By Taha Özhan
It was not only the regional status quo that was unsettled with Iran’s Islamic revolution. It had come as a shock to the Western world, as well. The Islamic revolution, which coincided with the establishment of the Camp David order in the Middle East, was the embodiment of the objection to the consensus actors under America’s security umbrella seemed to have achieved. The Islamic Revolution represented a breaking point for two important reasons.
First, in the context of an Islamic world that had been losing ground for the 19th and 20th centuries, the Islamic revolution was perceived as a success story, in the eyes of the people. This owning up of the revolution, particularly for Sunnis, was not an easy task. Regional states’ reactions, however, were similar to those of the Western states. Iran was perceived as a “threat” by many regional states. In fact, in last two years after the revolution, Iraq under Saddam rule, would engage in the longest war of the 20th century.
Second was the West’s perception of the Islamic revolution. In the midst of claims that ideologies had run their course in the 20th century, an ideological revolution was achieved. With the revolution, the Shah’s rule, which was the most zealous manifestation of the West in Iran was overthrown and was replaced by a new regime. At a time when many Islamic countries were colonized and just when it was believed that claims grounded in Islam were waning, the Islamic revolution revealed the existence of a new political movement. The Western world responded to the revolution in Iran with heavy sanctions. The Arab world’s reactions, particularly the Iraqi war, made it possible for these Western sanctions to be disguised under politics. Under the pressure it faced, both from regional powers and the West, it did not take Iran long to turn into a Shiite nation-state.
Iran, wanting to break out of the pressure it was under, followed a security policy in the region that was centered on Israel. Following these policies, Iran developed a political aptitude, particularly in relation to insurgent or non-state organizations. This only increased the “illegal capacities” of the consolidated state of Iran. The increase in Iran’s illegal capacity in juxtaposition with its ongoing problems stemming from the particular power balance in the country resulted in worsening sanctions by Iran’s own doing. A multilevel version of Turkish style Kemalism and a tutelage regime were, in effect, integrated into Iran’s political structure. It took Turkey half a century to achieve a certain degree of normalization within its unconsolidated state structure. A similar analysis makes it possible to state that Iran’s transformation pains will be all the more severe.
Even more important than the normalisation of Iran’s relations with the West through the process of nuclear deliberations, is the process of normalization within Iran. This can only be made possible by the transformation of the different elements that consolidated Iran as a state. In other words, this process requires confronting more issues of substance than form. Only time will tell whether a desire for such change will emerge in the political in Iran, and if it does, whether it will be achieved. Similarly, the answer to the question “Does the West prefer a normalised Iran in the region” is yet to become clear.