Concept of Export of Revolution

Iran Table of Contents

The concept of exporting the Islamic Revolution derives from a particular worldview that perceives Islamic revolution as the means whereby Muslims and non-Muslims can liberate themselves from the oppression of tyrants who serve the interests of international imperialism. Both the United States and the Soviet Union are perceived as the two principal imperialist powers that exploit Third World countries. A renewed commitment to Islam, as the experience of Iran in overthrowing the shah demonstrated, permits oppressed nations to defeat imperialism. According to this perspective, by following Iran's example any country can free itself from imperialist domination.

Although the political elite agrees upon the desirability of exporting revolution, no unanimity exists on the means of achieving this goal. At one end of the spectrum is the view that propaganda efforts to teach Muslims about the Iranian example is the way to export revolution. Material assistance of any form is not necessary because oppressed people demonstrate their readiness for Islamic revolution by rising against dictatorial governments. Those who subscribe to this line of reasoning argue that Iranians received no external assistance in their Revolution but were successful as a result of their commitment to Islam. Furthermore, they cite Khomeini's often stated dictum that Iran has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. This view is compatible with the maintenance of normal diplomatic relations between Iran and other countries.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the view of Iran as the vanguard of a world revolutionary movement to liberate Muslim countries specifically, and other Third World countries generally, from imperialist subjugation. This activist perspective contends that the effective export of revolution must not be limited to propaganda efforts but must also include both financial and military assistance. Advocates of this view also cite Khomeini to justify their position and frequently quote his statements on the inevitability of the spread of Islamic revolution throughout the world.

Although various viewpoints fall between these two perspectives, since 1979 the two extreme views have been in contention in the formulation of foreign policy. In general, those who advocate exporting revolution solely through education and example have dominated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while those who favor active assistance to nonstate revolutionary groups have not served in important government positions relating to foreign policy. Nevertheless, because the supporters of an activist approach include some prominent political leaders, they have been able to exercise influence over certain areas of foreign relations. This has been especially true with respect to policy toward Lebanon and, to a lesser degree, policy in the Persian Gulf.

The earliest organization promoting the active export of revolution was Satja, established in the spring of 1979 by Mohammad Montazeri and his close associate, Mehdi Hashemi. Satja's contacts with numerous nonstate groups throughout the Arab Middle East soon brought the organization into direct conflict with both the IRP leadership and the provisional government. Ayatollah Hosain Ali Montazeri, the father of Mohammad Montazeri, rebuked his son publicly, saying his son had been suffering illusions since being tortured by the former shah's secret police. Satja was forced to disband, but Mohammad Montazeri and Hashemi then joined the Pasdaran, where they eventually set up within that organization the Liberation Movements Office. Mohammad Montazeri was subsequently killed in the June 1981 bombing of the IRP headquarters that claimed the lives of over seventy prominent politicians. Following that development, Hashemi emerged as the principal leader of those advocating both moral and material support for revolutionaries around the world.

Under Hashemi's direction, the Liberation Movements Office operated autonomously of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and maintained contact with opposition movements in several countries. Inevitably, its goal of promoting revolution abroad conflicted with the government's objective of normalizing relations with at least some of the governments that the Liberation Movements Office was helping to overthrow. Control over the direction of foreign policy was eventually resolved in favor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1984 the Liberation Movements Office was removed from the jurisdiction of the Pasdaran, and its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Information and Security. Dissatisfied with these arrangements, Hashemi resigned from his posts and went to Qom. There he obtained a position within the large bureaucracy of Ayatollah Montazeri, who supervised six seminaries, several charitable organizations, a publishing house, and numerous political offices. Having lost none of his zeal for exporting revolution, Hashemi succeeded in setting up the Office for Global Revolution, which, although nominally part of Montazeri's staff, actually operated independently. By 1986 Hashemi's activities had once again brought him into conflict with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In October he and several of his associates were arrested, and the Office for Global Revolution was closed. During the summer of 1987, Hashemi and some of his colleagues were tried for "deviating from Islam"; Hashemi was found guilty and subsequently executed.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress