Iranian Hegemony in the Islamic World
Jason Reza Jorjani
Sep. 17, 2019
The recent strikes in Saudi Arabia, and the highly combustible regional tensions they have exacerbated, force a timely consideration of the current, and potential, geopolitical role of Iran.
[The following text has been adapted from Iranian Leviathan: A Monumental History of Mithra’s Abode (Arktos, 2019) by Jason Reza Jorjani. New material has been added to address some of the most recent events in the region. On September 16, Dr. Jorjani also joined us for an episode of Interregnum, the official Arktos podcast, to discuss these same topics at some depth.]
On September 14, 2019, nineteen targets at the Aramco Abqaiq processing facility and the Khurais oil field were struck from the air with pinpoint accuracy, resulting in the destruction of no less than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production capability. This represented the loss of 5% of petroleum on the world market. The Houthis of Yemen, who have for years been subjected to a genocidal Saudi Sunni sectarian war against their Shi’ite community, claimed that ten of their drones carried out the attacks. But these proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran could hardly have had the capability to fly such sophisticated drones so deep into Saudi Arabia, and ten drones cannot hit nineteen separate targets. Further analysis suggested that the targets had all been hit from an angle of approach that pointed toward either Iran or Iraq as the staging ground, and that cruise missiles were used to hit many of the targets. The drones may have been nothing but a ruse. The Houthi claim of responsibility does, however, rule out the possibility that this was some elaborate false flag operation staged by Neo-Cons.
Intelligence analysts initially ventured the possibility that the attacks actually originated in southern Iraq, where, in response to Israeli airstrikes, Hashd-al-Shabih, a Shi’ite militia loyal to Iran recently declared its intention to develop its own airforce. Kuwaitis witnessed unknown aircraft passing through their airspace on the night of the incident, and emanating from the direction of either Iraq or Iran itself. On Monday, September 16, the United States, which maintains a significant presence in Iraq, including radar capabilities, informed the Iraqis that the attacks did not originate on their territory or violate their airspace.
In any case, the fact that, several days after the operation, there is still no definitive evidence of the path that the objects took, demonstrates that the objects – whether drones or missiles or both – successfully evaded the radar of Saudi Arabia and possibly other countries as well. The flight path and the point of origin of the attack may be reconstructed by other means at the disposal of US intelligence agencies with classified satellite reconnaissance capabilities. Yet among the tens of billions in military hardware purchased from the United States by Saudi Arabia are state of the art radar installations that cover the Kingdom’s airspace. This means that the operation was so sophisticated that whoever was responsible for it managed to identify all of the holes in Saudi radar coverage and to guide the aircraft and/or missiles through these holes over a distance of hundreds of kilometers before hitting their targets with high precision. If Iran is indeed responsible, this would demonstrate an Iranian military competence on par with the most capable armed forces of the world.
There is one other possibility: Iran has developed stealth aircraft, either manned or unmanned, armed with precision missiles. There have been rumors of unconventional Iranian stealth aircraft for several years now, including speculations that these aircraft were used in the capture of a number of American and Israeli drones, which were landed intact, and reverse engineered. Aside from being one of the top drone designers in the world, Iran is also among a handful of the most advanced nations in the domain of cyber-warfare (of the kind used, on board these unconventional aircraft, to take control of American and Israeli drones).
Regardless of whether Iranians carried out the attack from their own territory, or which of Iran’s Shi’ite proxies were responsible for it, and what Iranian weaponry was used to accomplish it, there can be little doubt that this spectacular strike represents another step toward Iranian hegemony in the Islamic World. Far from preventing Iran’s continued resurgence as a major player on the world stage, the Trump Administration’s idiotic policy of insulting, threatening, and humiliating the Iranian nation has only facilitated this development.
1. The Abject Failure of Trump’s Iran Policy
Donald Trump, who had recognized the significant Saudi role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States when he was still running for office, made a trip to Saudi Arabia one of his first priorities as President. There, on 20 May 2017, Trump participated in a Saudi war dance and formed an “anti-terror” alliance with the Saudis against Iran (a country which, unlike Saudi Arabia, has never carried out an act of terrorism on American soil). Shortly after returning from this trip, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the Persian Gulf as the “Arabian Gulf.” In his Iran Policy speech of October 13, 2017, President Trump himself used the incorrect term “Arabian Gulf” to brazenly insult Persians when he accused Iran of interfering with maritime traffic in the waters off of its own coastline – at a distance of more than 11,000 kilometers from the shores of America. On March 22, 2018, Trump appointed John Bolton as his National Security Advisor, a man who, for decades, has been a paid lobbyist and propagandist for the MEK, an Islamist-Marxist Iranian terrorist organization that backed Saddam Hussein in his brutal eight-year war against Iran and has a history of murdering Americans.
