Due to Khamenei’s experience with the Shah repression and his forced westernization policies, preserving Iran’s cultural traditions is an important objective in Khamenei’s agenda. Through culture, Khamenei believes he is enhancing Iran’s national dignity after decades of suffering from imperialism. Most importantly, through culture Khamenei aims at protecting Iran from his utmost fear of foreign intervention.
Islam as the basis of the Iranian System
Islam is Khamenei’s tool to fight imperialism, both domestically and internationally. Sharia law applies in Iran, and, as a general rule, Khamenei opposes introducing social secularization reforms that reflect western values. Khamenei perceives western culture to be in a decadence stage, although he admits that it has its positive side too, such as sciences and arts. Indeed, he is a fan of Western, left-leaning literature. Examples of Islam’s influence in Iran is the prohibition of homosexual marriage and adultery, and dress code regulation.
With regard to gender issues, Khamenei still represents the conservative side of Iranian traditions. He views women’s sexual empowerment as a characteristic of the decadence in western culture. Given his fears of imperialism, he has even linked the topic to Iran’s security: “Designating women as goods & means of pleasure in the western world, most probably, is among Zionists’ plots to destroy human community.” Indeed, gender inequality in Iran is reflected in its legal system. For instance, daughters cannot inherit land, womens’ public dress code is regulated and married women cannot leave the country without their husbands. On the other hand, it must be noted that under the Iranian regime, women’s education has improved, with a current 60% of university female students.
Islam as a foreign policy
Internationally, Khamenei has followed his predecessor Khomenei in using Islam to unite Muslim countries against imperialist powers. This is known as the Islamic Awakening and it aims at continuing Iran’s revolution regionally. Through Islamic Awakening, Khamenei aims at increasing Iran’s influence regionally. However, practically Khamenei has a preference for Shi’a countries, thus Iran’s conflicting relation with Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia. Similarly, Khamenei actively denounces Israel due to its conflict with Palestinians, which explains the animosity between Iran and Israel.
However, for Khamenei, the struggle between imperial powers and Iran is not a religious struggle. Instead, Khamenei wants to portray that the struggle is solely political, and avoid that the “enemies” suggest Iran be the fanatic Muslim state in a crusade: it “has nothing to do with churches or Christianity, and the puppet deeds of a few idiotic and mercenary clerics must not be laid at the feet of Christians and their clergy. We Muslims will never commit similar acts in regard to the sanctities of other religions. The struggle between Muslims and Christians on a general level is what the enemies and plotters of these insane displays want, and the Koran instructs us to take the opposite position”