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Lessons of 26 years of Islamic Power in IRAN

Comrade Yassamine Mather’s Yurukoglu lecture (delivered on 10th December 2005 in London)

Thank you very much for this introduction. It is indeed a great honour that you have asked me to give this lecture especially on the occasion of the memorial lecture for comrade Yurukoglu given his  prominent role in the activities of not only the Turkish left in London but of the Middle Eastern left. (At least as far as I can gather from other Iranian comrades.)

I will try and answer some of the points raised in this talk, in the session that follows responding to the questions and the debates. However, I will start by talking about why political Islam is a threat to the left on the Middle East and how its relations with capital and to class plays a role in terms of dividing society outside class boundaries and in many ways why it poses many threats to all of us as activist of the left.

I am afraid I am not going to be able to present a solution to this issue. But I think even by proposing some thesis on the kind of dangers we face, maybe it will help us, as political activists, as communist of the region, to try and find jointly both in the written format and in the spoken format answers to such issues. Because I certainly don’t have any ready made answers if you like.

As comrade (A Candan) said quite correctly we are facing in many countries the prospect of the popularity of Political Islam. And this popularity has a lot to with the claims that Political Islam seeks justice: Social justice, economic justice. Its propaganda is indeed in the poorest sections of the society hence the challenge to the left. And in many ways the experience of Iran as the first country where Political Islam has been in power for 26 years and 10 months already and where in its neighbourhood in Iraq we are seeing the establishment of another Islamic Shia Republic are relevant. There is a lot to be learned from what has happened in Iran not least in terms of what will happen in my opinion and is already happening in Iraq, thanks to an occupations that has cost so many lives and so much money; but also in terms of the kind of government of Sharia that non-Shia Muslims profess to support. Now I do realise that the talk I’m giving is based on Sharia law under Shia and therefore there are differences. However many of the issues I raise do cover, do go beyond the Sunni-Shia divide, some don’t. I will and try to point the differences.

The first point that one can make about Iran’s Islamic Republic is that, the government that came to power in 1979 claiming to bring a level of social justice to the Iranian people has ended up with, making some of the richest sections of the population much richer, sections of the upper middle class is becoming super-rich in Iran and the poor getting poorer. So we can at least see that the first claim of Political Islam in terms of ending corruption and bringing a level of social justice has not worked. It is also important to review the kind of political relations that have facilitated this furthering of the division between the rich and the poor. What are the basis, what are the policies the ideas and the thoughts that ferment this level of class division.

I would like to start by stressing that in our opinion, as the two people who wrote the article in Critique called ‘Political Islam its relation to capital and class’ we see this as a modern phenomena. We do not accept the ideas that somehow it is just a return to the past, that it is simply a retrograde Islamic movement that has an idea of going back to the era of Mohammed and so on. In our opinion it certainly has a reason d’etre from the new social order in the Middle East. Even in Iran in the 70’s when it was growing as an opposition movement it was a reaction to the form of capitalism and imperialist dominations that existed at the time of the Shah’s rule. And in its current format, I would say that one should still see it as something that unites or aims to unite the sections of the society of modern Islamic society that are being left behind by the kind of uneven capitalist development we see in the countries of the Periphery.

 I think this is true in Egypt as much as it is Iran it is true as much in Indonesia as it is of many other countries. And for that reason I will concentrate on the four main layers of society that form the basis of political Islamic movements. Inevitably a very large section of the population that is influenced by it are the urban uprooted. People of peasant origin who have been forced to migrate to major cities, like Cairo, Tehran like Istanbul. Primarily because of impoverishment of the rural areas. They are the inhabitants, if you like of the shanty towns of these cities. Inevitably many of them do not have jobs or they do not have permanent jobs. They have temporary jobs, seasonal jobs, construction jobs. But more often they are involved in what is called sections of the black economy, they are peddlers, stall holders…. and therefore live with an insecure economic future because of the way their income is generated. Secondly, and this has obviously played an important role, the financial backing of political Islam is connected to those involved in non global capitalist economic structures. Mainly the people of the bazaar the shop keepers, people who are close to the mosque have a certain level of income. And yet, in the modern capitalist state their not taken seriously either as earners of level of fortune but also more importantly they are not taken seriously in the political sphere. They have no voice in the pro capitalist, pro western states that exist such as Egypt, I would say maybe even Turkey (I do not know, but I would imagine Turkey.)

