Question: Worker-communist Party of Iran literature asserts that Iran is not an Islamic society. What is the reasoning behind this assertion?
Mansoor Hekmat: Initially we must be precise about the definitions given by those who state Iran is an Islamic society or that certain societies are Islamic in order to understand what need this definition is responding to. The image of an Islamic society prevalent in the West is one of pious believers of Islam who abide by its rules, pray and fast, and whose opinions are formed by religious texts or sources. In fact, it imagines that a citizen of a society like Iran is a follower of Mr Khomeini, is really offended if someone ventures onto the streets unveiled, does not like Western music, does not drink alcohol nor eat pork, etc.
Given this definition, however, we all know that Iran is not an Islamic society. This is a stereotypical and cliched image that the West itself has created of societies out of reach of its citizens; it is not an independent and exact yardstick. Islam in Iran, like Christianity for example in Italy or Ireland, definitely influences the thought and temperament of some people. Undoubtedly, religious culture and its thousands of years of dreadful legacy influences peoples' behaviours, prejudices and even the way they view each other. But this also applies to Italy, Ireland and France with all their secularism; after all, one could say those countries are also Christian. A French person, however, would certainly assert that France is not a Christian society, although Christianity is part of its past and has some bearing. In this manner, Islam has some bearing in Iran. For example, when you read the writings of Iranian poets, writers and intellectuals, the images you are given on women is Islam's legacy of women. The images you are given of pleasure and sorrow, the fascination with misery, death and martyrdom in culture are extracted from Islam. But when the West speaks of an Islamic society, it suggests a society in which Islamic rules and regulations have been internalised and become inherent for people. We, on the other hand, argue that Islam has been imposed on the people of Iran in a political process through prisons, massacres, arrests and herds of Hezbollah thugs. Iran is not an Islamic society because it wasn't one before they arrived. And since they have arrived, people have withstood them and defended themselves.
Imagine that you want to bend a rod; you keep bending it, but it springs back to its first position as soon as you remove any force. While they have tried to impose the veil on women in Iran during the last twenty years with killings, brute force and daily propaganda, women immediately push back their veils as soon as knife wielding and acid-throwing diminishes; women in this society, therefore, have not accepted Islamic measures. Among the 60 million people in Iran, there are certainly one hundred thousand who accept and even propagate veiling, but ordinary people, in their millions, do not see nor want Islamic veiling as part of their nature and culture.
The music that the people of Iran listen to is not what the government is officially lenient towards or has surrendered to as a result of people's cultural demands, but rather Michael Jackson, Madonna and other Western pop musicians. The singer, Gogoosh, was a much more popular personality in the history of Iran than Khomeini. The illegal consumption and production of beer has always exceeded the production of religious and prayer items. These are the same people. If one has lived in Iran like you and I and doesn't want to view Iran from the media's angle, one knows that this country is not an Islamic country and that deep down it aspires to be similar to Western society. Even now, as soon as an Iranian reaches abroad, s/he quickly adopts the Western way of life; even patriarchal, chauvinistic values of an Eastern man - although still prevalent - are undermined more quickly in comparison with those coming from countries more severely fraught with Islam.
Iran, in specific, is not an Islamic society as defined by Western Orientalists, Western media or the Islamic regime in Iran. Iran is a society keen for civilisation and sympathetic to 21st century Western culture. It believes in science. Two generations ago, women walked the streets without veils. Western music and films have always been a part of that culture. Well-known personalities in the West have also been famous in Iran. Similarities to the West, whether in urban planning, schooling, science, art and culture, are seen as virtues. One might also be critical of this - I don't want to enter that debate now - but Iranian society has accepted Western culture as a model to emulate. It is precisely because of this that the Islamic Republic cannot control these people. A generation of people has been born under the rule of the Islamic Republic who has even more enmity with this system than you and I.
Iran is not an Islamic society and will not accept it, but we have not had a powerful political and philosophical anti-Islamic movement that could be turned into a historical achievement. There has been no movement that would make a decisive break with the relics of the old social order; i.e. Islam. This is one of the important problems of Iran.
Question: Previously, Europe was the centre for the struggle against religion; consequently religion became a private matter for individuals. It seems that currently, a similar battle against Islam and religion in general is being waged in Iran. Can this be compared with the European struggle against religion? Also, what is your opinion on currents that defend Islam by stating that Islam could be liberating, thereby introducing the concept of liberation theology?
