March 22, 2001
I'm not a monarchist activist, but...
I have written regularly to The Iranian Times , and I have always
insisted on the fact that I am not an activist, whether for or against
the monarchy, even if I may have an opinion on Iran, and the monarchy.
Some 22 years have past since the Iranian revolution. I do not deny the
wealth that the Pahlavi family members could and probably did take with
them after the revolution, a good part spent for their personal security,
knowing that no country was ready to offer them asylum.
However, if they were truly thieves they could have also taken the crown
jewels with them. They have nevertheless kept their dignity (and for that
I refer essentially to the Shahbanou Farah, and her children) over the
years despite having been cursed and blamed for all that went wrong under
the Shah's reign or was claimed so by the people listening to the B.B.C,
or reading Time magazines issues on the Shah's corruption.
The fact that Mohammed Reza Shah was an absolute monarch (even if he
did rule for 12 years as a constitutional monarch in his early years) in
a country surrounded by dictatorships of all kinds is no doubt. Monarchist
themselves acknowledge that, without necessarily approving it. They will
in most cases answer that we were in the cold war. With the Soviet power
in the north how could we have had a democratic regime?
I still think their is a confusion and also a total hypocrisy that seems
to blind historians on what took place in 1979. I personally was in Iran
before, during and after the revolution. And I can say that despite what
Iranians may think today, many of us wished a return of the monarchy if
not the success of Shapur Bakhtiar's provisional government who was not
at all backed up by the so-called National Front, or the second National
Front conducted by Mr Bazargan among others.
This was the case of people like Mr. Bazargan, Daryush Forouhar, who
I believe had good patriotic intentions, but realized late that they were
being fooled by the Holy Ayatollah. Mr. Ibrahim Yazdi who with his American
accent (which he seems to have lost with time but not his Green Card) was
in the name of hum rights condemning high-ranked militaries, or ministers,
or simple soldiers without giving them a chance to defend themselves and
didn't hesitate to insult them, and say they would be executed anyhow whatever
the judges decide. Wow what a democrat!
The trials were a masquerade, even the German Nazi's at Nuremburg got
a fairer trial. Many refer to William Shawcross' "The Shah's Last
Ride" as a well documented and well written book, but I also recommend
you "The unknown life of the Shah" by Iranian journalist Amir
Taheri available on Amazon.com. Shawcross has a tendancy to draw quick
conclusions on the Shah's personality, such as "He loved Iran, but
he didn't like Iranians". But then could someone explain to me why
he ordered his troops never to shoot on the people? This goes beyond the
Jaleh incident, where provocations and blunders on both sides, I believe
were the cause of that tragedy.
It is sad to say and may sound shocking, but to both monarchists and
anti-monarchists, I would say that if the Shah had not given that order,
most probably Shapur Bakhtiar, would have saved his government, and Iran
would have found its way towards democracy, or maybe not. That is the main
The other aspect is that Mohammed Reza Shah towards the last years of
his reign was aware of his uncurable cancer, a disease which even his closest
allies the Americans were not aware of, and which could explain the industrial
rush of the seventies, the creation of the Rastakhiz Party, and the fact
that he was anxious to deliver to his son a fully prosperous and stable
country ready for a democratic transition.
This was indeed probably too ambitious. Knowing he was fatally ill most
probably explains why he could not accept opinions different than his,
and as a result gradually isolated himself from his people. Based on these
arguments, I claim, Yes, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, became a dictator,
or was driven into becoming one partially pushed by his democratic allies
in the West. Yes, Iran under the reign of Mohammed Reza Shah suffered a
certain degree of censorship. Yes, Mohammed Reza Shah was trying to give
lessons on democracy to his own allies, and probably that was the only
way he could show a certain degree of independence towards them.
However, I believe that despite his short-comings, and the fact that
he was a dictator, does not justify historians to confuse him with the
blood-thirsty tyrant he never was. I am trying to talk from an Iranian
historical perspective, if you will. I don't claim I hold the truth, but
I base my arguments on stated facts.
Two examples to justify my point: Two books came out in the 70's one
was written by a French novelist Gerard de Villier called "L'irressitible
Ascention de Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi", in which he clearly mentions
the name of Khomeini, and his first uprising in 1963 against the Shah's
reforms. The second book was "The Crash of '79" written by an
American Jewish author, and please forgive me for not remembering his name.
It is a very good thriller actually, in which the author describes the
Shah as a megalomaniac "Hitler-like tyrant" who wants to destroy
the economy of the Western countries by destroying Israel and corrupting
his allies. I'd rather ask the readers to try to find this book for themselves.
The success of "Crash of '79" was such that it was to be
adapted for the movie screen in Hollywood. But the Islamic revolution put
an end to the project. The book did considerable damage to the Shah's Image
in the West -- a little bit like "Not without my Daughter", which
did a lot of damage to the image of Iranians in general.
Amir Abbas Hoveyda's trial and execution followed an interview he gave
to Christine Ockrente, when the journalist started clumsily to mention
Hoveyda's strong ties with foreign powers (she has explained herself in
her memoirs on the circumstances of the interview, in a recent book "La
Mémoire du coeur" available on Amazon.com) . He was then, if
I am not mistaken, executed the following day without a decent trial for
someone who was after all the Prime Minister of Iran for more than 13 years.
