Why has Iran become what it is today? Is this country a theocracy? What was its founding ideology?
First of all, I would like to emphasize that from the beginning of the 20th century, the main concern of Muslims in the Middle East was the "stagnation of civilization", which simply means why the Muslim world was colonized by the West. This was expressed in action as a project for the revival of Muslim societies, and ideologically as the birth of "Islamic modernism.
The Islamic world then gave birth to the school of total westernization, represented by such figures as Mirza Malkam Khan, an Iranian scholar and diplomat, but this school eventually failed to dominate because it was too far from the grassroots reality in Iran, among other reasons. In contrast, the "Islamic modernism" advocated by Egyptian scholar Muhammad Abduh and his student Rashid Rida, which is rooted in Islamic tradition while attempting to meet the challenges of Western modernity, has gained more support.
Efforts to reconcile Islamic tradition and modernity have involved ethics, government, the caliphate, sharia principles, the relationship between religion and politics, nationalism, anti-colonialism, and a host of other issues that have been the subject of intense debate for more than half a century. The most interesting of these debates was the large number of Islamiyat writings produced by Egyptian literary scholars and thinkers in the 1930s and 1940s, which elaborated on religious texts from the perspective of modernity. Because it was the age of liberalism, these Islamists were almost always liberals:.
"Their motivation for writing stemmed from the context in which they wrote, as manifested by the rise of a religious-political movement (the Muslim Brotherhood organization), the prolonged British occupation, and the political divisions and missionary offensives of the West. These conditions drove them to take up the defense of Islam and to affirm its claims as a civilization from a kind of rational humanism."
-- Simply put, it was the Islamic liberals of the time who, in an anti-colonial and anti-Western cultural invasion effort, took it upon themselves to defend the rationality of the religion and attempt to prove that the moral practices of Muslim society were compatible with modern ethics and humanism.
Islamic modernism was born in order to resolve the contradictions and conflicts that occurred during the encounter between Muslims and the West. Where there are conflicts, nationalism naturally intensifies, and in this regard the Pakistani philosopher and politician Muhammad Iqbal became a pioneer. Iqbal argues that it is important to reflect on Muslim culture while recognizing the harmful consequences of copying the West and not abandoning the Muslim identity.
By the 1960s, Islamic modernism began to increase its critique of the West. The Iranian novelist and philosopher Jalal al Ahmad developed the "Gharbazadjeh" theory, which argued that the social problems facing Iran at the time were largely attributable to the abandonment of one's traditional heritage in a superficial imitation of the West, and that the imitator could not have an authentic identity. The imitators could not have the truth.
Influenced by Ahmad, a group of activists sought change, among them Sayyid Qutb, Ali Shariati, and Ayatollah Khomeini, a key figure in contemporary Iran.
For the revolutionary Khomeini, to be revolutionary, to change reality, one needs to act, and to organize action, one needs ideological mobilization, and with what? Islam. This is called "action as an element of faith". Khomeini maintained an elitist position, but also emphasized the mobilization of popular action through Islam. According to the Cambridge History of Twentieth Century Political Thought.
"The Islamic state is an essential condition for the realization of faith. Religion is not merely concerned with the knowledge of God; it also organizes its followers and inspires them to action."
It is an interesting aside to interject here that Khomeini's and other Islamic thinkers' views in this regard were actually also inspired by the British philosopher of the time, Russell and others, about the disillusionment of Western morality, modernity. So it was not a product of a closed-minded conservative, but rather a product of a process of cultural exchange between East and West that had both liberal and conservative overtones.
Back to Khomeini. There are some writers on the Internet who describe the Pahlavi dynasty, which was overthrown by Khomeini, as the ideal state of civilization and openness. In fact those who know a little bit of contemporary Iranian history will know that the late Pahlavi dynasty was extremely corrupt and that the so-called westernized civilized world at that time covered only a limited number of Iranian cities, a limited population, a vast rural and non-urban population, so to speak, living in a non-industrialized environment with a staggering gap between the rich and the poor, which is why Khomeini was able to make a call.
