The Unacknowledged Anachronism of Iran

Many claim they -- unlike the Shah -- knew Khomeini would come to power


The Unacknowledged Anachronism of Iran
by Doost daaram pas hastam

Abbas Milani is one of the best Iranian historians. He conducts a lot of “primary source” research and has a reasonable approach to facts. I have not seen him to intentionally misrepresent facts. But he is wrong about a critical analysis of Iranian history under the Shah. He is not really wrong about the simple facts but rather misses the larger context.

Mr Milani places the primary blame for Iran's Islamic revolution on the Shah. In his analysis it was Shah's support of Islam in that decade that unwittingly allowed the necessary elements of the Islamic revolution to come together. But the truth is actually both more complicated and disturbing.

Pahlavi dynasty started the same time that Bolsheviks took over Russia. With a length of over 1,200 miles, the Soviet border was Iran's largest border. Soviet Union had a nasty habit of swallowing its weaker neighbors. It had tried several times to do that in Iran with the support of Iranian Communists. Those annexations were ultimately only avoided through diplomacy and cold war brinkmanship. It is clear that Shah feared Communists as a very big danger to Iran.

We had a highly religious, society despite over 50 years of systematic efforts to introduce modernity in Iran. Most Iranians did not think in a modern fashion and the hold of religion on most people's mind was enormous. Although necessary, rapid and massive urbanization of Iranian population in the previous decades had unleashed a new urban-dwelling populace that was less modern and more prone to manipulation of the Islamists.

This aversion to modernity extended well into our educated class and even those who had been educated in Europe and U.S. the centers of modernity. Most of the Iranian “intellectuals” of the time were frightened by modernity. Gharbzadegi (westoxication) became a derogatory term to define and dismiss modernity. Many of Khomeini's closest advisors and allies were those western educated Iranians. This was a society that even much of its university educated elite was willing to believe in the picture of Khomeini on the moon.

Radical clerics had openly attacked the Shah throughout his rule. In the 1950s and 1960s Fadaiyan Islam had assassinated Hazhir, Razmara and Mansur, three of Shah's prime ministers. Khomeini and his followers had already attempted to overthrow him in1963. Shah was well aware of the dangers of radical Islamists.

Like many American presidents it is hard to know for certain Shah's real religious beliefs. Was he sincere in his claims of religious belief or was it a mere political necessity? But given Iran's history and his fears of both Communists and radical Islamists, it seems quite probable that Shah had decided to co-opt the clerical leadership. In addition to the freedoms given to many clerics, Savak had made regular secret payments to many clerics in order to keep things quiet. Shah had tried to create an establishment clerical system that was beholden to the monarchy. Centuries ago Britain had accomplished the same by creating an official clerical system that belonged to the state and that accomplishment had helped bring stability to the country.

What the Shah had failed to predict was the perfect storm that would successfully bring Khomeini to power.

1) Savak failed to detect and counter the penetration of radical Islamists in the mainstream religious establishments.

2) With the exceptions of Sedighi and Bakhtiar National Front had thrown its entire support behind Khomeini.

3) Iranian Marxists such as Tudeh and Fadayan Khalgh had also become the strong unapologetic supporters of Khomeini and Islamists.

The unlikely alliance of Islamists, Marxists and the National Front created a united opposition front. That alliance created the undeserved respectability for Khomeini among the Iranian population. The savviness of western educated allies of Khomeini also helped to create a moderate image for him in the West. So we witnessed an unprecedented event. The creation of a revolutionary Islamist state.

There is well studied phenomenon in psychology called “hindsight bias”. Also known as “I knew it all along” bias. It refers to the tendency people have to view events as more predictable than they really are. After an event, people often believe that they knew the outcome of the event before it actually happened. There are many people who claim to have known all along that Khomeini would come to power and criticize the Shah for failing to see that.

Shah failed in his attempts to stop Khomeini's take over of Iran. But that was not the result of not realizing the danger or not trying to prevent it. Shah was aware of Khomeini's threat and had exiled him for that very reason. The deeper and far more critical fault seems to belong to the Iranian people, specially its educated class, that with very few exception failed to appreciate what Khomeini stood for. Jimmy Carter and his advisors were also bamboozled by Khomeini and used all their influence inside the Iranian Armed Forces leadership to get it to declare neutrality. With that final act, Shahpoor Bakhtiar's low chance of success against the Islamists dropped to zero.

