Feb/March 1997 THE IRANIAN Issue No. 9


It was all their fault

From "The Hidden Hand" by Daniel Pipes (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1996. $45). Pipes is editor of The Middle East Quarterly and Senior Lecturer at University of Pennsylvania.

(Pages 77-78)
Never was the Iranian imagination more active than during the Islamic Revolution of 1978-9. Conspiracies theories multiplied in the fever of political change: the implausibility of an old mullah overthrowing a gilded and bemedaled shah promoted Iranians of all persuasions to search for intrigues.

The revolution then brought fundamentalist Muslims, with their special penchant for hidden-hand explanations, to office. A welter of confusion resulted. The same individual would blithely make opposite interpretations of the same facts, and political opponents would mutually interpret the same incidents as directed by the other side against themselves.

In 1978, as power slipped from his grasp, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi sought solace in the merest whips of an explanation. He refused to see the mass demonstrations in the Iranian streets as signaling hostility to his rule; even after his fall from power, Pahlavi persisted in holding that "popular support for the crown ran strong and deep."

Of course, this meant blaming all the disturbances on foreign plotters. The closest he came to admitting Iranian involvement was when, talking to President Jimmy Carter, he blamed his troubles on a "well-planned diabolical plot by those who were taking advantage of his liberalization program."

Otherwise, he contemptuously rejected Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's claim to be a genuine opposition leader, arguing that he had emerged as a political leader in June 1963 only due to "secret dealings with foreign agents" and that he thereafter remained a proxy for foreign interests.

Which interests? Here the shah could not make up his mind. In 1971 he mentioned the possibility of the Iraqis sponsoring Khomeini. Sometimes he held the Western media responsible for his problems; they "of course, never let an opportunity go to play up acts of violence and make them reflect badly on my rule."

He saw the international oil companies as "long-time adversaries" and sometimes accused them of seeking revenge for his leadership in 1970s, which caused them to lose their Middle East power and wealth. Most of the time, however, he blamed the great powers -- the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For good measure, he sometimes included Israel, too.


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