Iran – quo vadis


Iran – quo vadis: Some theses on characteristics of the „Islamic Republic“ and the concurrent perspectives for its development.[1]

The world is a dangerous place to live;

not because of the people who are evil,

but because of the people

who don't do anything about it.

(Albert Einstein)


In this contribution I would like to discuss the characteristics of the “Islamic Republic” and the perspectives for its development which can be derived from these character traits.

Because a prognosis of the perspectives for the development of Iran without a diagnosis of the character structure of the “Islamic Republic” would be a merely wish- or f fear-led statement. To draw a reality-adequate picture of the perspectives for the development of Iran, we therefore have to deal with the structure-immanent development tendencies of this state society which I would like to discuss here in the form of propositions. These development tendencies manifest themselves in the obvious institutional crises which accompanied this “Republic” since its beginning.

In order to keep the speech short I will particularly discuss in the form of Theses some of the usually neglected psychogenetic aspects of the institutional crisis of the “Islamic Republic”, the consideration of which helps to understand the post-revolutionary events. The reason for this approach is that the basic entities of all social processes are the interdependent human beings involved, their fears and desires, their passions and “reason”, their propensities for good and for evil. Therefore, in order to understand the dynamics of social processes, the dynamics of the psychological processes must be understood which occur within the individual, as much as the individual can only be understood in the context of the lines of tradition[2] which have coined her or him. But in this context not their more conscious wishes are of primary importance but rather their lesser conscious motives, which usually can be rationalized in different ideological forms[3]. This leads to my following theses:

1.               The “Islamic Republic” including its malignantdestructivity and inhumanity is the manifestation of the triad of the syndrome of decay, as it articulated itself in Khomeinism. This syndrome of decay implies as quintessence of all evil[4] three tendencies of Necrophilia (love for the dead and everything lifeless), the malign confessional Narcissism (pathological self-love) and corresponding xenophobia, as well as the incestuous symbiosis of the regressive core groups of power and the mass basis of this form of rule. These destructive orientations determine as manifestations of the self-constraints of the Khomeinists:

a.                  A compulsive aggressive and destructive domestic- and foreign-policy orientation;

b.                  Consequentially the loss of any readiness to negociate neither with the “world community”, especially not with the United States and Israel, which have been declared to eternal and irreconcilable “enemies”, nor with members of the opposition, to find a “reasonable” exit out of the increasingly escalating domestic- and foreign-policy conflicts;

c.                  This rigidity of this domestic- and foreign-policy orientation results from an increasing loss of freedom to decide between rational and irrational interests in life, between growth or stagnation and death;

d.                  This loss of freedom determines domestically the non-negotiability of the “absolute rule of the scribes” as a formally and practically negation of the people’s sovereignty and therefore the un-reformability of the “Islamic Republic”.


2.                  The defence against these destructive orientations of the “Islamic Republic” manifest:

a.                  in an increasing international isolation, and

b.                  domestically in a permanently expanding oppositional movement, which lately articulated itself as “Green Movement”.

The “Green Movement” symbolizes therefore the increasing growth tendencies of the Iranian society, e.g. tendencies towards Biophilia (love for life and everything living), towards individual autonomy and towards overcoming the collective narcissism, as it manifests itself in the corresponding ability for empathy and charity of the social carriers of this movement. Their public demonstration of solidarity with the victims of 9/11 is a manifestation of this benevolence.


3.                  The triad of the hitherto dominant syndrome of decay manifested itself yet already in the central slogans of the masses during the uprising in the late 1970s and the “Islamization” of the revolution by chanting “neither westerly nor easterly (but) Islamic republic”.


Thereby Khomeinism turned out to be a social belief system in opposition to capitalism and communism in whose name everything internal and external deviant should be fought relentlessly. Therfore a permanent internal and external crisis atmosphere and conflict situation is an immanent concomitant of the "Islamic Republic".


These internally and externally irreconcilable and sometimes bloody conflicts result from the immanent conflicts of objectives of Khomeinism with all other belief systems.


Because in the center of Khomeinism – as in the center of any social belief system – lays the question of how people should arrange their own social life with each other.


Thereby Khomeinism is primarily an answer to the question about the normative structure of society and a central idea for battles in which people ought to be entangled.


