Iran proves to be a perplexing cases for the Western World. Once a dear friend of the West, the Islamic Republic has turned 180◦, to become the most vehement espouser of anti-Western sentiment. And in truth, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Pre-WWII, Iran was ruled by the Pahlavi Dynasty. Yet, the ruler – Reza Shah – was believed to be a sympathiser of the Germans, and hence at odds with the West. For the British Empire, it meant that their coveted Oil Fields were at risk. Thus, in 1941, both the Russians and the British invaded, overthrowing the Shah and forcing an abdication of the throne. His son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, took his place.
Democratic elections were held soon-after the End of WWII, with Mohammad Mosaddegh elected the new Prime Minister. Mosaddegh was a stern believer in bettering Iran, imbuing a sense of nationalism within the populace. Indeed, During the 1940s, Mosaddegh led the negotiations of an agreement with the Iranian-Anglo Oil Company (now British Petroleum), insisting on terms that were better for Iran. Historically, Iran had only received little profit from its oil, with the foreign invaders draining the nation’s main resources for internal little gain. Mosaddegh believed that Iran was owed a better, fairer share for Iran, in an attempt to stop Western Exploitation.
Yet, the Oil Fields proved to be too precious to the British Empire, of whom were unwilling to negotiate. Ultimately, this led to Mosaddegh nationalising oilfields, a move which was seen as a step towards socialism/communism by the British and US powers. And here, we have the Western Powers exerting their influence.
Soon after, the Shah left to Italy on a holiday, expecting Mosaddegh to force his abdication. Yet, instead, Mosaddegh was overthrown by a CIA and British backed coup. History has always neglected to ask why. Why did the West need to intervene?
Evidently, Mosaddegh wanted the best for Iran. He wanted the best for his people. He wanted to limit foreign intervention in internal, domestic policy. He wanted to prevent the exploitation of his own country’s economy by foreign aliens. And the West couldn’t take it. They couldn’t take not having a puppet to imbue their own ideals in a region of tension.
Mosaddegh was then put in jail for 3 years and kept under house arrest for the rest of his life, until his death in 1967, where he was buried in his house to prevent his gravesite being a flash point for protests.
The Shah soon returned from Italy, exploiting the political turmoil to establish an autocratic regime. Educated in Switzerland, the Shah was universally aware and possessed a positive disposition towards the West. Hence, the Shah became an ally of the West.
And this is where it gets interesting…
The Shah emulated the west, wanting to modernise and establish Iran as a Regional Powerhouse. He allowed for the transfer of ownership of agricultural land from the hands of the Clergy, towards the Executive. He encouraged the mobilisation of women into the workforce. He desegregated education. He tried to make institutions more secular. He allowed alcohol to be consumed. He didn’t, however reform the system – he merely put band-aids over the cracks. He facilitated the growth of a middle class of bureaucrats. He inspired mass migration to the cities, leading to the rise of inflation. He stopped caring about the economy, with the revenues of the oil industry being funnelled straight back into the Royal Family and elites. He didn’t rule democratically, but out of fear. His opposition was crushed, jailed and often tortured. And as a result, he started losing the support of the people; he was out of touch.
The tyrannical and careless reign of the Shah resulted in the fostering of anti-Western sentiment, with Iran’s ally – America – seen as responsible for the modernisation of the Islamic Republic. Indeed, Jimmy Carter at a dinner in 1977, referred to Iran under the leadership of the Shah, as ‘an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world’ – an indictment on the ignorance of Iranian internal affairs.
Ultimately, the anti-western sentiment led to the rise of a multiclass, populist revolution. Ruhollah Khomeini came into the fray, gaining popularity for his ideals of returning Iran to a state that represented the people. Khomeini was well known for his criticism towards the autocratic rule of the Shah, corruption within the Royal Family/bureaucrats, and mostly, the Western Domination of Iran. More importantly, Khomeini wanted to re-imbue the religious importance within the state. And for this, he was exiled in 1964.
What followed was the tumultuous period of 1977-1979, proving to be formative for the Islamic Republic. In November 1977, Khomeini’s son was allegedly killed by the nefarious SAVAK – the Shah’s secret service. In January 1978, the Shah allowed an article to be published in the paper rebutting these claims.
This was the first time Khomeini’s name has been mentioned in the media since his exile. What emerged was an unpredictable, and irrevocable eruption of both fandom and pandemonium, with thousands of people flooding the into the streets chanting the revolutionists name. Massive protests against the Shah followed.
Here, we see momentum shifting towards the religious forces. And here again, we must ask why. The answer: it was us – the West – who felt it necessary to exert our control in a distant region. It was us who created this anti-western sentiment, by being an ally of an insidious regime, allowing it to transgress the values that are the most important to us – liberty and freedom.
The Iranian Revolution ensued, with Black Friday occurring on the 8th of September 1978, where thousands had gathered in Tehran’s Jaleh Square for a religious demonstration, unaware of the declaration of Martial Law the day before. Soldiers ordered for the dispersion of the crowd, but were ignored. They then open fired, killing 88.
Black Friday is seen as the point of no return – the stumbling block that led to the abolition of the monarchy a year later. Soon after, Khomeini moved to Paris. The military dissented. The Shah left. Khomeini returns.
Today, we look at Iran with fear and repugnance. Yet isn’t this our fault? It was us who set in motion the chain of events that led to Iran becoming what it is today. We can’t blame Islam for that. We talk about Iran as our greatest enemy since Russia, emplacing sanctions for their aggressive Nuclear Program. Yet wasn’t it us that gave them the idea? Wasn’t it us that allowed for these demagogues into positions of power? The reality is, we only have ourselves to blame.