Iran Experiences Blowback

by Reza Fiyouzat on June 11, 2017

CCTV picture of one of the gunmen inside the Iranian parliament

On Wednesday June 7, a terrorist attack in Iran targeted the parliament building in the capital city Tehran and the shrine of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on the southern outskirts of the city. The Islamic State took responsibility for the attacks that killed at least twelve people and injured 42.

People in Tehran and across Iran are in shock. A Tehran-based journalist, Reza Khaasteh, working for Iran Front Page, reflecting the sentiments of millions of Iranians, called the attacks “unprecedented,” especially as they targeted very symbolic state institutions. He told Al-Jazeera, “We did not have any similar attack in Iran for a long time. This one is like those that happened in Europe.”

These attacks come at a time of intensifying tensions between the Saudi-allied Arab states and the ‘Shiite bloc’ led by Iran. President Trump’s visit to the Middle East, and particularly his meeting with the Saudi king has, as intended by Trump, added extra agitation to the already-tense relations between the regional rival powers.

In this context, it is natural that the Iranian government and their allies, lobbyists and functionaries should accuse Saudi Arabia as the instigator of the attacks. The claim of responsibility and the videos posted on IS websites, however, appear to be genuine.

As much as the Iranian government would like to pretend and make believe that this was a Saudi-instigated plot, this attack is indicative of another dynamic taking root in our region. This terrorist attack in Tehran is in fact an indication that the theocratic republic of Iran is not immune to the laws of blowback. This attack was also meant to be a smack in the face of the Iranian citizens. So, while we mourn the loss of life in Tehran and while we are rightly outraged, we must also give some serious thought to how we got here.

Though easily forgotten, we must be reminded of some key recent historical facts. Iran’s government participated in the invasion and destruction of Iraq; too willingly at that. For more than two decades the Iranian regime had wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussain. So, it hosted, fed and trained the Badr Bridages, Iraqi Shiite militias opposed to Saddam Hussain, who in coordination with the U.S. military forces participated in the initial invasion of Iraq in March of 2003. That was Iran’s ‘in’ into the Iraqi quagmire. The Iranian regime then stayed engaged all along, and helped to consolidate the reign of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (from 2006 to 2014), who vastly expanded the role of Shiite militias in combating the mostly Sunni Iraqi insurgents, further fracturing the Iraqi society along sectarian lines and fueling the rise of extremist Sunni militias. Iran’s involvement in part-running the security establishment in Iraq continues to follow the same sectarian-based line of operation to this day.

Iran’s nurturing of Iraqi Shiite militias meant that even while that country’s central government was wholly incapable of providing the most basic services, employment or security, any expression of dissent or peaceful protest would be met by live bullets, jailing of thousands and torture. This was the beginning of the vicious cycle of increasing intensification of sectarian violence; a beginning half-made in Iran (by its desire, shared by the Americans, for Shiite sectarian dominance in Iraq, not a democratic Iraq for all its citizens) and made possible by the U.S. invasion and the total physical destruction of Iraqi infrastructure. Both those factors created conditions that are detrimental to democratic developments, and paved the path to the absolute sectarian fracturing of the Iraqi society.

To add more hatred among the Arab masses toward the mullahs’ expansionist schemes, Iran has intervened brutally in Syria for the past six years and has greatly deepened further the Sunni-Shiite divide in the region. The detailed extent of the Iranian involvement in Syria is yet to be fully documented, and its several-volume history yet to be written, and well beyond the scope of this writing. Yet, we must bear in mind a few key points. Iran has a force of at least eighty-to-ninety thousand fighters of its own (including regular military forces, as well as Revolutionary Guards and Basiji forces) in Syria to fight on behalf of the butcher of more than four hundred and fifty thousand people in Syria. Iran has also organized massive recruitment efforts to send tens of thousands of Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani and other fighters to Syria (close to sixty thousand of such foreign fighters), and pays the salaries of up to 250,000 militia members, agents and assorted security forces, and has also contributed massively to the industrial scale torture infrastructure in Syria. Iran has reportedly spent approximately $100 billion in Syria.

The rationale given by the Iranian government for the expenditure of such huge amounts of money and collective human effort in Syria is a surprisingly familiar rationalization: “We must fight them over there, so we won’t have to fight them here.”

During the Iranian presidential elections that concluded last month, consciously or at a more sub-conscious level, the Iranian people must have felt or sensed something akin to what most Americans take for granted now: the feeling of ‘imperialist privilege’. Let me explain.

The pragmatist (not reformist) incumbent candidate, Rouhani, was facing a challenge from a hard-line bruiser of a candidate backed by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, our version of Pope. People both inside the country and outside were fearful that with the ascent of Trump to presidency and with his belligerent attitude and rhetoric against Iran, the clerical establishment would rather go with another incarnation of Ahmadi-nejad (who did register to run for the presidency again, but was disqualified), in the person of Ebrahim Raisi, the notorious former prosecutor in charge of mass executions of political prisoners in the 1980s and 1990s.

