Academic coup

When "great" scholars play a deadly role


Academic coup
by Fariba Amini

While doing a project recently, I was reading about the 1953 coup again. Every time I read the details, of how a man was undermined by national and international forces determined to bring him down, it brings tears to my eyes, even though the events took place two generations ago, at a time when I was not even born.

For as long as I can remember, I have always lived in the shadow of Mossadegh, the idol of my father. As I got older and started reading more about this visionary man, I became more than just a sympathizer. I came to believe that he was ahead for his time. As time went on, my admiration for his democratic principles only grew.

As I read through the pages of history books, I came to conclude that the advice of "wise men and women," foreign experts on Iran and its politics, had played a role in the decision of the major powers, Great Britain and the US, to bring him down. Various names come to mind: Zahner, Wilber, and Lambton. Robin Zahner, who was at Oxford, and fluent in Persian became a major player in this scheme. Profoundly religious and known to have experimented with drugs and an alcoholic, he was a covert operative for the British intelligence.

Donald Wilber, who had earned a doctoral degree in architecture at Princeton, had worked extensively in Iran and the Middle East during World War II and was stationed in Iran working for OSS, the predecessor of the CIA, specializing in psychological warfare. As for Ann (Nancy) Lambton, she played a much more decisive role in this whole affair. She was the expert and the foreign analyst who advised the British government, worked in high circles and recommended that no compromise with Mossadegh was to take place under any circumstances.

"Having failed to persuade Attlee to order an invasion, Morrison decided to begin covert action. He turned first to two distinguished scholars who had spent years studying Iran and where sympathetic to the British position there. The first, Ann K. S. Lambton, who had been press attachÈ at the British Embassy in Tehran during World War II and gone on to become one of Britain's leading scholars of Iran. At Morrison's request, she began suggesting 'effective lines of propaganda' that the British might use to turn the Iranian public opinion against Mossadegh." (Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah's Men: an American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, 2003)

"The British, determined to undermine Mossadeq from the day he was elected premier, refused to negotiate seriously with him. For instance, Professor Lambton, serving as a Foreign Office consultant, advised as early as November 1951 that the British government should persevere in 'undermining' Mossadeq, refused to reach an agreement with him, and reject American attempts to find a compromise solution. 'The Americans,' She insisted, 'do not have the experience or the psychological insight to understand Persia.'" (Ervand Abrahamian, Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic, 1993)

Most of the key players have since died, but she is still around, living in the English countryside. Although she is now very old, she has never publicly acknowledged her role in the 1953 coup. Maybe she is just too ashamed.

She saw Mossadegh as a danger! Yes, indeed he was dangerous to their plans of bloody greed and power. But who was he really? He was a man who had studied law in the West, had a doctoral degree, and had written his thesis on "the law of inheritance in Shi'a Islam." He came from the nobility yet opposed it, had been imprisoned by Reza Shah for opposing the latter's dictatorial decrees and he truly and genuinely believed in democracy, the kind of government his British and American opponents supposedly supported as well and claimed for their home counties. He believed in a free press, a vital component of democracy, but the Iranian, British and American collaborators used that same press to discredit and defame him. They used the press, bribing journalists, and lied to the Iranian people and the world at large about him. So why were they so adamant to destroy him and his government? Was he not corruptible enough for them? Or was he too smart for his own good? The men they helped bring to power in Iran were nothing like him. General Zahedi was an uneducated, greedy crook, a Nazi sympathizer, a womanizer and and a murderer. (It is alleged that he was involved in the murder of Afshartoos, Mossadegh's head of the police and security apparatus.) The Shah and his family were utterly corrupt. The rest is history, a very sad history for Iran.

Sadly enough, Lambton was rewarded for her treacherous role. Immediately after the coup, while an honorable man was put on trial for "treason" and sent to prison and the real traitors occupied the seats of power, Ann Lambton became the chair of Persian at the University of London in 1953, and an honorary degree was bestowed upon her that same year. Later on, she received more honorary degrees from different British universities. I sometimes wonder, if history had unfolded differently, how many honorary degrees would Mossadegh have received from academic institutions around the world?

Alas, he spent the rest of his life as a prisoner in his own house. While Lambton and her masters basked in the glory of having gotten rid of a dangerous man, Mossadegh was not even allowed to leave his home until his death. He once told my father, one of the few people who were allowed to visit him that the Americans would have never acted alone if they had not been pressured by the British. Sadly enough, when he asked the Eisenhower administration for economic aid, while his government was under tremendous pressure and Iran suffered crippling sanctions, he was turned down. By that time the Americans and the British formed one united front against Mossadegh.

