I have known Reza Pahlavi since we were both ten-years old. I come from a middle-class, educated family. I did well at school. We had a common teacher who recommended me to attend Reza's school. I am writing this because I feel my compatriots may possibly gain some useful insight into the real personality of one of their public figures.
I am not making a case for a monarchy or a republic. I do, however, think it is time to set the record straight for the campaign of character assassination against Mohammed Reza Shah and now his son Reza, a campaign that started with the Tudeh communist party, transformed into an art by the intelligence services of the Islamic Republic and, unfortunately, still persists among educated Iranians.
My first encounter with Reza had a lasting impact on our relationship. At home, the night before, I was told I should go present myself , bow and call him His Highness. Instead he came to me and very simply asked me to call him Reza. For 30 years of our lives, that simplicity, humility and friendliness has never changed.
He never wanted a glamorous life. He always dressed simply. He never wore a gold watch. He avoided mingling with celebrities. He did not drive fancy cars. He was never a playboy. His life in Iran or in exile was his immediate family, sports, books and long, deep, almost philosophical discussions with friends. And yet he distinguished himself even at an early age for his maturity and intelligence.
The present King of Morocco was sent to Iran by his father to be coached by Reza. Unlike many royals or famous people, Reza never engaged in telescopic, noblesse oblige, philanthropy such as $1,000-a-plate charity dinners for obscure but politically-correct causes. Reza's humanism was proactive and discreet — such as visiting and dining with a sick, poor Iranian refugee family, or starting a foundation for the advancement of Iranian culture.
Power changes people. Look at Khomeini before and after the revolution. Consider Mossadegh's record as leader of opposition and as prime minister. Powerful Crown Prince of Iran or exiled political personality, Reza had traits that never changed.
I remember our school was going to have soccer matches with other high school teams in Tehran. Some sycophant had made this special captain's armband thinking Reza was obviously the captain of the soccer team. Reza took the armband and presented it to one of our friends and said that he is the captain because he is the better player.
A few years back, some mutual friends and Reza rented a condo for a ski trip. They later told me that Reza and his wife insisted in staying in the smallest bedroom.
Reza's detractors generally fall under two categories. First, those who claim that monarchy is outdated and question the Pahlavi dynasty' record in Iran. Second, those who claim he inherited a billion dollars of ill-gotten fortune and has enjoyed himself for the last twenty years.
The first group's claims should be answered by historians. My answer to the second group is that after almost twenty-two years nobody has come forward with a shred of documented evidence that Reza, his father or mother, have any substantial wealth. If anything, all the evidence points to the exact reverse.
Asadollah Alam's diaries reveal that the late Mohammad Reza Shah was honest to the point that he insisted even personal gifts from heads of states be registered and given to the government. Also, ill-gotten fortunes of heads of states such as Marcos or Mobutu were all confiscated and returned.
Don't you think that men such as Hamilton Jordan from the Carter Administration who were ready to trade the Shah himself to the Islamic Republic would have unearthed this imaginary fortune, if it existed?
Reza's life in the last twenty-two years has had a single focus: Bringing democratic change to Iran. He sacrificed an easy, uneventful life, the safety of his family and practically his youth for this goal. The problem is that Iranians have this mental preconception or cultural model of a monarch who is simply obsolete.
Reza Pahlavi is not Shah Ismail Safavi or Nader Shah Afshar. The days when a khan or a prince was this giant of a man commanding his troops to victory are long over. But in our collective memory, the legacy still lasts. As a result, many Iranians fail to see Reza Pahlavi for what he truly is.
Reza has no money or army or tribe. He is a young patriotic Iranian with a razor-sharp mind, and an eloquent orator with a famous last name. He is honest, decent and courageous, and he has a plausible plan of action to build an Iranian democracy.
I have a few questions to ask from his detractors: Do you have a better plan of action? Are you willing to commit your life to it? Have you ever met Reza? Have you ever talked to him? Are you sure you know what he is all about?