Eleven Minutes with Danny Postel on “Iran’s Role in the Shifting Political Landscape of the Middle East”

Is Tehran a revolutionary or counter-revolutionary force?


Danny Postel is Assistant Director of the Center for International and Area Studies at Northwestern University and a member of Internationalism from Below, an “organizing project of a network of socialist activists that seeks to build transnational solidarity with and between movements for social justice and democracy.” He is the author of Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran (2006) and co-editor of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future (2010) and The Syria Dilemma (2013). His work has appeared in Boston Review, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, The Guardian, In These Times, The Nation and numerous other publications.

I recently spoke to him about his new article, Iran’s Role in the Shifting Political Landscape of the Middle East, for New Politics. He writes:

Saudi Arabia’s role as a counter-revolutionary force in the Middle East is widely understood and thoroughly documented. Historian Rosie Bsheer calls the Saudi kingdom “a counter-revolutionary state par excellence,” indeed one that was “consolidated as such.” The Saudi monarchy has gone into counter-revolutionary overdrive since the onset of the Arab uprisings, scrambling to thwart popular movements and keep the region’s dictators in power — from Egypt and Bahrain to Yemen and Sudan (and beyond).

What is less understood is the counter-revolutionary role that Iran plays in the region’s politics. This is poorly understood and under-examined because it flies in the face of the dominant narrative, that of Iran as a “revolutionary” state in the vanguard of a regional “Axis of Resistance” to US imperialism and its allies. This view is shared across the ideological spectrum, from neoconservatives and US foreign policy hawks (for whom Iran’s “revolutionary” policies are dangerous and must be contained/confronted) to large swaths of the “anti-imperialist” Left and antiwar movement (for whom Iran is merely defending itself and “resisting” US/Israeli/Saudi belligerence). While the two camps disagree about whether Iran’s “revolutionary” agenda is a good thing, they agree that it is “revolutionary.” This is also the official line of the Islamic Republic itself, whose self-image as a “revolutionary” state in the vanguard of an “Axis of Resistance” is central to its identity — and legitimacy.

Agree? Disagree? Listen before you answer. Here you go.

Episode 25: Danny Postel

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