On May 8, 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the JCPOA or Iran Nuclear Deal. This was followed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of twelve preposterous preconditions for negotiations with Iran that would lead to a new deal. These preconditions included things like Iran’s forfeit of its legitimate international right to Uranium enrichment as well as Iran’s production of ballistic missiles for its national defense. Iran’s rejection of these ridiculously unrealistic demands led, in November of 2018, to the re-imposition of harsh US economic sanctions on Iran, including new sanctions targeting any country that buys Iranian oil. In April of 2019, a six-month waiver that had been given to foreign countries and companies doing business with Iran’s oil sector was terminated and the Trump Administration attempted in earnest to implement a global embargo of Iranian oil. The aim was to put the Iranian economy under such pressure that it would lead to a mass uprising that either brought the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table or ended in a regime change.
Beginning in April, the Trump Administration’s Iran Policy moved from economic warfare to the threat of actual warfare. On April 8, 2019, Mike Pompeo designated the IRGC, Iran’s elite combined military force that is comparable to the US Marine Corps, as a terrorist organization. It was the first time that the United States had designated part of another country’s military as terrorists. This was an extremely threatening move considering the fact that under the 2001 Congressional Authorization of the Use of Military Force in the Global War on Terrorism, Trump would not need to seek approval from the US Congress to go to war against Iran by launching an attack on IRGC “terrorists” inside of Iran. Such an attack almost took place. On May 19, 2019, the President of the United States threatened “the official end of Iran” – not the end of the Islamic Republic, but the destruction of the Iranian nation. This came only days after John Bolton claimed that the United States was preparing to send 120,000 troops and the Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf to confront Iran.
One month later, a US Global Hawk spy drone violated Iranian airspace in the Strait of Hormuz and was shot down by IRGC defensive surface-to-air missile batteries along Iran’s coastline. That night Trump responded by ordering a US airstrike on IRGC targets inside of Iran, an attack that would have begun the worst war that the world has seen since 1945. Just minutes before they would strike their targets, Trump reversed his decision and pulled the planes back. Trump thought that this stunt would bring Iran to the negotiating table, and when he was frustrated in this ambition he posted his most ignorant tweet to date in an attempt to taunt Tehran: “Iranians never won a war, but never lost a negotiation.” In point of fact, Iran has won more than forty major wars in the course of its 3,000 year history – a history which includes the formation of four or five world-class empires, one of these being the largest empire that the world has ever known when estimated in terms of the percentage of Earth’s population that lived as taxpaying Iranian subjects.
Not only did the Trump policy of pressure fail to force Tehran into a renegotiation of the nuclear deal, not only did repeatedly threatening, insulting, and humiliating the rightfully proud Iranian people fail to catalyze protests aimed at regime change, but Iran’s resistance and fortitude in the face of this increased pressure only served to demonstrate the depth and breadth of Iran’s strategic dominance in the heart of the Islamic world. Iran had warned that if it was prevented from selling its oil, then it would have no interest in maintaining the security of oil shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
On May 12, 2019, four oil tankers were damaged near the Fujairah port of the UAE. On June 13, 2019, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, one Norwegian and the other Japanese – while Shinzo Abe was undertaking the first visit of a Japanese Prime Minister to Iran for decades. It was a special mission to deliver a message from Trump to the Supreme Leader of Iran, to negotiate – or else. Ayatollah Khamenei rejected this ultimatum in the strongest terms imaginable. In response to the British seizure of the Iranian oil tanker “Grace” (subsequently renamed Adriyan Darya) off of Gibraltar on July 4, 2019, in support of the American embargo policy, the Iranian IRGC Navy retaliated against two British tankers in the Persian Gulf on July 19, 2019.