What Khomeini understood under “Islamic Republic”, he had already depicted in detail in the 1960s in his exile in Iraq in his Book about the “Islamic state”[5], the “rule of the scribes”. For him the normative structure of society is pre-determined by the Shari’a because the Quran and “The tradition” deliver mandatory the eternally valid normative rules for the society of humans from their birth until their death.

They would not have been valid only for the short time of Muhammad’s rule and the twelve Imams following him but forever. The execution of these normative structures of society, declared as holy, would be the duty of the “scribes”.

4.                  The enforcement of this regressive orientation by the clergy is being rationalized by the still enduring concealment of the twelfth Iman, Mahdi: Because the twelfth Imam as legitimate ruler were still hidden the “scribes” are obliged to enforce these normative structures to prevent “chaos”; because it could happen that the “Mahdi” (the savior) would remain concealed for several millennia.

5.                  But the origin of his justification of the “rule of the scribes” is his misanthropic image of humans as eternally minors in need of a custodian.[6] As minors humans have consequentially no rights but only duties, the performance of which has to be commanded by the clergy.

6.                  The triad of the syndrome of decay of this regressive orientation therefore manifests itself:

a.                  in its regressive incestuous symbiosis with the Shari’a as the source of narcissistic satisfaction;

b.                  in its narcissistic pretension to elevate the scribes above all other humans over which they as god’s representatives are allowed to exert absolute power, as it has been institutionalized in the constitution of the “Islamic Republic” as “absolute rule of the scribes”;

c.                  in its necrophiliac emphasis of the Sharia’s’ necessity as “law and order” the maintenance of which is top priority. For this end even the “primary commandments of Islam” are allowed to be suspended. This love for the dead articulates itself in the absolute priority of the Shari’a which in form of the “rule of the scribes” ought to be eternalized not only in Iran. Because it is not the normative structure that serves people but it is the people that serve this order for the preservation of which anything is allowed. The post-revolutionary omnipresence of violence in the “Islamic Republic” and its aggressive external orientation is a consequence of these macchiavellistic necrophiliac tendencies and the accompanying mentality of paranoid hate against all people and states declared as “enemies”. Because everything deviant, that is everything that is not “Islamic” in the sense of Khomeinism, is being declared as “enemy”.

7.                  The social basis of this necrophiliac form of rule consists of those social groups who socially descended through the “modernization” of the state society and who were stigmatized by the pre-revolutionary establishment as “ommol” or “eternally diehards”. Those were primarily:

a.                  The big land owners who socially descended as a consequence of the land reform,

b.                  The traditional petty bourgeoisie, the small tradespersons and traditional wholesalers who were affiliated in religious networks building a symbiosis with the clergy, and who socially descended and were disintegrated as a consequence of the industrialization,

c.                  The clergy who became increasingly de-functionalized by the secularization of education and the judiciary,

d.                  The conservative men and women who were overstrained by “westernization”,

e.                  Those people who experienced the reform of family law and women’s suffrage as an unbearable loss of rank and power,

f.                    The uprooted former peasants who since the “land reform” in the 1960s had been migrating as mass individuals into the cities and who instead of urbanizing themselves contributed to the cultural ruralization of the cities.

The “Islamization” of the revolution was the manifestation of the turnover of the collective mourning of these former outsiders fighting for the reversal of the established order of the relations of self-esteem into their hegemonial frenzy. Their common identification with each other over their charismatic leader, Khomeini, constituted the mass basis of Khomeinism in form of a social movement of the “Islamic community” (“Umma”), with their incestuous symbiosis with Khomeini as the source of their narcissistic satisfaction.

8.                  Their violence is a function of their necrophilia, their confessional narcissism and their incestuous symbiosis with the “leader” as a protecting “mother figure” from which they cannot distinguish themselves and experience any critique on it as an existential threat.

9.                  Through this the “Islamic Republic” reveals itself as a “drag effect of the social habitus”[7] of those Iranians who either haven’t yet found or already lost themselves[8] and who as more or less minor subjects bow down to their leader.

10.               Since the constitution of the “Islamic Republic” emerged in a permanent defense against the deprivation of rights and debasement of the people declared as “Islamization” an increasing formation of the expropriated “Republicans” in Iran who tried to regain their usurped chances of power. The “Green Movement” is the present culmination of these efforts. It is therefore the catching-up-effect of the social habitus[9] of the citizens who are increasingly aware of their rights and politically mature and who claim their citizen and human rights.

11.               But the “Green Movement” as a many-layered social movement is a product of the seven main axes of tension of the increasingly functionally though yet not institutionally democratized society as they manifest themselves in the following conflicts:

a.                  Conflicts between rulers and the increasingly confident ruled who also become increasingly aware of their rights,

b.                  Conflicts between owners of the means of production and consumption and dependent employees, beyond the inner-bourgeois conflicts,

c.                  Ethnic and confessional conflicts,

d.                  Conflicts between the sexes,

e.                  Conflicts between generations,

f.                    Conflicts between modern science and religion as rivaling means of orientation and their carriers, and

g.                  External conflicts which exacerbate with the increasing shift of the balance of power between states in favor of weaker states. This functional democratization of interstate-relations experienced a thrust by the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the accompanying dissolving of the bipolar main axis of tension in international relationships. The present strategies of staging conflicts between involved states present a drag effect of the social habitus of their governments in the presence of the emerged multipolarity of interstate-relations, as they also manifest themselves in new international attempts of formation in so called international government organizations and (fragmentary) supranational alliances.

Only within the frame of the declaration of human rights and by reality-adequate solution strategies for these main conflicts does the “Green Movement” have a chance for the future without being trapped inside determinism.

12.               The “Green Movement” consists of many layers in which the unteachable and loyal to the system parts of the “Islamic Reformists” rather serve as a factor upholding order than as a lobby group of the discriminated and degraded people. This is not only expressed in the frequent statements of some of their representatives with regards to their loyalty but also in their desire to uphold the “Islamic” character of the state.[10] For them the “democratization” of the “Islamic Republic” seems to be the only chance to preserve this “Republic”. Therefore these preservation-oriented “Reformists” claim something impossible, that is the “unhindered exertion of the constitution” and through this the vitalization of the civil rights grounded in the constitution.

13.               These unteachable parts of the “Reformists” currently declare “enlightenment” as one of their main tasks, but they rather obscure than enlighten by highlighting seemingly impartially and with glee the current conflicts between the “leader” (Khameini) and the president (Ahmadinedjad) as a validation of their characterization of Ahmadinedjad as populist, corrupt and incompetent, which is being ignored by the established core groups of power; by doing this they personalize this institutional conflict between the “leader” and the “president” and belittle a constitutional crisis protracted since 32 years. Thereby they obscure the fact that this conflict is a renewed manifestation of the chronic institutional crisis of the “Islamic Republic”.

14.               In the meantime otherwise larger parts of the “Islamic Reformists” who have called for a boycott of the parliamentary elections had to realize that this institutional crisis is function of the antagonism between the republican component of the constitution and the “absolute rule of the scribes” documented in it which could only emerge as a result of the expropriation and monopolization of the revolutionary power by the Khomeinists. Therefore this antagonism can only be overcome by the suspension of the republican component, just as the established core groups of power had tried for decades, or through the abolition of the “rule of the scribes”. Only by overcoming this square of the circle can Iran’s chronic institutional respectively constitutional crisis be solved.



[1] This text is based on a speech delivered on the occasion of an event of the “Aktuelle Runde” of the communal service for senior citizens in Hanover, March 19th 2012.

[2] In contrast to Erich Fromm I prefer the concept of “lines of tradition” to the concept of “culture”. (Cf. Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, New York 1969 [orig. as The Fear of Freedom, London 1942], p. viii). The concept of “lines of tradition” avoids the idea of culture as some monolithic entity and rather emphasizes the influential constraints on the social habitus of people who are exposed to a certain “tradition”. These patterns of behavior and sentiment handed down and thereby being more or less transformed from generation to generation build different currents of a multi-layered “culture”, just like a river usually consists of invisible currents.

[3] For a more thorough investigation of these subconscious tendencies cf. Dawud Gholamasad, Irans neuer Umbruch – Von der Liebe zum Toten zur Liebe zum Leben [Iran’s New Radical Change – From Love for the Dead to Love for Life], Hannover 2010.

