** 12-Feb-2019 Answers to Iran questions from India's Open Magazine
An editor at Open Magazine in India has asked me questions about
Iran for an article on the 40th anniversary of Iran's revolution.
The following are the questions and the answers:
> 1. Looking back, how has the Islamic Revolution altered the
> history of the Middle East and the rest of the world?
There were three events that occurred in 1979 that set the direction
of the Mideast. The Islamic Revolution changed Iran from a Western
ally to a Western enemy, and radicalized the Mideast. The Soviet
invasion of Afghanistan, which was an invasion of a Muslim nation by a
Christian nation, further radicalized the Mideast and Pakistan. And
the Salafist attack on Saudi Arabia's Grand Mosque was the first major
terrorist attack in recent times, and it led to Osama bin Laden and
his band of jihadists to leave Saudi Arabia and go to Afghanistan to
fight the Russians. These events can be traced directly to the
Iran-Iraq war and to the 9/11 terror attack.
> 2. What are your thoughts on Khomeini's legacy?
Ruhollah Khomeini's greatest sin is that he corrupted Islam by
twisting into a policy called Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the
Jurist) which turned himself into an "infallible" Supreme Leader who
could order the arrests, torture, rape, beatings, and executions of
political opponents with impunity. Furthermore, he devised a
constitution with absolutely no checks and balances, which makes Iran
into a kleptocracy, unable to get anything done except with bribery
and extortion. Khomeini was truly evil. He has fouled Islam and
> 3. Many famous intelligence officials and news correspondents who
> have worked in Iran have opined that they had underestimated the
> inherent strengths of that country to survive insurmountable
> odds. Your comments.
Dictators always survive in a police state, where political opponents
can be arrested, tortured, raped, beaten, and executed at will with
impunity. Look at Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Bashar al-Assad,
Xi Jinping, Robert Mugabe. They were all in power for years or
decades. What you call "inherent strength" is the ability to use
violence to control the opposition.
A lot of people talk about "regime change" in Iran, without having any
idea what that means. If all it means is replacing one Supreme Leader
by another, it will make no difference at all. The problem is that
the constitution and entire government are a kleptocracy, where it's
impossible to survive without bribery, corruption and violence.
However, generational theory tells us that an important change is
coming. The fanatical hardliners in Iran are in the generations that
lived through and fought in the 1979 Revolution, and those people are
quickly disappearing. The younger generations, who grew up after the
1979 Revolution, have no such fanaticism. In fact, they're generally
pro-American, pro-Western, and have no particular interest in seeing
Israel pushed into the sea. These younger generations are
increasingly in power, and they will dramatically change Iran's
politics. Some opposition figures are even suggesting that the son of
the deceased Shah could come back and restore a secular government.
> 4. Do you think that Iran has been villainised over the past 40
> years because it took on the might of the US and threw out an
> American stooge out of power? How justified are the West's
> sanctions on that country?
Iran is a country that abducted American ambassadors, and declares
"death to America" and "death to Israel" every single day. They're
corrupt, violent terrorists, and they're spreading terror throughout
the Mideast in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and Yemen. Of course
they're going to be villanized, and they deserve it.
> 5. Did the 1979 Revolution intensify the Shia-Sunni conflict and
By changing from a secular government to a radical Shia government,
they radicalized the Wahhabi Sunni extremists and other jihadists.
> 6. What are the untold stories of the Islamic Revolution? Why did
> Saddam spare Khomeini while he was in exile in Iraq? How come he
> became a darling of the international media overnight in France?
> Were there more to these developments than meets the eye?
These are all political developments that were not nearly as important
as the three major events in 1979 that I listed above.
> 7. Iran is still a power that continues to surprise the West. Do
> you think there are chances that it will become a nuclear power
Well, I was surprised myself when I did research for my book and
discovered that no analysts, journalists or politicians have even the
vaguest clue what's going on Iran, as judged by the fact that they say
one incredibly stupid thing after another every day. That's why they
keep getting surprised -- because of their universal stupidity.
