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Riding the wave of Islam's past.

On Febraury 11, Iran will celebrate the sixth anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the Shah. Today many Western commentators view the Islamic Republic of Iran as reactionary, not revolutionary. They argue that revolutions are future-oriented, fired by the vision of a new society. In Iran, however, the clergy who were in the forefront of the anti-Shah movement and who now run the government believe that the Koran and the Sharia (Islamic law) provide the sole blueprint for the ideal society.

Iranian leaders consider the Western analysts' opinions irrelevant.

They are only about how Moslems throughout the world view their regime. They see Iran as re-creating the Islamic society that existed in the days of the prophet Mohammed and Imam Ali. They ousted a corrupt, Westernized elite from power, freed Iran from U.S. domination and reclaimed their independence. Since 1979 they have followed a genuinely nonaligned course.

Such achievements are highly attractive to many Third World capitals, which regard joining either the Soviet or American camp as incompatible with their newly acquired political independence. When nonalignment in the international arena is combined with the lofty morality and anti-imperialism of an Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the mixture becomes irresistible, especially to the young and educated in many Moslem countries. Following Ayatollah Khomeini's line means not only rejecting materialistic capitalism but also atheistic Marxism.

Khomeini's appeal has had widespread repercussions in the Moslem world. In the winter of 1979, fear of a hostile backlash from fundamentalists kept Saudi Arabia's King Khalid from joining the Camp David peace process. In November of that year Khomeini's teachings partially motivated guerrillas who seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Among those involved in the operation was Salafiya, a group which advocates a kind of democratic political Islam based on the practices by a caliph who was chosen democratically by the populace, they point out, so monarchy has no place in Islam. Khomeini has used the same argument to impugn the rulers of the Persian Gulf states.

To blunt the effect of the Ayatollah's criticisms, the monarchs began enforcing Islamic law more strictly. In Saudi Arabia, revitalized Committees for Public Morality went into action, closing hairdressing salons, for example. The Saudi government has cracked down on all non-Islamic religious services in the kingdom. The rulers of Kuwait yielded to popular pressure to reconvene the National Assembly, dissolved in 1976. In Iraq, President Saddam Hussein was compelled to hold the parliamentary elections that leaders of the ruling Baath Socialist Party had promised twelve years earlier. In contrast, the Iranian regime held five referendums or elections during the first year of the revolution.

The war between Iran and Iraq has taken on the characteristics of a jihad. Although he heads a secular political party, Hussein resorted to traditional Islamic imagery to inspire the Iraqi military. In October 1980 he used the eve of teh religious feast Id al-Adha as an occasion to make a televised speech commemorating Iraqi victories in the war and urging his soldiers to cut off their enemies' heads: "Strike powerfully, because you are truly God's sword on earth. The necks you are striking are those of aggressor Magians, collaborators with the lunatic Khomeini." For its part, Iran portrayed its drive to take Najaf and Karbala, Shiite holy places in central Iraq, as the first stage of a march to Jerusalem to liberate Islam's third-holiest shrine.

While stridently anti-Zionist, Iran has also criticized the secular orientation of the Palestine Liberation Organization. When the P.L.O. Split in the spring of 1983, spokesmen for the Islamic Republic leaped to express their misgivings about Yasir Arafat. "The Palestinians are weak because their movement's criteria are not in accordance with genuine Islamic principles," Iranian President Ali Khamamei said. "The people who speak in the name of the Palestinians never speak in the name of Islam." Many Palestinians have now come to consider revolutionary Islam as offering the best hope of liberating their homeland. On the campuses of the Palestinian universities in the West Bank, Islamic fundamentalists are as numerous as P.L.O. supporters.

The clearest signs of Khomeini's popularity outside Iran appear among the Shiites of Lebanon, that country's largest sectarian group. His portrait is displayed in many Shiite homes and businesses. Shiites in occupied southern Lebanon have offered the fiercest resistance to the Israeli military.

Egypt presents a different case. Long a seedbed of Islamic fundamentalism, since 1928 it has also been the home of the Moslem Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has given rise to smaller and more militant groups. Those who assassinated President Anwar el-Sadat belonged to one such organization; they accused him of straying from the path of Islam into the arms of America and Israel. Egypt's fundamentalists hold the Iranian regime in great esteem, but because there are no diplomatic relations between Cairo and Teheran and because Egypt backs Iraq in the war, contacts between Egyptian fundamentalists and Iran are minimal. Still, Khomeini's message is widely known.

Indeed, it has spread across North Africa. In the wake of last year's bread riots in Tunisia and Morocco, the governments there blamed not only communists and Zionists for the disturbances but "Khomeinists" as well. By associating Khomeini with the grievances of the poor, those governments did the Ayatollah and his ideology a great service. All along, the Iranian revolutionaries have portrayed themselves as siding with the wretched of the earth.

