|We are responsible!
It should be no surprise that terrorism abounds
By Brian Appleton
October 22, 2002
Dear Ron Wurtzner,
I liked certain aspects of your article, "America,
welcome", and congratulate you on your journalism
award. However I am writing to offer you some commentary.
I had a vague feeling of resentment when I read the article and couldn't at first
understand where it was coming from. Finally it dawned on me. I spent 5 years in
Iran from 1974 to 1979 and experienced the revolution from beginning to end including
a short period as a hostage.
I speak Farsi and I lived in an Iranian neighborhood in an old part of Tehran. Part
of that time I worked for Bell Helicopter and one of my unofficial duties was that
of crisis officer since I was junior in seniority in the employee relations department.
I constantly had to bail American employees and dependants out of trouble, sometimes
out of jail. 95% of the time it was their fault that they were in trouble. They had
a racist attitude in which they felt that as Americans they could act with impunity
towards the local laws and customs.
Sometimes they would attempt to skip town without paying rent, forcing the landlords
to hold either them or their luggage hostage until I would show up with the money.
Other times they would arrive at the airport without a visa and I would have to give
a personal guarantee that I would take them to the Foreign Ministry within 75 hours
of their release to get a visa.
There were other incidents in which dependant children of employees would damage
or vandalize the property of Iranian civilians and I would have to go settle with
the victims on fair reparations. One time an American girl whose father was a high
level executive in our company had opened her taxi door on the traffic side and a
car had run into it. The driver held her hostage until I got there.
I called her father and told him that I could free his daughter if he would admit
the driver into his office and settle with him for the repair bill. Once we had agreed
upon everything and she went off Scott free, the father spent the next 3 or 4 months
ducking the driver who never did get compensated.
My first day on the job with Bell, I had to go negotiate the release of my boss's
young brother from jail for having been drunk and disorderly in public and punching
out an Iranian policeman. The list could go on and on and perhaps the example which
is most shocking was one that the revolutionaries picked up on and put in the media
right after the revolution. It was about a cabal of Bell Helicopter employees in
Esfahan who had run a whore house on the side using their own Vietnamese and Thai
wives as the prostitutes.
Why am I telling you all this? The thing I found most disturbing was the arrogance
and the attitude of the American management whose only concern was for their employees
and not for the victims of the crimes and injustices which their employees had perpetrated.
In fact, after the revolution when there were only a handful of us still in Tehran,
trying to wind down the affairs of the company, a young revolutionary with scars
he claimed were from Savak torture asked my 2nd level manager how Bell Helicopter
could have sold all these helicopters to the Shah and helped train the soldiers in
piloting and maintenance when the gun ships were used against the Iranian people?
My boss's boss fairly sneered when he was really no longer in a position to do so
in post revolutionary Iran and said almost with glee: "Before Iran, the main
program of Bell Helicopter was in Uganda. Our client was Idi Amin. We don't care
whose dollars they are as long as they are green."
In fact a group of Bell Helicopter managers formed a cabal in Athens and tried to
get an audience with the revolutionary commiteh to see if they would give Bell Helicopter
a new contract at least to properly store the 2,000-ship fleet if they weren't going
to operate them. Apparently if aircraft are left sitting unused outdoors they become
destroyed over time and their engines must be packed in special fluids, etc.
The revolutionaries were desperately trying to portray themselves as self sufficient
and not in any need of foreign help. So the paper criticized Bell Helicopter for
making this offer and said that the Shah had no business spending all this money
of the Iranian peoples on aging US military hardware.
Of course that was complete bunk too since the Shah had had the largest and most
sophisticated helicopter fleet in the world including some models with modifications
made especially to be able to rapidly change altitude which the mountainous terrain
of Iran often demands of a low flying aircraft.
I hate to say it like this but many travelers are guilty of the same sin; just because
you went to Iran on a relatively short junket does not make you an expert. I am reaching
the sad conclusion that you like most Americans are just miserably uninformed. But
as a journalist it is your responsibility to be informed.
