a just cause. Indiscriminate and wanton killing, devastating the natural environment, destroying harvests, defoliation, and deforestation are acts strictly forbidden and against the true spirit of Islam. Yet, in this world of paradox we experience all these ferocities being committed by Moslems against Moslems under the banner of Islam.
Hardly an impartial observer can judge the situation from the Islamic perspective. Since, Holy Scripture, traditions and Islamic jurisprudence can always be interpreted in supporting one’s evil policy and aggressive or hostile behavior. When politics and the pursuit of power become the prime concern of the state, religion and its moral restraints becomes an instrument of policy rather than its ethical guideline.