Will it be a nuclear power soon? They're undoubtedly continuing some
nuclear development, and/or buying nuclear technology from North
Korea. Even under the Iran nuclear treaty, they're permitted to
develop nuclear weapons by 2025, and they're certainly planning to do
> 8. How important is it to understand Iran in order to understand
> political Islam?
I don't even know what this means, since no one wants to bother to
understand political Islam or Islam at any level. However, someone
who wants to understand Iran and Islam can start by reading my book,
which has the best and most accessible exposition of both that I've
> 9. Who are your favourite historians who have written extensively
> on Iran?
The best was Homa Katouzian. In my book, I showed how generational
changes led to the historical flow Russia/Britain-Iran border wars ->
Tobacco Revolt -> Constitutional Revolution -> White Revolution
protests -> Islamic Revolution. Most historians discussed these as
individual, almost unrelated events. Katouzian was the only one who
understood how one leads to the next.
> I have one more question to John:
> Isn't it Saudi Arabia, a friend of the US, which is the
> fountainhead of Islamic terrorism in the Middle East (we feel the
> pressure in India as well because Islamism in India is funded by
> the Saudis)? Why do you insist it is Iran? Besides, Israel isn't a
> saint after all and has earned the wrath of UNHCR on many
> occasions for its treatment of Palestinian civilians. It is a
> country whose economic mainstay is arms and its government has
> been accused of terrorism by religious groups within. Your
You've packed a lot into that paragraph.
- "Saudi Arabia is the fountainhead of Islamic terrorism in the Middle
East": SA is "A fountainhead," not "THE fountainhead." In Yemen, SA
is in a never-ending proxy war with Iran, in Syria SA is supporting
many anti-Assad rebels, and the Jamal Khashoggi incident has shocked
everyone, and has had the ironic effect of pushing SA closer to
Pakistan. Many people also blame SA for 9/11. SA itself has an
internal split between the Sauds and the Wahhabis. At any rate, Saudi
Arabia and Iran are headed for war.
- "SA is a friend of the US": Many in Congress do not consider SA to
be a friend. Obama hated SA, and SA hated Obama. SA and US have had
a close relationship since the 1930s based on the following core
agreement: SA will provide oil to the world, and the US will provide
security to the Mideast. Trump's "friendship" with SA is based on
that core agreement. This core agreement greatly benefits everyone,
including India. There have been many problems in the SA-US
relationship over the decades, but this core agreement has remained
the most important factor.
- "Islamism in India is funded by the Saudis": If I'm not mistaken,
most of the funding for Islamism in India comes not from the Saudis
but from Pakistan's ISI. However, that may be a distinction without a
difference because Pakistan is a close ally of SA and China, both of
whom are enemies of India. India, on the other hand, is a close ally
of Iran, as illustrated by the Chabahar seaport project. Hindus and
Shia Muslims have been allies for centuries, all the way back to the
seminal Battle of Karbala in 680. I discussed this in my book.
- "Israel isn't a saint": Nobody's a saint, especially in the Mideast.
Israel is a democracy and has an independent judiciary, which makes
then unique in the Mideast. Muslim Arabs are much safer living in
Israel, and have more freedoms, than in any other Mideast country.
Just as Hindus in India feel a close emotional link with Shia Muslims
in Iran, and tend to excuse Iran's sins, Jews and evangelical
Christians in America feel a close emotional link to Jews in Israel,
and tend to excuse Israel's sins.
- "Israel's government has been accused of terrorism by religious
groups within": And also by Jews and Israel supporters in the US.
There's also anti-Jewish sentiment in the US -- read the current news
stories about Ilhan Abdullahi Omar, who is the Somali Muslim
congressional representative from Minneapolis, which has a large
- "earned the wrath of UNHCR": Many in the US consider UNHCR to be
highly biased, condemning actions in Israel while ignoring massively
greater human rights violations by others.
- "John's LinkedIn profile has no mention of this Iran book. Why
so?": I have two careers -- as software engineer and as
journalist/analyst/author. I use the LinkedIn profile for software
engineering, and potential employers would be confused by a mention of
an Iran book. However, I'm thinking of changing my LinkedIn