At the height of the Iranian revolution in the winter of 1979, French
Foucault, described what he was seeing in Tehran as "perhaps the first
great insurrection against global systems, the form of revolt that is the
most novel and the most insane."
"Islam," he wrote, "which is not simply a religion, but an entire way of
life, an adherence to a history and a civilization, has a good chance to
become a gigantic powder keg, at the level of hundreds of millions of men."
Such praising words about the Iranian uprising are probably the very reason
few have even heard of Foucault's dispatches from Tehran for the Italian
newspaper, Corriere Dela Sera, in 1978-79.
Twenty-nine winters later, the Islamic Republic of Iran is more
independent, stable, confident and technologically advanced than ever,
while it has remained as the most serious and continuous challenge to the
U.S. hegemony in the world.
But what can explain the survival of the outcome of such revolt? What will
the future look like for Iran, where most of its young population now have
no first-hand experience of that revolt?
The rise of the first non-cleric president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
can point to some answers.
For sixteen years, Iranian government was in the hands of the Euro-American
educated bureaucrats who were gradually departing from the specific
subjectivity (rejection of the universals, in Foucult's term) which brought
about the Iranian uprising of the 1979. The specter of modernity slowly
started to dominate everything, from the economy to the politics, and the
two consecutive administrations picked up a similar project of
modernization which the shah had previously failed to continue, and with
it, the gloomy consequences started to wane in too: corruption,
incompetence, and socio-economic inequality.
The elite's vision of economic and political "reform" was transforming Iran
into a very similar country under the shah, only with an Islamic posture.
At the same time, the Europe and the U.S. were not only happily watching as
Iran was practically undoing its revolt, but even assisting and
accelerating the process.
Then came the shock. Ahmadinejad, an outsider to the Iranian establishment
who was never taken seriously by journalists and politicians alike, won
the election. Compared to his main rivals, he had lower religious
credentials, less support from the elite, less money for campaigning, and
gave zero promises to normalize relations with the U.S. Instead, he
traveled much more around the country and met face-to-face with the
forgotten majority of Iranians, talked more about economic equality, and
promised more of a serious war on corruption.
He simply pledged a return to the abandoned values of the 1979 uprising,
with independence, freedom and justice at the center. (His promises about
a more relaxed attitude toward religious code are reflected in its talks
with the British rocker Morrissey
to have one of the first non-Iranian rock acts after 1979.)
If Western journalist leave the Northern part of Tehran more often, they
will be able to observe how much Ahmadinejad represents a passionate
revival of the core values of the uprising. They will also discover how
Islam is functioning as the best, but not the only, carrier of those
Like many Iranians who have lived in the West for the past 7-8 years, the
rise of Ahmadinejad (and also traveling to other parts of the Middle East)
has incited a radical change in the way I see myself, relate to Iran, and
view the world. I have finally realized what it was that the entire Iranian
nation revolted in order to achieve and how valuable this subjectivity is
to empower the world of the marginalized, the poor and the oppressed.
This doesn't mean I don't see the unfortunate intolerance the Iranian
government sometimes shows toward dissent and difference. But I argue that
such intolerance is a direct consequent of the existential threat that the
big powers have posed toward Iran since the day it succeeded in its revolt.
As a post-revolutionary Iranian, who is not religious a single bit, I am
proud of what my parents' generation did in 1979 and I do whatever I can to
protect and improve the Islamic Republic of Iran in its promises of
independence, freedom and justice.
This has predictably labeled me as an "agent of the regime" by
many exiled Iranians who always do that to anyone with whom they disagree.
But you will see millions like me if you ever visit Iran.
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