Sunday, October 18, 2009

Iran: Roots of the Post-Elections Crisis


Iran: Roots of the Post-Elections Crisis

Ali Asghar Kazemi

October 2009


“A new world society is gradually emerging.It is growing quietly, imperceptibly in the minds and hearts of men. The tumult and the excitement, the anger and the violence, the perplexity of spirit and the ambiguities of expressing are the pangs of he birth of something new. We of this generation are called upon to work for this new order with all the strength and capacity for suffering we possess.

                                                         S. Radhakrishnan[1]



Thirty years after the advent of the revolution, that brought an Islamic regime in Iran, religious leaders are still looking for ways and means to transform the society into a rigid bloc of faithful and zealous citizens who fully submit to the official principles and precepts put forward by them. While during the past three decades every effort has been made to disseminate religious teachings at all levels of public education, from the kindergartens to the universities, seemingly the result has been frustrating.

The post-presidential elections public turmoil, that brought the country to the brink of a real social revolution, was another vivid indication that the whole scheme of “Islamization” of the society was an ineffective and futile social investment. Since, the effort merely counter-produced and youngsters who were brought up with Islamic rigorous teachings after the revolution simply did not show interest to them and much less to obey them blindfolded. Indeed, this phenomenon should not surprise anybody who has a little familiarity with the very rudimentary concepts of the philosophy of education and social sciences.


Misconception about Social Sciences

With a view to cure this incongruity, the Islamic system recently came to the conclusion that the problem emanate from the dominance of the Western “social sciences” books and materials taught by Western educated and/or oriented teachers and professors in the higher education structure. To that end, a new round of purge has been initiated at different levels of educational institutions and expert committees are being set up once again to remedy the problem once for all!

How far this conclusion about Western “social science” is logical? Can the Islamic regime succeed in its new effort to eradicate the roots of restlessness among students and educated people against the system by simply changing the contents of textbooks? Where should we look for proper answer to the problem?


Problem of Religion and Politics[2]

From the beginning of human history, man has been guided by two strands inextricably woven in his very nature, the rational and the spiritual. These forces have influenced human destiny in varied patterns and in different periods when one or the other may have been more prominent.[3] Religion has been the great force for the disciplining of man’s nature, though it has also worked against his fate by denying the domain of reason.[4]

Religion has to do with human mind, ideas, the belief system, values, attitudes and behavior. Politics as an interdisciplinary branch of social sciences, deals essentially with the pursuit of power through “the art of influencing, manipulating, or controlling [groups] so as to advance the purposes of some against the opposition of others”[5] The struggle over conflicting ideas, values and interests directed by religious beliefs have existed throughout history. Great religions such as Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and last but not least Islam have at one time or other claimed to have answers for all problems of the society. But, history bears good witness that almost in all cases, religion married to temporal power, became imbued with a formalism which deprived it of its moral and spiritual values.[6]

Some religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism have sought to base their beliefs on tangible elements and hold that the two sides of human nature, the rational and the spiritual, should work together.[7] Western religions have been long engaged in the struggle to come to term with the spirit of reason.[8] In later periods, scientific developments overshadowed faith in traditional beliefs. The process led to the intellectual questioning of the metaphysical view of the world and the revival of animistic science in the period of Renaissance.

Since the Renaissance two divergent lines of thought have prevailed in the philosophical perspective. One deeply committed to the notion that the real world is external to the observer, and the other, that belonged to cultures which escaped the early impact of Newtonian thinking retained the view that the real world is completely internal to the observer.[9]


Where to put the blame?

When Socrates was executed for religious heresy, it was not merely an act of religious fanaticism, such as later became common, but rather a serious response of society to subversion. The early Christianity was attacked by the Roman government not only out of religious exclusivism in modern sense but because it was seen as revolutionary and subversive, a threat to the organization of society. The Christians incurred the supposed guilt of an unnatural and unpardonable offense. They dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education and violated the religious institution of their realm.[10]

Once it was believed that only religious and metaphysical limitations could restrain rulers and power-holders from committing acts of violence and suppression. This may still prove a valid argument, only if we can make a definite distinction between religious ideology and the actual process of politics. But when the frontiers between the two realms fades away and one identifies its very existence with the other, then, the moral and metaphysical constrains to power-holders become irrelevant. In such circumstances, religion fails to its duty. With the alienation of power-blinded men from moral restraints, aggressive behavior and suicidal tendencies occur.[11]

In today’s world, where hope and peril run side by side, among great and vital issues of our time are those which involved the suppression of the evil which drive societies toward wars, hostilities and terrorism. How then the whirlwind of revolutionary social forces can be directed towards a safe and constructive path?

Considering the fact that constitutional foundation of world order and international law have proven inefficacious for the maintenance of peace and assurance of democratic process, the problems remain to be tackled with in future are the minimum moral and spiritual requirements in order to preserve peace, security and human dignity in a tormented world.

