This thought was prompted by an engaging essay on cultural tensions in Iran. The essay takes a hopeful view that the mullahocracy is too antipathetic to powerful currents in modern Iranian culture to survive: a comforting thought.
It was the following passage which prompted the above thought:
Recent remarks by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that Iran’s leaders in the last thirty years are all, in fact, Arabs and that their claims of being descendants of the prophet (symbolized by the black turbans they wear) reassert their Arab blood show clearly the continuing tensions between Persian identity and the Islamism of the rest of the Shia Middle East. Nasrallah needs to convince his followers thus that these Arab brothers have left nothing of a “Persian culture” to survive. These controversial comments indicate both the prevalence among ordinary Arabs of this view that Shiism might be an “un-Islamic invention”—and Iranian in origin. To justify his fealty to the country’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Nasrallah had to first make him an Arab.That one of the sicknesses that infects Arab thought is self-conception as a master-race has long been clear. Indeed, dates as far back as the Ummayyad Caliphate. Yet the passage is a pertinent reminder, if one is aware of the wider context, of just how fascist Hezbollah (and, for that matter, Hamas) really is.
Of course, if one admits Hezbollah and Hamas are armed fascist movements, that makes Israel look better and one of the rules of much of the modern progressivist intelligentsia is that The Jewish State Is Always Wrong. Which is much easier to hold to if you romanticize its enemies rather than if you look at them in any sort of clear-eyed fashion (and not calling Hamas or Hezbollah fascist is romanticizing them).
The broader habit of romanticizing Israel’s enemies definitely extends to the Palestinians. So statements such as:
We are now in the 92nd year of a peace process in which the Palestinians are the first people in history to be offered a state seven times, reject it seven times, and set preconditions for discussing an eighth offerare in incredibly bad form.
But the Western progressivist intelligentsia has long displayed, in Clive James’s lapidary phrase, “enormous resources of inattention”. Something that works overtime when it comes to received wisdom about the Middle East.
Still, such failing is hardly theirs alone. Abbas Milani’s own essay has a form of it. He makes much of Khomeini’s duplicity: promising sweetness and light when aspiring to power and cracking down savagely when he achieved it.
But Khomeini was, above all else, a Quranic literalist. He had the perfect example for such behaviour: the Prophet himself. Before power, Khomeini was acting as the Prophet of the Meccan suras spoke and acted. After achieving power, Khomeini acted as the Prophet of the Medinan suras spoke and acted, if in a modern context.
I have no doubt that Khomeini was a sincere follower of the Prophet. That included in his revolutionary strategy. But to admit that Khomeini was just following the Prophet’s example is to suggest a deep canker at the heart of Islam. And perhaps, even now, Milani just does not want to go there; at least not publicly.