On February 1, 1979, the Shi’a cleric, Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, flew from his exile in a Paris suburb to Tehran to fill the political vacuum created by the sudden departure of the long reigning monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, on January 17, 1979. His return was widely popularized in the Western media and by his acolytes as the long overdue genesis of Iran’s transformation from a dictatorial and antediluvian monarchy into a modern, secular democracy. In reality, Khomeini’s rhetoric was merely a revolutionary hoax, an opportunistic and inchoate attempt to turn a politically deeply divided, and thus chaotic country into a sham religious autocracy, characterized by totalitarianism at home and terrorism abroad.
During Iran’s thirty-five years stewardship by the religious establishment, the country has suffered from absolute political dissoluteness, rapidly deteriorating economic conditions, and total absence of moral discipline. The extent to which the economy has been destroyed can be best demonstrated by the fact that in the last fifteen years Iran has not experienced a single annual positive growth. In 2013, Iran’s per capita gross domestic product was a negative five percent. Out of control inflation has wreaked havoc on family budgets. Currently, unemployment runs at an official level of more than twenty percent, but in reality it is well over forty percent. Rampant official corruption and staggering numbers of violent crimes, coupled with the international embargo, have deterred meaningful foreign direct investments that, in 2013, were a puny five billion dollars. The enormous political power ruthlessly wielded by the various security and paramilitary organizations has rendered competent and good governance practically impossible.
When Khomeini died on June 3, 1989, the overwhelming majority of Iranians already realized that life was better under the Shah. In Khomeini’s promised earthly paradise reality appeared in the form of severe food shortages, the lack of basic medicines, the indiscriminate murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent individuals as so-called counterrevolutionaries and enemies of God, and the senseless deaths of additional hundreds of thousands of young men in pursuit of Khomeini’s goal of “war until victory” over Saddam Hussein. His religious and political will read by his theatrically weeping successor Ali Hosseini Khamene’i to a spellbound nation showed not a great spiritual and political leader but a small-minded tactician and demagogue full of primitive hatred toward everybody who did not share his utopian theocratic fatalism and nihilism. His venomous tirades against countless nations, named and unnamed politicians, famous intellectuals and even ordinary individuals were replete with words such as wicked, treacherous, ignorant, pervert, tyrannical, satanic, sexual aberrant, dogs, pigs, wolves, etc. Superimposed on all those hateful utterances was Khomeini’s obsession with alleged conspiracies by his real and putative enemies who were blamed for his failure to provide freedom, prosperity and better future for the Iranian people.
Indeed, Khomeini and his successors transformed Iran into a hellish cemetery. In their worldview a Muslim is the slave of God. Since all powers reside in God, political legitimacy too belongs to none but Allah. Thus, everything worldly is transferred into the realm of the divine. In this context, democracy, the free expression of the will of the people, is absolutely illegitimate.
To make this religious and political absolute a reality, Khomeini stated that only unconditional obedience to the religious authorities could produce perfect faith. To enforce such blind devotion is the responsibility of a select few who already reached the ideal state of divine perfection. Thus, the doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih, namely Rule by Jurisprudent was born. Accordingly, in order to maintain the spiritual purity and unity of the Islamic world, the Mullahs lead by the Imam are exclusively qualified to enforce perfect submission to God’s principles laid down in the Holly Qur’an and other sacred texts of the Twelfer Shiism.
In this religious and political morphology of esoteric ideas, human rights are valid and applicable only if they do not violate the spirit of the Qu’ranic principle of Hakamiyya, namely the absolute sovereignty of God. In such a total system of intolerance and hatred individual rights are severely restricted and life on earth is unimportant. In his lectures on the Supreme Jihad (Jehad-e Akbar) Khomeini preached that a true believer must renounce the temporal world in favor of dying for the cause of God. Shamelessly manipulating the Shi’a mythology of martyrdom by equating it with the wars of national liberation against colonialism, terrorism and militant Islamist extremism were thus given divine sanction that, in turn, legitimized even the most despicable forms of religious barbarism.