As Iranian people we wish to have final authority over how we are governed. We should also accept the responsibility that is required for such authority. An honest, and unflinching assessment of our shortcomings that resulted in Khomeini's reign would be a good start. Once Iranian people accept responsibility for their actions, they would soon assume the authority of self governance.


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just dont know how to express my strong feeling towards u

by مآمور on

 شما همراه با دیگران عزیزان اگر به دنبال مسببین انقلاب ۵۷ می گردید راه دوری نباید بروید!!من مامور در خدمت هستم!! شما هر چه فریاد دارید بر سر من بکشید!!! نه فقط برای وقوع انقلاب بلکه مهمتر از آن برای تداوم آن.   
قبلأ عرض کردم شما اگر به نویسندگی به پردازی و کار تفسیری نکنی شاید یک جایزه اسکار گیرت بیایید!!!

I wear an Omega watch

Doost daaram pas hastam

Thanks everyone

by Doost daaram pas hastam on

for the kind words and constructive cricisim. IRI has been such a disaster that most individuals and groups that wittingly or unwittingly helped bring it about are mostly disclaiming their earlier acts. I think we do much better if we internalize a healthy dose of self-criticsim. It has done wonders for the Western civilization.   



by oktaby on

Article and excellent concluding paragraph.

I do not agree with ambiguity on religion. There is ample evidence of Shah's religiousity in lieu of actions he did not have to take (going to hajj) and building as many mosques (islamist petri dish) as he did (close to 5000) during his reign. Not to mention allowing wide distribution of Shariati's twisted ideology via broadway style shows and venues (Hosseiniye Ershad); an infestation that still goes on even with young Iranian minds that are anti-IRI.

You are also right on about him realizing the danger but his failure had many reasons including full complicity and support by Brits/French/Americans in wanting an islamist character in continuation of Islamism they seeded 2 decades earlier, in containment of Soviets (along with Pope JP II on the European Eastern front). And naivete of the JM, Toodeh & western educated Iranians who believed they could use a molla as lead and then put him in the back row.

Along the same lines I made a comment on Khers' blog, part of which seems appropriate here as well:

He well knew of 'sworn' enemies and that they were at work against Iran. But he never had a perspective of how far & deep they had established themselves for 2 reasons: 1st, there were too many middlemen between him and the street (The Red), and 2nd, his own ego (charceristic of most Iranians).

He also did not realize how he was contributing to it through building of more mosques and giving exemption from military service to the very scum (the black) running those mosques or getting trained in them.

Shah himself clearly identifies both groups and their intentions; Mentioning 'unholy alliance' at least 3 times in this speech (Minutes 3:10, 3:40, 4:25)


At the end of the day, conspirators, foreign & domestic herded people to do their dirty work for them. Something that would not have been possible militarily.


Darius Kadivar

Thank you DDPH for this excellent review

by Darius Kadivar on

This critical review truly has the credit of being of a very different caliber from the type of cheap shots made against Milani particularly by many who have not even bothered to read his book.

It offers it's rebuttal as a polite and civilized counter assessment to  Milani's historical perspective and should I add distortions due to a biased "Jomhurykhah" reading of our century old struggle for democracy which naturally he is rightfully entitled to but which is but only one of many possible interpretations.

History like Literature is an open window on different outlooks and possibilities and that is precisely what makes it a never ending story and why studying it from different angles contributes to a better understanding of not only our past but of ourselves.


One of my favorite quotes by a Great Writer L.P. Hartley author of the Go Between is the following:


"The Past is a Foreign Country, People do things differently there"


It inspired me the following blog for which I would like to have your opinion:


THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY: How Would You Evaluate Iran's Democracy Index in 1953 ? 


From that point of view I find it refreshing to read something new and less sycophantic on Milani's otherwise well researched book.


