Iran and the US have charted two divergent and hostile paths over the last 30 years. Under Reagan and the successive US presidents, Saddam Hussein, firstly, and then the neighbouring countries in the region were armed to the teeth … [please read below the rest of the article].
Arman, Sam. 2020. “The Context of the Current Conflict Between Iran and the US.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 9 (3): 13-17. https://wp.me/p1Bfg0-4Sy.
The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers.
If Americans are cursed with a very short term memory, Iranians have been plagued with a historical longevity to their recollections (Hamid Dabashi 2009).
Iran and the US have charted two divergent and hostile paths over the last 30 years. Under Reagan and the successive US presidents, Saddam Hussein, firstly, and then the neighbouring countries in the region were armed to the teeth. Lost to historical oblivion is that Reagan backed (in a coalition with most Western powers and the Soviet Union) Saddam’s illegal war against Iran—the longest war in the 20th century. Afterwards, however, (conveniently for the US) Saddam—who just a decade before was using chemical weapons against civilians in Iran—became part of the axis of evil in the US plan to restructure its allegiances worldwide. This plan resulted, in part, as military contractors like Raytheon and Boeing as well as oil companies like Exxon and Haliburton desired a significant boost in their profits and geographical reach.
This occurred after the “brave” fighters of the Afghan Mujahideen turned into Taliban and became America’s top security threat and de facto enemy of the world in our war on terror in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11. The same way the wrong persecution of the wrong people lead to a world in the grip of violence and crisis, the war with Iran will lead, of course, to huge profits for both oil and gas companies and our dear friends at Boeing, but also to the further demise of the American empire. This war will not lead to security worldwide or democracy in Iran, but to further the misery of people of Iran already living under cruel sanctions imposed by the US after the US itself ripped up the deal (which I think was Obama’s biggest accomplishment).
Iran, Soleimani and the Saudi Royal Family
Since 2014, Iran has gone from an implicit ally in the fight against ISIS, to an implicit enemy who is “the biggest sponsor of terrorism” (it isn’t as that title is rightly reserved for Saudi Arabia), to the kingpin of the axis of evil. It is notable that Qasem Soleimani was the heavyweight involved in fighting Isis in Iraq—even cooperating with the US to achieve this goal. Qasem Soleimani personified Iran’s status worldwide in terms of what the imperialist powers consider Iran to be—an ally, an annoying aggressor and finally, a target. And while Americans do not know, Soleimani was and is still a household name revered even by those in Iran who despise their government.
Was Soleimani a model human being? No. Did he engage partly in a proxy war in the Middle East? Yes. Is he guilty as charged? No. However bad you want to say that Soleimani was, the US allies in the Middle East are far worse. Who can deny the crimes committed by the Saudi royal family? Who can forget their pivotal role in 9/11? Who can deny their blatant funding for Salafi terrorism worldwide? Who can deny their genocide in Yemen? The Saudi royal family yet remains a strong ally for the US and is almost never at the receiving end of midnight rages, even when they murdered the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The West’s arms deals to the Saudi royal family are a prize for their horrible actions worldwide. These deals do nothing for the security of ordinary people and further necessitate a call to arms and sales of military equipment. War is a lucrative business especially if it is endless, especially if it is impossible to win, and especially if you have the opportunity to classify a whole nation and her peoples as the enemy for the future. As long as imperialism identifies enemies, it procures private finances to dominate those enemies.
American sanctions pre-Obama all the way to the Iran Deal and after May 2018 when Trump reinstated them have had one goal only—to hurt the people in Iran. No logical case can be made that sanctions hurt Iran’s ruling class since they already have accumulated enough wealth and worldwide power to be a private jet away from their luxury mansions in the West as the people of Iran suffer. It is essentially, for UK readers, an international austerity programme to push Iranians further into poverty in hopes of those people overthrowing the Islamic Republic to make way for a US friendly apparatus to replace it and open our internal markets to our beloved Exxon and Haliburton. Donald Trump ripped up the Iran Deal unilaterally and imposed sanctions while simultaneously using the American media to manufacture a picture of Iran as a rogue state and an aggressor to gain consent for a disastrous war.
A Plea for Internationalism
My argument against this action is both unashamedly anti-imperialist and a plea for internationalism. While I don’t want my countrymen, friends and family to be doomed to a war which leads to millions of innocent people dying and millions becoming stateless refugees, I also do not want the American working class to pay for another war while their living conditions diminish. Current capitalism faces a triad of economic, political and environmental crises. And it does not possess the ideas or the capability to deal with such issues since there is no consensus for foreign wars and, as was never the case before, it does not have the finances to come out of this war successfully as they perhaps would’ve thought was the case in Iraq.
