the course of time the world has held the memory of the Shah
in great esteem, and history will be a fair judge
July 20, 2005
Please find attached a copy of the article
my family-related friend has written on the late Mohammad Reza
Shah. My friend has requested me to get his article published
a well known
web-site abroad. Iranian.com costitutes the first
point of contact I am relying on. Due to the anniversary of Shah's
death in July, I hope you find the enclosed article
intersting to be put onto the electronic magazine you are responsible
for. -- M.P.
One who thoughtfully ponders the centuries
Surveys the whole in the clear light of the spirit
All that is petty has vanished from sight
Ocean and continent alone are of account. -- Goethe
The Shah, the dreamer of great deeds, like his literary counterpart
Lord Jim*, jumped an apparently sinking ship, but much unlike
Conrad’s tale of resurrected courage this was the Shah’s
second jump. The first being Twenty-four years earlier, shortly
before the fall of his nemesis Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh.
As before, he left the crew behind. Not as fortunate as the preceding
group who heaped unstinted reward, through the years, for their
loyalty and their claim on holding the forte for the Shah, this
time the unlucky lot were rounded up daily and routinely shot.
The Shah, living in the Bahamas, read about the daily executions,
and, while contentedly smoking with a cigarette holder, the cameras
caught him. For daily exercise, he swam in the clear warm water
of the region, and went for walks, accompanied by this wife.
Things in all appearance would have been well, if he could find
for residence a permanent host country, and if cancer was not ailing
As he went from one country to the next, his entourage, now meager,
called well-known specialists from around the world to treat him.
The Shah wanted to live, wanted to extend his life with a resolve
incongruous with his situation. The man who was king two months
ago was now history s number one outcast. On passing the shores
of the world he now could find not a single candle lit in any window
signaling an invitation. It must have dawned on him for the first
time how cruel the arena of world politics could become for a man
whose time had passed, and who was no longer in the pinnacle of
power. The memory of the pomp exercised on his arrival as a head
of state in countries he visited in the thirty-seven year tenure
as a king, seemed now so meaningless.
But he hung on to life tenaciously inspite of the inward grief,
and his being ill terminally. Perhaps this was for a political
reason, or it might have been because of a narcissistic self-love,
an inborn trait, like a miser who pinches pennies yet when he knows
he has but a few more days to live.
In the crucial months of the crisis, with all the channels of
public address at his side and all the levers of power at his command,
he came forth with not a single grain-worth of anything but blatant
appeasement. No glint of the sword, no statesmanship, no commendable
deed and no heroic resolve. He offered only unilateral compromise:
step-by-step retreat through
absentee proclamations, and the changing of prime-ministers
in grotesque succession.
He maintained such a low profile that at times it seemed he didn’t
exist. His stratagem was to gain time. Only in the course of time
he could find God’s deliverance. The nightmare could pass
with time, the stillness of dawn would settle on the land, a dazed
and tired people would eventually seek peace and tranquility .
He little knew that an uprising of short duration. if it ends an
era, is a revolution. The Shah from the start could not cope with
an uprising that gradually gatherrd force and with tremendous momentum
smashed the pyramid of power, on the apex of which he sat .
He appeared in the airport one
afternoon stripped literally of command, the aura of power gone,
face tired and worn, frame emaciated,
loose in a black topcoat tailored to maintain snappy form even
if no human was in it. His wife by his side blinking, as he announced
to the world, “I am going for a period of rest”.
While the duration of “rest” was indefinite,
he conveyed that he would return when he felt well, or when all
was well in the country. He boarded the royal jetliner, still a
head of the state, flew to Egypt. A departure in all appearance,
but morally a second jump.
Had he known how the world would treat him, most likely he never
would have left. He would have remained on the spot like one of
his statues. Fate then, unfailinghly, would have had for him a
kingly end; a true lord facing executioners, a true-to-life Tuan
embracing death “as though it was a birde” for the
mistakes he made. Unfortunately, so grand an exit was
not to be his.