It is partly the kind of industry they are involved in which makes them this marginal side of if you like economy, such as small workshop owners. People’s only outlet is the bazaar or merchant sections of small town. And as a result do not become involved in the bigger picture of the global economy, the dollar economy of the main capitalist state which is involved in international dealings. The third layer supporting political Islamic is formed by sections of the industrial sector, even reasonably rich people. For example during the Shah’s time some of the supporters of the Political Islamic movement were not necessarily under privileged capitalists, they were reasonably well of. But they were excluded from centres of power for various reasons. Either they were not part of the clique that is in power, in Iran they were not part of the court and the Shah’s system they were not part of the modern state, in Egypt they are not part of the Mubarak’s inner circle. Wherever you look there is that level of alienation from the state, from the state dominates that particular country. Therefore they cannot be involved in decision making at the level of either national or international level. They feel separated from it.

And of course, the fourth layer are students, intellectual. The sections of society that are the children, the second generation of the groups  mentioned earlier, who do feel resentment towards the level of injustice that they see internationally and yet because of developments I will explain later, including the policies of the west during the cold war or various other issues they are certainly anti-left, anti-communist. But they do feel solidarity with the injustice of Palestine, or injustice in the world in general. Of course because of their limited outlook this could imply they are much more concerned with the injustices to the Islamic community as oppose to the world community. Very rarely do you see them sympathising about poverty in Latin America or deprivation in Africa. They far more concerned with injustices by the West against Islamic societies.
I think one has to say that the Political Islamic movement has a number of characteristics. And in this section I am going to briefly mention some of these characteristics. Although it is a modern phenomenon, it is definitely anti enlightenment. This idea one often hears in the British media that if only political Islam had enlightenment everything would be resolved. I do not know if you have heard it. But many people say the problem with Islam is it hasn’t had enlightenment. As a modern phenomena, as a reaction to the way capitalism developed in the world it is a bit of a miracle if this Islamic movement suddenly saw enlightenment as a way forward. In a way as it is a reaction itself, so how could it move towards enlightenment which is a process of development of evolution ... If a phenomenon is a reaction to another phenomena it obviously cannot automatically find enlightenment. This doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been enlightenment or elements of enlightenments within Islam. But the political Islam we face today, either in the form of taking military action or in the form of general opposition towards westernised establishment, calling for Sharia law governments in various states is by no means seeking enlightenments or moving towards it. It is aiming at establishing Sharia law and that is quite specific.

The fact that it is a modern phenomenon does not mean it has modern solutions to the world problems. If you can accept this contradiction in my talk. In a way as part of a kind of almost singular monolithic obstructionism, it tries to bring together under one umbrella the uprooted poor and super rich, or at least the rich. It treats as enemies anybody who questions Islam’s fundamental rules and laws. It is actually quite strict on that. In power and in opposition it is against those Islamists who question scientifically or in other ways, the way Islam’s history has developed. Fundamentalists have called those who believed in sharing wealth and social justice as non monolithic (defenders of tashric, monafegh,) all derogatory terms used for those who do not conform to this monolithic Islamic movement.

But I think as far as the Left is concerned the main issue and the one that is the most frightening is that political Islam is definitely against any form of class line up. ‘Anything that has to do with class alliance is an enemy of this political Islamic movement.’ It has to deny class antagonisms because otherwise it cannot have a single umbrella of political Islam. If you are trying to unite the Bazaar merchants who are quite well of, (such bazaaris  might not be as rich as local owners of multinational car plants  that but  they are certainly quite well off,  unlike the poor guy who lives in a shanty town in Cairo,  in Tehran or Istanbul. The one thing that unites them is Islam and supporters of this movement do not want to break this unity with talk of ‘class’. Because once you talk of class, you can’t have all these people in a single movement. And that is where it’s main danger, its main threat to the left lies: in the phenomena of trying to deny class antagonisms. Those who do talk of any form of class identity or class line-ups or who at least thinks there is talk to be done with communists and socialists in the country are actually repelled and send away from the political Islamic movement. In Iran this was done quite dramatically in the early 1980s. I will go into the details once we are into the question and answer session. Political Islam in power or in opposition has a completely uncompromising attitude towards any section within it that dares to criticise basic issues.

