By Hamid Dabashi
I can close my eyes and hear the chants: “Marg bar fascism! Marg bar fascism!” It was a fine summer day in July 1979. I was a graduate student at the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I had just returned to Iran for the summer break, and my homeland was in the frenzied grips of an historic revolution.
“Death to fascism! Death to fascism!” That is all we could scream, a crowd of a few thousand gathered at the football field of Tehran University to rally against the Islamists trying to claim the revolution for themselves. We were an eclectic crowd – some were leftists, some were not; more than half of us were women, some scarfed, many not; some men wore beards, many not – but we all had one thing in common: We could all recite the poetry of Forough Farrokhzad and Ahmad Shamlou faster than we could any verse of the Quran. And we too had a claim on this revolution.
Islamist thugs were disrupting the rally, cutting the wires of loudspeakers, diving into the crowd with knives and brass knuckles, punching, kicking, cursing. They were organised, determined, fearless, violent. They knew what they were doing. We did not know what to do.
We were mostly students, inexperienced in street fights, many of us from poor or middle-class families, some from the provinces. The Persian accents of our attackers, without an exception, were from southern Tehran – nasal, colloquial, limited in vocabulary, vile, violent. They were particularly nasty with the young unveiled woman among us.
They succeeded. They disrupted our rally. The cries of “Death to fascism!” eventually died out.
Today the ruling regime in Iran is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the successful establishment of the Islamic Republic on the ruins of a collective dream for a free and open Iran whose tragic death Iranians at large have been mourning for the last four decades.
The Iranian revolution of 1977-1979, which swiftly degenerated into the formation of Shia mullahcracy thinly camouflaged as an Islamic Republic, was the last grand illusion of the 20th century. It came on the heels of two other total revolutions – the Russian revolution of 1917 and the Chinese revolution of 1949 – which inspired a number of other popular uprisings, including the Cuban revolution of 1953, the Algerian revolution of 1954 and others.
These three total revolutions – the Russian, the Chinese, and the Iranian – were all of the same significance as the American revolution of 1775 and the French revolution of 1789 in scale and universal significance.
The Iranian revolution of 1977-1979, to be emphatically distinguished from the Islamism of the Islamic Republic which became its exclusive beneficiary, gave a particularly universal expression of the mixed blessings and paradoxical perils of postcolonial revolutionary zeal. After these events, the postcolonial world was cured and delivered from any and all ideological delusions of a total revolution.
As evidenced in the Green Movement of 2009 and the Arab uprisings of 2010-2011, both the language and the inspirations of revolutionary momentums of the 21st century have been of an entirely different character and disposition. The Islamic Republic put the myth of “the West” the measure of truth or falsehood at the epicentre of regional and global politics. The Green Movement and the Arab Spring decentred and dismantled it.
By the time of these uprisings, we had already learned how to shift our focus away from the illegitimate state and seek democratic sovereignty in the nation. There were no delusions about the totality of their outcome.
Today, the Islamic Republic in Iran, Israel in Palestine, the ruling Saudi clan in the Arabian Peninsula, the military government in Egypt and the murderous Asad regime in Syria are made of identical cloth – illegitimate state apparatus violently suppressing the democratic will of nations they rule in and out of their postcolonial borders. But the civilising power of these nations has withstood not only the tyranny and brutality of these regimes but also the onslaught of their byproducts – armed groups like ISIL.
The charismatic terror of Ayatollah Khomeini during the decade of his reign from 1979 to 1989 did not subside with his death. Neither his successor, nor the institution of theocratic reign he crafted commands anything near his personal power, but his takeover of the revolution determined the course of the history he left behind.
Today Iranians face towering enemies on their historic path to freedom – the ruling theocracy and its militant apparatus, the diaspora opposition and their entirely discredited politics, the regional Saudi-Zionist alliance and above all the lunacy that is the United States under President Donald Trump.
Iranians, with their vast and expansive political culture, will overcome them all as they walk towards a future only they can write for themselves. The standoff between the daily realities of a normative life in Iran and the treacheries of this congested front of animus coming their way is historically bent towards the defeat of the enemies of the commonweal of national sovereignty.
