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CRUCIBLE: Global Arrogance

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(Message delivered during the “Seminar on Examining the Position of Imam Khomeini’s Ideology as a Symbol of Anti-Arrogance in the Contemporary World” held at Iran’s Cultural Center in Makati City on 03 June 2024). 

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 04 June) – Thank you for inviting me to talk about “Exploring Imam Khomeini’s Ideology against Global Arrogance.” I am glad to participate as this brief lecture is another case of coincidence with my previous engagements. 

First, my Eidu l-fitr khutbah 2024 — “Ginosayd sa Gaza”  — on 10 April 2024 deals with relatively similar theme, particularly the need to understand today’s excesses and transgression of global power. 

Second, my previous lecture “The Morality of Nation-Building: A Glimpse on the Life and Struggle of Imam Khomeini” touched slightly on the Imam’s source or conception of akhlaq or morals and politics and certain aspects of his Islamic reform (Islahu l-islamiyyah), but did not relate on his view against global arrogance and power. 

It is therefore timely to explore Imam Khomeni’s view against global arrogance treated in this presentation as an expansion of that second lecture. 

For obvious reasons, revisiting the Imam’s view is important given today’s preponderance of international disorder amid Israel’s 8-month genocide in Gaza with no signs of alleviation in sight and with no power capable in taming such a zenith expression of global arrogance. 

Imam Khomeini’s ideology against global arrogance stems from the notion of a deformed collective self that succumbed to unmitigated grip of commanding ego (nafsu l-ammara) writ large, while expressed in various forms of a leader’s or people’s and nation’s self-pride. 

Such deformity often manifests in a leader’s authoritarianism or dictatorship, people’s haughtiness and racism, and State’s tyranny represented that time by the Shah and the Pahlavi Regime and its primary supporter — the United States — which the Imam personifies as “Great Satan” with Israel and erstwhile Soviet Union as “Lesser Satan.” 

Originally raised in 1979 when the US Embassy in Tehran was discovered by demonstrating students as a foreign den of spies, Khomeini’s term of America as “Great Satan” stuck and continued to strain US-Iran relations in subsequent years. 

For Khomeini, any group and nation or country that possesses absolute power and uses it as an instrument of oppression against other people and other nations such an entity becomes a taghut — a Qur’anic term that is invariably meant as oppressor or transgressor. 

During the Iranian revolution, the term taghut was used by Khomeini in referring to the Shah of Iran; as the United States supported the Shah, the term was eventually extended in characterizing the United States with additional epithet as Sheytan-e Bozorg (in Persian) or “Great Satan.”

That time in 1979, Israel was considered as “Lesser Satan” given the latter’s second fiddle role to America with respect to US foreign policy in the Middle East. 

With respect to the Soviet Union, it was also referred to as “Lesser Satan” by the late Imam owing to its hegemonic role like the US, albeit with a lesser degree, given USSR’s control of Muslim countries in Central Asia and intervention in Afghanistan. 

As a backdrop, it is not incidental for Khomeini to use the term “Great Satan” and connect it with the notion of global arrogance. As an Islamic scholar, the Imam is very much familiar with the nature of man’s pride as reflective with that of Shaytan’s. 

In the Qur’an, Iblis or Shaytan is the personification of pride or arrogance. When ALLAH (swt) asked Iblis to bow down before Adam (as), herefused to do so arguing that he could not bow to Adam (as) because Adam (as) was created out of clay or mud, while he was created from light.

As Iblis was condemned, albeit given a temporary respite to tempt or beguile Adam’s (as) descendants, Iblis was cunning enough to strike them at the weakest point of their vulnerabilities: man’s lower nafs or nafsu l-ammara or commanding self with mulk or power as the most potent of all temptations. 

Fully aware of this human tendency especially when translated in the affairs of state and society, Imam Khomeini abhors all forms of concentration of absolute power that could lead to tyranny, dictatorship and monarchy, leading him to envision an alternative political system for Iran and its people — the Wilayatu l-faqih. It is the rule of jurisconsult where justice and legislation through the parliament are structurally balanced while superimposed with the executive power of Iran’s Supreme Leader that guarantees rule of law, people’s interest and fidelity to Islamic ethos.

It is clear thus Imam Khomeini’s understanding of the Qur’an and his vision of Islamic polity allowed him to architect a new government and direct a new path in engaging against global arrogance particularly the Great and Lesser Satans. 

Yet, some dynamics of Iran’s engagement with global and regional powers reveal the extent of Khomeini’s rhetoric particularly on so-called Great and Lesser Satan. 

With respect to the United States, as the latter supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War, the US continued to sell weapons to Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. On the part of Iran, availing weapons from the enemy — the “Great Satan” — does not really matter since it badly needs weapons in fighting against Saddam. 

It shows that despite harsh rhetoric between US and Iran, pragmatism could take some precedence over other considerations — profit from arm sale for Uncle Sam; and arms and defense for Iran. 

This case of Iran-Contra Scandal must be the backdrop in recent years, for example, of the Iran Nuclear Deal while US sanction is going on; and, the latest exchange of messages between Iran and the US when the Iran Revolutionary Guard responded against Israel with drones and missiles after the latter’s bombing of the Iran Consulate in Syria. Indeed, rhetoric may count but Realpolitik counts more in geopolitics. 

With regard to erstwhile USSR, it was fortuitous for Imam Khomeini as his rhetoric of “Lesser Satan” changed when that erstwhile world’s super power, the main rival of the US, collapsed in the late ‘80s. He wrote and invited Mikhael Gorbachev to consider Islam while the latter was implementing Glasnost and Perestroika — two of Gorbachev’s reform program for a new Russia. 

To say the least, the shift in global balance of power between the US and USSR allowed Iran to rebuild relations with the latter. As such, the notion of Russia as the “Lesser Satan” was forgotten in subsequent years. 

The most problematic in the rhetoric of “Lesser Satan” is with respect to Israel. If Imam Khomeini is around today given Israel’s intransigence and high sense of exceptionalism in Palestine while nonchalantly defying international law and recklessly disturbing international order, would the Imam upgrade the rhetoric of “Lesser Satan” to another “Great Satan?” Or, would he use another metaphor? 

We do not know. What is certain is that Imam Khomeini must be in the forefront in both intellectual and political struggles against global arrogance and against any taghut of our time. 

To say the least, what to call such a feature of international disorder is an open issue. Anyone even with slight understanding would have no difficulty in pointing with what’s wrong in international system today. 

In our khutbah “Ginosayd sa Gaza,”  I personify the US as the same taghut that Imam Khomeini described 45 years ago. Moreover, I connect taghut to the symbolism of a snake represented by international Zionism that has gone “over the top” of America and uncannily and unscrupulously twirled around the globe with its two fangs stuck in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and with its tail strongly attached and sustained in Washington and other European power centers.

Such a symbolism is juxtaposed with another metaphor of “staff of Moses” or what we call tungkod ni Moises that fights against the snakes of Samari of Fir-awn  or Pharaoh represented today with resounding rise of peoples around the world invoking the cause of humanity in support of Palestine and the Palestine people and other free peoples of the world.

Indeed, Imam Khomeini remains a paragon worthy of emulation as an enlightened thinker, courageous revolutionary, and just leader ready to stand against global injustice and world’s arrogance of any taghut who comes his waybe they great or lesser ones. 

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines] 

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