... who shaped Iran in the 20th century
By Farhad Koohkan
January 4, 2000
In this century there were three men who affected the fate and the form
of the Iranian people in various degrees. Chronologically : Reza Shah,
Mohammad Mossadegh and Ayatollah Khomeini. (Go to: Iranian
of the century)
Mossadegh's time was short, and his outright aim was narrow -- sharp
and narrow like the tip of an arrow. His success -- and it was a success,
no doubt -- was in feeling the minds of the people who had become a closely
connected assemblage, developed and brought about, even if perhaps blindly
and forcefully by Reza Shah.
Mossadegh did not have time to do anything willingly except essentially
instilling anti-imperialist and nationalistic sentiments in the nation.
He produced a cohesive, palpable motive for becoming a nation in real terms.
He collected almost all sides and sections of the society into one unified
This was a short-lived phase in time but it produced lingering effects
right up to the present time -- half a century after the brutal demise
of its rickety machine and despite all the vilification and coercions exerted
against him by both the Shah's and the present regime's propaganda machines.
Before the rise of Mossadegh, Iran became a nation, effectively and
materially, by Reza Shah. This was achieved by forming the army, the construction
of roads and railways, the establishment of means of communication, the
expansion of education, the creation of a national banking system, the
emancipation of women however tyrannically enforced, and the removal of
tribal influences even through murderous campaigns.
It is amazing what he achieved in a matter of 20 years with such little
means at his disposal. It does not matter whether he did that on his own
or was aided by some very intelligent and dedicated people like Davar.
It was his character and his central, all powerful position that made those
Khomeini tried to sweep aside the heritage of over two millennia. In
this he was helped with what Reza Shah had made and what Mossadegh had
bequeathed. Yet many elements interfered to stop him.
One cannot know what he could have ultimately achieved, taking into
account his disciplined Aristotelian mind that was ready to change course
according to the exigencies of time, his ignorance of modern politics,
and the erratic, scattered aspirations of the people that were formed and
deformed by the changes that were too sudden and too unprecedented.
The upheaval Khomeini presided over had been greatly helped by the weak
and rotten structure of the former regime. The monarchy was nothing more
than a monopoly, incarnated in the cancerous body of an autocrat who was
too weak-minded and short-sighted.
Mohammad Reza Shah was the unavoidable product of a pampered life, too
drunk with a seemingly successful reign that was to a great extent the
result of being in a crucially important piece of land on the face of the
globe. His reign began when the nation was not politically or socially
developed. Growth of civic knowledge had been atrophied under the autocratic
regime's drive to prevent the exchange of ideas.
The government looked the other way when trite, inconsequential-looking,
and feeble-sounding "ideas" were propagated . These were regarded
by the guardians of the regime as useful weapons in their fight to wipe
out liberal ideas that were falsely given a single title: communist.
"Religious" figures and centers were assisted and financed
as a barrage against "godless" elements who were mostly people
interested in justice or even demanding their share of the loot. Simpletons
listened and quick-minded opponents of the regime made their move.
It was in such a vacuum of ideas and political organizations that pro-Khomeini
forces thrived. Their strength was in the weakness of the withering rival.