The Iranian revolution of 1977-1979 succeeded in liberating an entire nation from the calamities of an authoritarian monarchy, but the Islamic Republic devoured it, established a brutal theocracy, and in the process delivered Iranians from any and all delusions about regime legitimacy.
In the making of the catastrophic Islamic Republic, however, the US, the Soviet Union, and their regional agents were all implicated.
The Iranian revolution was initially widely popular in the region until the US and its allies enabled and encouraged Saddam Hussein to start a war against Iran that lasted eight brutal years and killed hundreds of thousands of people on both sides. As the war fuelled Iranian-Arab rivalry, this helped Khomeini define the popular rebellion as “Shia-inspired”, turning the worldly and cosmopolitan character of the Iranian revolution into a xenophobic and religious one, from which he benefitted immensely.
The December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan allowed the newly formed clerical regime to start expanding its network of proxies in its immediate neighbourhood and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon paved the way for the creation of Hezbollah, which solidified its extraterritorial outreach.
Over the next few decades, the domestic affairs of Iran became increasingly overshadowed by the dissolution of the ruling Islamic Republic into the geopolitics of the region and its rivalries with the Saudi-Zionist axis. In 2009 the Green Movement was the last chance for a democratic substitution and the altering of the course of the post-revolutionary Iran, but the ruling clerical and paramilitary forces viciously crashed that hope.
The atrocities of the Islamic Republic over the past 40 years have created an expatriate opposition equally atrocious in its treacherous power mongering. The People’s Mojahedin Organisation (MEK), the monarchists, and their various incarnations have come together collectively to form and discredit the Iranian political opposition. These organisations are now actively collaborating with the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia towards “regime change” in Iran, which would mean massive calamity for millions of Iranians.
Victorious in the midst of all this is the common sense and the collective purpose of Iranians themselves and their past experiences gathered from the failed monarchy, the fanatical Islamism that followed it, and the quagmire of regional geopolitics into which their ruling regime is increasingly drawn and lost.
Today the fate of the Islamic Republic can be summed up in the characters of two women, both of them named Masoumeh. One is Masoumeh Ebtekar and the other Masoumeh Alinejad. Masoumeh Ebtekar was one of the Iranian hostage takers during the 1979-1981 American hostage crisis and is currently vice president of Iran for Women and Family Affairs. To this day she benefits from her role in this criminal act, which Khomeini used as a smokescreen to brutally eliminate all legitimate rivals to his autocratic rule.
Meanwhile, Masoumeh Alinejad is also reaping benefits from her public political decisions. She made her name more palatable to an American tongue by calling herself Masih Alinejad (Masih is Persian and Arabic for messiah) after she ran away from her homeland and worked her way up to the top of the American mediascape. Under the false flag of bourgeois feminism, she has become a useful servant at the service of the US imperial machine, happily posing for photos with US secretary of war and propaganda, Mike Pompeo.
These two Masoumehs represents the cruelties of two opposing regimes: the ruling Islamic Republic on one side and the US and those trying to topple it on the other. One is a fanatical and myopic zealot, the other – a vulgar and loutish career opportunist. They personify nothing but the banalities of two identical evils. In between, stand millions of Iranian women and men in fateful charge of their personal, public, and national dignity, who still remember how it all began 40 years ago.
Soon after that summer day in 1979, the Islamists took over the Tehran University football field and turned it into a makeshift mosque in which they brought masses of their supporters and institutionalised the Friday prayer propaganda to denounce their enemies and steal the revolution all to themselves.
They won. We lost. But 40 years later something even more important happened: Our dreams of a different and better world have been implanted into the collective consciousness of a big-hearted, forgiving, and triumphant people. The Islamist won that battle but lost the war for the hearts and minds of a nation with a memory that far exceeds the limited imagination of a gang of degenerate octogenarian clerics on the verge of senility.
The fate of the Islamic Republic is now threatened by the whims of a juvenile delinquent like Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), a war criminal like Benjamin Netanyahu, and a lunatic like Donald Trump. The dreams of the Iranian revolution that the Islamic Republic usurped and betrayed remain alive and well in the hearts and minds of a brave nation which is triumph over its own cruel history.
