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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: December 2017

4 - Religious Neuroses: Islam and the People


I have already started to show that in the revolutionary process that delivered the Islamic Republic in 1979, something rather novel happened in Iran. For the first time in world history, a state endowed itself with both a republican mandate and a religious, clerically centred sovereignty. The leadership of the supreme jurisprudent (Velayat-e faqih), theorised by Khomeini in exile in Najaf in the 1970s, is at the heart of this institutional make-up of the Iranian state. In this chapter, I will disentangle some of the foundations of power that underlie the system of the Velayat-e faqih in order to unravel its psycho-nationalist dynamics and nuances. I will show how in the build up to the post-revolutionary state, the nature of power of the faqih changed from a religious-theological ideal-type to a pragmatist-realist one. I maintain that both are driven by psycho-nationalist dynamics, as mentioned in the previous chapters. In terms of its hubristic core, the institution of the Supreme Leader is as narcissistic as the title of the shah-in-shah, or king of kings. Both forms of sovereignty are restrictive in terms of their prescriptions for Iran's national identity (and by extension the national interest of the country, as discussed in the previous chapter).

If Ayatollah Khomeini was a revolutionary cleric who brought about sudden and radical change in Iran and beyond, his successor Khamenei appears as a pragmatist ‘prefect’ of Khomeini's contested political legacy, whose foundations of power are far more sober and formalised than those of the late leader of the Iranian revolution. Both leaders have strengthened and perfected the psycho-nationalist tropes in Iranian politics. After the revolution, repeatedly there was room to negotiate them – as we have seen, the thermidor of Khatami changed some of the dynamics certainly in terms of Iran's international relations. To a lesser extent, the current President Hassan Rouhani has managed to contain some of the nationalist narcissism that I have talked about in the previous chapters, certainly in the international affairs of Iran which made it easier to find a diplomatic solution to the nuclear file and engender cautious détente with the United States. But in the end the Vali-e faqih must be analysed as an extension of psycho-nationalist sovereignty and legitimacy in the contemporary history of Iran, with all the baggage that this brings.

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  • Online ISBN: 9781108394918
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