The abject terror that the Iranian people, the rest of the Muslim community and the world at large presently entertain for the Iranian Mullahcracy is perfectly understandable in the face of its outrageous system of surreal totalitarianism. By striving to abolish the secular state, all the modern contributions of Western civilization are doomed to annihilation. Hence, the Trotskyite doctrine of permanent revolution that is also incorporated in the narrative of Khomeini’s version of Islam, and which is a menace to Iran’s neighbors and a curse to mankind. Thus, the establishment of Khomeini’s divine paradise on earth would mean the gradual death of humanity for the sake of upholding the absolute power of the Shi’a religious autocracy.
Essentially, the overthrow of the awkwardly modernizing Pahlavi monarchy by the ad-hoc coalition of a religious charlatan and his useful idiots from within and outside Iranian society followed the historically well-traveled path of the liberator turned oppressor. Given the steady retrogression of Iran’s militant Mullahcracy from the promised liberation to the sickness of its destructive religious fundamentalism, the Islamic Republic’s future politics will remain a catastrophic conundrum of which the worst is to be expected. Moreover, the vicious circle of infallibility and unaccountability will continue to ensure that successive Imams, masquerading as Supreme Leaders above any temporal laws, will lead Iran to certain national, and perhaps regional, disaster.
It would be a fatal error to treat the ruthless duplicity of this Mullahcracy as an isolated phenomenon of superficial nature – the result of rare religious and political aberrations or megalomaniac eccentricity of misguided individuals. For members of the Iranian religious establishment all lead double lives. For the outside world, they flaunt Iran’s five thousand year old culture. Domestically, however, they commit with impunity the most unimaginable monstrosities that civilized people would not even contemplate. This second aspect of conscious negation of the very concept of civilized behavior is the most worrisome, since it demonstrates the complete absence of respect for public or private self-determination. The resulting deep-rooted contempt and even hatred toward anybody who does not belong to the chosen circle contributes greatly no doubt to this peculiar faith in the Mullahcracy’s exclusive entitlement that, in turn, inevitably produces the enduring immorality of their domestic and foreign policies.
As the monarchy in 1979, Iran’s ruling religious establishment is locked inside a vicious circle. Their every effort to give a new lease of existence to the Mullahcracy will surely fail. Even in the short run, there is no escape from this situation. The regime’s predicament could be resolved only by a catastrophe. For these reasons, this is not the time for reactive and soft diplomacy. The notion that peaceful foreign interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran could be productive is merely a pipe dream. Equally idiotic is the notion that courting the so-called liberal wing of the Mullahcracy could influence the Islamic Republic’s policies. Nothing short of amateurish incompetence concerning the real nature of the Mullahcracy, coupled with the present childish optimism of the West, could excuse the substitution of a coherent strategy in the defense of mankind for the unprincipled betrayal of the very ideas that have always secured the latter’s safety, peace and stability. The United States, its allies and all the other countries involved in the protracted negotiations demand from the Iranian regime what its representatives are unable to deliver – its steady transformation from a ruthless autocracy into a less aggressive and possibly more representative government. Faith-based totalitarian despotism is also completely oblivious to the currently fashionable strategy of winning the “hearts and minds” of the Muslims who are convinced of Islam’s overall superiority but seething with resentment and hatred based on their actual sense of inferiority. Locked in this tragic paradox, Iran is a society in which the ability for essential changes had become extinct several centuries ago.
Should negotiations fail, Iran would most likely emerge as a nuclear power. As a result, disorder, anarchy and civil war will surely engulf the greater Middle East and the surrounding regions. To prevent such a disaster to occur, strong leadership and decisive measures are required. For this reason, the United States should facilitate the political, economic and military strengthening of the Gulf Cooperation Council as a barrier against the menacing military threat of Iran. Simultaneously, however, the United States and its allies should adopt a two-pronged strategy toward Iran. This strategy must be maximalist in its main objective, which is the overthrow of the ruling Mullahcracy, yet gradual in its implementation. The implementation should consist of political isolation and relentless ideological and cultural warfare against the distortions and outright lies about Islam and chiefly against the United States by Khomeini and his successors.