I am all the more happy to see an ideological "rival" come to terms with his own Constituency's shortcomings whilst expecting the same level of intellectual accountability that has so often been demanded from the Shah and his regime 33 years even after his death by so many pseudo intellectuals from both ends of the Iranian political spectrum:


Constitutionalist Khosro Fravahar Responds to Bahram Moshiri’s Assessments on Pahlavi Rule


even despite the fact that the Revolution got it's vengeance on so many of his ministers, military personals and civil servants and in most cases without even a fair trial:


HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: IRI's Reign of Terror Begins (BBC Report 1979)


JAVIDAN: Shah's Imperial Guard dies during an attack by Khomeini guerillas (1979)


JAVIDAN: Farokhroo Pārsā (1922-1980)


How long are we going to continue to think that History ONLY Belongs to the Victors ?


TORN APART: How Iran's Revolution Divided Sisters Mahnaz (Afkhami) and Farah


Aren't others Also entitled to offering their outlook ? Particularly when they were the direct and innocent collateral victims of a nation's vengeance ?


BOOK: EVEN AFTER ALL THIS TIME By Afschineh Latifi ( A Memoir )


TRIBUTE TO THE PERSIAN PRINCE: Prince Ali Reza Pahlavi (1966-2011)



I also wish I could see the same level of Balanced crticism, intellectual honesty and accountability expressed more often amongst people belonging to my own ideological family that is Constitutional Monarchists.


Unfortunately due to a groupe of Bazaris running Cheap LA TV's like these people (whom our Crown Prince even criticized openly):


Crown Prince Reza Slams 'Shahollahis'


and who don't even belong to a officially recognized Political Party we Constitutionalist Monarchist have been reduced to a bunch of people who truly don't represent what we Genuinely Stand for and that is a system of government with Checks and Balances:


Crown Prince Reza on importance of "Checks and Balances" of future regime


as opposed to an Absolute Monarchy or system of government:


ROYAL FORUM: Explaining the Concept of a Constitutional Monarchy to a Staunch Republican



But I regret to say that the likes of Dariush Homayoun or Mashallah Ajoudani are too rare ... or if they exist, and I know a good deal personally are not given the opportunity to express themselves even in cyber space.


There can be no progress made without an honest introspection not just on a given era, historical figure but first and foremost and for better of worse of our own COLLECTIVE social character as a nation.


Reading some of the reactions in this thread only confirms my impression of why we are so ungovernable as a nation ...


And something tells me that Even Reza Shah who initially wanted to establish a Republic in Iran like his role model Attaturk found that hard not to say an Impossible task ...  



SARE DARD: Even Reza Shah found it a ‘headache’ to lead Iranians  


Thank you again for this excellent and honest review and look forward to more articles from you in the future.







Doost daaram pas hastam

In my short comment

by Doost daaram pas hastam on

I was hoping for a healthy dialogue between different secular democratic factions who want to overthrow the IRI. I thought that was a narrow enough definition for opposition to have a meaningful purposeful unity. I don't expect the republicans to convince the monarchists that republicanism is the ideal form of government for Iran or vice versa. A respectful discussion was what I hoped for. Save your insults and name calling for the IRI supporters. I certainly have no problem messing with them.

We have different opinions and they not just about monarchy vs republic. The choice of economic system may actually be far more important. We have to start treating each other as rivals and not enemies. We have a massive cultural problem with democracy and we have not solved it even after years of living in democratic countries. Without that culture we will be doomed regardless of the shape that the government takes.

The form of government is of secondary importance. Look at Europe. Half the countries are monarchies and the other half republics. They are all democracies. Africa also has monarchies and republics, but how many can you count as democratic.   

Siamak Asadian

Anglo khan, how about a "J" instead of "Y," as in Jurgen Haberms

by Siamak Asadian on

and his ideas on Modernity and Modernism.

