Underlying Western concerns regarding Iran is the fact that the Islamic Republic is not a status quo power, and that it seeks to export revolution and amplify its influence throughout the region. A recent speech by Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Qods Force, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards charged with export of revolution and designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist group, reinforces such concerns.
Using the first anniversary of the death of Hassan Shateri, an IRGC general killed by an Israeli air strike in Syria, as the backdrop, Suleimani declared that no other country but Iran could lay claim to leadership in the Islamic world, because only Iran is willing to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to standing up to the United States and supporting Islamic resistance, a euphemism for groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, which the United States government also designates as terrorist groups.
While the excerpts translated here come from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s own news outlet and so show what the IRGC wants its members to internalize, Iranian news outlets emphasized other parts of Suleimani’s speech, for example, when he declared that nationalism is a lie. Such a statement goes to the heart of a conflict over Iranian identity. Many Iranians take nationalist pride in their civilization, which dates back to the ancient Persian (Achaemenid) Empire in the sixth century BC. However, the Islamic Republic seeks to promote Islam above nationalism, both because Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideology was more religious than national, and because emphasizing Islam rather than nationhood allows the Islamic Republic’s ideology to cross ethnic and national borders. That 35 years after the Islamic Revolution Iranian officials still work to de-emphasize and de-legitimize national sentiment suggests that many Iranians continue to see themselves as Iranian first, rather than simply soldiers of an Islamic revival.