On one side, you have the Islamic Republic hardliners who have wanted a war with the US for years. They see (correctly, I might add) that a war with the giant imperialist machine which they have raved against for the past 40 years will increase their own legitimacy. In no sense am I a supporter of the Islamic republic, and in no way would I defend their domestic or foreign policies. I have spent the majority of my life in Iran, my family still lives there, and I am empathetic to their political and economic grievances. Politics is not a binary system as much as the media wants to make it out to be. I can oppose repression in Iran and also oppose, with all my energy, an imperialist aggression against my country.
Not only will war further legitimate a corrupt government, but also it will bankrupt America. The latter will be a positive so long as the bourgeoisie in America takes the financial burden, but we all know that they won’t. The war will be bankrolled by the American working class, plunging the country further into debt and ruining any chance of the American working class improving their material conditions. Furthermore, it will affect the Iranian people as a whole except those people who possess the economic means to buy themselves a citizenship elsewhere. Those who will turn into refugees seeking asylum abroad will be treated with utmost hatred for becoming refugees as result of a war which their governments (which they voted for and legitimised) started and fuelled. You can only imagine in Britain, when Johnson inevitably throws support behind Donald Trump’s crusade, as Tony Blair did with George W Bush, that his treatment of Iranian refugees, as well his ardent supporters’ treatment of refugees for a war they legitimised will resemble that which we have seen with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
The Iranian Diaspora
Ten years on from the Green Movement and social uprisings, what we have left in Iranian diaspora is a commentariat class seemingly unattached to ideology which focus their efforts on disinformation and fake calls to actions Iranian diasporic TV channels, many of which I have always had a disdain for, work on the lack of historical longevity of the Iranian imagination. They seek to sow hatred for an abstract Arab other, and a call to preserve all that is authentically Persian, seeking to turn the culture of the last 1400 years revert back to its pre-Islamic status. Not only is this mission dangerous and shortsighted it is a losing strategy focusing a specific cadre of Iranians; mainly, those Iranians in the West and former members of the bourgeois class pre-1979 and those inside who could not escape the horrors of the Iran-Iraq war who desperately need change but feel powerless politically and socially.
In my undergraduate years I spent a lot of time studying the ideology of the Islamic republic and how it strengthened its modest, decentralised rule over Iran and became formidable, highly centralised and deep-rooted during eight years of war. The war, while devastating for ordinary Iranians of all ethnicities (but notably, the Iranian Kurds), was a gift bestowed to Islamic faction of the post- revolutionary government. In Hamid Dabashi’s words, they used the existence of the foreign enemy to dominate vertically and horizontally what they saw as the internal enemy, the nationalist factions descending from the Mossadegh years as represented by Mehdi Bazargan, the Mojahedeen (MEK lead by Massoud Rajavi and after his wife Maryam Rajavi), and the communists, both the Toudeh party and the Fadayin-e-Khalq. The opposition to the Islamic faction was incarcerated and executed or exiled. This action destroyed the possibility that with the social revolution of 1979 there could also be an economic revolution so that the people oppressed under US-backed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi might direct the country in a way where Iran’s resources were invested back into the disenfranchised parts of the country not just Tehran.
The revolution legitimised the extremes of the Islamic Republic to tout nationalism as means to solidify its grip over all major policies. Afterwards, as the current foreign minister has continuously argued, Iran felt friendless and alone in the world, and hence moved its Construction era politics towards a militarisation of the country. This was exacerbated by the wars in Iraq (both 1992 and 2003) and the war in Afghanistan, which saw the US and NATO forces dominate two countries on the borders of Iran. For them, having a military and defence capability to repel American forces was of utmost importance, and this line was used to crush any internal dissent. The legacy of America’s previous wars is a government which has based its entire modus operandi on opposition to American expansionism—Pax Americana—building on the public consciousness of the history of western imperialism in Iran, starting with Britain in the 1800s.
One sentiment they tapped into effectively (not created as many pundits like to claim) is the Shia affinity for the idea of martyrdom. Martyrdom is perhaps the greatest honour one can bring to their name, whereby they sacrifice themselves to bring about the demise of their common enemy. During the Iran-Iraq war, the enormous mobilisation of people as young as 11 years old to people in their 60s, showed the potential of a people ready to undermine conventional warfare and total commitment to self-sacrifice if they believe – with the right dose of patriotic propaganda—that the future of the country rests on their death.
Martyrdom is important and I have no doubt that neither American government nor the pundits in DC have any idea the powerful connotations it has. It has shaped Iranian urban landscape in its own image and ideology. During and after the war, there were enormous moves in renaming streets, bridges, roads and boulevards after martyrs and heroes of the war and the revolution. These initiatives ingrain names in the collective memory, as the mention of the martyr induces curiosity about the person themselves, and each mention strengthens the hold of the holiness of martyrdom on your identity. Whereas in the UK, areas are named after places in Iran, as in France and Germany, even the most unknown avenues are named after martyrs.
This rings true even for someone like Qasem Soleimani who Khamenei himself previously called a living martyr. The structure of the IRGC will remain intact and Soleimani’s 2nd in command will take the reins and operate as his predecessor did. For Khamenei, even though Soleimani was a crucial ally, he was already a martyr, who had even before his death, sacrificed himself for his country. No doubt, knowing the religiosity of Soleimani, that he would not care a great deal about his own death since he was not ONLY a military commander, he was also a religious man, who even longed martyrdom. What martyrs have is a significant impact of the collective memory. They continue to live in the minds and hearts of Iranians, even secular Iranians who have a great disdain for the Islamic Republic (myself included).
Take, for example, Hossein Fahmideh—the 13 year old who, in his final moments, used his last grenades to detonate himself under an Iraqi tank to stop its advancement on Iranian lines in 1980. Neither Donald Trump nor CNN would know about Fahmideh. But anyone born after 1980s in Iran will know his name and his sacrifice alongside countless others who ran through the minefields to clear the way for Iranian troops during the war. It is this national memory which forms the resistance to outsider aggression. For many of us, those murdered in 2009 street protests against the government, such as Neda Agha Soltan and Sohrab Arabi, are living martyrs. We carry their names and their memories, their ideals and their courage to speak what they believed, and to raise their fists when even occupying that space was blasphemy. They are living martyrs in the opposite sense of what Khamenei thought of Soleimani. Soleimani was always destined to be a martyr and was always a martyr, whereas Neda only started living for us in Iran after she was murdered by that bullet which hit her chest. She only gained life and dominance over our collective memory the second her soul left her body, and in that sense, 10 years onwards, all of us still remember the day Neda was born. This is a proof of the plague of historical longevity of mythic character in the public imagination.
For this is the power of collective grievance, one which dies as a martyr and one which lives as a martyr. Their memories and their names will guide us, and will bring tears to our eyes, and these tears will one day become the tsunami of resistance. It is the officially recognised martyr that lives through his name on my road, and the unofficial martyrs, like Neda and all those political martyrs, who live in our memories. These distinctions are important to highlight because they guide the reader to understand how the Islamic republic legitimises itself by working on a collective consciousness that has no substantive link to its own ideology.
I turn my attention to the Iranians living in the West, those who wear the Farvahar sign with so much nationalist pride, who from my earliest memories urged for a US military attack on Iran as a ploy to rid the nation of the mullahs. And without exhausting the argument, I point to any country the US has ever invaded under one guise or another and compel you to show me the success stories which you think Iran will be a part of after the probable war. Which occupation lead to liberation? Which war lead to happiness? How many bombs or bullets went towards Vietnamese freedom or Iraqi prosperity? Which Afghan now reaps the rewards of their resource rich country and which Libyan now sold in the slave markets plays the harp in Tripoli?
Freedom through foreign war is as unrealistic as the shedding of 1400 years of Islamic culture in Iran and reverting to our pre-Islamic past. The past you desire is not the weekend that passed, it’s one that has eroded from any memory, living or dead, and the culture you despise has been our national culture for over a millennia. After all, which one of you Farvahar wearing anti-Arab nationalists can deny the genius and beauty in the poetry of Haafez or Saadi, or the incredible prose of Sadegh Hedayat. Aren’t you the ones replacing the Qur’an on your Norouz table with Haafez? Where would Haafez be without him memorising the Qur’an, an arabic text, from a religion once foreign, which has been imbued in our national culture and become an integral part of it.
I can only plead with those who see the dangers in war, not those who wish to have more martyrs. The hardline factions within Iran and the imperialists in America will do well for their own political and economic interests. It is us—the Iranian, the American, and the international working classes—who lose our right to a future.
Contact details: Sam Arman, University if Warwick, firstname.lastname@example.org
I came to the UK at age 16 and after finishing A Levels, I studied Sociology at the University of Warwick, specialising in Iranian politics and sociology, also seeking to revive the tradition of Ali Shariati as a Shi’a Mystic and political philosopher. In my undergraduate dissertation I argued that Ali Shariati’s work advocates for a social and political revolution that should put science and technology at the forefront which would lead to intellectual and existential emancipation, through allowing individuals their right to morphological freedom. I did my MSc in Management at Warwick Business School, focusing my dissertation on the role of the academy (university) in the modern political economy, investigating the role the business schools plays in the overall goals of the academy. In the thesis, I argued for interdisciplinarity in the business school model, taking focus away from business school literature to social sciences and epistemological debates about the role business schools play in cultivating entrepreneurship.