Monday, 23 May 2011
The Islamic Revolution 1979 – putting pieces together
At the time we were not aware that Ayatollah Khomeini was behind all the disobedience and turbulence and that the BBC radio served as a loudspeaker for Khomeini and the opposition. Today I know how it all started.
Strange as it sounds the plan to overthrow the Shah was hatched skillfully by Ayatollah Khomeini 15 years earlier, during his exile in Iraq and later in France. The story goes back to1963 when the late Shah had launched a series of social, cultural and economical reforms. His intention was to transform Iran into a global power – a noble concept. The movement was called the "White Revolution”: it was a long-range plan and consisted of 19 initiatives to be enacted within a 20 year-time period. Among the reform were: abolishing Feudalism, profit sharing with industrial workers, formation of literary and health corps, free education, women’s suffrage, and many measures to fight the existing corruption.
On January 26, 1963, the elements of the White Revolution were put under a referendum and were overwhelmingly approved. These changes didn't sit well with clergy and landowners. They were worried and feared that they would lose their footing. Clergy headed by Ayatollah Khomeini denounced the White Revolution and condemned the Shah for spreading moral corruption.
The feud between clerical class and the state was nothing new; it dated back to the 1920s when Reza Shah Pahlavi, the father of our late Shah, brought forth measures to modernize Persia. The opposition of Ayatollah Khomeini to the Shah lasted almost a whole year, during which he attacked the Shah several times and created riots and disturbances. During those riots I was at middle school; I remember martial law being imposed in Tehran.
At first Khomeini was placed under house arrest, but finally on November 4, 1963, he was escorted to the airport and sent into exile. In his lectures and attacks, Khomeini referred to the Shah as a "wretched miserable man." He rejected the monarchy and warned people: "The day will come when his regime will be overthrown..."
In exile, the Ayatollah spent his time planning a comeback. Over the following decade he built and strengthened his position and set the course of the Revolution of 1979. He reached out to the Shah's secular enemies, to those with democratic ideas, and to the young educated Iranians outside of Iran. He mobilized an army of followers. They spread out through different countries. They organized meetings condemning the monarchy. They systematically steered young Iranians towards an anti-monarchy movement, promoting an Islamic revival.
They were able to win over naive students by brainwashing them. Some of the students who turned against the Shah had been among those whose education abroad had been funded by our government – another travesty.
When I was growing up, I had a notion that the Shah was Devine and it was unthinkable that there would “come a day that he had to say goodbye to his country.” On January 16, 1979 the Shah and his wife, Queen Farah, were forced to leave the country before completing the program of reforms that they had started. Their children had left a few months earlier.
That is how a thirty-seven-year tenure and the golden years of Iran ended.
There are two sides to everything... I say: “the Shah was unjustly criticized.” I recall a few years prior to the revolution we could read articles in Time and Newsweek about the cruel and uncivilized ways the Shah was treating his subjects. It was not true.
I clearly remember an article about President Carter's humanitarian diatribe and how he had targeted the Shah in his human rights campaign by disapproving of the Shah and his policies.
Farah Pahlavi in her biography "An Enduring Love" says: "...Western journalists, who were so punctilious about respecting freedoms, seemed to see Ayatollah Khomeini as the incarnation of the spiritual..." In my opinion the Shah had dedicated his life to the love of his country and instead he was judged as a dictator.
On February 1, 1979, just two weeks after the Shah left, Khomeini triumphantly returned to Tehran and was greeted by a jubilant crowd estimated at two million. It is said on his way back to Iran, Khomeini was asked by journalist Peter Jennings how he felt to be back after fifteen years in exile. To everyone's surprise, Khomeini answered: "Hitch ehsâssi nadâram" (I don't feel a thing). The answer resonated in the media and made headlines. It was startling. If he didn't have any feelings, why had he pushed so vehemently to oust the Shah? This is how a rigid and oppressive Theocracy replaced the beautiful life we had in Iran.
My kids often ask me, “Mom, why do you get so emotional when remembering the Shah and his family?” I hope this serves as an answer. Recently, I received an email with old pictures of the Shah and his family. I forwarded it to my friend and I got this response: “I think Farrah is so elegant, so beautiful and so calm and poised – a real queen. I thought the Shah was very handsome too. He died homeless - very sad.” Yes, it is sad.