One may wonder that in Modern Times, both in Mashrootiat and in the 1320-32 periods, religion was *not* the rallying point of the Iranian movement, and then why over half a century later in 1979, religion found such a role as the flag of unity in the Iranian Revolution?  Below I try to answer this question.


The common cultural, linguistic (choice of a national language), and territorial background have been necessary but not sufficient to form the nation-states.  Modern nation-states have *all* been formed on the basis of the formation of a NATIONAL MARKET.  The element of religion has always been a subset of the cultural factor in the formation of nation-states and seldom has it been emphasized during the formation of most modern nation-states; because it mostly provokes pre-modern friction and dissension, rather than modern cohesion, which is needed for the formation of a national market.


Actually in the formation of some nation-states, the emphasis of the religious element has worked against the integration of nation-states.  The Safavis of Iran who instituted Shiism in Iran, to compete with their Ottoman Sunni rivals, alienated the Sunnis of Afghanistan, Bojnurd and some other parts of Khorasan, Baluchestan, Banadar Abbas and other coastal areas of the Persian Gulf, and the huge Kurdistan.


Thus they impeded the formation of Iranian nation-state, by choosing Shi’a as the focal point of their state, and they even caused their own downfall in the hands of their Afghani Sunni dissidents.  [Of course it is not so black and white, because if they had not united Iran in front of the strong Ottoman Empire, that was replacing the Arab Empires of Ommavi and Abbasi, they could have been destroyed by the Ottomans.  And Shiism seemed to be the way to unite the Iranians at that time.  Whether Persianism that Qajnavids and other dynasties before Moghul Invasion had used to unite Iran before Safavids, could have been used by them instead of Shiism, to unite Iran in front of Ottomans is an open question.].


Iran's modern formation of nation-state, since the time of Constitutional Movement has seldom emphasized religion.  During the 1320-1332, the primarily political programs of the opposition were the leftist (Tudeh Party) and the liberal-nationlist (Jebh-e Melli).


The discrediting of Liberal alternative by the left in Iran, and by the Soviets and others abroad, and the growth of anti-liberal political tendencies of guerrilla movements and Shariati anti-liberal Islamic legacy, greatly damaged the strength of liberals in Iran at the time of the 1979 revolution.  Also the liberals were still talking about Shah BAyad Saltanat Konad va na Hokoomat.


In other words they were still hoping for a true Constitutional Monarchy.  But the Shah had no intention of allowing any sharing of power with them till the last days when finally Bakhtiar was allowed to take over, when in fact it was too late and the movement had gone for overthrow of monarchy.


Jebh-e Melli did not recognize that officially Pahlavi Dynasty was always a constitutional monarchy and this is the best one could get the monarchy to be in Iran.  The liberals did not have the boldness to demand a parliamentary republic in Iran.


Also on the other hand, near the time of Iranian revolution, the  last breakdowns of the worldwide leftist movement deprived the left from being a serious alternative as well.


I should add that long before the fall of the Soviet Empire, many common-people of Iran had already heard from relatives and friends how a Bulgarian destitute woman would sell herself for a pair of stockings.  I had seen many truck drivers in Iran who would talk to their friends about their observations of the Eastern Block.


So, on the eve of Iranian Revolution, the Communism no longer had any attraction for the common-people of Iran.  The absence of a powerful liberal tradition combined with the non-attraction and disintegration of the leftist alternative meant that the two main alternatives of Modern Times to unite the Iranian peoples' movement were not viable on the eve of the Iranian Revolution.  [Needless to say that new ideas reflecting the post-Industrial society, such as futurism, are still very unknown, as far as political movement in Iran and elsewhere are concerned, and they cannot be considered as an alternative alongside liberalism and leftism.]


Thus missing of a flag of unity in the alternatives of Modern Times, meant the search for a flag of unity in Iran's pre-Modern worldviews and in the pre-Modern Iran there were only two alternatives for uniting the Iranian people, namely Shiism and Persianism.


But the Shah had identified his corrupt and criminal regime with the Ancient Persian traditions for so long.  So any Pan-Iranist alternative would have a hard time to legitimize itself, as an opposition to the Shah's regime, a regime which already had called itself the heir of all Persian glory.  This is why Pezeshkpour, the legal Pan-Iranist opposition in Majlis, and Dariush Foruhar, the out-of-the-system Pan-Iranist, did not find any significant following in the 1979 Revolution.


In contrast, Shiism, especially after Shah's Enghelab-e Sefid, had become clean from affiliations with the monarchy.  Ayatollah Khoemini's strong disassociation and confrontation with the Shah in the 15-Khorad of 1332 had set definitely shown Shi’a alternative as an alternative for overthrowing the Shah's regime, when even the last attempts of people like Sanjabi failed to get Shah to give any concessions for establishing a liberal state in 1977 and 1978.


True, that clergy like Ayatollah Shariatmadari had also flirted with the Shah, but that was exactly why they did not become the main leaders of the Islamic opposition, although they had a higher rank among the Islamic clergy than Ayatollah Khomeini.


Ayatollah Khoemini's strong call for overthrow of monarchy put him and Shiism at the top of the 1979 Revolution at the time that the main Modern Times's alternatives to monarchy, liberalism and socialism, had failed to be attractive and Persianism had been identified more with the Shah's regime than being viewed as an alternative against the Shah.


In short, this is how Shiism became a rallying point in the 1979 Revolution.  But it never meant that Iranian nation would define itself by a religion.  The more time has passed, the more Islamic Republic is responding to the national aspirations of the Iranian people and itself is becoming a national government rather than a religious government.


The Iranian government has no other choice if it wants to represent the Iranian people.  As I said, Iranians, just like most other nations (with the exception of Pakistan and Israel) are not identified by their religion.  They are defined by their nationality.  Please see my accompanying article about Pakestan.


Sam Ghandchi

Nov 10, 1998



* The above article was first posted on SCI (soc.culture.iranian) Usenet newsgroup on Nov 10, 1998.












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