Mansoor Hekmat: On the first question, as I have said before, we are witnessing an anti-Islamic revulsion and a popular cultural struggle against Islam in Iran. As far as the ideological battle against Islam and exposing the foundations of this religion are concerned, for a free-minded human being, religion is part of the 'lumpenism' in society, which must be put aside. If this struggle is taking place now, it is thanks to communists like us, and even that is limited to what is available to a political organisation. In Iran, we do not have a large-scale social and national movement of enlightened intellectuals loudly proclaiming, 'we do not have a religion; we are atheists,' whereas Europe was full of intellectual giants who stood up to the powerful church and expressed their views. They criticised superstition at scientific, philosophical and social levels and many paid a price in doing so. We do not have intellectuals in Iran with the same political and intellectual courage. Today, Mr. Khatami's friends are called 'alternative thinkers.' Consequently, perhaps it is up to the Iranian working class and the Worker-communist Party of Iran to bring this struggle to its end. I think that if the struggle that is now taking place in Iran leads to the emergence of parties like ours and a movement like the Socialist workers' movement, and that this movement manages to stand on its own feet despite the many obstacles, then it is possible to uproot religion in the long run.
On the question of liberation theology, this is the Tudeh Party's legacy. In my opinion, these are neither sincere nor genuine beliefs. The very person who advocates liberation theology is unwilling to live it or join its party. For them, it is always a question of tactics and politics. They want to find a faction within the mullahs who can help them build large united fronts against dictatorship. Rather than expressing their ideas, they are always busy playing politics. Liberation theology is the name for Christian priets who are prepared to say something against Latin American dictators. This is what they call liberation theology, but by definition no theology is liberating. Theology is the antithesis of liberation. It signifies keeping people ignorant, obstructing their independent thought and consigning them to an unknown creator and world. Liberation theology is nonsense. It is like saying liberation fascism; it is a contradiction in terms. Theology cannot be liberating, regardless of whether it is the Christian, Buddhist or Islamic version. For 19th century intellectuals, liberation before anything else meant liberation from religion and the fetters of imposed thought. Now, theology has become liberating? What for? Because the Eastern Block needed to attract sections of Western society and form tactical allies for its so-called resistance against the West. As a result, Mr Taleghani belonged to the 'revolutionary camp.' Now, Mr. Khatami or some priest in Colombia or Bolivia belongs to this camp. In reality, however, these people and countries can only be rescued if they are rescued from any form of theology. I think those who support this notion are revealing their Stalinist and Tudeh-ist backgrounds and not even their own individual thoughts. Those who advocate liberation theology are not prepared to live in a country ruled by liberation theology. They prefer to live in France and England, yet prescribe liberation theology for the people in Bolivia. I think this is hypocritical and insincere.
Question: Some say that Islam can be modernised and call for its modernisation. This view is also seen in the Left movement, which strives to promote this issue. What is your opinion on this?
Mansoor Hekmat: The person who wants to modernise Islam is like that forgetful genius who wants to invent a machine in his/her garage, which can turn copper into gold! Is it good for Islam to become modern? The first question is why should Islam be modernised and why do they insist on this? If someone says that slavery can also become humane, I will ask them why they insist on making slavery humane; is there a lack of modern and humane schools of thought? One should ask persons promoting modern Islam, whether they themselves are modern Moslems? If not, then why are they paving the way for oppressive and historically backward monsters to continue their existence in new forms? Let's assume that Islam can be modernised; why are they helping it to do so? Leave it, let it be as it is and let it go out of business. Notwithstanding this, in my opinion, their depiction of 'modern' is limited, which is why they say Islam can be modern. Probably, if Islam allows a woman to go to school with a knee-length skirt or to become a judge as long as she does not speak of her sexuality, then Islam is modern from their point of view. Now this won't do.
Islam has no place in what I call modern (in fact this word is also relative) nor in the society that I would like to live or in the modernism that I think we deserve. Islam must be uprooted. Just as some people believe in fascism and still strongly believe in patriarchy, some also believe in Islam. Islam's track record is much more apparent than that for anyone to attempt its rescue. The person who says that Islam can be modernised is a Moslem who wants to maintain their religion and its survival. Otherwise, I cannot understand any non-Moslem's insistence on this concept, apart from the fact that they want to create a tactical ally for their own revolution.
Spoken: June 13, 1999
First Published: Radio Hambastegi in Sweden
Source: Worker-Communist Party of Iran (WPI Briefing)
Translators: Fariborz Pooya, Maryam Namazie
Transcription/Markup: Worker-Communist Party of Iran/Brian Baggins
Copyleft: Hekmat Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.