Instead, he left the ship of state rudderless with no able-minded
seaman at the helm, thinking it would remain so , in place , bobbing
on rough waters until he returned. No other pilot would dare climb
on deck to take command; his generals would not let such things
happen. There would be strife for sure, clashes of arms and bloodshed
but his hand would be clean of it. Finally enmasse the people will
rise on the side of the army. On the wasteland of a civil war a
path will be made and the atlas-nations will nod and he would become
once more a prince of luck. Like before, it could happen. He would
return. History with its habit of repeating itself would gift him
again with the lost crown and the august title: The Light of the
Aryan. On that he now had qualms, a sense of un-easiness, as if
he and the title no longer belonged to each other.
From the porthole of the jetliner bringing him back he perceived
the snow-capped mountain of Damavand on the northeast of the capital;
now awaiting him. In all his lifetime of travel around the would,
not once did he see a mountain as rugged and yet so shapely as
this one near his home-city, rising out of the earth without angularity
or jaggedness, going up smooth and graceful into the sky. Observing
it was pleasure, as if mother-earth had sent up a gigantic sentinel
to guard, in everlasting solitude, the capital city of Tehran,
from behind the ranges.
He remembered how in the past so many posters and portraits were
made with him standing solemn-faced, hands folded on chest, before
mountain, conveying man-and-mountain all weather fortitude.
The memory of those posters did not ruffle him as it did during
the months in exile. He now was the winner, had gambled and won,
was returning home crowned with victory. so the message of posters
were not far off the beam. He as ever was there to behold a vast
tranquil land, that appeared to have tricked him, but not so now.
Nonetheless the loneliness of exile and the memory of events
preceding, had forced him to view himself in a self-revealing light.
He had gazed into his own soul and found it lacking transparency,
blotched in spots with dark shadows. For a nation so changed and
so much wiser now, like himself, he knew his old self would be
a relic not suiting the time, only fit for the museum of history.
He was a being thoroughly new, spiritually metamorphosed setting
foot on the land of Kourosh whose legacy he had taken upon himself
and his sire to symbolize. Albeit, if he again saw sycophant art-work
he had doubts that at its best he would not find it revolting,
not edging him to the border of nausea. The need for great pomp,
bombast, pageantry and festivals, with him as the star viewer,
the most revered guest in the limelight, was also a thing of the
He cared no longer to shine with ostentatious titles, with assorted
medals, mostly self-bestowed, on his chest when wearing a military
uniform. Implied posturing as a divine being inspired by sources
unknown to others, was to be no more, these were old clothes to
be thrown in the flames of the pyre to burn to ashes alongside
his old self.
The new personality would exert itself with subtle force, would
eradicate from a society the ills that his frailties brought. Art-work
slanted to please him would not flourish again. By not bestowing
special attention, painters hence would be using their brush in
the pursuit of the aesthetics in art, not him.
Henceforth the special breed of writers, poets and political
essayists no longer will write having him in mind as the most important
reader, the one whose regal nod of approval would count more than
the opinion of the public. Majlis never would become again a gathering
place for flatterers, one ever trying to surpass the others. Speechmarkers
in any assembly would no longer feel the necessity of exorcising
the demons of fear from a cowed audience, as well as themselves,
by eulogizing him first before expressing criticism on a subject
or a current issue.
He would see to it from the beginning that torrents of slogans,
to please the royal mind, would not be shouted by crowds in the
streets with faces feigning wrath, clenched fists pumping into
the air, along with voice organs delivering, on cue, death-chants.
No longer would he allow insult to mass intelligence thus to be
He would build a society based on goodwill, trust and truth ,
the latter guarded by a free press . in such a society his brood
of brothers and sisters with boundless avarice no longer could
function. So best they remained where they were, abroad.
To the memory of those who lost their lives on the cause of his
return and those executed he would build a memorial: a monument
of marble and light, a masterwork with a flame on a campanile high
on the site burning eternally. He would make up to the families
and descendants of the lost heroes who saved Pahlavi dynasty, would
see to it that their souls remained at rest till he joined them.
The memories of ancient wrongs; cruelties perpetrated by others
, for the good of the state, while he turned face the other way,
came to torment him. His heart pained a little, and it saddened
him that he could not rectify himself on this account. As always
he bore the pain in silence until it passed.