[4] Evilness is a specifically human phenomenon because humans are not only creatures but also potential creators of their own world of experience and therefore of their own self-experience. Animals do not feel any need for transcendence and therefore they cannot be evil because they only act according to their inner instincts respectively built-in drives which essentially serve their interest for survival. Evilness is the attempt of unproductive people to transcend themselves in an inhuman way. It is the tragic attempt of uncreative people to regress to a pre-human (that is “archaic”) condition which leads to the elimination of all specifically humane: of “reason”, love, and freedom. Insofar humans are evil because they have not yet found or have already lost themselves. “Evil is man’s loss of himself in the tragic attempt to escape the burden of his humanity.” (Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man. Its Genius for Good and Evil, New York 1980 [1964], p. 148, emphasized in the original text). The relative degree of evil therefore corresponds with the relative degree of regression, whereas the good consists in the emancipatory attempt of humans to live increasingly freer from constraints of non-human and human nature and from external- and self-constraints – essentially: to live increasingly creative.

[5] Compare the first German translation: Ayatollah Khomeini: Der islamische Staat [The Islamic State], Berlin 1983.

[6] Cf. Ayatollah Khomeini op cit., p. 61.


[7] Excursus to “Drag effect of the social habitus”: The revolutionary situation in Iran was a function of “functional Democratization” as a result of the modernization. One of the central aspects of modernisation was a process of social differentiation, shown by the increase in specialised social activities. During the course of this social development towards a growing differentiation and specialisation of social positions and functions, not only did the nature and degree of people’s interdependency change (The former peasant subjects either became small land owners, day labourers, peddlers or also industrial workers and craftsmen etc.). Through the increasing division of functions, the chains of interdependence binding people to each other grew in length. The result was that more and more individuals, because of the characteristic quality of their functions, had to rely on more and more people in order to satisfy existential needs (In the pre-revolutionary Iran, this number rose from 549 to 5280 functions in the last 43 years before the Revolution).

The change in interdependence in this direction signified a decreasing of power differentials between the various social strata and groups in society, as long as they were integrated into the ever-changing circle of functions within this society. With this specific shift in the balance of power, not only did the relationship between parents and children, men and women, various ethnic and religious groups and other social formations change. The relation of dependence between ruled and rulers also changed. The rulers - that group who possessed access to and disposed over the resources of power in society - became increasingly dependent on groups of outsiders who were refused access to the opportunities of power.

This change in the power structures, this functional or “latent democratization” (Norbert Elias, Was ist Soziologie, Weinheim, München, 1986, 5. Auflage, pp. 70ff.) in the sense of a lessening of the power differentials between people in different social positions did actually take place, without being adequately experienced by the affected people. Therefore, it could not lead to institutionalisation of the changed balance of power.

In the face of a successful revolution - a change in the balance of power between rulers and ruled favouring the latter - the question rises as to why former outsiders voluntarily handed over the power they had won to a religious elite which had expressly declared their status as minors.

With this, we come to a constellation in which the dynamics of unplanned social processes drive over a specific stage towards another one, while the personality structure or rather the social habitus of those people involved in this change remains in the earlier stage (Norbert Elias, Die Gesellschaft der Individuen, Frankfurt/M. 1987 p. 281). The common societal moulding of their individual behaviour, of their language and way of thinking, of their emotional state, and, especially of the formation of their conscience and ideals - in short, the basic pattern of their personality - changed relatively slowly in contrast to the relatively rapid process of social differentiation. Specific conflicts of loyalty, generation and gender were, as conflicts of transition, as much drag effect of their social habitus as are both romantic and fundamentalist movements. (Compare Dawud Gholamasad, On Civilisation-Theoretical Aspects of “History from Below” as Democratisation and its Problems in Iran: Selected Aspect of Sociogenesis and Psychogenesis of the Islamic Republic as an Institutional De-democratisation. A Contribution to the workshop: Twentieth-Century Iran: History From Below, 25-26 May 2001 at the International Institute of Social History (HSH) Amsterdam)

[8] Social and psychological processes neither are always contemporaneous nor directed in the same direction. They are also reversible.

[9] The catching-up-effect of the social habitus refers to the accelerated transformation of the social habitus, which finally more or less corresponds to the social differentiation.

[10] Therefore, since the constitution of the “Islamic Republic”, two main tendencies compete with each other within the core groups of power: These are the expansion-oriented on the one hand and the preservation-oriented groups on the other hand, as they manifest themselves in their different orientation towards easing or exacerbating domestic and foreign policy. The expansionist groups prevailed now and then, marginalizing and sometimes eliminating others.