Theology of Presence
Amir Suhail Wani
“O you who believe! Remember Allah With much remembrance”: Al Quran
To believe is to be in a state of presence. Presence, though not the climax, but is, one of the most cherished states and authentic manifestations of belief. To let God stay far away in the realm of abstraction and beyond-ness not only dilutes the spirit of worship, but it brings under scrutiny the very notion of belief. Religion, in its finest form, aims at invoking in man the spirit of presence, so that the believer may feel and experience the himself in presence of divine and may thus be able to envision a living and existential relationship with his creator and his object of devotion. Religion, even in its basic etymological connotation invokes the sense of “connectedness and attachment” with the object of devotion. It is in the very essence of man that he wants to be greater than what he is and when submitting before the divine, the individual, finite and subjective ego undergoes an existential, psychological and spiritual transformation of unique nature which expands its contours beyond those of physical perimeters. In any act of worship, the subject envisages the object of devotion as infinite and it not only pays homage to that infinite by bowing to it, but it very much desires to expand its own finitude under the radiance of that eternal infinite. This is what is meant by the philosophical benediction that “make me Thou, not an it”.
This human urge of finding means of self expansion by submitting before the divine is the greatest expression of human will and self sacrifice. But this spirit is rendered meaningless and antithetical when religion, in its state of decline, reduces to mere theology. In this reductionism, God remains no longer a living reality in the life of believer. He is rather replaced by a set of axioms and statements which fail to stimulate and satisfy the deepest spiritual yearnings of man and this deepest spiritual yearning is nothing but an aspiration to come in living contact with the divine and transcendental. Islam and for that matter most of the religions strongly condemn the deistic notions about God for it leaves absolutely no scope for religious indoctrination and creates an unimaginable void in the realm of Transcendence. It is in response to nuances like these that the notion of presence assumes multifold importance. It is not only prayer but our entire life that demands, by virtue of its spiritual dimension, that we live perpetually under the spell of divine. Thus religions teach us not merely to pray and thus make prayer a part of our life, but they come to turn our entire life into a sort of prayer. This transformation of life itself into prayer is what has best been embodied by Islamic teachings which reiterate time and again that all acts shall be done according to the law/s prescribed by God and at the beginning and end of each of our activity, the name of God shall be invoked. Not only this, the orations we recite at various instances from entering a washroom to starting our prayer are nothing but a beautiful way of making God a perpetual and living presence in our lives. None of our activities shall be divorced from Transcendent and while we are bodily constantly engaged in acts of world and matter, our heads, hearts and souls shall be perpetually turned to the divine. This act of remembering God in world of forgetting paves the way for “discovering God through material representations”. The highest form of this discovery is prayer and within prayer itself it is dua that marks the height of living relationship between God and believer. The purpose of prayer, as has been narrowly appropriated lately is not merely to make God change his mind and to bring our naive desires to fruition. Prayer is in fact the testimony of our living and real time relationship of servitude and dependency on God. Thus when God asserts “If My servants ask you regarding Me, I am indeed Near. I answer the call of those who call upon Me when they call. So let them answer My call and let them believe in believe in Me–in order that they be truly guided.”, he makes us understand in most emphatic and explicit way that he is very much existentially related to us and responds to our prayers. This response to prayer shall not be seen as the fulfilment of our prayers in material realm (which is true on its own), but it shall invoke in us the existential quest and inspire us to awaken our slumbering spiritual sensibility so that we may truly feel that God is indeed responding to us as our creator and as an object truly worthy of our devotion and worship.
This notion of presence has been subjected to double irony. The religious centric people lost sight of this appeal and dedicated their energies in confining and codifying God in their formulae of logical atomism. They rigidly tried to fix God in their self made definitions made out of untenable language as if trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. While as the role of this intellectual cum theological process can’t be belittled, but their overemphasis on making God comply to their abstractions and creating an unsurpassable chasm between the creator and creation surely set them on too rigid a path. The aftermath of this theorization of God not only created uncompromising hostility among different religions, but within the same religion it gave birth to unending clashes, unforseen intolerance and created such shameful examples that served the purpose of latter day anti religious forces. The second threat, and that is more dangerous, to this “theology of presence” has come from movements like new age spirituality, occult practices and pseudo spiritual shopping malls. Whereas traditional religion and traditional metaphysics taught us to see this world as a reflection and reverberation of transcendental realm, the new age spirituality has tragically represented the divine realm as an “extended expression” of human realm and this immanent universe. This has been sort of shifting the frame of reference and with this shifting of frames, the meaning of spirituality and metaphysics is inverted on its head. This misplaced mysticism and consumerist spirituality is far dangerous than no spirituality at all. In absence of spirituality, one may set out to discover the genuine and true spiritual traditions, but the presence of fake and pseudo spirituality creates a halo effect around man and his genuine thirst and quest is buried under the garb of this “materialistic spirituality”.