One of these tankers, the Stena Impero, was intercepted, forced to redirect its course, and then boarded by Iranian commandos in direct defiance of a British Royal Navy vessel that ordered the IRGC-armed speed boats intercepting the Stena to stand down. Despite the British Naval vessel’s warnings, the Iranians continued to radio to the Stena tanker: “Alter your course immediately… If you obey, you will be safe. If you obey, you will be safe.” The Iranian commandos, who repelled from a helicopter onto the deck, took control of the British tanker and sailed the Stena into an Iranian port on the Strait of Hormuz – or the Strait of Ahura Mazda (Middle Persian Ohrmazd or Hormuz).
Within two months of this incident, Donald Trump fired John Bolton as his National Security Advisor and reiterated that he is “not looking for regime change” and that Iran “has a chance to be a great country even with the same leadership.” At the time of writing, Trump is considering extending a $15 billion credit line to Iran on the hope that Iranian President Rouhani might meet with him at the UN later this month. Meanwhile, the petroleum processing plants and oil fields of Saudi Arabia burn. Trump has also stated that he is in no rush to launch a retaliatory strike against Iran.
2. Contenders for “Core State” of the Islamic World
The will to ensure that the Persian Gulf does not become “Arabian” is based on more than just patriotic sentimentality, let alone nationalistic chauvinism. Iran is certainly a civilization among only a handful of other living civilizations on Earth, rather than a lone state with its own isolated culture, like Japan, but Iran is even more than that. As we enter the era of the clash of civilizations, Iran’s historic role as the crossroads of all of the other major civilizations cannot be overstated.
In this context it must be recognized that Iran is not just another civilization, on par with the West, India, or China. In the event that it is allowed to return to its own heritage and reclaim its proper destiny, Iran could be the cosmopolitan nexus for a dialogue of civilizations with a view to their eventual convergence in the most constructive way imaginable. The first step toward that, must however, be the transformation of the core of the current sphere of so-called “Islamic Civilization” back into an Iranian civilizational sphere. This demands that Iran become what Samuel Huntington would call the “core state” of Islamic Civilization.
Iran has seven potential rivals for the status of Islamic civilizational core state, namely: Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Most of these countries are utterly incapable of leading the Islamic world, and the few that are capable of doing so would never be able to make the case that they can transform so-called “Islamic Civilization” into something that would at least be benign, if not beneficent, when considered in terms of its implications for the human community at large and in view of the demographic dominance of Muslims on Earth by the mid to late twenty-first century. Let us briefly take a look at each of these potential rivals to Iran.
Saudi Arabia is the nation within the borders of which Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam, are located. It is the territory of both Muhammad’s own prophetic mission and the administrative capital of the Rashidun Caliphate, the first Caliphate in the history of Islam. In a world still largely dependent on oil for energy and transportation, Saudi Arabia was – until the Iranian proxy attack of September 14 – the Earth’s leading oil producing nation. On that basis alone, it became one of the wealthiest nations on Earth. This key energy production role in the global economy garnered Saudi Arabia a diplomatic and military ally in the United States of America. But it has just become clear how vulnerable Saudi Arabia’s petroleum industry is – even in the face of Iran’s proxies, let alone the damage it would suffer if attacked by Iran directly.
These are, moreover, the only factors in favor of Saudi Arabia assuming the role of Islamic civilizational core state. In light of the competition, they are far from sufficient. Although Islam as a religion appears to have originated in the Arabian peninsula, none of the great civilizational achievements commonly attributed to Islam took place there. Arabia, Saudi or otherwise, is culturally barren and backwards. The Saudis have the most barbaric and inhumane socio-political system of any major player on the world stage. This ought not to be surprising, since the Hejaz is a desert wasteland populated by camel herders. The country has no indigenous agricultural capacity and has never had any significant industrial capability. The Saudi “nation” is a totally artificial construction dating back to 1932. Prior to that, despite the status of Mecca and Medina, the uninhabitable peninsula was peripheral to the Islamic world for most of history. Saudi Arabia’s entire mirage of wealth, and the purchased paper tiger of its military might, rests on a non-renewable energy resource discovered by Western colonialists in the twentieth century – a resource that will run dry within the next twenty years.
