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Was Shah Really to Blame?
Yani Nikolai
June 23, 2008

Undoubtedly our late king, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was far from perfect. Many argue that he took away what they considered the democracy of our country back in the early 1950’s; he listened to the wrong people, “distanced himself from Iranians” and made too many other critical mistakes during his reign. The main question is, was Shah really to blame for the whole downfall of Iran?

I am by no means a Monarchy supporter; I have no means to support a re-establishment of their positions in Iran or their status’. I do however give them my utmost respect as a symbolic representation as to what our country once was and in some ways in which they had contributed to the prosperity of Iran and Iranians over the years (although this point is questionable).

Many blame Shah for ousting the democratically elected leadership of Mohammad Mossadegh in a Military Coup back in 1953. Nowadays many claim that Shah’s overthrowing of Mossadegh was a prime example of his “Ventriloquists” the West trying to dip their hands into Iran’s prospering economy, given also that the British had just lost an important asset in Iran. Obviously the west played a massive role in the Shah’s regain to power and without a doubt they did it partly for their own gain as well as for fear of Iran falling under communism. However was Shah’s motivation for regaining power really driven by greed, or was it genuine prosperity for his country? To analyse this question properly, one has to evaluate Shah’s role as a ruler of Iran.

It must be taken into account also that the Shah’s inspiration to modernisation was not just taken from his western allies but from his own father Reza Shah (The Great). The late King’s father was renown for having no time for the religious fanatics getting in the way of his country’s modernisation. Reza Shah took his inspirations from the west and built railways, roads, hospitals and educational institutions. He made it mandatory that men shave their beards and women do not wear their Islamic veils in public, in order to bring the country out of the medieval times. The religious clergy throughout Iran hated him because of his rough treatment of those who tried to violate his country’s prosperity. All the Shia Clergy ever cared about was Islam, their power as Muslims over the nation and their reverence for martyrdom. This traditional view was still reflected many years later intact by Khomeini’s Shia Regime. Therefore Mohammad Reza Shah like his father was a genuine visionary, and had a clear vision for his country’s future right from the beginning, unlike Khomeini who stuck with primitive Islamic beliefs.

The “White Revolution” of 1963 although occurred later on under the Shah, signaled a new direction in which Iran was leading. The Shah proposed social, economical and land reforms in order to assist his country into becoming a world superpower. All this reflects the dreams, which Shah had for his country into becoming a modern and prospering nation. It is true he was an ally to the west and believed in a westernised society in his own country but this does not mean “he had given too much away”, these are usually quotes reiterated continuously by traditionalists who view the Shah as an infidel for befriending the “enemies of Islam”. Shah was a realist in the sense that he needed friends in the west in order to aid him through his reign over Iran, he knew and understood the backwardness of the Shia Clergy who opposed his views and policies, which is why he reduced their power. The Shah never took Islamic culture away from the people; it was people who were selfish enough that they wanted the traditional ways enforced on everyone as well as themselves regardless of how things are changing in the modern world.

There is much speculation with Shah’s decision to overthrow the democratically elected Mossadegh back in 1953 and with all do respect to the man who nationalised our oil from the British and saved Iran in its time of need. Mohammad Mossadegh although was elected democratically had a lot of support from the lower and middle classes of Iran whom many still attached themselves to traditional values, he had support from the Shia Clergy (although was later rebuked), he himself had some traditional values, believed in less connections with the west and many feared he was leading the country into a Communist invasion. From the Shah’s perception as stated in his biographies, this was a setback to his vision of Iran leading into a westernised democracy and so justified the overthrowing of the Prime Minister.

Although the motives on the surface give a negative portrayal of the Shah as destroying Iran’s first real chance of democracy, one also needs to understand that on the other hand Shah’s vision and Shah’s reasons behind his motivation. This problem did however come back to haunt him after the “White Revolution” when he declared Iran was “still not ready for democracy” following the events of 1953. Shah was heavily criticised during and after the “White Revolution” for not creating the democracy that many so wanted. To Shah just any democracy was not enough; it had to be a modern westernised democracy, therefore suggesting that Shah’s motivation was primarily based on his country’s prosperity.

