Iranian Expatriates & Their Impact on the Islamic Republic of Iran: An Undergraduate Thesis in International Relations, Part VI

And here’s the final part: conclusions from my thesis on the Iranian Diaspora

This quote was not included in my thesis, but it very clearly synthesizes my primary conclusion:

“Western support of a candidate will [erase] his credibility with the people.”
Tehran Interim Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami
April 19, 2012

Conclusions

The research in this work proceeded to answer the question as outlined in the research design. First, the author mapped the Iranian Diaspora, cataloguing both why Iranians fled at various times, as well as to where they settled. Then this thesis outlined what kinds of groups have existed within the Iranian Diaspora over time, making specific reference to their activities and types of organizations. Additionally, this research delved into Iran’s historical development, in order to put the relationship between the state and the Diaspora in context, pursuant to the framework established by Varadarajan. The principal political, economic, and religious factors were chronicled over time, demonstrating the rise of the clerics at times of economic distress, and the political strategies that led to regime change in both 1953 and 1979.

Now that the two prongs of analysis of this thesis—mapping the Diaspora and tracing Iran’s development—have been conducted, it is time to bring them into conversation with one another. On the one hand, this thesis has demonstrated the growth of the Iranian Diaspora since 1953. Both the number and types of organizations and associations pertaining to the Iranian Diaspora have increased over time. Additionally, the degree of interaction between various groups has also increased. On the other hand, the political development of Iran has also been discussed, and a central theme has emerged. The issue of “foreign interference” played a dominant role in the rise of both Mossadegh and Khomeini to power, while simultaneously contributing to the downfall of the Shah. This variable has played a consistent role in the domestic politics of Iran, dating back to the meddling of the Soviet Union and Great Britain in the colonial era. Allied occupation cemented a fundamental mistrust of and antipathy towards both countries, which America inherited after its role in the 1953 Mossadegh coup. And today, the Islamic Republic continually scapegoats the West and America in particular for all manner of domestic ills, ranging from economic struggles to protests on the streets.

This long legacy of demonizing anything Western surely impedes the ability of the Iranian Diaspora to engage with the regime at home and produce any kind of change they’d like to see. A cursory glance at Table 5 (Appendix) will clearly demonstrate the overwhelming American bias in the composition of the Iranian Diaspora as a whole. The Islamic Republic very clearly exploits this link, and uses it to justify arrests of opponents of the regime.[1]

Indeed, as the tracing analysis indicates, Khomeini was quick to demonize foreign influence in Iran. When considering Varadarajan’s framework for analyzing the relationship between the diaspora community and the native government, she coined the phrase, “Producing the Domestic Abroad,” because of the increasing prevalence of governments enacting policies that sought to include their diaspora communities. But the evidence of this thesis as it relates to Iran and the Iranian Diaspora suggests just the opposite: rather than producing any domestic abroad, the Iranian regime actively seeks to undermine it.

Which brings us back to the original research question: why was Khomeini able to bring about regime change from abroad but the Iranian Diaspora post-1979 hasn’t been able to? The answer lies in the principal criticism that Khomeini held of the Shah’s regime: American influence. By tapping into this variable, a historically strong pressure point in Iranian domestic politics, Khomeini was able to overshadow the fact that his propaganda and sermons being sent from abroad served as a form of international interference in their own right. And once Khomeini established the Islamic Republic, his re-structuring of the state essentially framed Iran’s existence as a continual struggle against foreign interference. Furthermore, Khomeini continued to wield this Iranian xenophobia against political enemies at home, such as the People’s Mujahidin. The Islamic Propaganda Organization broadcast a series of forced confessions in the summer of 1983, in which members of the People’s Mujahidin were interrogated and compelled to confess their links with the foreigners (the transcript was later published).[2] The opening lines speak for themselves: “The Mujahideen Khalq Organization (MKO), better known as the Munajeqeen (hypocrites)…[has] collusive connections with the East on the one hand and the West on the other hand…Thus, it was quite natural for the Islamic Revolution, which relies solely on genuine Islam and negates whatever inclination towards dependence upon the East or the West, to condemn the group…One of the fundamental principles characterizing this Revolution consists in actually independence and the motto of “Neither East Nor West,” which principle has been repeatedly stressed by the deluge of blood of the revolutionary martyrs.”[3] Ironically, therefore, while the People’s Mujahidin’s recent removal from several lists of known terrorist groups certainly increases their legitimacy in the eyes of the West,[4] this only gives the regime in Tehran more ammunition with which to lambast the group’s “collusion” with foreigners.

In so clearly ostracizing anything with the slightest hint of foreign interference, Khomeini’s regime shielded the Islamic Republic from suffering the same fate as the Pahlavi Dynasty, for how could anyone ever accuse Iran—a nation that continually flouts the international community—of succumbing to foreign interference? By monopolizing this political “trump card,” the Islamic Republic is effectively insulated from the Iranian Diaspora and its political activities.

Interestingly, this research also indicates that the degree of uniformity of the Iranian Diaspora plays a minimal role if at all on the ability of the Diaspora to impact regime change. In the years leading up to 1979, the Diaspora was internally divided and lacked a comprehensive strategy to achieve regime change. And yet, Khomeini succeeded. Conversely, the Iranian Diaspora today is larger than ever, and with the advent of the internet has begun to coordinate in ways previously unseen. Granted, the Iranian Diaspora has succeeded in gaining the increasing attention of international media, but the fact of the matter remains that they have not been able to influence the regime in Tehran.

Also important to note, is that while the changes for the Iranian Diaspora to produce regime change are essentially nonexistent, that does not mean that there is no change for regime change in Iran. The data of this thesis shows that domestic forces, including economic factors, are strong variables at play in the periods leading to regime change.


[1] “Eighty Arrested during overnight Anti-Regime Protest in Iran: Minister.” Agence France Presse. 11 June 2003.

[2] Confessions of Some Highranking MKO Terrorists: As Aired on IRI TV. (Tehran: Islamic Propogation Organization, 1985).

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Canada Drops Iranian Group MEK from Terror List.” The Canadian Press. December 20, 2012.

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