So let me draw you a picture: Look! Khomeini is not the George Washington of Iran!
That is disinformation! Khomeini staged a coup d'etat 4 months after the revolution
was over taking advantage of the fatigue of those who had fought and those who had
died to fill the power vacuum. Khomeini had been living in exile in Iraq for 30 years
and when things started to heat up, Saddam had him leave, which is when he went to
Paris and started fomenting people to go out and get shot in violation of the marshal
law curfew via short wave radio broadcasts under the safety of his apple tree.
There were two groups who did the majority of the actual fighting and sustained most
of the casualties both before Khomeini got into the picture and those were the Tudeh
(communists) and the Mojahedin-e-Khalk both of which were later persecuted and exiled
by Khomeini. In fact the Mojahedin took asylum in Iraq. Very interesting!
The other factor like most revolutions is the effect of the middle class joining
in through protest marches and strikes through-out the infra-structure including
petrol service stations, air traffic controllers and media.
I saw a march during the revolution which went by all day, one block south of my
house which was estimated by the Iranian press to be six miles long. It was made
up of doctors, engineers, teachers, nurses and every professional you could think
of and volunteers in Volkswagen mini vans were driving up and down alongside the
line offering free hot lunches and beverages to the marchers. I never saw anything
so moving in my life.
And for months under marshal law curfews, people from every walk of life in Tehran
would go up on their roofs and shout:"Marg Bar Shah!" ("Death to the
King!") in one voice; literally millions of human voices in unison. Can you
imagine how the Shah must have felt sitting in his Niavaran Palace listening to this
and wondering if his American backers were ever going to show up to save his backside?
It should have come as no surprise to you that students and middle class Iranians
who couldn't get out of Iran after the Khomeini coup, or were born after it, would
scoff at the mullahs behind their backs. In fact there were horror story after horror
story of the kind of mob violence the Khomeini supporters drunk with power for the
first time in their lives perpetrated on their fellow Iranians after their coup.
One surgeon having been called away from his family dinner for an emergency operation
was stopped by a "revolutionary guard" for speeding and then arrested for
having the smell of alcohol on his breath. He told the guard that once he was freed
that he was going to take his practice with all his partners and associates and move
to another country.
I myself one Friday afternoon when people promenaded up and down the former Pahlavi
Boulevard, since all the movie theatres had been shut down and people had nothing
to do for entertainment, witnessed an incident where we heard machine gun fire and
saw a big BMW zoom out of the intersection then pull over to the sidewalk where we
were and then a professional looking woman jumped out of the car and fainted, falling
into the arms of some of the pedestrians. I walked down to the corner to see a young
"revolutionary guard" trying to direct traffic with a machine gun.
Another time post revolution in a former Chinese restaurant (all foreign restaurants
had been taken over and repatriated), the waiter kept offering me glasses of either
tomato juice or orange juice which I kept politely refusing pointing out to him that
it really didn't go with Chinese food. Finally he gave me a big wink and said: "Just
try it!" I humored him and it was half vodka on the house.
There was a period of time after the revolution before Khomeini and his coup cracked
down which is referred to as "The Spring of The Iranian Revolution" when
all the censored and suppressed media and critics of the Shah were finally able to
publish and go public.
One day, one of the main papers came out completely blank but for one line which
said, "Due to the current climate of reinstituted censorship we have nothing
to print!" That issue sold out and the next day Khomeini's goons burned that
newspaper office to the ground. The whole reason that the US Embassy workers were
taken hostage was that for months prior to the siege there had been mile long lines
of Iranians trying to get visas to get the hell out of Khomeini's Iran. This was
a big black eye and bad press for the Khomeinists and so they shut it down.
When I was taken hostage during the revolution, my captors also told me the same
line: "We have nothing against the American people but we do not like the policies
of the US Government." This is quite charitable on the part of Iranians. However,
don't you find it contradictory that the US Government slaps economic embargoes and
bullies its allies into going along with them, onto countries like Iraq, Iran and
Cuba making their entire populations suffer because they don't like their leadership?