There are no palatable solutions to this malice that has invaded our religious obligation of perpetual presence and taught us to be satisfied with rituals without knowing their meaning. What one can do is to read, if one can, the religious scriptures and try to get to the roots of these scriptures. Look out for commonalities among scriptures and try to make a sense out of these commonalities. Another suggestion is to read the authors like Rene Guneon, Frithjof Schoun, Martin Lings, William Chittick and others of their class. What is special about these authors is that they speak about traditional metaphysics in contemporary idiom with an insight that is both inspiring as well as awakening. Finally we must note and note it seriously that life is not a profane activity sprinkled with events of sacred prayers, rather life is sacred as a whole and the existential realisation of this axiom is fundamental postulate on which all religions stand.
(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: email@example.com)
Kathua verdict: fact, fable and fiction
Finally some relief has been accorded to the family of the victim, Asifa by the trial judge Mr Tejwinder Singh by convicting and punishing the guilty. But it is too little if not too late. The investigating agency has undoubtedly done a commendable job in piecing together the evidence against the odds and succeeded in obtaining conviction for criminal conspiracy, gang rape, poisoning and murder of 8year old Asifa on 17th of January 2018 in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. The National Crime Records Bureau of India suggests a reported rape rate of 2 per 100,000 people, much lower than reported rape incidence rate in the local Indian media. However, Times of India reported the data by National Crime Records Bureau unveiling that 93 women are being raped in India every day. Every year 7,200 minors are raped as the statistics suggest without unreported ones. Rape is, surprisingly a weapon of punishment in India. In 2014, in Jharkhand village elders ordered the rape of a 14year old. The husband of the woman who was assaulted sexually was told to carry out the rape. As the woman’s husband dragged the girl to a nearby forest, villagers only looked on. Earlier West Bengal village reportedly ordered the gang rape of a 20 year old woman for falling in love with a man from another community. Even in case of Kathua, two BJP ministers stood in favor of the accused. Sexual crimes being committed with impunity not even sparing foreign tourists led to issuance of rape advisories like women travelling should exercise caution when travelling in India even if they are travelling in a group, avoid hailing taxis from streets or using public transport at night. India feels like it is going through an upsurge of sexual violence against children and after several incidents including Asifa’s, received widespread media attention and triggered public protest. The Prime Minister condemned it and UN Secretary General, Antonio Guiterres said “guilty must be held responsible” describing the incident “horrific”. This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault. As such India’s cabinet approved the introduction of death penalty for those who rape children. The executive order was cleared at a special cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Modi. It allowed capital punishment for anyone convicted of raping children under the age of 12. India’s poor record of dealing with sexual violence came to fore after 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus. The four men involved were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court maintained the death sentence of the convicts; Akshay Thakur, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta and Mukesh. Rejecting their appeal Justice R Banumathi said the men committed “a barbaric crime” that had “shaken society’s conscience”. It is worthwhile to mention that the death penalty to the said persons was given in the year 2013 while as the executive ordinance came in April 2018 after Asifa’s incident and of a 16year old girl in northern Uttar Pradesh by a member of BJP, Kuldeep Sengar (ironically, victim’s father was arrested and thereafter killed by the Kuldeep’s supporters.) Prior to 2012, there was no single law specifically dealing with children as victims of sexual offences. Then came Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act in 2012, India’s first comprehensive law to deal specifically with child sex abuse and surprisingly the number of reported cases of child abuse rose by nearly 45% the next year.