Of course as you know on the one hand, there is a kind of nationalism in the political Islamic movement, but on the other hand it really does not recognise national boundaries and national characteristics. Because it wants to create this united Sunni or Shia state.  Here I think that the left and the communist movement in our region are lucky in that one can’t think of an Islamic Sharia state incorporating both Sunni and Shia Islam in one country.  However precisely because of that it does go beyond boundaries of one country. And it does say that it’s the ‘Umma’ or the masses of Muslims (Shia or Sunni, not both) who will unite under this Sunni republic or Shia Islamic state, and that certainly was true of the Shia state in Iran. And in fact that is precisely the kind of Shia state that the Americans (whether intentionally or unintentionally) have created in Iraq.

By definition such a state has to be against ‘democracy’– here I don’t want to be Euro centric– what I have in mind is what  we as ‘Middle Eastern’ people consider signs of democracy and equality, i.e. the fact that there should be no difference between  individuals in terms of their civilian and political rights. Because by definition, at least in Shia Islam  individuals are categorised according to their relationship with  religious power or descendence  (of course here there is a difference between  Sunni political Islam  and the Shia Islamists. In Shia Islam the hierarchy in the clergy creates a set of rules by which some people are ‘Nokh begaan’ or the ‘elite’ if you like. They are the ‘Grand Ayatollahs and the ‘Ayatollah’s, then the ‘lower ranking  Ayatollah’s and so on.  They are the people who have the direct line to divine forces and they hear the ‘messages’ so to speak. And the ordinary people are just ordinary people. And so there cannot be a democracy or equal rights for these individuals while the selected few are the elite.

I do understand that Sunni religion defies this, because there isn’t that level of hierarchy in the structure of the clerics in the Sunni religion that exist in Shia Islam. But in Shia Islam as you know an Ayatollah becomes a centre of guidance. Like Sistani is to the Shia population of Iraq or is one of the centres of guidance, or Khomeyni was to many Iranians and many Iraqis. And as such you follow everything this person says. It is  not just that at election times clerics such as Sistani  produce a list, he actually produces a list of everything you can do from the moment you wake up to the moment you sleep. The only time he is not controlling you is when you are asleep. When you look at  Ayatollah Sistani’s website –  he actually has rules about drinking water, putting your pen down, the kind of music you can listen, what you can and can’t enjoy …everything you can imagine he is got a rule about it. In such a system you cannot have equality of individuals, equality of citizens or the fact that these citizens would have equal rights in terms of decision making, participation in voting systems, being elected and so on. So you have the structures of elections but all of these structures are dominated by a much more powerful entity ‘The Grand Ayatollahs’, the representative of God, or as the supreme Ayatollah is called in Iran, the guardian of the imbecile. Because according to Shia Sharia law,  the rest of the population are the people who haven’t got the mental capability to make  day to day decisions, the supreme clerics Ayatollah Khamenei makes the  decisions for the rest of the population.

In these definitions the idea of citizens’ rights go out of the window. If you look at the Sunni clergy there are differences, but all I would say is that even in the Sunni hierarchy if you listen to some of the talks by for example the followers of Al-Qaida or Muslim Brotherhood, they do say that Sharia has explained everything and there is no need for elections and representation. The only time when the Islamic movement accepts elections or referendums it is before coming to power. That happened in Iran, in March of 1979 when they asked the nation a single question  ‘Do you want an Islamic republic or do you want the Shah back?’ and the answer was  obvious, the referendum question  had already taken care of that. The same is true of the Iraqi regime, there was a referendum ‘Do you want the current occupation plus Shia government’ and although many Sunnis and secular Iraqis didn’t vote  the Shia population had a duty the vote. So if you like the participation of ordinary people in the decision making process is once and once alone : to allow Shia Islam to take power.

A number of factors have allowed the political Islamic movement to develop and I think we have to be realistic about these factors if we are to see how it acts first in opposition and then in power. Very briefly I’ll try and to go through some of these almost like titles of the issues that have allowed  political Islam taking  power.

The role of imperialism and global capital

If you look at the way the last 30-40 years have worked out in the Middle East, you see that although in terms of political power the state has enormous power, because many of these countries are dictatorial or semi dictatorial regimes, in terms of economic power of course globalisation has taken away a lot of the day to day and long term economic decisions out of the hands of the states. So the state has a contradictory nature, in that on the one hand it has some power but on the other hand it has lost power on some issues. The state has to fulfill all the demands of the IMF or the World Bank, the loans that these countries are involved in makes their decision making much more limited than what it was in the 1930s or the 1940s. This in itself creates a crises at the level of political hegemonies that existed or needs to exist, in order to keep a coherent rule, power against ordinary people.

On the other hand the bourgeoisie in all of these states has gone through a very sudden form of development; it hasn’t grown through the normal process of feudalism and bourgeois development, the classical way. Very often land owners have suddenly become ‘bourgeois’ as a result of reform from above, maybe the ‘Shah’s Land Reform’ maybe the ‘Green Revolution …’ they were  given a lot of money, which  they  invested in factories. So one day the landowner is a feudal next day he is a capitalist owning a big factory, he hasn’t gone through that process of change this does affect the way in which some of the structures in these countries work. If you like there isn’t the kind of long term development of capitalist structures that allows the state to control every aspect of people’s economy and political life. And that in itself facilitates the absence of any form of liberalism, there is no acceptance of different ideas, monolithic ideas prevail. Contrary to what some sections of the media try to convince us it isn’t that the people in Middle East can’t understand democracy or don’t know it. It’s the way capitalism has developed in these countries that makes it much more difficult for the kind of organisations, political structures that allow pluralist liberal organisations to develop and colonialism, imperialism and global capital have done all in their power to support and maintain the dictatorial status quo, in order to guarantee their domination.

Problems with the Left

The second problem is the weakness of left which is beyond the scope of this talk. However the weaknesses of the left in terms of what it did in the 1950s or the 1960s or the 1970s, its mistakes especially in its attitude towards the Soviet Union its almost worship or total acceptance of everything that was happening in the eastern block have caused irreparable damage. The pro Soviet left disappeared with the collapse of the eastern block and the radical left is weak for various reasons, not all of which were the fault of the left.

But more important than the two elements that I mentioned, there are other facilitating elements within the existing states that allow political Islamic movements to grow. At the height of the secularism, to look at the example of  Iran during the Shah’s time and I’m sure its true of Turkey (at least in present day I don’t know about the more secular period) the Islamic groups had the kind of legal and political immunities, that no other political force of the opposition had. Even if you were a moderate leftist in Iran you would be arrested questioned during the Shah’s time. And yet, if you were an Islamist of any kind you were not the favourite people of the Shah,  but your existence was never questioned even if you were arrested you would never face the kind of repression that Socialists and Communists were subjected to during the Shah’s time. This  is true of many other countries in the region and beyond. Especially during the cold war  the US and various Western governments actually encouraged Islamic movements such as Hamas,  Afghan Mojahedin , Muslim Brotherhood …in order to defeat the communists. Some of these groups were given both financial and military support but in addition the client states of the US tolerated these groups and their supporters and saw their activities as part of an anti socialist strategy. So in many ways the ruling political administrations tolerance of religion was far more than their secular appearance suggested .
In terms of international politics this support/acceptance of Islamic groups was more obvious; both in Afghanistan but also in the way  the Muslim Brotherhood was used against Nasser in Egypt and  the way Ayatollah Kashani was used against secular and left forces in 1950s in Iran. 

Throughout the last 50 years  you can see International policies that allowed such developments. And one last but not insignificant element is the financial and moral support given to political Islamic groups by the Islamic government in Iran. The coming to power of the first Islamic state was a significant moment, not least because of the illusions it created amongst all  Islamists that one can gain power.  This was deceptive as there were many elements that came together not only the facts that Shah had tolerated the growth and development of politics within the mosque, within the schools of religion and so on and at the same time completely decimated anybody who is a socialist or a communist or even a liberal was part of this. But also, the illusions created by the defeat of the Afgan government. Here the Sunni political Islamic groups specially the supporters of Bin Ladin have a double illusion. They think that they single-handedly got rid of the Afghan government, and all on their own they  defeated Soviet Union. Both wrong. If it wasn’t for the CIA neither of these two events would have happened.

That is why some of these groups now believe they you can gain power within the framework of the current world economic order.

Of course, the existence of Islamic states, such as Iran (may be one should add Iraq?) allows the development of other Islamic states. If you look at the two main military political powers, currently in Iraq. SCIRI, the militia of Al-Jaffari the prime minister and Daawa, the other military political party in power, these were financed and trained in Iran, in the 1980s and in the 1990s. In fact  one of the reasons many Iraqis resent them is because they consider them  foreign agents and  call them Iranian militias. Apparently, in some parts of Baghdad, people call the ‘SCIRI’s militia’(the main block that supports militarily Al-Jaffari, prime minister ) as Pasdars, which is the name of the  religious police in  Iran. Of course SCIRI was trained and armed by Iranian  Pasdars.

In other words Iran’s Islamic state created these militias and than exported them. That is true also for support financial and military support the Iran gave to Hizbullah in Lebanon, the only other part of the world fortunately where there are some Shias. We are grateful for small mercies, if there were more Shias, I am sure Iran’s clerics would have spent more of the country’s wealth, supporting them.

Because of the characteristics that I mentioned in these periphery states, the way capital has developed,  the way the gap between the rich and the poor is growing; in opposition political Islam can make a lot of claims.

One of its main claims is that it is  against corruption.’ Corruption  is the evil created and exported  by the West’. If you listen to their sermons, the first thing they tell people is that, if it wasn’t for the West our leaders wouldn’t be so corrupt. This is the message in Egypt for example where I understand the Muslim Brotherhood is doing very well, in the fourth round of the elections.

And there is some truth in that, as corruption exists in centres of power and in many (but not all) of these periphery states, pro US regimes are in power. However if one considers the parts of the Muslim world where Islamists have come to power,  first Shia  Islamic state in the world, ‘Iran’s Islamic Republic’ and Iraq’ occupation Shia government , political Islam has shown that in power it can excel in corruption. In Iran, corruption  has reached levels beyond the wildest  dreams of pro western elites. One of the reasons why there is tremendous dissatisfaction with the current regime, amongst Iranians is the astronomical wealth gained by sons of the clerics as the main beneficiaries of  political change in Iran. The contemporary super-rich in Iran are closely connected or work very closely with clerics in power and often are engulfed in major corruptions scandals with them. That is the Shia version of a corrupt system in Iran’s Islamic Republic. But in opposition it is a very charismatic thing to claim you will be pure and uproot corrupt practises and it is inevitable that Islamist groups do get quite a lot of support on that basis alone. What we should do is to expose corruption where Islamists are in power.
It should be added that even in opposition, the political Islamic movement is excepting capitalists and the business community to self regulate and of course they don’t. There is a belief that once you have Sharia law  everyone will be a bit better off, however there is no mechanism to provide any equality, social justice. In fact even in opposition they are quite clear that we are uniting as one Islamic movement, that any division of the ‘Umma’ into class is anti-Islamic. Supporters of egalitarian ideals are classified as the worst enemy. Because if you are talking of class divisions you are helping the bigger enemy which is obviously outside the borders of the country, it is the foreign enemy, so you shouldn’t do it. And that is a very powerful way of supporting and sustaining capitalism.

Once the Islamic state comes to power (and here the experience of Iran is very useful) we see various policies that are almost mirrored in the Iraqi Shia state. Unfortunately many of these changes will survive the current Islamic governments even if one can imagine the overthrow of the current Shia states in Iran or Iraq, some of the changes are so dramatic that it would take a very long time to overcome these changes. One of them is the tendency towards the abolition of the modern state in its secular form. This is partly because although in all of our countries (Iran, Turkey…) even at the height  of their secularism,  Sharia law did affect judicial law and political law. It influenced our constitution, it was paramount to the Shah’s constitution and legal structures and judicial structures. But when any form of, any superficial acceptance of secularism is taken away from that constitutions then Sharia law becomes the ‘only law’. This has dramatic affects not only in terms of women’s rights, inheritance, the right to choose some basic freedoms – such as whether to have religion or not have religion, whether to wear what one wants or not to wear what one wants so on – but it also changes the way people are punished for non religious behaviour, the way physical punishment is handed down for various crimes
as seen by clerics.

Here we are talking of completely different set up. And in fact in many ways at least in the private arena the interference of state in the lives of people is strengthened. I am sure in Mubarak’s Egypt but also in Iran’s royalist times in 1960s and 70s the state really didn’t want to know about you unless you were politically active. Specially if you were not on the left or in opposition you could do more or less everything  you wanted:  you could wear what you wanted, you could listen to what you liked , you could eat/ drink what you wanted , you could be as Islamic as you wanted or as atheist as you wanted. And it isn’t true that you couldn’t go to prayers if you wanted to go and pray, in fact the Shah himself claimed he was religious.

The interference of the state in the private arena becomes almost unbearable in the Islamic state when Sharia law is imposed. The problem is after a short period it creates its own reactions in terms of duplicity in terms of corruption in terms of how the better off sections of the population find ways of avoiding this adherence to strict Sharia law. And so it has created whole categories of dual life where I understand that at least from the middle classes upwards in Iran people behave one way of life in the street and a completely different way in their private lives. In terms of what they drink, what they listen to, what they wear, the kind of make up they wear and the way they behave as a group of people in their general social life, that duplicity becomes part of one’s daily routine.

However the state is quite strict it tries to intervene it tries to follow up what is going on in many ways it encourages spying on individuals, encourages your neighbour to call the police – the police is the morality police, some of you might have heard how a similar police is  now developing in US/UK occupied Basra in exactly the same format that it did in Teheran.  People call the morality police to shop their neighbours: “X  is listening to western music, my neighbour has just opened a bottle of wine, my neighbour is … “And you can see how this form of spying  can be abused apart from anything else. Political Islam also interferes in issues such as education, creationism… Do we accept Darwin or do we accept the kind of mumbo jumbo that George Bush is trying to impose in the United States and the Islamic Republic tries to teach in its schools .

One of the worst aspects of the interference of political Islam in private lives is the way in which most people behave in a very hypocritical manner. In Iran 27 years after the coming to power of religious fundamentalist, very few people actually believe or adhere to strict Islamic behaviour. The longer the regime stays in power, as people see the Islamic rulers’ duplicity and double standards, all illusions fall.

A creeping and indeed high level of hypocrisy becomes so normal that the whole social fabric of society is in endangered by this level of hypocrisy where on the one hand, in the streets at least, people attempt and pretend they are Islamic but in their private life everyone knows that very few people are adhering to any of these laws. This duplicity is indeed part of the problem and many see as it as a phenomenon changing the structure of Iranian society in a way that will be very difficult to return to normality even when the Islamic republic is overthrown.

Add to that the whole idea of corruption, even if you are arrested on the issues such as drinking alcohol and being caught drinking alcohol as oppose to drinking alcohol or if you are caught with a bit of hair showing if you are a women. There are depending on who arrest you, there are bribes you can pay. The individual and the state even in this unbelievable level of interference of the state in the private lives realises that it is an issue of market that you can actually pay and be sinful. That evolves so rapidly in society where it covers every aspect of your daily life.

The most dangerous side of it is of course the economic side. There are number of issues. First of all the first attempt of any Islamic state is the deprive women of work, it doesn’t succeed and pretends that times that, that isn’t the aim. At least the experience of Iran was very clear, … in the way the regulations for schools were changed regulation for dress was changed, and everything was changed with a view to encourage women to look after children, that was the principle aim of many day to day policies. Looked like they were just minor reforms for example changing schools, giving schools 9 to 12 sessions and than to 3 to 6pm session. So the mother had to be home between 12 and 3, and there are not many jobs you could do with that, or the enforced … so on. And that changes the balance.