The Iranian revolution has inspired Islamic forces even in Malaysia and Indonesia, countries which have been peripheral to Islamic history. In 1973 the military rulers of Indonesia, the world's most populous Moslem state, pressed all Islamic groups to merge into one party, the United Development Party (P.P.P.). The omission of "Islam" from the name was deliberate, and the P.P.P. has been severely restricted in its ability to act as the political opposition. Now the government is pressing it to adhere to the official Pancasila ("Five Principles"), the fundamental tenets of the Indonesian Constitution. One of the principles calls for religious pluralism--contrary to the desires of many of the P.P.P.'s members for an Islamic state.

The military's authoritarianism has closed all avenues of dissent. Since mosques are the only places people can gather to speak openly about the government, they are becoming centers of opposition. The brutality with which soldiers butchered Islamic protesters on two occasions in Jakarta last year indicates the regime's nervousness.

Malaysia is also experiencing an upsurge in Islamic sentiment. The rising popularity of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has the ruling United Malays National Party so worried that the government recently passed a law forbidding the injection of Islam into politics.

Significantly, Indonesia and Malaysia are anticommunist states. The Malaysian Communists were crushed in the late 1950s, and the Indonesian party, in 1965. As capitalism has brought maldistribution, corruption and injustice in its wake, the younger generation of Moslems has developed grievances against the social order. Those Moslems are drawn to revolutionary Islam, as expounded by Teheran, because it offers a way to be both revolutionary and Moslem. They know Khomeini is anti-imperialist as well as anticommunist. They know that the Islamic regime in Teheran actively aids Afghan guerrillas against the Marxist government in Kabul, that it has demanded the unconditional withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and has ruled out friendly relations with Moscow until that condition is met.

Since the revolution. Teheran has considered it an Islamic duty to support national liberation movements of the deprived people of the world, whether they are Moslem or not. Among the organizations that have received Iranian backing are the Organization of the Islamic Revolution in the Arabian Peninsula, in Saudi Arabia, and the Association of Bahraini Students. The government has established a department for national liberation. There is also a nongovernmental Islamic secretariat, with offices in Qom, which maintains ties with clergy throughout the world. Every year that body sponsors the World Congress of Friday Prayer Leaders, which draws delegates from more than forty countries. The secretariat is an effective vehicle for creating and sustaining good will toward Iran's revolution among the Islamic cirlces of participating states. IT is also a potential rival to the Islamic Conference Organization, which has its headquarters in Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

Iran has taken a fairly active interest in protecting Moslems living in other countries. According to Article 152 of its Constitution, "the defense of the rights of all Moslems" is a fundamental principle of Iranian foreign policy. Since late 1982, the government has intensified its campaign on behalf of the "oppressed Moslems in the Soviet Union." The object of the campaign was to rekindle religious fervor among Moslems in the southern republics--Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan--where four-fifths of the Soviet Union's 45 million Moslems live.

Radio broadcasts beam religious propaganda to those areas, depicting the Kremlin as the seat of Satan's empire. The campaign has had some impact. In late 1983 Turkmenistan, with a population of 2.8 million, was reported to have 300 unofficial clerics, and Soviet officials concede that Moslems in Azerbaijan and Tadzhikistan have been influenced too. In those republics people are becoming more vocal in their demand for mosques and religious schools, and growing numbers of women have adopted Islamic dress. Moslems in Azerbaijan are Shiite; the Tadzhiks, whose language is similar to Persian, are culturally close to Iranians. The fact that Teheran-Moscow relations are strained (mainly because the Soviet Union supplies weapons to Iraq) is an additional incentive to Iran to continue its campaign among Soviet Moslems.

Iran has not hesitated to speak out against attacks on Moslem lives and property even when its relations with the government involved are friendly. Teheran is on cordial terms with New Delhi, but when Moslems were attacked during sectarian rioting in India in the summer of 1983, the Iranian parliament passed a resolution condemning the violence. The gesture was well received by the leaders of India's 85 million Moslems, who were disappointed that the Saudi Arabian rulers, the spiritual leaders of the worldwide Moslem community, had chosen to remain silent.

Through a variety of means, the revolutionary regime in Teheran is projecting itself as the spiritual center of regenerated Islam. By so doing, it is offering the global Moslem community an alternative to Saudi Islam, which is increasingly seen as corrupt, reactionary and tied to the United States.
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Title Annotation:Iran is influencing other countries to return to Islamic traditions
Author:Hiro, Dilip
Publication:The Nation
Date:Feb 9, 1985
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