As Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping market their authoritarian rulers as alternatives to a “moribund” Western democratic system, Tehran’s Khomeinist mullahs are also throwing their hats, sorry turbans, into the ring as contenders for the head of a new world order.
An early version of the mullahs’ candidacy emerged nearly 30 years ago when Hojat al-Islam Muhammad Khatami suggested that by separating religion from politics, the Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe created a world order that fomented wars, slavery and colonialism. The way to salvation was to restore religious control over politics by giving theologians a leadership role.
The new version is proposed by Ayatollah Ahmad Alam al-Hoda, a high cleric of Mash’had and one of four or five turbaned leaders considered possible successors to the current “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Father-in-law of current Islamic President Ayatollah Ibrahim Raisi, Alam al-Hoda also has close ties to the military security apparatus often referred to as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Trying to portray himself as the regime’s ideologue, Alam al-Hoda laid out his worldview in a lengthy sermon in the “holy city”. According to him, the era of modernism that began with the Treaties of Westphalia, American Independence, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution is over as we move into the post-modern world.
“The world that was enslaved by modernity is collapsing,” he said. “A post-modern world is on the horizon; the one that only Islamic Iran can lead.
Alam al-Hoda says the United States is collapsing as some states, notably Texas, seek to secede and Israelis flee their “promised land” in ever-increasing numbers.
But why should Iran become the new world leader?
Alam al-Hoda’s response is blunt: Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is the sole standard-bearer of true Mohammedan Islam.
Of the 57 Muslim-majority countries, Iran is “the only country to have an Islamic government in the proper sense of the term”.
Other nations do not need to convert to Islam to benefit from the “Islamic model”. In fact, some non-Muslim countries, including Venezuela, have already done so.
Mohsen Shaterzadeh, former ambassador of the Islamic Republic to Venezuela, says Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution was “inspired by the teachings of Imam Khomeini”. Chavez, who has made several trips to Iran, learned how to govern a nation fairly.
“Chavez eventually came to believe in the Hidden Imam and developed a deep devotion to Supreme Leader Imam Khamenei,” Shaterzadeh said.
Iran’s “Islamic model” has also gained “mass supporters” in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen where the movement for the establishment of a “truly Mohammedan system” continues to grow.
This “we are the most beautiful” delusion of mullahs can be dismissed as an acute form of limerence. The problem is that it prevents Iran from acquiring a realistic image of itself that is not reflected in the falsifying mirror of fanatical fantasy.
An accurate picture of Iran under the Islamic Republic may draw some sympathy for the suffering of a nation held hostage in a capricious ship in rough seas.
If you thought it was a burst of poetic vanity, listen to what another Ayatollah, Ahmad Jannati, said last week.
“People say that because of inflation they can’t afford more than one meal a day,” he said. “What’s wrong with that? A meal is a blessing because there are people who can’t even have that. In Islam the rule is to bear all hardship to protect those who protect the faith from its enemies .
In other words, Alam al-Hoda’s “postmodern Islamic model” is “rule by starvation”.
Famine is not the only “blessing” offered by the Islamic Republic.
The Islamic Republic accounts for 50% of all executions worldwide, although Iran accounts for only 1.1% of the world’s population. More than 40% of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are in the Islamic Republic.
Each year, an average of 150,000 highly qualified Iranians, including 3,500 medical doctors, leave the country to join the approximately 8 million, or almost 10% of the population, already in exile.
According to Transparency International, the Islamic Republic is also among the world leaders in corruption. According to official reports from Tehran, between 2016 and 2020, embezzlement and bribes increased by 300%. Last month alone, a $400 million embezzlement case was reported among 85 other “grand corruption” cases under investigation.
Official reports show that some 80 anonymous but presumed powerful figures owe untold sums to public banks on the basis of non-existent guarantees.
Capital flight is estimated between 22 and 30 billion dollars per year. As the national currency becomes practically worthless and the Tehran Stock Exchange is reclassified as a den of thieves, even small savers are trying to withdraw the money they have as quickly as possible.
Also according to official estimates, more than 1.5 million Iranians have bought property in Turkey while another 1.2 million have invested in real estate in Georgia, Armenia and Serbia.
At the same time, again according to official estimates, a quarter of Iranians live in substandard housing, including 13 million trapped in slums.
A few weeks ago, the collapse of a large building in southwestern Iran killed at least 80 people. Authorities admit that the permits needed to build the tower were bought through bribes. Worse still, the mayor of Tehran warns that there are nearly 500 poorly built towers in the capital that cannot be razed, likely because they belong to powerful regime figures.
Iran’s position on the world life expectancy chart has fallen to 49th place from 38th in 1977.
Iran also faces a downward demographic curve with a significant number of young people unable to marry and raise a family.
In 2021, the government of President Hassan Rouhani estimated that 25% of Iranians lived below the poverty line while 30% had “a good life”. The remaining people were JAMS or “just about to manage” on the verge of poverty.
Add to all this the challenges that average Iranians face in social, cultural and political spheres and Alam al-Hoda’s “Islamic model” is unlikely to find a large market across the globe.
Those who are supposed to love this model in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are simply being paid to sing its praises.
According to former Islamic Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif, Tehran spends about $35 billion a year to feed its supporters in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa, the four Arab capitals that Iran controls according to the Ayatollah Ali Yunesi.
Alam al-Hoda and his ilk are caught up in Walter Mitty Syndrome after a Danny Kaye film in which a poor pal imagines himself in a series of heroic roles.