Interview with Radio Hambastegi
Question: Why did the Worker-communist Party of Iran’s Central Committee adopt a resolution on intensifying the struggle against Islamic currents and groups? Everyone knows the WPI as an anti-religion organisation; struggling against reactionary Islamic groups has been one of our characteristics in recent years. Was this not enough?
Mansoor Hekmat: We are talking about a different issue here. As you have said, opposition to religion, exposing religion and efforts for establishing a non-religious society is an old and characteristic task of communists. However, we have seen another phenomenon in the last 20-25 years, which is the emergence and considerable development of political movements that have organised themselves under the banner of Islam. There are a series of extremely Right-wing, anti-human and violent movements in North Africa, the Middle East and today, in all countries in which the so-called official religion is Islam or which have significant Muslim minorities. Their conduct is primarily in the form of opposition to the freedom of women, women’s civil liberties, freedom of expression in the cultural and personal domains and the enforcement of brutal laws and traditions against people, and even killing, beheading, and genocide of people from young children to the elderly. In Algeria, there isn’t a day that these groups have not murdered someone. In Iran, your audience doesn’t need reminding of what they have done to this country. We have seen the Taliban in Afghanistan. Violence is inherent in their definition and their disregard for human dignity. Their enmity to human happiness and their hostility to any peaceful society and any free interaction of humanity are clearly apparent.
This is a movement like fascism for example. Nationalism and racism too are older trends, but when based on these fascism arises, some people must issue a declaration and proclaim its consequences, the atrocities that will result from the new fascist movement which is emerging and that it must be resisted. We are now facing Islam in this very same manner. Our anti-religious position is in its place; there are many in the world who are atheists and recognise the oppressive and noxious role of religion. The people of the world, however, must rise up and oppose this specifically Right wing, active, genocidal and murderous movement, which is active in Iran and the Middle East and has now taken on international dimensions under the banner of Islam. This is a nightmare, which has fallen on a large part of the world’s population and many are miserable because of it. We have passed a resolution in this regard. Apart from the exposing and enlightening policies in opposition to religion that we hold in general, we now need a specific practical and political position vis-à-vis Islam as a political movement, as a contemporary reactionary movement which is strongly anti-communist, anti-socialist, anti-freedom, misogynist and anti-modernism, is even against happiness and is strongly racist. This requires it own resolution. This reactionary political movement requires a political approach.
Question: In the WPI literature, we see a lot of references to political Islam. What is meant by political Islam? Does it mean fundamentalism? If not, what is the difference?
Mansoor Hekmat: Political Islam is not necessarily fundamentalism. Of course, different writers might use this term to mean relatively different things. We are, however, referring to that which I have stated earlier, that is the political movements, which endeavour to establish a form of Islamic society under the banner of Islam. After the 1979 revolution in Iran, an Islamic counter-revolution that suppressed the revolution and brought the Islamic Republic to power is one of the earliest manifestations of political Islam in its latest round. At the beginning of the twentieth century when colonised people were becoming aware of their undesirable and subjugated situation and murmurs of anti-colonialism were heightened, Islamic thought and pan-Islamism was put forth as the basis of a government and form of state in the former East, but the modernist, parliamentary and liberal movements were stronger. Nationalism was stronger and Middle Eastern countries did not follow the path to Islamic societies. That Islamic movement was an independent phenomenon and belonged to a different era. It was the period when feudalism and colonialism in those societies went under question. Political Islam in our era, however, took shape as a new and Cold War phenomenon. It is a Right wing and an anti-Left, anti-communist and to some extent anti-Western force. This is a movement, which has emerged in competition to the West over wealth and power in the Middle East and North Africa. It wants the state. It is a different ideology for governing and obtaining a share for segments of the bourgeoisie of these countries. And this is a new phenomenon in that new Right wing political parties have been created in the last three decades of the twentieth century and their aim is to establish a form of Islamic society. Islam in both Shiism and Sunnism has not traditionally always had this relationship with the state. The state’s domain has usually been recognised as a domain supported by religion which has in turn provided services to religion. The Imam and Caliph were on one side and the Sultan and Shah on the other. The Shah and the Sultan would receive their confirmation from the religious hierarchy. They would provide an environment for religious taxation and Islamic jurisprudence. They were themselves the sword of Islam, although the ruler himself did not usually have any position in the religious hierarchy. The government, state, and army were in the hands of the Sultan who had reached a compromise with the religious hierarchy. The political Islam we are speaking of sets forth a different ideology and that is that the state and government can