By Nozhan Etezadosaltaneh
19 December 2019
The 1979 Iranian Revolution is known as the ‘Islamic Revolution.’ There is a reason for the Islamic suffix. The dominant discourse on the 1979 Iranian revolution was the Shiite Political Islamic discourse in which concepts such as martyrdom, jihad, revolution (Islamic internationalism), and social justice were the key elements. Even leftist groups have taken advantage of it. There was a tradeoff between the leftists and the Islamists in terms of discourse and ideology. For example, Islamists borrowed the word “imperialism” from the leftists and changed it to “arrogance,” thereby legitimizing their anti-American discourse after occupying the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This went so far as the Marxist writer and poet Khosrow Golsorkhi, arrested in the Pahlavi dynasty, said in his defense that he came to Marx’s teachings on social justice through Hussein (the third Shiite Imam) and Ali (the first Shiite Imam).
Today, however, four decades have passed since the revolution brought about by leftists and Islamists by working together. A few weeks ago, a three-fold increase in gasoline prices triggered protests in Iran. Hundreds of cities and villages in Iran have involved with protesters’ opposition to security forces. What was interesting was the discourse and slogan change in the recent protests four decades after the 1979 revolution. In addition to the economic slogans in protest against the high cost and livelihood pressures, the slogans were all non-religious including the slogans like “neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran,” “independence, freedom, Iranian Republic,” or slogans in favor of Reza Pahlavi, son of the former king of Iran, who calls for the separation of religion and government and holding a referendum in Iran. There were also slogans in support of his grandfather Reza Shah, whose legacy was modernization, secularism and Iranian nationalism.
This deep discourse change is a sign of the changing demands of the new Iranian generation. The desire for freedom, bread, and a better life are all worldly demands and a sign of the secularization of Iranian society. This is while over the past four decades, the Iranian government has tried to educate the younger generation of the religious and revolutionary ideology and to bring up the revolutionary generation through education in schools and publicity boards and exclusively state-owned television, and the ban on private television. However, unlike the previous generation active in the 1979 revolution, who had an ideological vision and stood against the Shah’s modernization and against Iran’s relationship with the United States, the new generation wants to embrace modern values and relations with all countries.
The secularization of the slogans forms as the slogans were still religious in the 2009 protests after the controversial election. Protesters in 2009, similar to the 1979 revolution, chanted God was great or chanted slogans on the roofs like “Oh Hossein (referring to the third Shiite imam) Mir Hossein (referring to Mir Hossein Mousavi, a rival candidate for Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election who did not accept the election result and is still under house arrest).
Discourse change is one of the most important preconditions before any social change in the material context of society. Now this precondition is being realized in Iranian society. A discourse that, unlike the 1979 revolution, does not seek to create an Islamic utopia and a classless monotheistic society but pursues earthly, worldly, and livelihood demands. It seems that an attempt to Islamize Iranian society over the past four decades seems has backfired, resulting in more secularization of society.
Original Headline: Iranian Protests and Discourse Change: Transition from Islamism to Secularism
Source: The International Policy Digest