This is amazing to me because these countries typically do not have elected leadership
unlike America and yet the US government holds entire populations responsible for
the actions of their leaders and if that is the case then why are Americans not responsible
for the actions of their elected officials?
In truth, whether we care to admit it or not, we are responsible! We need to vote
bad policy makers out of office. If Iranians weren't so cynical and fatalistic after
centuries of being overrun and conquered by foreign invaders, they would hate Americans
en masse. But US neo-imperialism is just the last in a long, long line of
offenders. It would be inconceivable after such a history that a country wouldn't
develop Xenophobia. Look at the history of Sicily for example if you want to understand
why the Mafia?!
One day after the revolution, I saw a building being dismantled brick by brick by
a crowd just a few blocks from my house in one direction and from the US Embassy
in the other. I asked one of the participants why they were taking the building down
and they told me that it had been a Savak torture house under the Shah's regime and
they didn't want to have to look at it anymore. It was the CIA which set up and trained
In fact this is more than anecdotal. I knew one of the
American former operatives who helped do it who had become an expat and would have
stayed in Iran for ever. It was the CIA which funded the Madrassas and trained the
Taliban in Pakistan through the offices of the Pakistani secret police.
If you argue that this policy made sense at the time in the US effort to fight the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then once the Soviets left Afghanistan (in rubble)
why were the Taliban and the al Qaida not disarmed and dismantled rather than left
to run amuck? It was because once the US short term goals were accomplished they
had no further interest in the plight of the Afghani people other than one billion
dollars of misguided food aid which had been actually feeding the Taliban since 1979
instead of the hungry civilians.
It was for this reason, no accident that the Red Cross wheat warehouse was bombed
by the US not once but twice. And is anyone asking Russia to make reparations to
the poor Afghans of whom they killed two million over a ten year occupation? No!
In fact Colin Powell is trying to get petroleum concessions out of Russia now that
the Middle East has become so hostile in the wake of the "Cold War".( I
find this an interesting euphemism since the third world countries where the war
was actually fought found it to be very Hot!)
It took the US media 12 years to uncover the Iran Contra affair while in 1979, the
average cab driver in the streets of Tehran could tell you that the US government
was still selling weapons to Iran via Israel.
It should be no surprise that terrorism abounds and that September 11, 2001 took
place. The only surprise in my mind was that it took so long and that there isn't
more backlash. You see, unfortunately, we are responsible for the sins of our fathers
especially if we continue the same policies, show no signs of remorse and make no
offering of reparations.
Khomeini found his support only at the level of the
illiterate mob in the streets and rural areas. The ones who thought they saw his
face in the moon one night during a lunar eclipse while he was still broadcasting
from Paris. He also gained power with the help of a few pathological sycophants like
Savak general Fardoust, childhood friend of the Shah, who offered his services to
Khomeini as his new commander in chief.
Even Khomeini could not always effectively maintain control over the mob. I remember
the first group to challenge Khomeini's new restrictions, were a march of 20,000
professional women in Tehran who called themselves: "The men of the Iranian
Revolution" because they were the first to stand up to Khomeini. They refused
to wear chadors or veil their hair. Hooligans on motor bikes harassed them with sticks,
stones and pocket knives to the point where Khomeini had to go on TV to ask them
The following week Khomeini staged a counter protest using the tactics learned from
the former Shah by bussing in about 200,000 peasant women from the countryside veiled
in chadors from head to toe to march in support of his new edicts.
One might ask why in a country with petroleum reserves second only to Saudi Arabia,
was there such a high percentage of illiteracy? Why was there this vast population
of illiterates waiting to be exploited by a ruthless "religious" leader
and a corrupt priesthood itching to get back their power and land?
Contrast this with Empress Farah Diba bringing in an entire cargo jumbo jet load
of Rosa Aurora pink Portuguese marble to line her Olympic sized swimming pool. No
wonder the revolutionaries turned the resort island of Kish for the mega wealthy
into a university and former mayor Nikpay's villa into an orphanage.