In fact, it is not that the Pahlavi dynasty did not have the opportunity to truly secularize in its early days. In 1951, Iran's first democratically elected prime minister, Mossadegh, had pushed for secular reforms, but he was overthrown from power by MI6 in conjunction with the U.S. CIA for nationalizing the oil fields monopolized by the British BP oil company, and lived out his life under house arrest. Reza Pahlavi, supported by the US, gave the lion's share of oil interests to the US and became the face of US interests in the Middle East. He was overthrown in 1979 by the Khomeini-led Islamic Revolution, which was the cause of Iran's feud with the United States.
The above is the ideological lineage of the origin of the political system in contemporary Iran. If we look at it a little deeper, we will find that it has a very complex and wonderful evolutionary process, and it is the solution that several generations of Islamic thinkers came up with throughout the 20th century for the Islamic world to follow its own path of modernization, and it is the conclusion of a stage in the context of compromising the realities of the Muslim world.
An interesting point is that, in fact, if one takes away the Islamic component, Khomeini's emphasis on organizational capacity and on modernization are two things that almost all anti-Western colonial third world countries of the 20th century emphasized when they followed their own path, no matter what the name is and what the doctrine is called, the core is actually organizational power and modernity. Even today, Modi in the 21st century wants to give India a national makeover, emphasizing these two as well.
While we support women's freedom and emancipation here, we do not make a straightforward capping value judgment on the Iranian system. We can read the Iranian team's refusal to sing the national anthem at the World Cup in the context of the Cambridge History of Twentieth Century Political Thought compendium.
To some extent, Iran is an extremely cutthroat country. The system Khomeini created, while integrating the urban population, which resented the Pahlavi dynasty at the time, and the vast conservative rural population during the revolutionary phase, was unable to bridge the gap between the two after the triumph of the revolution. Khomeini wanted to mobilize the population for modernization through Islam, and he succeeded, as he and Khamenei built Iran into the only industrialized country in the Middle East outside of Israel. This is Iran's achievement, but it has also become the source of the contradictions in Iranian society today.
It is interesting to note that Israel and Iran are natural enemies. While Israel's industrialization depended on the help of the United States, Iran's industrialization was accomplished under U.S. sanctions.
How to put it? Modernization requires highly educated people, so we see that the Iranian system invests a lot in education, producing three to four million university students every year, about half of whom are women. But university students who have received higher education will in turn question this Iranian system of social mobilization. This is the essence of why the Iranian team refused to sing the national anthem at the World Cup, and why millions of Iranian intellectuals have emigrated to other countries.
Ultimately, we can say that Iran's disease is the disease of poverty, and if it had the money to modernize its rural population, then the conservative religious climate could be loosened, the Iranian government would not need Islam as a tool for mobilization, women would be free, and urban intellectuals would not have to feel disappointed. But precisely because Iran cannot immediately modernize its rural population, it must retain the Shariah and the power of mobilization. Yet the mobilized forces are invested in modernization, and the intellectuals produced are, in turn, dissatisfied with the mobilization system.
How to break this paradoxical cycle? It seems that there is no way to break this paradoxical cycle overnight, except for the accumulation of the daily efforts, and the eventual quantitative change to qualitative change. Is it a good idea to accelerate the confrontation between the two groups in Iran in the name of "freedom"? No, it seems not, because it only satisfies the emotions of the onlookers, and when the conflict breaks out, the conservatives will lose the opportunity to modernize, and the liberals will be deprived of the fruits of modernization they have already enjoyed. This has already played out in other parts of the Middle East. Certain countries that are blockading Iran to try to stop its industrialization and want to continue to run the Middle East would like to see this, but it is not necessarily in the real interests of Iran and Iranians.
The real way to help Iran, to help Iranian women, would be to invest in Iran, not to blockade it, to put more people in Iran in a position to modernize, not to take away their modernization.
The World Cup, because it is the most watched sporting event on the planet, is regularly used to make political points.