It happened today - July 7, 2016
In the heady days after the Iranian revolution it seemed, as it often does with revolutions, that heaven on earth was within reach if only sufficient political will could be found. Moreover it was an Islamist revolution, the first such in the modern world, and the temptation to create heaven on earth by brute force is tragically common with those.
We can easily forget that until Khomeini came along, the typical Third World revolution even in the Muslim Middle East was secular nationalist socialist rather along Soviet lines. Now the Bolsheviks had their own weakness for trying to drag people into paradise in chains, as Khrushchev perceptively lamented in retirement. But the Iranian experiment was of a different sort.
The Bolsheviks aimed to transform human existence by altering the material conditions. The Khomeinists wanted to reach down your throat, grab your heart and squeeze it until you were a better person. And they’ve been at it for some two generations now.
I submit that the result has been awful. It has made a mess of the economy, which maybe isn’t meant to matter to purists. But it has happened partly because utopians are chronically belligerent and thus Iran has been unable to get along with its neighbours or the world, messing up its trade relations and impairing mobility.
Iranian foreign policy has also been a failure in the narrow sense that it has not managed to dominate the Middle East. Through Hezbollah and other proxies it has made a great deal of mischief. But even if you put aside the malevolence of its aims, its methods have on the whole been a flop.
Socially it has also been a bust. Among other things, a much underreported development is the plummeting birth rate in Iran, what someone called the slamming shut of the Muslim womb. Iran experienced rapid population growth in the first few decades after the revolution, but is now well below replacement rate. And (though we in the West should perhaps not throw stones) that’s a telling sign of people who have lost a sense of purpose to the point that they no longer consider life a gift, worth passing on.
In a way it’s not surprising. Khomeini was a grim character who famously said “there is no fun in Islam” and then went out of his way to make sure it came true. The agenda was to make life bleak and miserable and it worked. On the other hand, the promise was of a regenerated society. And I think by now we’re entitled to say that part did not work and isn’t going to.
Perhaps it’s a trite conclusion. But if we’re really into evidence-based decision-making, even at the expense of multiculturalism in its more aggressive relativist form, it’s worth commenting that once again, the anti-Western way of life works less well than our own.