The jetliners’ four engines droned at low altitude, wings
slanted in a half-circle approach to the runway. The returning
king saw the army band, a unit of his beloved royal guard standing
in perfect rows, the front line bearing the colors. Worried officials
jostled about. A throng, no doubt the welcoming committee, stood
meters away from the red carpet where the liner was supposed to
stop. In front of the royal pavilion he saw his old limousine kept
well during his absence. His wife, sitting by his side, held her
face near him. He was about to say something to her when suddenly
his attention passed on something unexpected. On the grounds below,
the mass of humanity that had come to welcome him reached horizons.
Only the airport, like an island, revealed a portion of earth,
and the grand square Shahyad, with its elegant monumet made to
shade his tomb, when his time came.
He knew there and then that nothing would go according to plan.
No speeches would be made and no trumpets would blare. His royal
guard would not be reviewed, and no general of the army as before
would bow and place a kiss on the back of his hand deferentially.
A crowd like that could not be contained even if the whole army
was guarding the airport.
Tears welled up in his eyes and his wife, noticing him, pressed
his hand. He knew his way with crowds. He had been in their midst
many times. The pushing, shoving, crying, imploring crowd, for
sure, as if possessing one mind with myriad hands stretched to
touch him, always took him to where he wanted to go. He and his
wife, he knew, would reach the royal limousine sore and bruised
and inspite of his frail health, happy. He knew that. The crowd
would open the way and the vehicle slowly would move into the familiar
boulevards. Enroute the palace on either side of the streets he
would hear the waiting crowd, cheer.
He heard their cheers mixed with the droning whine of the engines
as the liner came to land for the second time on an ancient country,
where compassion transcending politics had stretched a welcome
hand to him: Egypt.
Such dreams denied, could have been the basis of his refusal
to make a firm stand, the cause of all the inaction in the past.
But who know’s for sure what went on within the man, in the
last months of his life, before, and during the uprising .
Perhaps all along, not noticeable to anyone, something entirely
different was at work. Guiding him may have been the instinct of
a plain, ordinary, dying man. For years he bore the burden of imminent
death alone. Only God, his wife and his doctor knew of his affliction,
and all those who pretended they didn’t know so his spirit
would not be frayed.
Confronting a nation whose wrath he could not fathom and, worse,
he thought it undeserving, his grief and anguish swelled out of
proportion as life within him ebbed rapidly. In such a state no
doubt he wished communion with providence on his own behalf, for
the journey to another medium. This is hardly an ideal state of
mind for a high destiny decision-maker.
The order of letting his army and secret police coming out with
blazing guns snuffing out lives while his own was being quenched
by cancer in no way suited the mental state he was in. All this
might have brought him to a point where forces in him gave way.
He ceased being a creature of rationality as we know it. A man
no longer his former self whose gaze might have turned at some
point away from lofty goals and soaring dreams he harbored: the
vision of an enchanted future for his country, dimly phrased in
his mind: ‘The great civilization ’.
His tired soul might have saught a recluse long before his authoritarian
prestige faded. A cool shady place he sought away from all the
din and noise and all that was harsh and thankless, where he could
snugly settle and observe a while longer the world that denied
him eminemce at the end.
With death-glazed eyes he viewed his surroundings, until lights
dimmed out and darkness shrouded him as he passed quietly on into
A sad ending is after all only a sad ending. It never over-shadows
essense of a man’s life. Never it is a total eclipse. In
the course of time the world would hold the memory of the Shah
in great esteem, and history will be a fair judge. During years
in power the man with delicate skill nudged Iran into the twentieth
century, a feat not to be disparaged or despised. A historical
and cultural path once traversed could not be trodden on back.
A legacy. This may yet prove to be a posthumous triumph for a monarch
on whose ancient land the book of literature on kings, queens,
princes, and princesses abruptly closed.
The Shah of Iran died July 27, 1980.
* Lord Jim was
first attributed to the Shah by the late Sir Anthony Parson, the
last British ambassador to Tehran, before the revolution.
Reviews of his book “Pride and the Fall” in newspaper
and periodical in Iran had to tell briefly the story of Lord Jim
in order to clarify the comparison.