Of course Iran also went through of a war and that effected whole structure of economy and war economy was imposed and the war economy had its own demands. In general the Islamic state sees the employment of labour as a rent of labour. Here it sees as a contract between the individual and the owner and therefore doesn’t see any need for regulatory intervention. Although it retains and it cannot have any alternative to capitalism as the dominate mode of production at the same time its development as a capitalist state is severely hampered for various reasons.

One of them is its adventurist foreign policy. For example in case of Iran, the president who every day creates an adventure everywhere he goes, but as soon as he opens his mouth you have a foreign policy adventure happening. Does not encourage long term investment by foreign capitalist and your own capitalist have all taken the money out and very rarely invest in any structure. So even in terms of capitalist development it faces a lot of insecurity. Although it has illusions that it can re create pre-capitalist production, that’s an illusion as well, you can’t go back to feudalism ones you had this capitalism developing you can’t send people back to the villages and re start agriculture and so on and none of these states pretended. So you’ve got on the one hand all the side affects of this uneven capitalist development has created the shanty towns has created the gap between the rich and the poor and you have no economic policy to change those, except an adventures foreign the policy stops the norms of capitalist development not that only favour of those norms. But it really creates a chaotic economic situation.

The history of Iranian government has been that actually thrives in this chaotic economic situation. It goes one economic crisis to another. Throughout these periods obviously some people make astronomical amounts of money. Because this way they can profit from the chaos and yet it does not change the balance between the rich and the poor or it has no rules to do that and in fact it has no mechanism.

The only way one could see actual changes in the economy during the rule of the Sharia is what one calls legitimate economic work and illegitimate. Islamic economy has created a vast black economy. But legitimate here is not just whether you are an honest broker or not but what you produce. For example if you are a wine shop owner you are an illegitimate capital owner and therefore you should be banned unless you are only selling to a very small minority of your own Christian community. Or if you are a manufacturer of any commodity deemed to be immoral then you are illegal and you are not allowed to produce. So that becomes part of the black economy or the illegal and the semi illegal economy. However there are no restrictions / limitations on other sections of capital either in terms of tax or in terms of the amount of profit you can make, you are free to choose the level of exploitation you can impose on your workers, there are no restrictions and that is the essential part of the role of political Islam towards capital and relations of capital. You can have as high a profit as you want all you are asked to do by the religious state is to adhere to the Islamic tax. In the case of Iran, one fifth of your income which is lower than VAT given that than you have a corrupt state which accepts bribes to reduce your tax. That means you really can make huge profits without paying much tax. Because you could make support an Ayatollah in terms pay for his mosque or his travel… and then you are paying only ten per cent of your income or your profit.

In this way, what remains of the state in terms of interference is only on cultural and personal activity not on regulating class relations. Not even at the level of a basic social democratic state or a conservative state. Because even a conservative state has some rules in terms of how far it wants these kind of class divisions to go in order to avoid a revolution, in order to avoid an uprising.

In Shia Islam we are blessed with a strange phenomenon ‘the resurrection of the 12th Imam’ and our new president seems to be very keen on this. The 12th Shia imam (for those of you who don’t know) fell into a well at the tender age of 12, he was very young and he will come back according to Hojatiye, which is  a big movement in the Shia state in Iran not just the Shia movement but the state. He will come back when social disorder has reached unacceptable levels, where his presence is needed. Is a bit like Messiah returning to bring peace and justice. However in order to precipitate his return, society has to reach this a abysmal state of total destruction , poverty, war destruction as bad as  you could ever imagine, barbarism I assume is the word I am looking for.
The Iranian parliament to its credit has debated the issue on a number of occasions! They have discussed whether one should let society get to that stage in order to precipitate the arrival of the12th Shia imam or whether one should intervene in order to reduce this. Of course given the current history of the Iranian state one would say that they are doing their best to precipitate his arrival.