After the fall of the Arabian peninsula-based Rashidun Caliphate, the administrative capital of the Islamic world moved to Baghdad under both the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. The nation-state of Iraq was formed in the same year as Saudi Arabia, namely 1932. Historically, both the names “Baghdad” and “Iraq” refer to parts of Iran. Bogh-Dâdmeans either “given by God” or “God’s Justice” in the Middle Persian language of the Parthian period, when the city was founded in what was then Western Iran. The term Erâq is a geographical designator for the mountainous region of southwestern Iran, with the part that remains in Iran today being referred to as Erâqé Ajami or “Aryan Iraq.”
From October 29, 539 BC, when Cyrus the Great marched into Babylon until the Arab-Muslim conquest of the Sassanid state in 651 AD, Iraq was the administrative capital of Iran through three successive Iranian empires, that of the Achaemenids, the Parthians, and the Sassanians. By about 900 AD, semi-autonomous Persian fiefdoms in northern Iran had essentially reduced the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad into their own cat’s paw. Even once the Seljuq Turks took over in the middle of the eleventh century, the administrative elite of the Caliphate remained Persian. Iraq then changed hands between the Ottoman Caliphate and Iran for a period of several hundred years under the Safavid and Afsharid dynasties. It is not until around the year 1800, relatively recently in the scope of Iran’s history, that most of Iraq, including Baghdad, was lost – first to the Turks and then to Western colonialists aligned with the country’s Arab majority. Even still, the Arabs of Iraq remained largely Shi’ite and thereby under the religious influence of Iran. Meanwhile, the Kurds in northern Iraq, while Sunni, are ethnically Iranian and speak an Iranian language.
All of this is to say that, in civilizational terms, Iraq is essentially an integral part of Iran and has been so for about twenty-five centuries. The one brief epoch of radically anti-Iranian politics in Iraq, the period of Saddam Hussein, is when Iraq came closest to assuming leadership of the Islamic world at large. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in 1990–1991, a few years after the failure of his eight-year long campaign to seize Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, was fated to be nothing more than a passing gleam. As an avowed secular Arab nationalist, Saddam would never have fooled anyone into believing that he had the legitimacy to hold Mecca and Medina and to speak as the vice-regent of Allah on Earth.
Ironically, it was only after the total destruction of Saddam’s Arab nationalist regime in the 2003 American invasion of Iraq that the country became the base of operations for a ragtag group of partisans and mercenaries who claimed to constitute a new Sunni Caliphate, with a caliph named “Baghdadi.” The actual government in Baghdad had become little more than a Shi’ite client state of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Meanwhile, the ethnically Iranian Kurds in the north began their march toward secession from an “Iraq” that had clearly become a failed state because nothing coherent or cohesive ever really held it together after it was severed from the Persian and Ottoman Empires. With the recent defeat of Islamic State forces within Iraq, albeit after the destruction of irreplaceable cultural treasures by those barbarians, it is clear that the reemergence of Iraq as a core state of Islamic Civilization is totally out of the question. Not now. Not ever. Iraq will continue to be dominated by either Iran or Turkey.
As much as Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to be looked back on as the founder of a New Ottoman Caliphate, Turkey’s prospects for leading the Islamic world at large are rather grim. In a scenario where Iran were to lose what is left of Azerbaijan within its own borders, and a greater Republic of Azerbaijan connects Turkey to the Caspian Sea and across to the Turkic lands of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, a Pan-Turkic federation of some kind is conceivable. This is, not incidentally, all the more reason for Iranians to insist on holding Tabriz and Ardebil, potentially even recapturing Baku, by any and all means necessary – including the reaffirmation of Shi’ite discourse.
However, these Turkic territories are peripheral to the Islamic world. The language barrier between Turks and Arabs, and the significant differences between their cultures, poses a nearly insurmountable barrier to any reassertion of Turkish control over Arabia. First of all, to do so, Sunni Turkey would have to pass through the most solidly Shi’ite among the Arab lands, namely Iraq and Syria, not to mention through the rest of Kurdistan – one third of which is already inside of Turkey’s borders. These are all lands within the Iranian civilizational sphere – Iraq and Syria on account of Shi’ism and Kurdistan on account of its Iranian ethno-linguistic identity. Moreover, in a rivalry with Iran, both the Kurds and a sizeable Shi’ite minority in Eastern Anatolia could be mobilized against the government of Turkey. By contrast, the capacity of a Neo-Ottoman Turkey to mobilize self-identifying “Turks” in Iranian Azerbaijan against the government of Iran would be limited by the hardline Sunni stance of this Neo-Ottoman Calipahte as compared to the Shi’ite identity of the Azeris in Iran.