be Islamic in the same manner that was implemented in Iran. In Saudi Arabia, the government is not Islamic; Islam is dominant, but the government is in the hands of that specific tribe which is using its sword to serve Islam and they share in the fruits. In this regard, this political Islam is different from Islam in its usual meaning that clearly interferes in all aspects of people’s lives because it wants to specifically organise the state domain on the basis of Islamic ideology. In this manner, it is a new phenomenon. I don’t want to say that it is absolutely new in the history of the 20th century, but we are witnessing its new round and it is clear that this phenomenon does not have the same role which it had at the beginning of the 20th century. It is extremely anti- communist and anti-worker. It’s a movement within the context of the bourgeoisie’s competition in the region and internationally; it’s a banner that has been raised by segments of society, which rely on despicable religious traditions to obtain power. As I said earlier, we are faced with these apart from the fact that we are faced with Islam and religion in general. As a group of freethinking people and supporters of freedom of choice and thought we are opposed to these groups as Right wing, violent and inhuman groups. Political Islam in the manner we refer to it is this movement, which wants to obtain power.
Question: This resolution also specifically intensifies our activities against Islam or is it just limited to these groups?
Mansoor Hekmat: You cannot only fight the political Islamic movements in question and build a firm barricade against them without further challenging their thoughts. Nevertheless it’s evident that we are ourselves as a communist party against Islam as a thought, system of thought and way of life. What is clear is that when you come face to face with movements, which threaten freethinkers like Taslima Nasrin with death, you are obliged to once again refer to the Koran and say that this reaction is feeding from a well, which exactly formulates all this backwardness. The Koran could have been a historical book like many other historical books; people could look at it and not show much sensitivity but when a movement makes it the banner of a contemporary political struggle, then people are forced to take its banner from it, review it, look at it and throw it away. Otherwise, suppose it was for example like Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh that could be put in a corner and most likely not referred to much. If you refer to any old book, you will definitely find much reaction. But when the movement itself, at the end of the 20th century, is adamant to use this Koran in its war against socialist parties, trade unions and women’s organisations, then in my opinion women, workers and socialists are obliged to take its banner from it and discredit it.
Question: Where does political Islam originate from? Is political Islam the result of the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran or did it also exist before?
Mansoor Hekmat: In my opinion, resistance against the West is an old phenomenon in the Middle East and countries we call Islam-ridden because the West entered these countries within a colonial framework. The West’s arrival was accompanied by immense violence and exploitation. It wasn’t as if Western civilisation or for example Western parliament, art, literature and culture reached the East in a free relationship and flow, but through arms, violence, abduction, imprisonment, and massacres. It is, therefore, obvious that there is resistance against it and that local nationalism and the struggle against colonization take hold of any means available locally. Islam, then, was the banner of a specific resistance against the West in the same way nationalism in these countries was the banner of specific resistance against the West during one period. The contemporary Islamic movement, however, originates from and belongs to another era. It belongs to an era in which the world has truly merged; the world’s economy is interdependent. This banner is a specific claim on its share by sections of the ruling class of these countries. For example, in Iran itself there were many who thought that Iran must have a special place. They did not achieve this through the Shah but by means of the Islamic regime. They are glad to be part of the ruling class of this country. It was the Islamic Republic that for example made the president of the United States sensitive to Iran and the ‹commands› of the religious leader of Iran. It was the Islamic Republic that allowed Iran to intervene in the region to this extent and further Iran’s expansionist ambitions and Iranian supremacy within this framework. Whatever its defects for the Iranian bourgeoisie, this Islam became a banner for claiming a share and competing for power in the region, between the ruling class and the bourgeoisie and imperialism internationally. Many view this Islamic movement as a political means. In the Arab-Israeli war, the Islamic banner is one of the Arab world’s devices against Israel. And I think it is a useful device and they can utilise it whenever they require. This Islam also has its usefulness for suppressing the Left. For example, the Shah’s regime could not massacre workers and communists the way that the Islamic Republic has. It would have been impossible to go to war against the freedom of women without such a device and only this device could keep women under such constraints. The Islamic movement as a political device has found its usefulness. It serves against the left, civilisation, free-thinking culture and human happiness. It is completely and a hundred percent reactionary. Its existence is exactly against freedom and socialism. I believe, therefore, that we must deal with it as a reactionary ideology and political institution of the 20th century. Like fascism, its role can be defined in society.
Question: In a worker’s state, what will happen to these Islamic groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah or the Islamic Fedayeen in Iran? Would their activity be prohibited and if so, would this not be contrary to the essence of unconditional freedom of political activity?
Mansoor Hekmat: I can tell you my personal opinion. The political system that we propose is a council system in which its laws and regulations are decided by the people’s representatives across the country. Based on their citizenship and residence, people – irrespective of their national or ethnic background, would become a member of their local council and in that way participate in the political life of the country. Naturally, one must want the regulations governing these things from the state and the very people who live there at the time. I, however, as one of those people will give my view. In my opinion, establishing the ‹Islamic Fedayeen› is essentially not a crime. Demanding an Islamic world is also essentially not a crime. We must first define crime and then prohibit it. If someone advocates an Islamic society in which people are miserable and women are in chains and tells these to people and they hear him, then no crime has been committed until this moment. But if that someone begins to kill, intimidate, confine, and frighten someone, or deny a child her or his rights or encroach on someone’s life or freedom, then based on these crimes that someone must be sought out. Consequently, in my opinion, having Islamic parties even in our system will not be a crime. Establishing a group that essentially advocates for the entire world becoming Islamic is not a crime since the expression of the most insane and dim-witted beliefs are people’s right. They can air their views. By establishing a society in which no-one can hide their political ambitions behind such things, a society in which people can see the activities and books of all groups, we aim to arrest their development. In a free society where everyone is entitled to express their views, write plays and poems, shout out in the streets, criticise what s/he is being taught in schools or use the radio and TV, which is equally shared between everyone, then if one in every ten thousand utters fascist, racist or Islamic views, it will be a tolerable phenomenon for that society, and will even be ridiculed and not taken seriously. But if you go and organise an Islamic Fedayeen group, acquire bombs, store arms, illegally create a list with people’s names and addresses and then assassinate them, or want to plant bombs in another country, then the specific state will arrest this group, not for being Islamic but for the deeds I mentioned. The state will tell them that they don’t have a right to endanger anyone’s life, intimidate a minority, threaten anyone to death or make someone’s life insecure for them. Therefore, in my opinion, they would have their right to freedom of expression. Unfortunately, a number will still hold these views, but under these circumstances, I believe, their numbers will continue to diminish. In my opinion, freedom is the best medicine for ignorance and idiocy. If society is free, and everyone can speak their mind, over time views will become more serious, deeper and human. It is precisely dictatorship that produces such garbage. I think that if a society is confidant of itself and particularly has distributed political power between the people to such an extent that no-one can take away political power and influence the political process by conspiracy, coup d’état, bombings, terrorism and violence, then expression of views by such people will do nothing but raise the consciousness of society since it will be possible to show school children that in opposition to rational thought, there are some people who think this way. I think that these groups will be isolated and subject to ridicule. Even now, they are isolated as an idea and belief. They have kept themselves in power by money on the one hand and by threats, terrorism and massacres on the other. Moreover, real channels for expression are closed to many people in the Middle East. If you had access to Marxist and socialist parties, trade unions and women’s organisation in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Iraq, no one would become a member of an Islamic group to express their disenchantment with the dictatorial regime of the day. People would become members of organisations that elevate their dignity. I think freedom is the answer. I am against suppression, but I am all for the arrest and legal prosecution of anyone who threatens people’s peace, security and physical and emotional well-being; of course, Islamists are experts at this. It is unlikely that they will organise an Islamic group, which will not immediately busy itself with threatening children. There must be institutions, which will defend the rights of citizens against these groups and prevent them from committing illegal acts. If they want to express their views within the legal framework of the country, in my opinion, they must be free to do so. Even with all the crimes committed by their predecessors, they must be free to say what they want. This is their birthright. Anyone who has been born has the right to air their views. In my opinion, no state can take this right away.
