Rouleau, Eric
September 1980
Foreign Affairs;Fall1980, Vol. 59 Issue 1, p1
This paper examines the role played by Islam in the Iranian revolution. The rise of the Shi'ite clergy is rooted in the history and ideology of Shi'ism. Ever since the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam in the ninth century, no temporal power has been legitimate or equitable in its eyes. The three favorite themes of the militant clergy--foreign domination, despotism, injustice, were precisely the evils suffered by the Iranian people under the reign of Mohammed Reza Shah. During the 37 years of the Shah's reign, over a half million people are estimated to have been arrested, imprisoned or detained, briefly or for longer periods. The Shi'ite clergy was thus a timely force, offering--in addition to its mobilizing ideology--the leadership and structure which was to assure the success of an enterprise that would otherwise have been doomed to failure. Preachers called for Islam's return to its roots as a way of defending national virtue and identity against the rape by western technology. Imam Khomeini, who found refuge in the holy city of Najaf in Iraq, remained the distant symbol of this diffuse resistance. From the outbreak of the uprising in January of 1978, he incited the people to pursue their struggle until the fall of the Shah. The second phase of the revolution opened shortly after Khomeini's return to Iran in February 1979. Two mortal sins precipitated Mehdi Bazargan's fall: he opposed the Islamic constitution drawn up by the assembly of experts, and he strove to normalize relations with the U.S., Khomeini's Great Satan. Indeed, it was clear from the outset that Khomeini was going to utilize the widespread anti-American feelings to mobilize the population under his banner.


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