In the absence of a superior authority over and above nation-states, claiming sovereignty and political independence, power with legitimacy is the necessary instrument of governments. Without these latter, political order could neither be established nor maintained and guard society against anarchy. Power without legitimacy spawns tyranny and violence, corrupts the mighty and crushes freedom.[12]

In a general sense, individual quest for power has the effect of leading a ruler to act against the will of the people.[13] But when religion becomes politicized and gets involved in the competition for power, it has the effect of encouraging its followers to act against the accepted norms of civilized nations. As a result, domestic power struggles spill over into the international system. The immediate implication of such behavior is to impose its will and ideology on another state(s).

Religion can help people to establish harmony in their souls, to illuminate human spirit, and to liberate nations from despotism and tyranny. But surely it cannot supplant politics, in the sense it is understood in our contemporary world system, dominated by sovereign nation- states, national interests and competition for power. Religion, says Radhakrishnan, “is the direct apprehension of the Supreme. It is in the attaining of a state of illumination. While the reality is omnipresent, human being is able to apprehend it directly in his own inmost being.”[14] When statesmen attempt to measure -or make semblance to do- political events and social phenomena of the real world by religious standards, they are merely submerged in their illusion.


Future of Religions

Religious belief and faith of any kind have always posed dilemma for humanity. Like a two-edged sword, religion has been hard for men to live without, and almost equally hard to coexist with. Just the same, when man is passionately submerged in his religious obsessions, he is tempted to preach it to others. If they prove deaf to his preaching, he is often tempted to impose it by fire and sword. [15]

Religious wars of the past are now over, but the legacy of intolerance, persecution and slaughtering of man by man on ideological and religious grounds is still with mankind. Religion has become scapegoat for obstipated “old leaders clinging too long to power in a world they no longer understand,”[16] and for power hungry younger generation deeply indoctrinated in myths and delusions. The world no longer represents the long cherished compassionate and fraternal ideals of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.

Encountering realities of this tormented world is a difficult task of the new leaders of our time who are not trained to overcome the lust of power. Religion has the potential ability to free politicians from the evil forces that enslave their spirit. But politics cannot help an obstinate religious to straighten his conduct or to regain his purity. No institutional or legal patterns, no revolutionary theologies, and no chastisement of the other world can make a society to become a safe place to live, unless the people set out to rid of spiritual poverty. In this respect, it is rightly argued that “the quality of our life is the evidence of our religion.” [17] Indeed, religion in this context is not incompatible with politics, neither is it in competition with it in the pursuit of secular power, but it is its mentor.

Religions will lose their redemptive power, if societies are not prepared to accept their human and spiritual principles. People need not to adore saints and their illusions; they have to seek redemption through faith and reason which lead to the path of salvation.


From the dawn of human history to our present time, prophets, philosophers, thinkers, academics and social scientists, disregard of their beliefs and native origins, have helped men to understand their social environment and to overcome the evil of tyranny and despotism in their communities. They should be respected and be given credits for their achievements. Western social and political sciences are not in dissonance with the essence of religions and spiritual needs of human beings. On the contrary, they teach us how to comprehend and deal with evil propensity of political leaders who use religious principles to promote their power and greed despite the will of the people. /


Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran. See:

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[1] Religion in a Changing World, (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd, 1967) p. 15.

[2] Parts of this article are readapted here from my earlier writings in : Ali Asghar Kazemi, Religion and Politics …, Monograph , Tehran, 1985.

[3]. CF. S. Radhakrishnan, Religion in a Changing World (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. 1967), p. 18.

[4]. Ibid. p.9.

[5] Quincy Wright, The Study of International Relations, ( New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1965), p.130

[6]. CF. Jacques Pirenne, Tides of History, op. cit. p. 407.

[7]. Ibid. p. 34.

[8]. Ibid. p. 35.

[9]. Henry Kissinger, American Foreign Policy (New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Inc. 1974), p.48.

[10]. CF. Edward Gibbon, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I, (New York: Modern Library), p. 448.

[11]. CF. R. Strausz- Hupe and Stefan T. Possony, International Religions (New York, 1954) p. 11. Quoted in Robert L. Pfaltzgraff and James E. Dougherty, Contending Theories of International Relations ( New York : J. b. Lippincott Co. , 1971 ) p. 91..

[12]. Robert Strausz-Huoe, Power and Community (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1956), p.3.

[13]. This is for example the case of Iran in the pre-revolution period as well as during the past years when the essence of religion gradually changed in the pursuit of political power. 

[14]. Religion in a Changing World, op. cit. p. 102.

[15].CF. Charles Yost, The Insecurity of Nations- International Relations of the Twentieth Century, op. cit., p. 212.

[16]. Idem.

[17]. Ibid. p. 110.

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