Habermas mentiones that back in the Romans time, 2000 years ago, they used to call themselves Modern, using that exact term in Latin. Romans designated themselves as such, due to the style of their empire building and how they were able to expand their social institutions across the world of their period. Aramesh Dostar also points out that Achaemenids has reached such a status few centuries  before Romans. For more on Habermas see:



On the origins of Modernism, specially in Arts and culture Perry Anderson, claims, correctly, that this term was coined for the first time in Latin America. For an enlightening debate on that see:



P.S. Anglo khan you're probably  one of the few monarchists capable of informed commentary, very much like the late Daruish Homayon. Cheers

Siamak Asadian

On illusion of engaing in meanignful discourse with historical

by Siamak Asadian on


Rozbeh jaan, we all know your noble intentions, but I'm still amazed at your, for lack of a better word, naivete concerning exactly who we're dealing with in here.

We all would remiss if we forget that these monarchists for the most part were removed from power by force. And to this day only a handful of them, have had the moral integrity and the courage to confess to all their mistakes and crimes.  Sabeti being a prime example of such attitudes and personalities.

For the most part they remain just as much Jojeh Fascists that they used to back in 1979. Cheers


Siamak jan you should know better that ...

by anglophile on

Modernity and Modernism are two totally different entities. Amir Kabir, like Reza Shah, was a moderniser but not an initiator of modernity. Ironically the founding father of the Islamic republic, Khomeini, same as his deceased brother Osama bin Laden, initiated an era of modernity. Now give me a "y" comrade :)) 
ps - I am afraid the author of this blog  has confused modernity with modersnism too.

Sigh ...  


BTW, thanks DDPH for a very good blog...

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

Like all good blogs here, it can be used as a vheicle for reasonable, civilised debate around certain historical issues, in order to learn from each other, and perhaps, just perhaps identify a unity of purpose amongst us, based on common objectives. Or, it can degenerate into another name calling match. Why it ever degenerates into the latter, i never understand. i mean, after all, aren't we all adults, some, if not most very highly educated, living in democratic societies, where civilised political debates is a norm?  

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."

Siamak Asadian

Once an obtuse, ignorant, out of touch with reality monarchist

by Siamak Asadian on

Always an obtuse, ignorant, out of touch with reality monarchist!

Oon Yaroo

All Sibiloviches, Sibilofskys, Sibilotoffs, and the Derivatives!

by Oon Yaroo on

Take a good look at your predecessor comrades wearing the Iranian Army uniforms and holding Khomeini's placard!

Yes, those uniforms were paid for by the late Shah and probably made in America!

I wonder what happened to those confused sibils!?




Siamak Asadian

Substance of the argument, more important than the lables put on

by Siamak Asadian on

them by authors.

And exactly what could be said of the historical substance of any 'argument' when the process of modernization in Iran is truncated, and distortingly reduced to only 50 years, forgettign the 100 years of Iranian nation has struggled to come to terms and grapple with the ideas and institutions of modernity in Iran.

Could it  be that our persistent, consitent historical amnesia (as pointed out by Shamlo and others) is a major reason for our national failure in coming to terms with modernity in Iran.

P.S. To those most obtuse, brainwashed monarchists, the only "an" is the ones coming out of your key boards. If you weren't under so much medication you might have realized for once in your life that there was no "shah's team." Everything was decided by him, and no one but him. But even after three decades of his "spectacular" escape from the country, you still forget this most basic historical detail. Cheers 


On the comment

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

"the political vaccume created by Shah's one party system will be filled
very quickly with the only "opposition", deeply rooted in Iranian
  Peace, Progress and Human Rights are all improving unquestionably well under the chinese one party system.  Is it perfect? No.  Yet for an ancient culture they are doing well and maintaining their Independence from foreign domination aimed at suppressing the country using this approach.  Today Iran Is on its Knees and backward not as a result of the shah, but the thoughts of proud morons who thought they could do better than the shahsteam of Iranians and as we see they could not.  Now there are even some people who think Iran can just become a democracy, after this tyranny.  Why don't our antellectuals , stop giving us advice for a moment and reflect on how Unrealistic their goals are.   This is at the heart of what needs to be discussed, leaders can try all they want, but reality needs to sink in a little too regarding what can be done at this time.  Being a traitor to king and country can give no better fruit than what Iraians have tasted for the last 33 years lets openly admit the treason.


powerful video Saidi Sirjani

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on


it's not only Mr. Milani.....