Thousands of political prisoners, the most courageous of our people, and the most innocent, were shot en masse or hanged on masse at the orders of the hateful Raisi, who personifies a most horrid re-enactment of former state-sanctioned mass murders of the political opposition. As if the economic and social conditions were not suffocating enough, people were horrified at the prospect of what it would mean to have Raisi as president.

[For the American readers, that would be the equivalent of having sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County, Arizona, be the U.S. president, as the executive head of a governmental apparatus ultimately under the total control of Jerry Falwell, in economic conditions like the 2008-2009 crash, plus high inflation and high unemployment, and minus the first amendment to the Constitution, minus the fourth amendment and, hell, minus any democratic constitutional assurances of any kind that guarantee any rights for the citizens.]

When Rouhani, the mild-mannered incumbent, won by a landslide and the results were announced as such, the people of Iran were jubilant, and for a moment their belief in the system was strengthened and perhaps they felt that it was possible, and even perhaps financially feasible, to hope for the better.

In retrospect, one can see how wisely the establishment played it, letting the people’s vote in the elections stand; for the moment let’s forget all the legal and social conditions that make a mockery of the very label ‘elections’ to be applied to such events in Iran. It is clear that the establishment saw that it could not afford to insult people on a mass scale, again, at this juncture.

Poverty in Iran is rampant, while rates of addiction to hard drugs are at all time highs, and youth unemployment is well above 25%, while inflation reigns mercilessly, eroding people’s purchasing power daily. Poverty in Iran is at such extreme levels that the homeless poor have literally taken to sleeping in graves.

People in Iran have eyes. They can see all the excuses provided by the government for the sorry state of the economy as mere justifications. People know the extent and the depth of the corruption, as they deal with it daily, seeing all the theft by the high officials, while ordinary citizens need to bribe petty officials on a regular basis to get the most mundane bureaucratic chores done, like getting a license.

People can see that a good portion of the ruling class has an active interest in destroying local industries since they can acquire faster and more lucrative profits by importing cheap Chinese goods and selling them at a good margin. People can see the super rich and sons of the clergy driving around in Maserati’s and Lamborghini’s while at least a quarter of the population goes to bed hungry, and more than half of the workforce has to hold two or three jobs just to keep up with the inflation.

The Iranian people can see how our national riches, earned from the rent on our natural resources, oil and gas, are used in Syria by the billions monthly so as to kill hundreds of thousands of poor Syrians, creating an endless line of Arab masses who now truly hate us, and will be lining up to harm us. Or maybe Iranian people don’t see this last one clearly enough, just yet.

In the context of such miserable economic and social conditions, it is easy to see that the establishment could not afford to have millions of ‘its own’ people take to the streets again, in protest, especially at a time when the regime’s security forces are spread thin keeping their own people down on top of fighting for Assad and his criminal regime, and while struggling to keep in place a corrupt sectarian regime in Iraq. So, the machinery of the decision-making deemed it wise to allow the vote of the people to stand. That’s imperialist privilege, even if their influence is just regional, and even if the ‘privilege’ that the people get to enjoy is merely keeping a very shabby pretence of an electoral system, designed precisely to suppress true democracy. The false lesson for the regime is this: externalize your conflicts, so you can afford to throw your people a bone once in a while.

Now with the June 7 terrorist attacks in the heart of Tehran, the people of Iran will have to think hard about their government’s involvement in Syria and Iraq. We can be sure that the government of Iran, just like the governments of the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia or Saudi Arabia, will keep talking in the language of ‘war on terror’ and will keep insisting that, “We must fight them over there, so we won’t have to fight them here.” But, just like the people in the U.S., the U.K., France and Russia, the people of Iran, too, must now deliberate on some hard existential truths and must grapple with some very difficult choices.

It may help to start by answering this question: Why do they hate us so much?

The citizens of Iran have the same two choices as the citizens of the U.S., the U.K., France or Russia or any other regional or global bully. Choice number one: accept and internalize the racism inherent in the rationale presented by the ruling elites, and become consistent racists believing that your soldiers are in foreign lands killing people so as to bring about a world that only you and your kind can bring about. Choice number two: reevaluate your criteria, and realize that you are inviting ‘them’ to come knocking on your door because you keep sending your foot soldiers over there to kill their people.

Blowback recognizes no exceptions. We may think we’re exceptional, and we may believe that it won’t happen to us. However, Iranian society just received its first blowback. Now the people of Iran must evaluate the costs of ‘imperialist privilege’. Let’s hope that we reach correct conclusions sometime soon.

Reza Fiyouzat can be reached at: [email protected]


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