The regime’s real Achilles’ heel is the economy that is in shambles. Its fundamentals are ideologically driven. In the entire period of its existence, successive governments of the Islamic Republic never devised a coherent economic development strategy. Iran’s almost one trillion dollar economy relies heavily on its oil exports that provide eighty percent of the public revenues. Yet, oil exports have fallen from 2.2 million barrels per day in 2011 to below 1 million barrels per day in 2013, costing the country forty billion dollars in lost revenues. The local currency also lost almost three hundred percent of its value against the dollar. Currently, one dollar is being sold on the free market for thirty six thousand five hundred rials. Inflation is skyrocketing. Subsidies were long ago withdrawn on food staples, electricity, water and gasoline. Last January, just in one week, the price of a chicken rose by thirty percent, while the prices of most vegetables went up by almost hundred percent.
In 1979, Iran had the most advanced economy in the greater Middle East and North Africa. Today, it is last within the same group of countries. On the 2014 freedom index, Iran ranks 173 as far as freedom of labor, monetary freedom, trade freedom, freedom from corruption, freedom from arbitrary confiscation, and freedom from coercive government regulations are concerned. The Revolutionary Guards and several other paramilitary organizations, and the countless tax-exempt foundations of the Mullahcracy control the economy. Rule of law is nonexistent, because the judiciary is not independent. All this heavy state control and interference resulted in deep stagnation within the private sector. Private firms are marginalized, because of the burdensome regulatory regime, government inefficiency and mismanagement. This appalling situation is further exacerbated by the lack of local economic activities. Most of the regions have been neglected for decades, because there has been so much more focus on developing the country into a nuclear power. As a result, regional inequalities are glaring which, in turn, fuel political resentment and lawlessness.
No wonder that after thirty-five years of permanent political, economic and social crisis, and with no hope for improvement, a large majority of Iranians are losing patience not only with their religious overlords but with all of their quasi elites. Supreme Leader Khamene’i, like the late Shah, is a man of average abilities in troubled times that demand exceptional statesmanship. Yet, he presides over a political, religious and economic aristocracy that lost touch with the rest of the country. An autocracy that stagnates when it pretends to be active, and an autocracy that pretends to govern with the full consent of all the people when it is actually rejected by the majority, becomes thoroughly discredited. The militant Mullahcracy is afflicted with the incurable disease of terminal regime crisis and will surely become the victim of its incompetent autocracy.
It is sheer impossibility that a more viable government could emerge from the present malady, because the crisis goes beyond incompetence and savagery. The Mullahcracy was supposed to incarnate the divine purity and the intellectual honesty of the Islamic Republic, modeled after the Prophet Mohammad’s ideal polity of Medina. Yet pervasive corruption and serial lying have eroded the Mullahcracy’s dignity. Attempting to restore the dignity of the Mullahcracy and thus navigating cautiously between the intractable contradictions of autocratic rule and his corrupt core constituency, Supreme Leader Khamene’i is accomplishing exactly the opposite. By continuing down the same ruinous path, he fosters more cynicism and engenders utter contempt for the regime. Confronted with the dual challenge of international isolation and domestic irrelevance, his natural tendency to adopt a wait-and-see policy will only exacerbate the crisis. It is highly likely that both he and his regime would end up in the proverbial dust heap of history.
Clearly, Iranian society reached the point of no return. The ruin of the economy caused by the combination of gross incompetence, worldwide recession, the reckless pursuit of the nuclear bomb and Iran’s exclusion from the global financial system have all contributed to the near bankruptcy of the Islamic Republic. Every class is suffering. Everyone is discontented. The alienation between the people and the elites is complete. Iran is ripe for another revolt against the Mullahcracy.
Allowing the Mullahcracy to be overthrown will benefit both the Iranian people and the rest of the world. The ultimate failure of the Khomeini experiment will also prove to the Muslim communities and mankind in general that religious autocracy based on extreme political ambitions is ultimately doomed to failure. Therefore, policies that help the Mullahcracy to survive are misguided. Relaxation of sanctions and one-sided concessions will only help Khamene’i and his supporters to maintain their grip on power. Now that the doctrine of Velayat-e Faqih is being exposed as a fraud, the United States and its allies must do everything in their power to unleash the forces of political change to push the religious establishment from power.
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Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi is the Vice President of Frontiers of Freedom.