Islamism is a captivating phenomenon that has been continuously visited in literature since its emergence in the 1970's. In particular, the Iranian Revolution has received curious attention in the pursuit to understand the nature, power and effects of Islamism. This essay makes a critical assessment of the opinions journalist Afshin Molavi's draws on Iran and Islamism in his journal styled compilation Persian Pilgrimages: Journeys across Iran, `Pilgrimage: The Shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini' . The discussion will explore Molavi's ideas against the historical narrative of David Reynolds' One World Divisible: A Global History Since 1945 and the opinionated informative piece Islamic Fundamentalism, `The Transcendence of Islam' by Youssef M Choueiri.
Molavi draws our attention to two main areas of thought through his descriptions of the atmosphere at the Shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini, which is situated between political power capital Tehran and ancient religious city Qom (although closer to Tehran).
Using, amongst other things, the convenience of the Shrine's position - the symbolic positioning of the Shrine to convey that `Khomeini was attracted to Tehran more than Qom', because `in Tehran, there was power...from there he could remake Iran and direct the "Islamic Revolution"' - Molavi's first observation is that `Khomeini [is] more populist politician than quietist cleric' . This view appears to be illustrated with a number of similar points. Firstly, Molavi presents the clerical opinion of Khomeini's system of government through reformist Muslim cleric Mohsen Kadivar, who `describes Islam's submission as directed at God alone... [and] criticizes clerical rule' . Molavi then informs the reader that Kadiver is not alone on this criticism as `an entire generation of young Iranian clerics have rethought the Khomeinist idea of velayat-e-faqih'. In addition, Molavi also gives descriptive attention to the disproportioned fates faced by cleric opposition who voiced concerns in the consistency of Khomeini's system of government with Islam, all of which serve to paint a convincing image of Khomeini as a political tyrant rather than a religious minded cleric.
However, it is contented that perhaps the question of Khomeini's characterisation should not be confined to the opinions of fellow clerics. The broader question: what does Khomeini and Islamism represent seems to be more relevant? A religious revival or a political movement?
On the one hand, the justification of Molavi's observation appears inevitable. Across all literature, Islamism is described like many `isms', a way to control the state, run society, and remake the human being, likewise `Revolutions' have the same connotations. It is an Islamic-flavoured version of totalitarianism, which is argued by Reynolds to be a highly versatile political ideology that is `used to justify Libya's populist socialism and Bangladesh's conservative authoritarianism...the anti-Americanism of Iran...