When leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States sat down to negotiate in Vienna for the P5+1 talks, the world was filled with optimism. The hope was that the animosity and tension between these two powerful countries could be resolved.
At the negotiating table, Iranian leaders made huge concessions, giving up two-thirds of its peaceful nuclear energy program. In exchange, the United States backed down and admitted for the first time that Iran had the right to develop peaceful nuclear energy under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
With the agreement finalized, the hopes got even higher. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was put into practice and Iran’s nuclear material was shipped to Russia. The potential for peace between the United States and Iran, along with all of its global implications, seemed closer than ever.
The very concept of the negotiations was rejected by some very rich and powerful forces in the west. The oil cartels and the weapons manufacturers, in a tight alliance with the Israeli government and its network of supporters, were determined to prevent the deal from taking place. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to address the US Congress and gave a speech denouncing the agreement. Netanyahu, the leader of a foreign country, entered the US capitol against the wishes of the sitting president, and gave a hateful speech denouncing Iran.
Despite the huge amount of well funded opposition to it, the nuclear agreement was completed. The US Congress was unable to stop it. Now, the nuclear-related sanctions are poised to be lifted.
December of 2015 could easily have been a hopeful moment for global peace. However, within one short month, events have transpired pushing the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States further apart. Whatever niceties and courtesies were exchanged at the negotiating table in Vienna, in the aftermath of the P5+1 deal and the JCPOA, two oil-producing allies of the United States unleashed a campaign of violence against Shia Muslims.
Terrorism Against Shia Muslims
On December 12, the US-aligned Nigerian regime, which is tightly aligned with the Shell Oil corporation, attacked the country’s northern city of Zaria. The section of the city that was selected for attack was the stronghold of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, a religious and political movement led by Sheikh Ibrihim Al-Zakzaky. With no real justification other than vague allegations about violence at a political demonstration, over one thousand unarmed Shia Muslims were killed. Followers of Sheikh Zakzaky threw their bodies in front of their leader and were shot dead. A number of Zakzaky’s children were killed before he was ultimately taken into custody. Zakzaky remains in military detention with no formal charges filed against him.
In the aftermath of the killing of Nigeria’s Shia minority, the US Congress placed additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran, and President Obama signed them into law. The justification for the new sanctions imposed on Iran is the testing of missiles.
Iran, like many countries in the world, has a missile defense system that can respond in the case of foreign attack. The Islamic Republic has tested and maintained its missile defense system for decades in order to deter Israel or other countries from attacking — as has often been threatened. US leaders have declared the recent testing of Iran’s missiles to be “aggression,” and have imposed new sanctions on the country.
The final blow to the possibility of US-Iran detente came on January 1. As the year 2016 began, 47 prisoners in Saudi Arabia were put to death. Among them was Ayatollah Nimr Al-Nimr, the Shia cleric who has led the peaceful protests for human rights. Al-Nimr is the most well respected Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia. When it was announced that he was beheaded by the Saudi regime, violence was inevitable.
The slaughter of Shia Muslims by US allies has huge implications for US-Iran relations. The Islamic Republic of Iran is based on the Shia interpretation of Islam. The Islamic constitution allows freedom of religion for Sunnis, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians, but 95% of Iranians have chosen Shia Islam as their declared religion. The Shia Muslims from around the world, including those in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, often attend Iranian seminary schools for religious instruction. Shias throughout the world look to Imam Khomeni, the founder of the Islamic Republic, and Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Seyed Khomenei, for religious guidance and inspiration.
By allowing its allies to unleash a campaign of terrorism and violence against Shia Muslims, the United States is sending a message of hostility and threat to the Islamic Republic. Already the United States has been funding a campaign of terrorism by Sunni takfiri extremists in Syria who seek to slaughter the Alawite religious minority because they are considered to be “Shia apostates.” Furthermore, the United States has enabled and participated in Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen, done to suppress a movement for democracy. The justification for the attack on Yemen by Saudi leaders has been the democratic uprising’s inclusion of Zaidi Shia Muslims.
