Thirty-six years have passed since the 1979 Revolution overthrew the Pahlavi Monarchy in Iran and led to the establishment of the so-called “Islamic Republic” that has been in power there since then. From its very inception in February 1979, the Islamic Republic has descended upon the civil society like the hammer of gods and embarked upon an overwhelming, systematic violation of human rights, and in a calculated movement has step by step distanced itself from the expected democracy.
Executing the officials and affiliates of the former regime without any trial (or after drumhead trials); continuous cracking down on the various political, cultural, and social trends and movements; establishing strict and at times humiliating institutions to control the social behaviour in general and making the “Islamic hijab” mandatory for women in particular; persecuting the ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities; systematic purging of critical intellectuals and political opponents both inside and outside of Iran; keeping in custody countless prisoners of conscience in dreadful detention centres where organized torture and mass execution is the order of the day; suppressing student and popular movements for liberty and democracy; politically-militarily intervening in the neighbouring countries and attempting to make them satellite states through the use of terrorism, oppression and massacre; and the most nefarious of all and the source of all evil, drawing up a constitution based upon religion and revolving around the Shiite concept of “Guardianship of the Jurist” – which grants immense executive powers to the Supreme Leader as the sole representative of God on Earth; these are only a handful of the substantial anti-humanistic and anti-democratic procedures and practices of the Islamic Republic which, in Hannah Arendt’s words, have made “evil” not only in Iran but also in most of the Middle East “banal”.
Of course, since the Revolution, many different voices have been raised in protest against the said regime, demanding its overthrow and replacement with a democratic system amenable to the principles of human rights. All the same, these protests have done little so far in the way of fundamental change in the political system in Iran.
In that light, Reza Parchizadeh, an Iranian political theorist and academic (affiliate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania), believes that among the reasons why the protests and movements against the Islamic Republic have generally failed, one has been a dearth of deep and extensive theoretic understanding of the nature of the regime and how it functions; another has been the absence of a prevalent “subversive-transformative” discourse with a strong theoretical foundation; and last but not least, the nonexistence of a comprehensive democratic program to replace the Islamic Republic. Parchizadeh himself has recently published a groundbreaking collection of essays in that respect.
As a result, in an interview with him, I asked him a number of questions about his new book. My first question was: “What is the purpose of writing such a book?” To which he answered:
“To make the subversive-transformative discourse more far-reaching by dint of introducing and investigating a number of rather uncharted concepts and problematics in that regard. The essays in this book have been penned first and foremost in order to show that to put an end to the banality of evil and establish the principles of human rights and achieve a democratic system not only in Iran but also in the wider Middle East, it is essential to overthrow the Islamic Republic.”
The conversation between us followed as such:
I have realized that each time there is talk of overthrowing the Islamic Republic in order to achieve democracy in Iran, some political activists speak of “violence”, and that people don’t want an overthrow of the regime because it is “violent”. How would you counter those claims?
The overthrow of a regime is first and foremost a matter of fundamental “structural” change. When the constitution is dismantled, a revolution has already taken place. Inherently, that does not necessarily mean any kind of violence. However, as the unjust ruling system, by using force and practicing violence, usually attempts to curb its overthrow, the revolutionaries might have to resort to force in order to defend themselves. And that is only natural. No unjust system will relinquish power without some sort of serious resistance. Our ideal as democratic agents would be to minimize violence as much as possible.
To what extent do you assess the regime’s potential to suppress the people if a revolutionary movement starts in Iran? Would the Islamic Republic be still able to crack down on the movement as they did on the 2009 Green Movement?
I think the 2009 crackdown primarily came because those who claimed to be the “leaders” of the Green Movement, namely, the Reformists, were in effect the officials of the regime themselves who did not want the people to move beyond the regime’s ideological borderlines. As a result, they led the people astray and sold them down the river. Therefore, it was actually the Reformists’ fault that the people’s movement was crushed. If they had encouraged the people to stand their ground, the regime would have certainly fallen, and we would have been enjoying the prospects of a democratic system in Iran by now. However, as the Reformists did not want a regime change, the regime took advantage of the uncertainty and harshly suppressed the demonstrations. I believe if another movement starts in Iran, the people, who have gained wisdom through experience, will not listen to the Reformists and will want to go far beyond their petty demands. Given the circumstances, the regime’s capability to crack down on the movement will significantly diminish.
