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  • "Neither East Nor West," Neither Liberal Nor Illiberal?Iranian Islamist Internationalism in the 1980s
  • Timothy Nunan

Sometime in the summer of 1982, the pro-Iranian Iraqi Islamist journalist Ali al-Nāseri conducted a series of interviews in Tehran with other Islamists from the Middle East and Africa to discuss the future. Earlier that summer, Iranian forces had halted an Iraqi military advance and liberated the city of Khorramshahr from Saddam Hussein's armies. Syria, an Iranian ally, had cut off Iraqi oil exports to the Mediterranean, starving the Iraqi military machine of cash. The Iraqi dictator, who oppressed Islamists like al-Nāseri within Iraq, proposed an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal from Iran. Tehran, however, rejected the offer and invaded Iraq on July 13, 1982. Assuming that the installation of a Shi'a Islamist regime in Baghdad was a foregone conclusion, al-Nāseri interviewed representatives from other Islamist groups to discuss the prospects for the "global movement of Islam," as al-Nāseri dubbed it. Among the organizations whose representatives al-Nāseri interviewed were the Islamic Jihad organization from Tunisia, the Islamic Dawa Organization from Zaire, Amal in Lebanon, an unidentified Chadian Islamic movement, and a further unspecified "Islamic Movement" from Turkey.1

The interviewees offered different perspectives on the future of their movement and Iran's leadership of it. Sheikh Ismail, the head of the Zairean Islamic Jihad Organization, stated that "I'm with Iran not because it's fighting against Iraq; I'm with Iran because Iran is with [End Page 43] Islam." Similarly, one Abu Mustafa (of the "Islamic Movement in Turkey") supported Iran because it was the only state to challenge America and its "client regimes" According to Mustafa, "America wants Iran's Islam to be like the Islam of Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Jordan or Morocco or Tunis or Turkey." Sayyif Al-Akh Ali Zeitouni, a member of Islamic Jihad from Tunis, explained how the Iran-Iraq War had extinguished his faith in international institutions:

I reneged my faith (kafartu) in the united Nations and all of the international authorities that are still the tools of global arrogance and especially the Great Satan, America. Where were these authorities in Abadan,2 in Dezful,3 in Susangerd,4 in Khorramshahr5 and Ahwaz6 when the Aflaqist7 forces were killing and destroying many clans in Khuzestan? Where were they when the children were crying? Where were they when those who were bereaved of their children, who yearned for nothing but to be satisfied with Islam as a religion and as a state (dinān wadulatān), were crying?

Zeitouni presented himself as a convert to the cause of pan-Islamism, but one had to have a faith in order to renege it in the first place. The abandonment of that former faith in the United Nations (UN) and liberal internationalist institutions in favor of utopian alternatives was provoked by problems that persist in new forms today. The United Nations has never been able to halt the bloodshed in Syria, for example, nor is it likely that an International Tribunal will be set up for Syria as one was for Yugoslavia or Rwanda. Perhaps the only factor easing the Syrian conflict is that parties like Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran are at least member states of the United Nations that accept the legitimacy of international institutions. Da'esh, in contrast, rejected the United Nations altogether, nor has the UN considered admitting it as a member. [End Page 44] Conversely, the UN has maintained a comprehensive sanctions regime against Da'esh, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban, and the United Nations never admitted the latter group as the legitimate government of Afghanistan even after they controlled a majority of the country's territory and its capital.8 This failure of these groups to gain representation in international society might be contrasted to the United Nations' stance toward the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a secular transnational organization that was admitted to the United Nations as the representative of a people and granted observer status at the General Assembly.9 In short, Islamist movements—defined here as groups that demand that Islam guide political and economic institutions...


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