The recent surge in Islamic fundamentalism has been a source of worry and discomfort not only to the Western powers but nearly to all the regimes in the Middle East. This has been particularly true in the case of countries which have vital interests in the area and whose technological development and daily life heavily depends on the availability of energy derived from petroleum. These vast oil resources are controlled in the Middle East by Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has the largest petroleum reserves followed by Iran and Iraq. Iran possesses the second largest gas reserves in the world, estimated to last for 1,200 years under the present level of global consumption. It has the most literate (82.3 percent adult population) and highly educated population of 71.2 million, much exceeding those of all the others combined. Its remarkable Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 286 billion with an impressive 6.9 percent (2002-2006) annual growth rate of real GDP, despite all international economic sanctions against it. [The Economist, Pocket World in Figures, 2910 Edition, p. 263.]
Iran is also a large country (1,648,000 sq km) most strategically located in the Middle East, having an extended border with the countries of ex-Soviet Union in the north, with Iraq and Turkey in the west, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east, and the Persian Gulf and sea of Oman in the south with control over all northern shores of both. Consequently, Iran considers itself the legitimate authority as the guardian of the Persian Gulf and views the presence of foreign powers as an infringement on its legitimate right. Iran believes that the Persian Gulf should be governed by the countries bordering it, the major authority being vested on Iran because of some 40 percent of shores and Straight of Hormuz, the only exit from the Gulf, under its control. During the last decade, Iran has been in the process of developing political and ideological influence among all countries bordering it plus those of Central Asia.
This unique strategic position of Iran has always attracted the attention of great Western powers such as Great Britain, France, Germany, the old Russia and then theSoviet Union, and for the last four decades, the United States. Presently both Russia and China have established friendly relations with Iran. France, England and Germany are trying to recover their pre-Revolution positions, though not their influence. The point is that there cannot be any plan to stabilize the region with the exclusion of Iran. This country has been and is the pillar of the Middle East diplomacy. It is a country that has kept its independence for nearly 3,000 years and by high cultural and intellectual heritage has been able to assimilate temporary conquerors into its culture and transform them. It has always resented outside influence and reacted until it is eliminated. Here are two recent examples: The nationalization of oil industries, controlled for over four decades by British interests and ousting them in the late 1940s. Ousting of Americans by the Islamic Revolution of 1979, who had come to the position of influence in 1953 by ousting the democratic government of Prime Minister Dr. Mossaddegh and reestablishing the dictatorial regime of Mohammad Reza Shah.
The point is that in any policy affecting Middle East, the position of Iran must be given central and prime consideration. Presently, Iran is governed by theologians who place importance in following the teachings of the Islamic religion. Islam is rich in this regard since it is not only a set of religious principles but a way of life encompassing from individual self development and purification to social interactions extending to the process of government. Islam in essence is a system of democratic socialism in which there is no religious hierarchy similar to those in Christianity. It is based on the individual’s own relation with the Creator, where human beings have important individual value yet are parts from the community and responsible for its well being.
Any kind of government that fits these characteristics of Islam is welcome by the Muslim society where individuals find the government and its policies in harmony with their own religious directions and beliefs. They feel at home and comfortable. This has been the secret of endurance of the Islamic regime in Iran despite its autocratic leadership. The support for the regime comes mainly from the farmers, lower and middle class, which altogether constitute some 85 percent of the electorate. The system is comforting to Iranians to see that their rulers do not live in castles with luxuries and privileges, but live like any other middle class citizens in a modest house and among them. There are no apparent corruption among these theocratic leaders in sharp contrast with those under the previous regime of the Shah.
A regime guided by Islamic fundamentalism is also strongly against foreign influence in internal affairs of the nation. This policy is very strongly supported by overwhelming majority of the population. These elements plus other fundamental principles of general welfare such as free education, national health care, anti-poverty programs, all together make the Islamic Republic quite attractive to ordinary citizens in Iran and understandably in any other Muslim society.
The successful Iranian Revolution and establishment of an Islamic republic has caused an Islamic Renaissance all over the Muslim world from Philippine Islands, Indonesia to the whole Middle East and Africa. It has resulted in a surge of activities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey and Central Asian countries. So far Islamic fundamentalists have succeeded in democratic elections in Algeria then outlawed and deprived from taking over the government; they have also succeeded and rule in Turkey despite the imposition of some restrictions imposed by military and conservative forces.
Accordingly, the Islamic world will not be the same and apparently with increased rigor will resent to be influenced or controlled by the Western powers, the United States in particular. As a result of its mistaken policies, the United States is considered the worst enemy of Islam by many Muslim societies, if not by their government. Even the new friendly approach by President Obama, proclaimed by his recent speech in Egypt may not affect this adverse feeling until strongly supported by action on the ground, for example, in Arab-Israeli conflict. In any policy affecting any Muslim nation this intention of solid support of the Muslim interests must be taken into consideration.
It is a grave mistake to think that any Islamic fundamentalist regime that may succeed in establishing itself in any country will be under the influence of, or even be friendly with Iran. Islamic fundamentalism is an ideology based on Islamic principles. It does not belong to, or favor any Islamic society. It is similar to representative democracy applied in many countries of western Europe and the United States. Yet, none is under the influence or control of any other, Each has a specific national interests and its policies are made to accomplish them. Each country is free to oppose others if there is any conflict in policy. The same will apply to the countries with Islamic fundamentalist regimes. On this ground, it is a mistake to think that if Iraq is ruled by the Iraqi Shi’its it will fall under the influence of Iran. Iraqi Shi’its are Arab with different culture and historical background and quite devoted to the independence of their country and its national interests. However, after Iraq is stabilized, it is likely that it will tend to establish friendly relations with Iran, Syria and Turkey. Nothing better than this could happen for the stability of the Middle East. If the autocratic unelected theocratic rulers, such as the Supreme Leader and his entourage, are eliminated, the Iranian Islamic Republic system is the best socialist-democratic model not only for Muslim societies but for all other developing countries as well. Iranians are not happy by being ruled by a non-elected ruler which makes their long fought democratic system look ridiculous. As evidenced in the past, a new movement is on the way to remove this obstacle from the regime. It may take a while, it may be quite bloody, but it will succeed. [ Iran in turmoil: The Beginning of the End, The Economist, January 2, 2010, pp. 8-9.] When the Supreme Leader and his instruments of control are eliminated, the regime will restore its democratic nature and substance. President will be the highest authority sharing power with the parliament and individuals like President Ahmedinejad will not have chance to rule. So, the term Islamic Republic refers to a government without an autocratic ruler on its summit.
It needs to be noted that it is unduly baseless any concern about Iran’s modernized and sizable military force. Iran had a devastating experience with the invasion by Iraq and ensuing eight years of war which made Iran conscious of its military weakness. The present modernization and expansion of its military forces, considering its size, long borders with different countries, extended seashores, and large population, seems quite nominal compared to neighboring countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Any thought that Iran may invade its neighbors is groundless. Iran with its rich humanistic cultural heritage has shown no desire to invade another country. Its history of the last two centuries is the best evidence. During this period it has never invaded any country while has almost continually been forced to defend itself against invasions by Russia, Ottoman Empire, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, United States and recently Iraq.
Accordingly, Iran has created a much more effective force than military or nuclear weapon working in its favor with no cost or danger to its people. It is the success story of the concept of Islamic Republic and the birth of the Islamic Renaissance. So far, Iran has not even attempted to export it to other countries. Many groups in different countries, taking Iran as a vivid example of an Islamic republic, are proceeding on their own. The Islamic Renaissance has taken root and will continue to grow all over the Muslim world and beyond because of attractiveness of the Islamic republic system its democratic nature and welfare programs, to developing countries enmeshed in poverty and ruled by autocratic regimes.
A wise foreign policy by any advanced country including the United States has to consider this inevitable transformation rather than oppose or disregard it. It is an enormous force moving unavoidably, toward political domination. Regarding Iran, the American government needs to remember the grave mistake it made, in 1953, by overthrowing Dr. Mossaddegh’s democratic and pro-western government and returning Mohammad Reza Shah to throne. It deprived Iranians from continuation of their newly gained democracy and subjected them to 25 years of harsh dictatorship costing tens of thousands of lives. The Shah was finally ousted by a general strike and mass uprisings of the people resulting in the 1979 Revolution with total exclusion of the United States from the Iranian scene and an accumulated hatred toward its government.
Because of its highly appealing components to the people in developing and poor countries, the idea of Islamic renaissance is expanding inevitably among the Muslim societies. It would be impossible for the Western powers or dictatorial regimes to stop or suppress it. It is a political phenomenon deeply attached to socio-cultural values of Islam that others must cope with. Countries like Germany, France, and Russia with long experience in the region have already understood the importance of this movement and have been forerunners in establishing good relations with Iran. To this list one may add also China. Islamic renaissance movement has been developing in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Azerbaijan and nearly all the Central Asian countries.
More likely, as mentioned above, Iraq, after becoming stabilized, will tend to have friendly relations with Iran. This is essential to the stability in the whole region. Iran, Iraq and Syria can form the pillars of the regional stability. The Western powers and the United States should not spend so much time and efforts in trying to deprive Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran is in a position to have such weapons sooner or later and enormous time and efforts devoted to this matter will go waste. Two centuries historical background of Iran clearly shows that Iran has never attacked any country but has been repeatedly attacked by other countries including the United States. It needs to prepare itself for defense The vital importance of the alliance of these three countries becomes further clear when one perceives the likelihood of near future instability in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The developing trend of Islamic renaissance in these countries clearly points out to unavoidable future political turmoil and transformation.
From a global viewpoint, it is a serious mistake to underestimate the importance and effect of the Islamic Renaissance exemplified by Iran. According to statistics, Islam is the most rapidly growing religions in the world. For every one person being converted to Christianity, seven accept Islam. Being a socialistic, equalitarian and democratic religion, Islam has become highly attractive to depressed, suppressed, deprived and poor which comprise nearly 80 percent of the world population. Islamic revitalization is in progress now with dynamic forces behind it, The present consciousness is induced by historical facts of an advanced religion which created a great civilization with the most scientific and artistic achievements for seven centuries; a civilization that extended from Spain, North Africa eastward to the Middle East, Central Asia, India to Indonesia. This consciousness is also enlighten and fortified by the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in establishing a socialistic and democratic Islamic republic. Islam is also an international religion with no central power and authority, based on equality of societies and brotherhood, and officially recognizing the validity of all major religions with a holy book.
In conclusion, the point to be stressed by all these developments is that the Western powers must take into consideration Islam, its influence, its revitalization by the Islamic renaissance, Iran as its main actor in international arena, with its super strategic position, military and economic resources and its ever increasing political influence in Islamic world. This seems to be the only policy direction if the purpose is to create an stable, harmonious, balanced and peaceful situation in the region. Now, is a perfect time for the Western powers to reevaluate their national interests in the light of the realities in the region along with their long range objectives. Dictatorial Islamic systems like Saudi Arabia and Egypt and brutally aggressive country against Muslims like Israel are walking into shaky grounds.
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