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See Iran’s revolution as Iranians do

19 1 0
12.02.2019

NEW YORK - Forty years ago on Monday, Iran made the last great revolution of the 20th century. Protesters had forced Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a despotic monarch who claimed to be modernizing his country with the help of Western techniques and Westernized elites, into exile. On Feb. 11, 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a cleric banished by the shah, triumphantly returned to Iran to assume — some might say, hijack — the leadership of what had been an ideologically diverse revolutionary movement.

The Iranian revolution was a full-blown mass rebellion against top-down socioeconomic engineering by a rich, undemocratic technocracy. It was the “first great insurrection against global systems,” as the French thinker Michel Foucault correctly termed it, “the form of revolt that is the most modern and the most insane.” Its madness and insanity seem more familiar today as “populist” revolts against self-interested elites erupt across Europe and America, racial-ethnic-religious supremacists thrive in the heart of Western modernity, and the West no longer seems a perfected exemplar of secular democracy.

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, however, an ideological animosity for Islam and Iran, and complacent self-adoration clouded mainstream Western interpretations of the revolution — particularly after Iranian students took Americans hostage. For those convinced that the West is best, it was too easy to denounce the populist upsurge in Iran as hopelessly backward and typically Islamic.

As V.S. Naipaul put it, Iranians, “people of a high medieval culture,” resented the West’s superior modern civilization while being pathetically dependent on it.

Building on this insight, the historian Bernard Lewis, later counselor to the Bush administration, described an inferiority complex among Muslims, which, exacerbated by their failure to catch up with the modern West, had evidently pushed........

© The Japan Times