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Another Cultural Revolution?

06 Sep 2009 12:246 Comments
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The Iranian leaders should think twice about the failure of Islamization in the past three decades.

By RASOOL NAFISI | 6 Sept 2009

[TEHRAN BUREAU] Ayatollah Khamenei met with a group of university professors on Sunday, August 31, warning them of "enemy plots" and the threat of a "soft revolution," adding that the main duty of the academics was to prepare cultural grounds to defend against such a revolution, according to IRNA.

Showing his unhappiness with the fact that almost two-thirds of university students were seeking degrees in the Humanities and Liberal Arts (oloom enssani), Khamenei said there were not enough institutions and qualified instructors "believing in the Islamic world view" to train that many students. The hallmark of Khamenei's speech was his clear rejection of the Humanities and Liberal Arts as un-Islamic.

"Many of the Humanities and liberal arts [topics] are based on philosophies whose foundations are materialism and disbelief in godly and Islamic teachings," Khamenei said. "Instructing those sciences lead to the loss of belief in godly and Islamic knowledge. Teaching those disciplines lead to propagation of skepticism and doubt about religious principles and beliefs." He emphasized "nativization" of the sciences, meaning interpreting them in the context of Shiism.

Khamenei's statement does not bode well for the Iranian universities. He seems to try to pick up where the Islamic Republic left off two decades ago when the late Ayatollah Khomeini expressed similar aversion to "Westoxicated learning," which meant a rejection of the educational system based on the nefarious influences of the West. He ordered universities to drop all but natural sciences from the university curricula. Abdolkarim Soroush, a scholar who was in charge of Islamization of culture at the time, claims that he advised against such decision, and thereby saved the Liberal Arts and Humanities' departments and colleges.

Nowadays, with talks about a second cultural revolution in the air, the future of those disciplines is clearly in jeopardy. Khamenei's speech is particularly ominous as the rumors about shutting down universities are spreading. Fearing another round of revolt, the government of Iran may close down universities again or at least delay the start of the new academic year. Traditionally, students spearhead revolts in Iran, and both regimes, Pahlavi and Islamic, have been keen on keeping them from organizing. Closure of universities is a means to that end.

Following the leader, Mohammad Emami-Kashani, the Friday prayer Imam, said in his sermon that Ayatollah Khamenei's guidelines should be followed. He suggested nothing less than an overhaul of the universities to match their curricula with Islamic teachings.

Nativization and Islamization were two main themes of the original "cultural revolution" as well, which was carried out at the onset of the 1979 revolution. The Cultural Revolution was a term borrowed from the Chinese leader Chairman Mao, without citing the source. The eclectic Islamic leftists were highly influenced by the events in China at the time, and vied to emulate them.

Very much like in China, the cultural revolution in Islamic Iran had political and not cultural ends in mind. The purpose of the Islamic cultural revolution was to rid universities of the oppositional forces. But it soon turned into a full-fledged ideological program. The main strategic dictums were to encounter the Western cultural onslaught, to study the ways of the West in order to rebuff it, to implement Islamic humanities and liberal arts, and to produce native sciences.

After decades of effort however, the haughty ideals of nativization and Islamization failed to bear much fruit. The unity of universities with the seminaries -- who still use millennia old curricula and teaching methodology -- paradoxically subdued the seminary to the university. Instead of producing a new moral society as was promised, the Islamic cultural revolution left behind a trail of violence, expulsions and purges, which in turn resulted in sinking academic standards.

Instead of qualified students, admission into the universities became mainly a perk for the youth whose main credentials were participating on the war front against Iraq, or fighting in the streets against regime opponents. Highly qualified professors were purged or resigned and replaced with regime loyalists. Loyalty to the regime supplanted knowledge and experience.

Today, after extensive civil unrest in the post June presidential election, speeches of the Iranian leaders are reminiscent of those dark days when universities were turned into weapon depots, and instead of students, state militia nested there. The pathology of the likes of Khamenei and Emami-Kashani of the opposition to their regime has not changed since they came to power: They still blame "Westoxiation" for leading the pious nation astray.

In order to make the wrong right, a new wave of Islamization, utilizing modern media and schools, seems to be under way. The Islamic leaders believe the wrong ideology is the root cause of all evil. In order to stem it, it is logically tenable to try another round of stringent efforts in Islamization. What is missing to the leaders is that the youth is revolting against them precisely because of the "Islamization" policies. These policies are in fact based on absolute obedience to the leader, rejection of the modern concept of citizenship, and creating an "Islamic state" fashioned after the totalitarian interpretation of Islam by the Iranian clergy in power.

The Iranian leaders should think twice about the failure of Islamization in the past three decades, during which they left no stone unturned to reeducate Iranians. These efforts are based on the bankrupt policy that has been tried by the communist bloc to no avail. Instead of trying to insert more doses of ideology, the Iranian leaders should try to compromise with reality, ease up on their cultural schizophrenia, and understand the youth who is crying out for dignity and respect.

Rasool Nafisi is an academic and Iran expert who previously wrote for Tehran Bureau about the militarized death of the Islamic Republic.

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Photos: Security forces confront university students, 1978-79 Iranian revolution.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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Amen sister. Every false move by Khamenei from here on out will reflect back to him a thousand fold. When it happens the world will watch it on TV. And we will laugh at Ahmedinejad as he gets stripped of his throne, and feel the pride of how it feels to struggle for freedom against tyranny.

Allah Mohammed / September 6, 2009 5:49 PM

It's not like we're surprised that the dictatorship is trying to ban Arts & Humanities...since when are they in tune with humanity? They're not even humans.

Neda / September 7, 2009 3:15 PM

Iran's own Taliban.

After the arts and humanities, it will be biology and geology since they start to disprove the myths in the bible and koran.

Maziar / September 7, 2009 7:04 PM

One has to consider the word "Liberal" in this context, too. It seems that what is most feared is "free" thinking and an educated public. It is easy to pull the wool over everyones eyes when no one has the reasonable and logical tools to discern when they are being deceived and misled. It is not necessarily a fear of disproving myths as much as it is keeping literacy, rationality and voice from inspiring a mass of people to unite.

Jason Abdilla / September 28, 2009 1:03 AM

In those years people really knew what moving your hand over their country and their children will be? Children today do not have parents never gave.

Sara Torabi / January 23, 2010 3:03 PM

واقعا مردم در آن سالها می دانستند با دست خود چه بلایی بر سر خود، کشورشان و فرزندانشان می آورد؟ بچه های امروز هیچگاه پدر و مادرهایشان را نخواهند بخشید.

Sara Torabi / January 23, 2010 3:04 PM