The new amendments enable a court to hand out a death penalty to someone convicted of raping a child under 12, even if it does not result in death. In countries like China, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan, rape is punishable with nothing short of death by hanging, beheading or firing squad. Despite the changes to the law and arming Indian courts, there is reluctance to carry out the death penalty. Is there anything wrong with the collective Indian psyche that deters even courts from putting curbs on sexual crimes against even minors? One feels disgusted for the punishment not being exemplary in Asifa’s case when on trial crimes like gang rape and murder were proved. The court was saddled with the law and verdicts of Supreme Court where death penalty awarded was not interfered with and also its observations emphasizing the gravity of such crime with its impact on the society. Do the laws also have a fiction value? When do we really implement them? Is something more needed to shake society’s conscience? It is more likely that the convicts in this case will go in appeal to the higher court against the judgement. The verdict of the lower court also calls for a counter appeal by the prosecution seeking enhancement of punishment to death of the convicts.
(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Let’s Become Environmental Protectionists!
Dr. Shahid Amin Trali
It’s very alarming to find the unending disturbances to our environment. Man’s foul play with the nature is not going well with the present as well as our future. The environmental problems are mounting towards a bigger trouble in future but we are yet to recover from deep hibernation/sleep mode. This menace of pollution has existed for centuries but increased at an alarming rate after industrial revolution in the 19th century. Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people. The world’s population is ever increasing and the treasures of the resources are getting overexploited.
There is greater need that we must promote better and efficient use of resources. Mass production of plastics, which began just six decades ago, has accelerated very rapidly—most of it in disposable products that end up as trash. If business goes on as usual, plastic pollution will double over the next thirty years. That would mean there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Plastics have several health hazards, both for humans and animals. Not just that, it is detrimental for the environment too. We must encourage the reduction, recycling and re-use of wastes as raw material for new products. Our younger generation is highly creative and all they must be given is ample support and opportunities. We must promote ‘Jugaad’ creation, the idea of using the waste to make something novel and save resources. We need to set examples from our home places and re-use what we would easily throw away and conserve for a future. What we cannot recycle let us try not use them. Let’s promote paper products as they break down better in the environment and don’t affect our nature as much.
Learning to be more environmentally friendly is not that difficult task than we think. We must start by living with a greater awareness of the resources that we use in our daily life. For example we must turn off the lights as soon as we leave a room in our homes and offices or even schools and colleges. We must be environmental friendly when it comes to building our homes and buildings. Trees are necessary for us to survive. We must plant small trees around our home, don’t cut them unless it’s necessary, work with local environmental groups to plant more trees and educate others about the beauty and benefits of trees.
Water needs to be conserved. Few ways to conserve water are – take short showers, keep the running tap close while we brush our teeth, recycle water in our home, use water saving appliances etc. More good ways to contribute will be consume less energy, buy recycled products, and create less waste and many more. We must refrain from open burning as backyard trash and leaf burning releases high levels of toxic compounds. We must use public transit as much as possible. Let us walk more and drive less to conserve fuel and prevent auto-emission. Let’s use bicycles and scooters for shorter distances to save resources.
Cleanliness leads to cleanliness. We can easily find that a dirty place adds to its dirtiness. When we come across a fresh place, we think twice before turning it bad and dirty. It is sad when we think for our clean homes and hardly care for the roads, hospitals, educational institutions, offices, markets etc. Our mindset has to undergo a big overhaul that our public property is our own property.
India is one of the three worst offending countries when it comes to environmental performance. Corporate leaders have started joining the race to save the planet. Being environment-friendly, eco-friendly, going green are huge claims referring to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies that inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment. But the attempts need to be strong and concrete. Small and medium sized companies in particular generate a lot of pollution and need awareness and support policies to safeguard the environment.
Individuals, organizations and governments need to join hands to protect our environment. Let’s educate others about the significance of living an environmentally friendly life. The more we will share an awareness of the richness of the environment, the more we can do together to protect it. Environmental love and care must receive an all time attention and priority. Let’s go beyond the model building exercises for safer environment and turn them into reality. Organizations must appreciate and reward the employees for their environmental care.
The Philippines recently has taken a unique and wonderful initiative. The island country passed a law under which every student there has to mandatorily plant ten trees in order to get their graduation degree. The law if it is implemented properly will ensure that over 175 million trees will be planted every year. The law will be applicable for college, elementary, and high school students as well. Our education system must owe greater responsibility towards environment and find some unique strategies to safeguard it. Let’s go green and pledge to protect our environment. (The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior, Youth Ambassador, International Youth Society. He can be mailed on: email@example.com)