All over Tehran the revolutionaries held public auctions of the treasures
found in the private homes of the wealthy who had either fled, been executed or imprisoned.
Often it was said that the auctioneers "forgot" to invite anyone and took
the entire spoils home themselves. This is reminiscent of how the poor black Americans
looted stores during the Watts Riots in L.A.
The USA was perceived as the backers of the former corrupt puppet regime which as
you correctly pointed out had been restored to power in 1953 when the CIA and General
Zahedi put the Shah back in after Mossadegh had taken over. The CIA even bragged
that the operation had only cost $60,000 at the time. Just think, it took the poor
Iranians from 1953 to 1979 to get it together to oust him again.
I want to suggest to you that the propaganda portraying Iranians as violent Moslem
fundamentalist fanatics serves both the Mullahist regime and the US government interests.
With the help of the Western media portraying the Iranians as violent fanatics who
hate the USA overshadowing the voices of all the Iranian moderate opponents to this
theocratic regime, (who live in fear of reprisal for expressing divergent opinions.),
the mullahs needs are served.
While demonizing of Iranians by the US government making Iran into a bogeyman and
a partner in the "Triple Axis of Evil" follows the typical sore loser pattern
all through American history unfortunately of trying to malign any country which
has kicked out the US in an effort to protect its own national interests and natural
resources. By demonizing any former American vassal state like Iraq or Iran, it pre-sets
the stage to re-invade and re-conquer under the mantle of making the world a safer
place for "Democracy".
By the way, the CIA deposed the Iraqi royal family
putting in Kaseem who became a leftist and then it took the CIA 8 years to have him
assassinated and replaced by Saddam. During the "Silent War" you mentioned
between Iran and Iraq, the US government was aiding and abetting Saddam Hossein militarily
to attack Iran. Come off it!
The sad thing is that most American citizens consider themselves moral and able to
tell the difference between right and wrong. They would be shocked and scandalized
to learn of the CIA covert activity in the internal affairs of other nations, paid
for by their tax dollars, all in an attempt to give the USA the upper hand. And yet,
how many Americans would be willing to pay more for a gallon of gasoline at the pump
if it meant that someone in the Middle East would have a higher standard of living?
Look at the demography of the Middle East and then ask yourself if it is any small
wonder that there is political unrest and turbulence. Two corrupt hereditary monarchies
kept in place by the USA, namely Saudi Arabia and Kuwait representing less than 2%
of the population of the entire region are in control of almost the entire wealth
of the region while people in Egypt with a population of over 60 million have a per
capita income of under $800 per year.
I'm afraid that even if unintentional, I found your article very patronizing. Anyone
with knowledge of Iranian history knows that their culture has been characterized
by centuries of tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity starting with Darius
liberating the Jews from Babylonian captivity and inviting them to live in Iran.
Iran has large populations of Jews, Bahais, Assyrian and Armenian Christians as well
as Shia Moslems and even Sunni ethic Arabs in the south.
There are also Zoroastrians which follow an ancient religion of the Indo Europeans
long, long before Islam invaded in the 7th century AD. The Zoroastrian idea of the
duality of the universe with forces of good vs. forces of evil, light against darkness
with fire as the symbol of heat and light and goodness
as the enemy of darkness is a legacy which influenced Christianity and many other
religions that followed. Khomeini and the mullahs do not represent the Revolution
despite the revisionist history writing of their mob.
One of the last people to talk to me the day I was leaving Iran as I sat in my Persian
friend's living room receiving guests who had come to say good bye was the neighborhood
mullah, who whispered in my ear that he hoped that I realized that these fanatics
did not really represent Islam and I told him I knew that.
Little children in the streets of Tehran in 1979 in my last few months in Iran would
run up to me and whisper in my ear that before it was over, they would live to see
the mullahs hanging from the street lights and dragged behind the bumpers of cars
by rope nooses around their necks. Strong sentiment from little children don't you
think? I personally am not in quest of literary awards or recognition but only in
the advancement of the truth.