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

Bijan jazani, the Iranian Marxist theorician and thinker, who was murderd by SAVAK along with a number of his comrades while a prisoner at Evin, very accurately predicted in his writings the rise of not only Islamist rule in Iran, but it's rise under Khomeini, then a fairly unknown cleric, many years before the 1979 revolution..

What was the basis of Jazani's prediction? To a great extent his assumptions were based on his deep knowledge of Iran's society as a political activist. his encounters in Shah's jails with Islamist terrorists working hand in hand with SAVAK, his clear -now obvious- understanding that in the abscence of any freedom for secular opposition parties to assemble and organise, the political vaccume created by Shah's one party system will be filled very quickly with the only "opposition", deeply rooted in Iranian society, through a network of mosques and Hosseinyeh in every corner of our Shiat Land.

Our Monarchits friends on this site need to learn that self criticism and acknowledgement of ones past mistakes is the first step towards progress.

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."

Siamak Asadian

FG:an instance of non-understanding of religion during monarchy,

by Siamak Asadian on

and now.

Dear FG, your claim of, "50 years of systematic efforts to introduce modernity" rings hollow keeping in mind that not only the social institutions of religion were never weakened during shah's time, but they were actually augmented and aided in the creation of numerous, Hossaineh, Mehdieh, Tekieh, Khaneghah, and Masjids in every conceiveable level of society. Not only that but as always for monarchist apologist, you also forget SAVAK's hand in glove cooperation with Hojatieh and such.

As far as a systematic introduction is concerned, the only social institution that was systematically augmented in Iran was monarchy, culminating in the dreadful Hezb Rastakhiz. And again as usual for all monarchist apologists Modus Operandi, this party and all its unintended consequences in never, ever mentioned, as if it never existed in Iranian history.

Last but definitely not least, people of Iran are sick and tired of Shia clergy, and mixing of religion and politics. But it would be obtuse if we think the majority of the population is also tired of and done with religion per se. People will always have their personal belief system, and for most part those remain religious ones. Cheers

Doost daaram pas hastam

I should explain

by Doost daaram pas hastam on

political leaning to everyone. I am not a monarchist. My monarchist
friends would laugh at the very idea. For several reasons, for which
I should write a much longer article, I am a republican. I do think
that overthrowing the Shah in 1979 was a huge mistake. I also think
that there should be better communication and cooperation between
Iranian secular democrats that are republican, monarchist,
socialist, capitalist etc. The primary goal of all secular democrats
should be the overthrow of IRI. Then Iranian people will be able to
decide the exact type of government they want. In that marketplace of
ideas I will argue for republicanism and against monarchy. Put
another way, I see secular democrat monarchists as my rivals not as
my enemy. I can work with and cooperate with my rivals to overthrow
our mutual enemy.


How times have changed!

by FG on

We had a highly religious, society despite over 50 years of systematic efforts to introduce modernity...the hold of religion on most people's mind was enormous. 

Of all Arab Spring countries, Iran is the least likely to opt for Islamist rule once the hated IRI vanishes.   Disillusionment with clerical rule is complete and widespread after 33 years of hell. 

Much anti-westernism has also been replaced with the reverse.  However, I agree that anti-western attitudes among intellectuals and commoners as well helped facilitate the mullah takeover.  

I doubt the clerics could have seized control of the 1979 revolution and ousted their allies if not for an American embassy seige started by those very allies.  It rested on existing xenophobia and encouraged even more.   During that year of hostage taking there was a never-ending drumbeat of anti-Americanism, not just from the regime but from the people conditioned wholesale by everyone, not just the mulahs.  While everyone looked away, the clerics had their day.

Many Iranians now recognize that the Xenophobia Trap helped put them on the road to hell.   Yet there are still groups--ultra-nationalists, communists and SOME monarchists--who persist in doing the same thing for the same reasons as the mullahs.  Spreading conspiiracy theories and manipulating history, they seek domestic political benefits as Hitler did also.  

In a recent post, I quoted Samuel Johnson ("Patriotisim is the last refuge of a scoundrel").  That applies to the above groups just as well as to Khamenei & Company.