What I have  tried to do in this talk and I realise I have run out of  time is to say that  what we are facing after 27 years of political Islam in power in Iran are promises that have not  materialised in fact the economic situation for the poor  has actually worsened considerably. If you like not only things didn’t get better but they have got a lot worse for most of the Iranian people. The levels of poverty we are seeing in Iran are such that, the state itself accepts that the minimum wage is well below the poverty line. For many of Iran’s factory owners  the policy of non-payment of wages has become not an exception but the norm. They actually calculate their profits on how long they can get away with non-payment and then pay for two months and not pay the rest, or few months or a portion of it. Even the states own spied in the work place, yellow / Islamic unions accept that this has  become a way of increasing profits. This is in a country where privatisation is unprecedented. I’m sure there is a lot of privatisation going on in Turkey or in Egypt but the kind of privatisation we have seen in the last 8 years or 10 years in Iran has decimated the textile industry . There is hardly a single textile factory now that hasn’t been privatized.

There are many reasons for this. One of them is that the state as I said doesn’t intervene on behalf of capitalist and uses repression to force submission of the workforce. In many parts of a big city like Tehran, land has become extremely expensive. The most beneficial way to use this land is to build high rise flats. Factory owners  whose policy is  not to pay wages often try to force  the workers to leave, so that they can then sell all the materials or give away  the machinery in the factory and use the land to build flats. Of course this happens in industries where there is no profits for the owner like textile industries.

If there is profit,  as in construction or  in car manufacture where Iran is a main producer or in the oil industry the situation is different. In the petrochemical and the oil industries, single companies  have been divided up to contractor firms. This is to reduce the power of the labour force to confront the major industry. Iran’s oil industry where the oil workers fought so bravely to get rid of the Shah, is now divided into tens of contract firms. These contract firms can benefit from the high levels of unemployment that goes with all this heaven on earth that political Islam has created in Iran. Workers accept what are called white contracts. A white contract is when the owner gives you a sheet of paper which is white and you sign the contract and he makes up these rules . If you listen to workers from Iran they repeatedly tell you I had to accept a white contract. So the owner sets the rules and when he wants to sack workers he has  no compulsion to pay anything really. And if he doesn’t pay any salaries he can say well I didn’t make any money and couldn’t do anything about it. And that is the other norm of the system.

But in addition to this, of course there is the whole idea that, because people don’t have money, all forms of illegal activity have become quite prominent in every aspect of life. One of the worst aspects is that in this moral society where Ayatollah Khomeyni was so upset by seeing women’s hair that we all have had to cover our hair for 26 years and 9 months, prostitution is ripe and Iran  in fact exports prostitutes to most of the Gulf states and this is because of poverty. For an Islamic country for this to happen one can find no answer but poverty. In Tehran and other  major cities t prostitution, child labour, child prostitution are so common that the Islamic state itself accepts that they are the issues that it has to deal with on a regular basis and really it so obvious that they cannot deny it.

As a result of all this, I think that the way for the left to expose the dangers of political Islam despite the differences that exist between the Sharia law in Sunni Islam and Sharia law in Shia Islam is to point out the realities of 27 years of political Islam in power in Iran. Not as political propaganda not as what George Bush says about Iran. The real issue is not whether Iran has  nuclear plants. We should look at the realities or what has happened to Iranian society where women have no rights, where workers have no rights where poverty has reached this level that I am talking about. A country where the mentality of getting rich at all cost would use violence. This populist demagogy of being anti west is still fed but it has almost become like Tony Blair saying I am in favour of democracy. People just listen to it and it is part of  background noise. The reality of drug addiction, the reality of exporting prostitution into the states near us, are the realities of political Islam in power. And unlike 26 years ago we now have an example of sharia Islam in power. When this phenomena was developing in Iran there were a lot of illusions, there were a lot of young even leftist Iranians who thought “maybe this is the solution, maybe if the Soviet Block has come to some crises, if communism hasn’t brought equality in the way we hoped, if the Utopia of Socialism hasn’t happened, maybe political Islam is an answer…”

Now we know as clear as we can see in Iran that the result of political Islam in power is this disaster and I think we should use that example not only in Iran but throughout the Middle East in Turkey in Egypt in every other country to expose the dangers of political Islam especially to the left but more importantly in defined its own claims of social justice, anti-corruption and so on.

Thank you very much.