Saudi Arabia’s January 1 execution of Al-Nimr was completely unjustified and illegal by international standards of justice. Nimr was never given a lawyer or a fair chance to defend himself in court. Nimr and his followers never engaged in violence or called for armed uprisings, but simply engaged in peaceful assemblies calling for democratic elections and civil rights.
As Sheikh Zakzaky remains in military detention in Nigeria, rebellions of Shia Muslims have swept the Middle East. Iranian youth stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran and lit it on fire. The Shia community of Bahrain poured into the streets. In Saudi Arabia, an uprising has erupted in the Qatif region.
Both Saudi Arabia and Nigeria depend on the support of the United States. US weapons purchases and oil exports controlled by Wall Street define the Saudi economy. A mere phone call from Barack Obama could easily have saved Ayatollah Al-Nimr’s life. Nigeria is dependent on military and economic aid from the United States; the formerly Dutch and currently Wall Street-owned Shell Oil corporation has complete dominion over its economy. A phone call from Obama could easily secure the release of Sheikh Zakzaky. The escalated persecution of Shias during the recent period has been done with the full complicity of the United States.
Western Capitalism vs. The Islamic Revolution
The Islamic Republic of Iran was born in 1979. After decades of US-backed dictatorship and the poverty of foreign economic domination, the people poured into the streets. During the massive revolution thousands of Iranians bravely became martyrs, facing down tear gas, machine guns, and helicopters. Imam Khomeni returned to Iran from exile and rallied the country around the slogans “Not Capitalism, but Islam,” “Neither East nor West” and “War of Poverty Against Wealth.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran has driven out the rule of western capitalism. The Iranian economy is centered around publicly controlled oil resources, and a large section of Iran’s economy is managed by the state. Housing, education, and medical care is provided for the population. The government draws its power from community councils and associations, and is defended by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an armed group among the population, separate from the military. Grand Ayatollah Ali Seyed Khamenei has the final say, setting “red lines” on important political issues. The country’s political leadership is currently divided between the “principalists” (labelled “hardliners” by their detractors) and the “reformist movement” (labelled “moderates” by their opponents).
The Islamic Republic of Iran is aligned with Russia, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, and other countries as part of the emerging global axis of resistance. Since the revolution, Iranians have not been dependent clients of western bankers. They have developed their own domestic economy and infrastructure based on their own traditional culture and religion. Many Iranians have become very wealthy since 1979, as state-owned oil resources have been used to subsidize the development of the domestic economy.
Iran manufactures its own cars, steel, and food. It has wiped out illiteracy, and brought running water and medical care to even the poorest sections of the countryside. Iran is one of the safest parts of the Middle East region — and far more stable than the surrounding countries of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, which have been plagued by sectarian war.
It is not Iran’s foreign policy, or statements by Iranian leaders, but rather Iran’s existence as a stable, independent society that has put it into confrontation with the international financial elite. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a 636,372-square-mile refutation of the common western claim that neoliberal capitalism represents “the end of history” as the best possible system. Iranian oil exports compete with the oil controlled by Exxon Mobile, British Petroleum, and Shell on the international markets. Iran has consistently supported the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation.
The hopes of so many raised during the P5+1 nuclear negotiations have been crushed. The possibility of detente between the US and the Islamic Republic seems to have passed for the moment. The forces who seek war in order to ensure that no rivals or alternatives can emerge on the global stage seem to have redirected the US policy toward confrontation with the Islamic Republic.
However, as the US continues to destabilize internally, with protests getting larger, federal buildings being seized, and anti-capitalist sentiments becoming more and more widespread, the possibility of real change on the global stage has not died. The global economy faces a crisis that cannot be solved without massive, systemic changes. As Iran reacts to vicious hostility from US leaders in the form of sectarian religious violence, the next few months could be very decisive for the future of the Middle East and the world.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.