Ironically such masquerade trials also took place in Rumania when President
Chauchezscu was arrested with his wife after a visit to Iran and putting
flowers on the Ayatollah's tomb.
The Islamic revolution was also a televisualised and audio revolution
if you allow me to say so, with the help of the so-respected B.B.C and
the numerous tapes in which so-called conversations between the Shah and
his ministers were being distributed. These tapes entered Iran through
various opposition networks notably through diplomatic channels.
A book written by Alexandre Marenche head of the French secret police
under the Presidency of Valery Giscard D'Estaing , and also the same Mrs.
Christine Ockrente, refers to these famous tapes circulating in Iran. According
to them they were recorded by opposition groups and sent to Iran through
East-German diplomatic suitcases, then delivered to the opposition in Iran
and distributed in towns and villages. They could have been easily taped
in Iran since they were already counterfeits.
I remember finding a few in our mail box and it was obvious that the
conversations were fake. But imagine the impact they had in villages who
did not have television sets or true access to the press and how they ended
up by also revolting against the regime based on these false rumors.
In any case when my family and I left Iran for France, it was just before
the war with Iraq started. I was astonished to see the number of Iranians
living abroad, when the events took place to be so pro-Ayatollah, and against
the Shah. They were receiving news delivered by the Islamic regime to the
foreign press. Most foreign journalists were not allowed into the country.
When we watched the French TV, they were constantly backing the mollas
and criticizing the exiled, and ill monarch, comparing him with Bokasah
who was toppled the same year. It was surprising to see the biased reviews
given by the press. Every day they claimed that millions were demonstrating
in Shiraz, Mashad or Teheran, but the images shown were exactly the ones
we had already seen during the revolution, on Iranian TV. This was so true
that I recall the number of times we watched the news, even taped it and
recognized the same images and individuals who had demonstrated. We would
then call back home to verify if the demonstrations were taking place,
and if the figures were correct, the answer was often no if not at most
10,000 people who had demonstrated.
Imagine the visual impact on Westerners who couldn't believe us when
we would say there is a silent majority in Iran who just cannot express
themselves. Even at home, kids could denounce their parents for being pro-Shah.
By listening to their parents conversations, many claimed we were exaggerating.
My father would regularly call Amnesty International to say that SAVAK
was replaced by the SAVAMA, and that people were being thrown to jail and
tortured. The answer, believe it or not, was "Oh but you know such
things are normal in times of revolution, we can't do much about it and
you know more horrible things took place under the Shah. Chili at the time
(that was the early 80's) was on the top list, and Iran was only fifth
as far as human rights abuses are concerned."
So our attitude was to be what? Say, well, let's wait till they realize
the crimes being committed in the name of Allah? It took four years, if
not more, before Amnesty International officially recognized that Iran
was indeed committing crimes. But the country was already at war with Iraq,
so what were the exact charges now that they had realized that "Hey,
wait a minute, something is going wrong with the regime we at Amnesty supported."
Now don't take me wrong. I believe in human rights, I don't say an
organization like Amnesty should not exist (although how many people know
that the founder of Amnesty International was a member of the IRA, the
Irish Republican Army, to which the Islamic government offered military
help). I am just saying that they were often naive, and they didn't believe
no more than the press that in Iran there was a silent majority who were
desperate for foreign intervention, or even a military coup to overthrow
the mollas. But the war put an end to their hope and faith in Western democracies
as a whole.
Well, that silent majority ended by expressing their true feelings during
the World Cup in France. They also do it today. I am not claiming that
they are for the return of the monarchy, but for the right to express themselves
As for Reza Pahlavi, throughout these past 22 years, he grew up comfortably
like many privileged Iranians, with the difference that he and his family
members had a heavy historical responsibility to carry on their shoulders,
and also by having to face all sorts of criticisms, not to say physical
threats towards his father who passed away, towards his mother who despite
everything kept her dignity, and never forgot the Iranian people and their
sufferings, interfering whenever possible in the press to condemn the situation
in Iran and naturally defend her husband's memory.
But today, with the maturity of age and personal responsibilities, Reza
Pahlavi seems sincerely to want to extend a hand to all generations and
all political factions for a referendum. Whether he will succeed in doing
so is another matter. However, I wasn't in California in the late 80's
when a crowd of 10,000 Iranians applauded him in a stadium in L.A. Where
are they today? What has happened to the Silent Majority abroad?
In the past years I have noticed that most anti-monarchists are those
who fled Iran very early before the revolution or lived abroad when the
events took place. I don't blame them nor do I judge them. I am always
surprised by how easily they changed. I just try to remind them that their
attitude and passiveness, sincere or not, is the cause for Iran's isolation
for the past 22 years, and for the lack of a true and strong political
opposition to the Islamic government.
I just would like to know where were most anti-monarchist expatriates
when the events took place back in 1979 and after. Surely their personal
experience has forged their political opinions today. I ask, did you have
personal experiences in regard to the downfall of the monarchy in 1979?
Did you see the events in Iran or on television? That could help people
of my generation -- who were forced into silence directly or indirectly
(even in a democratic country like France especially in the 80's) due to
the political and social turmoil in Iran -- to better understand your views.