In short, Turkey is locked in. There is certainly no question of a Westward expansion of a Neo-Ottoman Caliphate. The countries of Eastern Europe, who have the bitterest memories of Ottoman rape and pillage have been the first to reject European Union migration policies and erect a cultural barrier against the Islamization of Europe. The massive number of Turks in Germany poses a serious national security threat to that country, but they are separated from Turkey by this anti-Islamic firewall in the Visegrád region. The most likely outcome is that the continued degradation of German culture at their hands will eventually lead to their mass expulsion or internment by ethnic Germans. If anything the Turkish threat to Eastern and Central Europe should be reason for the Visegrád Group, and ultimately Germany as well, to support Shi’ite Iran as a strong Eastern ally against Turks with an ambition of reestablishing a Sunni Ottoman Caliphate. Such an alliance existed between Safavid Iran and some European powers at war with the Ottoman Empire, and it would make a great deal of sense for this paradigm to be revived.
Pakistan was never the seat of the Caliphate. In fact, Pakistan was not even a nation until its secession from India in 1947. The discourse surrounding and justifying that secession was, however, an explicitly Islamist discourse and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was consciously conceived of as a bastion for all of the Muslims of the world. Practically speaking, this served no real purpose other than to reinforce the artificiality and rootlessness of the so-called Pakistani “nation.” At no point have Arabs, Turks, and others in the Islamic world ever come to consider Pakistan an exemplary Islamic State, let alone a country that would lead the Islamic world in a way comparable to America’s leadership of the Western world. This, despite the fact that Pakistan is (as of the time of writing) the only Muslim country to have developed nuclear weapons, and there appears to be a tacit agreement between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, who largely financed the Pakistani nuclear program, to provide the latter with these weapons in the event of a threat to Mecca and Medina. Even still, this Pakistan-Saudi Axis has never been tested by war, and if the war should prove to be one between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is doubtful that Pakistan would risk war with Iran by coming to the aid of the Saudis.
Pakistanis are well aware of the fact that the closest thing that Pakistan has to a cultural heritage is the legacy of the Mughal Empire, which was a Persianate culture through and through. Pakistan is nothing other than Persianate India. The denial of this heritage, and the idiotic adoption of Urdu as a national language in an area where Persian had been dominant for hundreds of years until British colonization, has led to cultural rootlessness and the rise of Sunni fundamentalist ideology. The potential for a Taliban-style Islamist seizure of power in at least some parts of Pakistan cannot be dismissed, but given the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, this would pose such a grave threat both to India and to Western powers allied with India, including Israel, that such an Islamist toppling of Pakistan’s central government and seizure of power even in a single province would mean a massive military intervention with only one final outcome: reintegration of a devastated Pakistan into India. Such a forcible reversal of the partition would probably result in a religious clash between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs on a genocidal scale and cripple the capacity of Pakistanis – or, in that event, North Indian Muslims – to lead the Islamic world. They will be busy enough defending themselves from Hindus and Sikhs within the borders of a re-unified India.
The neighboring Southeast Asian nations of Malaysia and Indonesia are so peripheral to the Islamic world that the potential for either of them to lead the Arab or Turkic peoples in the formation of a new Caliphate is, from a geographical and historical perspective, utterly preposterous. They merit mention only because the former is among the wealthiest nations in the Islamic world and the latter is among the most populous. Both countries have even been home to some of the most zealous support for Al-Qaeda, particularly, Malaysia, where Osama bin Laden is seen as a hero by many devout Sunnis. In short, Malay financial power and Indonesian military force could play a significant role in an intercontinental Sunni Caliphate in the event that one were to be successfully established in some other, more central part of the Islamic world. Another reason why both Western powers and the Chinese ought to back an Iranian Shi’ite dominance of the Islamic world is that under such a scenario, Sunni Malaysia and Indonesia would become so peripheral and irrelevant to the core of the Islamic world, as they were during the period of the classic Caliphates, that the archipelago would be left for China to dominate. This region is home to the second largest community of oversees Chinese in the world. While the West is rightly weary of the rise of China, it remains the case that Chinese dominance of the Malay archipelago is preferable to its becoming a bastion of Islamists.