Siamak Asadian

How monarchists continue to ridicule Iranian history & culture,

by Siamak Asadian on

is an indication why they will never understand neither our history and culture, and also why they're always doomed for to failure.

While Marx and Engels were writing about revolutions in 1848, Iran was expereincing a revolution of its own, in the from of Babian movement. Amir Kabir was the one who ultimately put down that progressive movement through a most bloody attempt.

However for our resident monarchist clowns, everything in Iran begins and ends with Pahlavis, alas for them (the clowns) our history and culture is a bit more complex and complicated than same old tired diatribes, they're used to.

Oon Yaroo

Ostaad Siamak A. I read somewhere that the Late Amir Kabir

by Oon Yaroo on

during his trips to Germany in 1856 fell in love with Marx's philosophy/political doctrine.

Upon his return to Iran, he pursued for while to establish a political/social environment very much like the Russian communist Tsarist system.

Is this accurate or revised in your opinion?

I would appreciate any insight on this.

Thank you.

Siamak Asadian

Another Monarchist non-understanding of Iran's history, culture,

by Siamak Asadian on


1) The process of Modernity in Iran began with Amir Kabir and his attempts to institutionalize Modernism in Iran; establishment of Darlfonon, sending students abroad, attempts to propose what he called Ghonstitosion (constitution),...

2) SAVAK not only misreably failed to determine the level of general popular discontent, it was also actively helping Hojatieh and other far-right groups, in its blind anti-Left mission. Not to mention shah giving a free hand in establishmenet of all types of Hossienieh, Mahdieh, Masjid, Tekieh,... 

3) Establishment of a single-party-rule, with the introduction of Hezb Rastakhiz was the last nail in the coffin on monarchy's social legitimacy.

4) Many left-wing groups were adamaently against khomeini from the start, Ashraf Dehghan along with majority of the Fedaies were, are and will always be opposed to IR, not to mention the Left forces in Kurdestan, Khozestan, Balochestan, Turkmen Sahra,..

5) At the end of the day, monarchists have no one but themselves to blame for all their costly mistakes. End of the stroy. Cheers


Clearly this shows Irans so-called intellectuals

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

were and are not much more than patsys.  ANtellectuals.

Had Iranians stayed with the shah, instead of betraying him they would have continued to enjoy greater peace, progress and human rights all of which were the shahs teams accomplishments.  A country with a complex history was going through industrialization with the shah's good leadership and all the stresses that come with it, yet people were mistakenly dreaming of implementing democracy even before the country could read and write, let alone be developed with jobs and skills, this backwards and ignorant mentality is present today too.  The Denial of exactly how the UK and Japan and all others who succeeded in moving towards democratic government actually succeeded, the exact path the shah was taking was the correct one in Irans case all the people who were traitors to king and country were on the wrong path.  This is The same gradual path that russia and china are on today, development, freedom and justice all come before the capability of having a functional democracy, otherwise independence, freedom, justice and more are sacrificed.  When we Don't wish to look at the successful cases that used this approach, and base our aims on the failure approach used unsuccessfully by all the common wealth countries including india and haiti that went for democracy first. and we wonder what we are doing wrong is ridiculous of us.  And there you have it, it was and is our Intellectuals, who are the biggest Proven Donkeys of all.  Most adults with common sense are aware that nothing positive happens until the time is right.  Javid Shah, a future with the monarchy, we know we can actualize our dreams.

Oon Yaroo

Finally, an article worthy of reading! IC's stock went up by $10

by Oon Yaroo on

Finally, an article worthy of reading! IC's stock went up by $10/share!

You are articulate therefore you are!

You just hit the hammer right on the proverbial head of the nail (i.e., the Iranian Commies) who unapologetically followed Khomeini like a bunch of GaG*!

Thank you for this well-articulated and right-to-the-point summary, dear DDPH!

* GaG (Gavv and Goosfand)


Good analysis

by MRX1 on

Iranian society was/is full of khorafat and backwardness. Fifty years of effort by great reza shah and his son was not enough to wash away more than 1000+ years of shiekh o omati psychee that is deep rooted.