One last word: it is those very Reformists who, by constantly instilling the fear of “crackdown” in the hearts of the people through propaganda, have created a problematic from the matter of “violence”. In other words, it’s a lateral issue that they have made into a central one for their own purpose, which is to keep the Islamic Republic in place at any cost. However, given the circumstances, I don’t think they will be able to stick to that stumbling block for long. The public is very hard-pressed in Iran. That will lead to something.
In the eighth chapter of your book, you write about “Crisis creation and crisis management by the Islamic Republic”. Could you give us some examples? And could you tell us what is the extent to which the Islamic Republic can handle a crisis?
As I have stated in the book, creating crisis and managing it, typically through violence, is the Islamic Republic’s trademark. They have used crisis since the start of the revolution in order to direct the events along the lines they want. The American Hostage Crisis, the Civil War in Lebanon, the incident where the Iranian pilgrims were massacred in Saudi Arabia, the Iran-Iraq War, the ongoing cold war with Israel, the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are only a handful of the demonstrations of that crisis-creation and crisis-management technique. That very same technique has also been used inside Iran against the civil rights movements and other kinds of democratic movements. The Islamic Republic will use that technique for as long as it can. However, there is one crisis that the regime has created but hasn’t been able to manage so far, and that is the nuclear crisis, which has in turn spilled over into the regional crisis the Islamic Republic had already created. I believe that crisis can prove the doom of the Islamic Republic in the long run.
Under heavy international pressure, it seems that the Islamic republic has attempted to buy some legitimacy for itself by showing a softer image of the regime through the election of Hassan Rouhani as president. But how real is this softness? And will Rouhani be able to make fundamental changes in the regime?
As a matter of fact, not much has changed for the better “inside” Iran since Rouhani’s taking office as president. The executions in Iran are at their highest in probably a decade or two; the condition of human rights in Iran is still tragically deplorable; the most basic individual freedoms are trampled by the state with almost complete impunity; women and minorities suffer severe discrimination; etc. Therefore, as you just said, Rouhani is there only to show the world a rather softer image of the Islamic Republic so that the regime can buy some legitimacy for itself. He is not there to make any democratic changes to the system. And as a matter of fact, he can’t, because the power lies with the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards. The people are the victims. They will suffer the consequences, as they have so far. As a rule of thumb, it is only the crust that changes in the Islamic Republic; the core is always the same!
You have allocated two chapters of your book to what you have called the Islamic Republic’s “Israelophobia”. What is this Israelophobia? And how does the Islamic Republic benefit from it?
Israelophobia is a coinage. It means a psychological fear of Israel that is more imaginary than real. Past that, Israelophobia is a practical method in the official discourse of the Islamic Republic. In that discourse, Israel is designated as one of the significant “Other”s to the Islamic Republic. Then this Other-ness of Israel’s to the Islamic Republic is extended to the whole country (Iran). It makes Israel the archenemy of Iran. In simple words, the Islamic Republic has created a mostly imaginary enemy of Israel for Iran in order to be able to maintain its own hegemony both in Iran and the wider Middle East. In other words, by designating Israel as the archenemy of Islam and Iran and positing itself as the guardian angel, the Islamic Republic has in effect tried to play the role of the master in the region. That has had dire consequences for democracy in all of the Middle East.
A final question: do you believe the Islamic republic has a solid “opposition”? If yes, what would the role of this opposition be in overthrowing the Islamic Republic?
The opposition does exist, but it is not coherent. The fundamental issue is how to pull it together. After the disastrous experience of 1979, almost everybody fears cooperation lest the same tragedy would occur. After all, Khomeini found hegemony and took power through the slogan “all together”! And we know what happened next. The Islamic Republic is also perfectly aware of that fear and fans its fire. While actively discouraging any kind of gathering and unification of the opposition, the Islamic Republic has been attempting to create its own “phoney” opposition both in Iran and abroad. I have extensively written about this phoney opposition in my book, which is generally composed of the Reformists. These Reformists are hurdles in the way of fundamental change to the despotic system in Iran. Playing a “middling” role in the Islamic Republic, they only prolong the life of a dysfunctional system by extenuating its inhumanity. However, I believe the harsh reality will eventually push them aside. And then they will have little will and power to obstruct the flow of the waves of the people towards democracy in Iran.
* Why Should the Islamic Republic be Overthrown? Essays in the Phenomenology of the Islamic Republic was published by Bashgah-e Adabiat (Literature Club) in Persian with an English preface in Spring 2015. It can be accessed either via Amazon or the Literature Club. The book is freely accessed online courtesy of the Club.