Question: Iran is a polarised society as far as Islam is concerned, that is both the Islamists and anti-Islamists are active. How do you view the confrontation between these two camps? Do you think there is a renaissance in progress in Iran?
Mansoor Hekmat: I think what is happening in Iran is a massive social hatred of Islam which has accumulated in the vast majority of the population; its pressure is increasing day by day and this will very soon break the dams. It will tear the chains and turn Iran, which has been the seat of reactionary Islamic rule for over twenty years, into one of the centres of struggle against the reactionary Islamic movement in the region. I am sure of this. I think that the intellectual, philosophical and ideological struggle which has not occurred in Iran historically, will perhaps this time take place because of the political situation through people’s political action. That is, an anti-Islamic offensive by people who have experienced 20 years of reactionary Islamic rule in this country and all the crimes committed for Islam and in the name of Islam. The hatred against Islam is historically unprecedented. As one of your listeners said, mullahs would at one time come and get paid to read religious sermons and go. They had a role in society. But when they come to the fore, organise society based on their views, turn their internal moralities into external laws for all to observe and we see all of their filth everywhere, then it’s not possible just to permit them to go back into their previous hole. When the wave sets off and people’s anti-Islamic offensive begins, then Islam cannot retreat to its position and stance of two decades ago. It is highly probable that people will take all of these away from them. Could this be called a renaissance? I believe that one aspect and problem on this question is whether this political and emotional hatred of Islam is accompanied with a deep intellectual fight which will dissect the foundations of this religion and religious thought in general and expose and criticise it in all of its aspects including Orientals, patriarchy, rightlessness of children, etc. This critique must be advanced by the social ideologues in each era. We don’t see this. Consequently, the movement against Islam in the first instance will be a mass popular movement against the political-social expression of Islam, but to what extent this will be accompanied by a deep ideological critique which next generations can capitalise on to move beyond the religious-superstitious era, we will have to wait and see what happens in practice. It is clear that the rise of the anti-Islamic wave will certainly have with it its own ideologues but we are not currently witnessing such a phenomenon. What we are witnessing, apart from the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI) and some well thinking individuals, is that a majority of those who want to get rid of the Islamic Republic and think that they are ‹being clever›, which is in fact a kind of ‹provincial cleverness› is that if we encourage a ‹good mullah› in opposition to a ‹bad mullah›, this is considered progress. Then we set another mullah against Khatami and then another one until eventually one day we tell the last one that you don’t have to be a mullah. This is a kind of so-called politicking and deceiving history, which has never been successful in history. It is sad to see intellectuals, poets, writers and politicians who are party to this political farce; I believe they are an obstacle to the transparency of the future struggle. I think all of them will be isolated. Anyone who compromises with any aspect of Islam or the Islamic Republic will be asked to respond to the people tomorrow. I think that in Iran those who are rear guards in society are called intellectuals. The bright and freethinkers must be sought among the generation who is involved in a life struggle and goes and sets up a satellite dish on the roof and risks arrest in order to know what the world is saying. S/he is the real intellectual of that country. The ‹intellectuals› are the rear-guards who have set up intellectual shops for themselves; it is really sad. Today, we are missing someone who will challenge the roots of Islam and criticise Islam in the same manner as Sadegh Hedayat and Ali Dashty. Whoever does this at this juncture will become a historical personality more than anyone else in the intellectual history of this country and will become the banner of intellectual and moral struggle of the people of Iran against Islam and Islamism for hundreds of years. This seat is vacant. Consequently, today this is purely a political conflict. How far this political wave can stabilise people’s anti-Islamic advance is debatable. I would not call it a renaissance but I think that Islam will suffer a major defeat in this country.
The above is a translation of an interview in Persian with Radio Hambastegi on 13 June 1999. The English version is a reprint from WPI Briefing.
Translators: Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya