Notes on Islamic Fundamentalism and Globalization
Part 4 (To read the first and second part of this article visit "See Also" section of BT. Please see end of the article)
Racism and Xenophobia
In the periods before and during the Islamic revolution in Iran, the Hezbullah’s rhetoric of salvation coupled with their romanticization of an Islamic society in which exploitation, racism, and discrimination would be non-existent, breathed new life into the struggle of Iran’s various nationalities for self-determination. Such notions as racism, discrimination, and even nationalism were supposed to be alien to the spirit of ‘the true Islam.’ They were seen as the products of a corrupt and satanic western culture.
In an Islamic society governed by an Islamic Faqih there would be no room for racial oppression. As a matter of fact, Ayatollah Khomeini’s famous saying that “Islam is against nationalism and nationalism is against Islam,” written in colorful letters adorned the walls of all major cities and towns during the early days of the Islamic rule. Accordingly, in the constitutional text of the Islamic Republic, as well as in all governmental literature, the word “mellat” (nation) was replaced with the word “umma” or in Persian accent, ‘ommat’ (the community of believers), emphasizing thus the non-nationalist character of the new community.
During the Pahlavi monarchy (1925-1978), the multiethnic, multinational and multicultural character of the Iranian society had been vigorously denied and brutally suppressed. With the demise of the absolute monarchism, various nationalities were expecting the realization and restoration of their social and national rights. Among various groups, two major Azerbaijani and Kurdish nationalities posed the greatest challenge to the new regime. The Azerbaijanis or Azeris, as the largest nationality in Iran, comprised over thirty-five percent of the entire population at the time and were mobilized around the reformist grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari and his “Muslim Peoples’ Party.” Among other things, the party worked towards acknowledging Iran’s multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual character, emphasizing on linguistic equality, lifting of discriminatory policies, and creation of civil society (see also Razmi, 2000).
Unlike the Azerbaijani movement, the Kurdish struggle took a more radical turn, significantly mobilizing Iran’s millions of Kurdish population around notions of autonomous nationhood, self-determination, and even secession from Iran if need be (see also Hassanpour, 1992). In order to subdue these and other similar movements in Khuzistan, Baluchistan, and Gilan, the Hezbullah began preaching and praising the universalistic, non-preferential values of Islam. For instance, in a message addressed to the people of Kurdistan, on November 17, 1978, Ayatollah Khomeini wrote:
The great Islam has condemned all sorts of discriminations and hasn’t allocated special rights for any group in particular. Piety and devotion to Islam are the only markers of man’s dignity… In the bosom of Islam and Islamic Republic of Iran all nationalities have the right for determination of their own cultural, economic, and political destinies…in their own localities…
(as cited in Kurdistan, Nov. 1999, p.7; see also McDowall, 1996, p. 271).
Nevertheless, after the consolidation of Islamic rule, the highly romanticized rhetoric regarding racial and ethnic equality was all but disappeared into the thin air. Following the previous regime’s racist doctrines, Farsi, the mother tongue of Iran’s Persian minority, was accorded the status of ‘national language’ of all Iranians. Further more, Farsi was elevated to the status of ‘the second language of Islam,’ following the Arabic. This way, not only all the non-Persian Iranians had to learn Farsi but even non-Iranian Muslims were encouraged to learn and speak it. As a result, the language and culture of non-Persian nationalities such as Azeris, Kurds, Baluchs, Arabs, Turkmans and others were subjected to eradication and annihilation.
In legal terms, Article 115 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic clearly stated that the president of the country should be a Shia Muslim (Man). This was a blatant discrimination against over twenty-two percent of the population who were either Sunny Muslims or non-Muslims--not to mention the over 50 percent female population along with a sizeable number of seculars. Other Articles in Penal and Civil Codes demonstrated sharp inequalities between Muslims and non-Muslims in areas of criminality, inheritance, citizenship, divorce, schooling, employment and so on (see for example Articles 12, 88, 121, 147, 207, and 494 of the Penal Code).
Among the non-Shia religious communities, members of the Baha’i faith became subject to severest forms of discrimination. Their Baha’i identity became criminalized; they became subject to open assault and persecution on all fronts; their assemblies even in the privacy of their homes were prohibited; the observance of their religious rites and rituals was banned. By and large, suffice it to say that under the Islamic rule, racism and xenophobia continued to flourish in Iran, just as it had been under the previous Pahlavi regime.
(to be continued)
Note: A. Asgharzadeh is an Azerbaijani writer and researcher living in North America
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