With many Iranians conjuring up Anti-Shah ideologies, many based on secularism, leftism, nationalism, and traditionalism (including Islamism) many people started to look for incentives and alibi’s to attack Shah. Given Shah’s intention to almost force Iran to accepting westernised modernisation and anger from the opposition for their various reasons; there was no wonder why Shah felt he had no choice but to distance himself from his people. He practically feared his own public for his own safety, but he believed he was doing it in the best interests of the Iranian people who will one day be grateful for it. This was on the other hand Shah’s mistake, had he faced his people he would have been seen as a man of who cared about his country, a man of honour, a man who can face the reality of his people and a man who can get close to his people emotionally as well as physically.

A grave mistake Shah made was not applying enough of his own intuition by relying too much on the west for answers. This later lead to Jimmy Carter who was the US president during the time of the uprising, betray him. The man who claimed to be his ally went on to advising the Shah to allow the fanatics to have their freedom of speech and uplift the limited liberation process and when overthrown in 1979 Carter did nothing to support him or even allow him to exile into the United States, at a time when he was even threatened to be extradited back to Iran. This isuue, later led to many people including the Shah himself into believing that the Mullahs did not just come into power because of one group of fanatics, but someone else had aided them into their power. Another serious and grave mistake was Shah not taking responsibility for his own actions in which in the latter days of the Monarchy he arrested members of his own cabinet (including Amir Abbas Hoveyda) in order to please the people, this made him appear as a ruler who went against everything he stood and he lost his respect from many of his own supporters.

The problem with the diversity in Iran at the time was that everyone was looking for change in some way or another. There were traditionalists who followed Khomeini and wanted an Archaic Islamic type government that would bring about a primitive political ideology, which would be enforced upon its entire population. Then there were the members of the other opposition groups including the secularists who felt they were ready for democracy and the Shah was depriving them of that, and so even they foolishly stood under the Khomeini banners and pictures calling out for an Islamic Republic. Most of them did not know what they were getting themselves into, they assumed Khomeini’s struggle to overthrow the monarchy was a symbol of Iran trying to gain its freedom and democracy, what they did not anticipate was that the call for an “Islamic Republic” was literally a call for a Republic with an Archaic Islamic constitution. Though Iranians should have been wiser enough to know that any government under the title of an Islamic Republic or any other kind of Islamic Government (be it democratic or not) would never sit well, still many decided to fight for the democracy even after the revolution but never succeeded and later this was sealed when Iran had its so called “cultural revolution” and even to this day Iranians still attempt to fight on.

In conclusion, Shah was a visionary who was proved correct in that many Iranians were not really ready for a true democracy until modernisation could be fully established throughout the nation as history had proven. Many foolish Iranians could not see through the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and Shah did say, “one day they will regret this”, how right he was. On the other hand Shah did make numerous mistakes during his reign, which facilitated his status by others as being a “dictator”, however he was in fact a pro-western dictator. Therefore Shah should be remembered as a King who loved his country and wanted to go through any lengths to ensure the best future for Iran and not be remembered as an outdated tyrant who was only in power for his own interests. He should be remembered as a King who envisioned future generations living like those in the west and not just a King who forced modernisation on Iran. Therefore he should not be made fully responsible for the downfall of Iran.

To re-establish a Monarchy in Iran today would be outdated. Although personally I believe the Monarchy did more good than bad for our nation (under the Pahlavi Dynasty), I also believe that Iran does not need one ruler with an ancient form of government to control the nation in the modern era. Iran is now desperate for democracy, although a Monarchy would bring us closer to this democracy; it will not actually ensure us of touching democracy for quite some time. Some then say that a Constitutional Monarchy where the King has no power should be established; these people tend to want a democracy with a King as being symbolic rather than having much authority. The problem here is that the people are living with a ruler that can do nothing for them and is a waste of time, money and power. Iran should accept nothing less than a Democratic Republic where the government is fully elected by the public. However to prevent this atrocity happening again precautions on Democracy have got to be made, i.e. any physical or intolerant violation against Democracy should result in some form of punishment. In the future, Religious Groups should have the right to establish themselves in the Democratic System provided they are not Theocrats and their Religious policies are advised rather than enforced and religious laws should never be passed as constitutional laws. These are similar to Christian Political Parties in the West, and of course in Iran as well as the west, they should be firmly limited by the democratic constitution as with every other political party of Iran.

Fighting Against the Theocrats of our Troubled Nation!

Yani Nikolai

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