Iranian Freedom and perspectives on the Shah

A few of my posts have linked to a blog called Iranian Freedom as ‘possibly related’:

Iranian Freedom seeks to serve as a conduit for Iranian dissidents within and without Iran and from across the political spectrum — all those who believe that in order to move forward, the freedom-loving Iranian nation must leave the Islamic Republic behind.

Ganselmi’s latest post is the most interesting I’ve read in a long time – about a book by Gholam Reza Afkhami called The Life and Times of the Shah and argues that the commonly accepted stereotype of the Shah isn’t the true picture.

A common narrative concerning the Shah and the Pahlavi legacy unites much of Iran’s intelligentsia with liberal-left opinion in the West. According to this narrative, Mohammad Reza Shah’s father, Reza Shah, was an absolutist dictator who attempted to modernize Iran at the point of the gun and an entirely unacceptable pace. Meanwhile, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is depicted as a corrupt stooge and a “westoxicated” lapdog of American imperialism who, by squashing the authentic democratic urges of his people, ultimately empowered the fundamentalist scourge now raging in his homeland.

Particularily interesting to me is the perspective on the CIA backed coup of Mossadegh that Ganselmi’s post offers. He argues that the CIA was by no means the only or even main influence in the coup:

As Afkhami explains, it was not until Mossadeq accorded himself unconstitutional emergency powers (suspending the Majlis, etc.) and began to speak openly against the crown that the Shah turned against him. The events that followed have gained mythical status among opponents of the Shah. But as Afkhami shows, the coup against Mossadeq was largely homemade and enjoyed solid support among broad segments of Iranian society.

It astonishes me to realize that before this my view on the coup of Mossadegh was essentially that western powers completely engineered this overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian leader. On second thought, the idea that the CIA could have done such a thing out of the blue is ridiculous – an incredibly chauvanistic overestimation of the influence western powers could have on Iran. That isn’t to defend what role the CIA did have. Perhaps Iran and the U.S. would have been much better served if a man like George W. Bush had been president then.

What I do know about Iran comes from We Are Iran by Nasrin Alavi – a book about Iran built around excerpts from Iranian blogs. It is by far one of my favorite books, and it too gives me hope for Iranian freedom:

The annual gathering to mark Iran’s National Youth Day 2004 proved another flashpoint. Some 150 representatives of the country’s youth groups met with the President and all were allocated three-minute slots to put their questions to him.
     Traditionally on such occasions, representatives of different youth groups gather and, rather than actually asking questions, they praise the Supreme Leader and the good deeds of the President. But Youth Day 2004 was a very different affair: the President got a ‘severe grilling’ from many of those present. One young girl demanded: ‘Mr President, look me in the eye when I ask my question.’ She went on to say: ‘Mr Khatami, you were unfaithful to us all.’ Another asked: ‘Do you sleep well at night?’ A revolt was brewing.
     The bold language of these student representatives was unprecedented. As a generation they see themselves as citizens with rights struggling for a civil society – and they greatly outnumber the soldiers of the ideological state
     ….Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Islamic Republic is its children – educated young women like Samieh Touhidlo, who bravely stand up for democracy in Iran.

-from We Are Iran pages 320 to 322

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One Response to “Iranian Freedom and perspectives on the Shah”

  1. ganselmi Says:

    As I was reading the painful final chapters of Afkhami’s book, which describe the fall of the Shah, I was thinking exactly what you suggested: which is that, for all his faults, GWB would have been a much more helpful president during the Iranian revolution. Carter, and his Sec. of State Cyrus Vance, kept pushing the Shah to liberalize, democratize, and avoid confrontation at the worst possible moment — at just the moment when he needed to act as a sovereign to protect the constitutional regime.

    PS – thanks again for the kind words re: my blog! 🙂

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