3. Sunni Caliphate or Shi’ite Imamate
Of all of the countries that could potentially rival Iran for leadership of the Islamic world, Egypt is actually the most viable contender. Iran and Egypt were closely connected during the one period when Egypt was the seat of the Caliphate, namely the Fatamid period, which is the only time that Shi’ites dominated the entire Islamic world. It is the Ismaili Fatamids of Egypt who finally stopped the Westward advance of the Mongols. Egypt has, of course, since become solidly Sunni. Like Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and unlike the remaining countries that we are about to address, its language is the Arabic language that is authoritative for Islamic theology and the language of the majority of Muslims in the historical core of the Islamic world. In fact, it is the Arabic of Cairo that has become standard for the entire Islamic world in modern times – not the Arabic spoken in the Arabian peninsula itself. Al-Azhar in Cairo remains the world’s leading Muslim theological academy.
Said Qotb’s ideology of Al-Qaeda and the organizational infrastructure of the Muslim Brotherhood took shape in the shadows of this conservative Sunni school of thought. In a scenario where the Al-Saud regime in Arabia meets its demise, whether through internal upheaval or war with Iran (or both), there is a potential for Egypt to reemerge as the core of a Sunni Arab-Muslim Caliphate that extends from Morocco to Oman and as far south as Sudan. Such a situation ought not to be conceived of in terms of the projection of conventional Egyptian military force, nor does it require Egypt to emerge as a major industrial power. Rather, the Cairo-based Caliphate scenario is one that has, as its precondition, the collapse of the Egyptian national state and the surrender of its secularist military to an Islamist movement that is radically transnational – or, at the very least, Pan-Arab in its ideological orientation.
This is exactly the kind of threat that ought to convince major world powers to at least tolerate, if not encourage, an Iranian dominance of the Islamic world. First of all, such a Caliphate would be taking shape on the doorstep of the State of Israel and it is abundantly clear that its cohesion, even at any early stage, would have to involve the annihilation of Israel. Cooperation with Israel has been forced upon the succession of undemocratic but relatively secular Egyptian administrations since the 1970s precisely because this has been felt as such a serious long-term strategic threat. It is actually the main reason why, with the brief anomaly of Barack Obama’s misadventure in Cairo, Western powers have not been keen on supporting democratization in Egypt. The brief Obama Administration experiment of supporting the Arab Spring, including in Egypt, yielded a democratic but fundamentalist Islamic regime led by the Muslim Brotherhood. Had it not been for General Al-Sisi’s Western-backed coup d’état, this democratic election would have put Cairo on track to becoming the epicenter of a new Caliphate.
One catastrophic danger that immediately became apparent during the crisis of the brief Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt was a Sunni fundamentalist threat to ancient Egyptian monuments and artifacts. The situation became so dire that, at one point, prime time Egyptian national television was hosting Mufti guests promising to blow up the Giza Pyramids. It became easy to imagine that one fine morning we would all wake up to scenes of the Great Sphinx having been decapitated with dynamite by the cover of night. It is true that in the early days of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, there were a few zealots within the rising regime who had similar ideas with regard to Persepolis or the tombs of the Achaemenid emperors. However, the traditional stance of Shi’ism prevailed and, as was the case in the Safavid period, let alone with the ultra-Persian Ismaili Shi’ites in the medieval period, the Pre-Islamic heritage of Iran was appropriated by the Shi’ite clergy to bolster their Imamate in a way comparable to the Roman-ness of the Catholic Church.
Oftentimes one’s enemies have a clearer perception of oneself. So we ought to take very seriously the claims of surrounding Sunni Arab countries that contemporary expansionist Shi’ite militancy is actually a reassertion of Persian Imperialism (including in Turkic, but Shi’ite Azerbaijan). Unlike Iran, Egypt has no organic continuity with its ancient cultural heritage. There have been too many disruptions and changes of language in the country, from the ancient Persians, to the classical Greeks, and the Romans, all before the Arab-Muslim conquest, to the Ottoman Turks later in the Islamic period. The native Egyptian language and culture did not even survive into the pagan Roman epoch, let alone into Islamic times. The contemporary nation of Egypt is an artificial British colonial construction from out of the ruins of the Ottoman Caliphate. It is so uprooted that Taliban-style destruction of ancient Egyptian cultural treasures is conceivable.