"Nancy Lambton believed that covert operations to overthrow Mossdeq would be the only way to achieve a stable and pro-Western government in Iran; and she not only moved in high circles within the Foreign Office but was a friend of Anthony Eden." "In her view, the 'stupidity, greed and lack of judgment by the ruling classes in Persia' caused the government to be corrupt and parasitic."

In a biographical note preceding her latest article, published in 2001 in the Durham Middle East papers, there is no reference to her role in the treacherous affair. Was she too ashamed or afraid of the consequences? But here is what is written about her on Wikipedia under her name: "Ann Lambton played a role in overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh. After the decision to nationalize Iran's oil interests, she advised the British government to undermine the authority of Mossadegh's regime. She suggested Oxford University professor R. C. Zaehner to go to Iran and begin covert operations. With the help of the CIA, the regime of Mossadegh was overthrown and the Shah of Iran was in power."

What to say about a person like her or those who have since served Presidents and heads of states with their ill advice? I believe individuals like her must have deep rooted complexes, no personal life, no human emotions, to have come up with such schemes and lies to destroy a man who desired nothing more than honor for his people. All he wanted was the same things that the English or Americans enjoy in their countries.

How ironic it is that fifty-five years after that shameful event and after all the attempts by the Shah and the current clerical regime to erase his name from the pages of history, Mossadegh remains the most respected politician of Iran. Even today, at student demonstrations in Iran, Mossadegh's photos are exhibited as a symbol of democracy. Do these scholars in the field ever ask themselves why? Or were greed and hegemony too precious to give up?

"Lambton's view of Mosaddeq as a dangerously irrational, anti-British nationalist also found expressions in minutes written. {she} characteristically urged the Foreign Office To boycott Mosaddeq as far as possible and to deal with him only when necessary to preserve public order." (Wm. Roger Louis, "Britain and overthrow of Mosaddeq," in Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne, eds., Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran, 2004).

Because of such individuals, so-called academicians who give policy advice to their governments, men and women's lives are destroyed all over this globe. They no doubt think of themselves as brilliant, churn out new books every year, prosper in their fields, but they are nothing but pitiful figures. They will not go down in history as individuals who made the world a better place but as actors who helped make history take a turn for the worse. In the case of Iran, this meant a change from an incipient democracy to a dictatorship and now a theocracy.

Today, the likes of Ann Lambton, accomplished and celebrated scholars offering policy advice, are still with us, this time in the form of those who advised G.W. Bush to go to war in Iraq. One stands out, Princeton Professor Emeritus in Middle East history, Bernard Lewis. A former British national and member of MI6, Lewis was a mentor to another highly regarded academic, former US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who left the World Bank in shame and is currently a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute . Bernard Lewis visited the White House on many occasions, purveying his conviction that Iraq, turned into a democracy would be a beacon for the Middle East at large, causing the dominoes to fall.

Ironically, Bernard Lewis and Ann Lambton edited quite a few articles together!

Others may disagree, but I do not find these people particularly brilliant and certainly not accomplished. For all their scholarly insight, they totally misread the realities of Middle East and in the end did not necessarily serve their own countries' interests.

Moreover, Ann Lambton does not personify the best in moral values even if she claims to be a devout Christian.

There is a fine line between being responsible and being a great scholar. Certainly, responsibility rests with those who suggest change but their distorted analyses and perverse recommendations result in consequences that are more disastrous. The current situation in the Middle East is testimony to their miscalculations.

Finally, Mossadegh was everything that they will never be.


Recently by Fariba AminiCommentsDate
Forgotten Captive
Nov 27, 2012
The Bride and the Dowry
Nov 27, 2012
Enemy Number One?
Sep 07, 2012
more from Fariba Amini

Genesis of 9/11

by sz (not verified) on

Some point the finger at the real genesis of 9/11 as being the short-circuiting of Iran’s indigenous Democracy project in 1953. The true believers in a Democratic Iran as the only way to rescue and set free the entire region from the dark forces always believe in the ability of Iranians to achieve it on their own. The proviso being that others have learned their lessons from the past interventions and propping up unpopular regimes for short sighted monetary gains .

programmer craig


by programmer craig on

Finally, Mossadegh was everything that they will never be.

It seems in your mind, he is something he never was. Regardless ofwhether you think the accusations that he was a communist or that he tried to assume the role of dictator are lies or not - look at your own society. Look at the people right here on Do you really believe that a man as selfless and noble as you believe Mossadeq to have been, could have ever risen to power in Iran as it was then? As it is, now?

We all need our heroes. But when you glamorize his achivements at other people's expense, you are no better than the people you belittle.


Mossadeg's record... a critical point of view....

by Antibullshit (not verified) on

Also please read : "Karnameh Syasi-e Dr. Mossadegh" by Jalal Matini among others...
this book was published by Sherkate Ketab in Los Angeles.