4. Synthesizing Pan-Shi’ism with Pan-Iranism
In the battle for hearts and minds, worldwide, an Iranian Shi’ite Imamate will trump an Egyptian Sunni Caliphate any day. Even Israel would align with a militantly Shi’ite Iran if it were to be presented with such a binary. Furthermore, if a Sunni Cairo-based Caliphate were to endorse or even condone vandalism committed against archeological sites, or destroy the extensive tourism industry of Egypt, it is likely that a significant enough segment of secularists in the country would align with Western powers to re-impose some type of colonial rule over Egypt – in whatever masked form that would need to take for the sake of salvaging an archeological heritage that belongs to all mankind. This could happen in the context of a broader NATO or European intervention on the North African side of the Mediterranean. Israel could, under these conditions, recapture the Sinai peninsula.
All of that would be completely compatible with Iranian dominance further to the East – especially in Shi’ite parts of Syria, Iraq, the Kurdish territories, Azerbaijan, Shi’ite parts of the Persian Gulf, southwestern Yemen, and the Shi’ite and Tajik parts of Central Asia – especially Herat, Kabul, Badakhshan, Dushanbe, Samarkand, and Bukhara. Such a geopolitical strategy requires a fusion of the Shi’ite Muslim and Pan-Iranist discourses. The Pan-Iranist discourse would be more significant in Sunni parts of Iranian Civilization, such as Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and relevant parts of Uzbekistan.
In other words, a Renaissance of Iran’s leadership of the Islamic world ought not to be considered solely in terms of a Shi’ite victory in a sectarian war with Sunnis. Continued Iranian dominance across all Shi’ite Muslim territories is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the renaissance of Iran as a civilization, one that is at least geopolitically on par with China in the rivalry to define the World Order of the twenty-first century. This return to superpower status also requires Iran reaching into Sunni parts of its civilizational sphere on the basis of a renaissance of the Iranian heritage.
Advocates of an Iranian Renaissance need to understand that an attempt to lobotomize Iran through a forced return to Zoroastrianism (as if it ever exclusively defined even the Pre-Islamic heritage of Iran) would sever Iran’s connection to the other countries in its civilizational sphere. Overthrowing the Islamic Republic would result in the shattering of the nation’s industrial infrastructure and economic system, the dissolution of its current military force, and possibly even violent attempts at secession on the part of ethnic minorities. This would definitively derail Iran from its track to becoming the core state of what is currently understood to be “Islamic Civilization” and what, over time, can be transformed back into Iranian Civilization. It would, in Alexander Dugin’s terms, ensure that Iran never becomes a pole in a multipolar world order. I say never because we do not have an infinite time frame wherein Iran’s reemergence as a world power, or even a superpower, can take place.
As I argued in World State of Emergency (Arktos 2017), convergent advancements in technology will face the human species as a whole with an apocalyptic singularity within the next thirty years. If Iran is to play a significant role in determining how these technologies are regulated and how the basic existential conditions of human life can be secured in the face of this potential singularity, and with a view to Iranian values, then Iran must reemerge as a world power within the next twenty years. The only way for that to happen is through a transformation of the current regime, not a chaotic regime change. The only concrete path to such global influence at the moment of what will be the greatest crisis ever faced by humanity, is for Iran to continue to consolidate control over the Middle East and Central Asia as the hegemon of the Islamic World.
The Iranian economist and political scientist, Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi has characterized the Islamic Republic of Iran as having passed through several phases in its respective emphasis on Islamic versus Iranian identity. Initially, the regime began with an Islam–Islam ideology in 1980s, then shifted to an Islam–Iran position in the late 1990s into the early 2000s. Now as the discourse of many Iranian politicians across the country’s political spectrum, from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Javid Zarif, tends to emphasize a pride in the Iranian heritage and a defense of Iran’s national interest over Islamist rhetoric, the country is passing into an Iran-Islam phase. The point of culmination for this socio-political trajectory is an Iran-Iran phase that will also represent the full-blown realization of an Iranian Renaissance. Iranian society should pass into that phase in an organic fashion, after Iran has established its civilizational hegemony over the heart of the Islamic world – including control of the oil fields on the southern coast of the Persian Gulf and administration of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. What a better world we would be living in if the Grand Mosque at Mecca were broadcasting the poetry of Rumi and Hafez to all Muslims, rather than spewing Wahabi and Salafist ideology.