For many Iranians, the return of the former King Zahir Shah to Afghanistan in April has ignited a light at the end of their own country's dismal political tunnel. Although Zahir Shah's homecoming is not necessarily the return of the monarchy, it is a move in the direction of sanity and good sense which could provide lessons for Iranians across the border.
Iran and Afghanistan sharing the same boundary, language and religion are in the habit of taking political cues from each other. In the course of the past three decades the fall of monarchy in one state has come on the heels of the same event in the other. Both countries eventually fell into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists.
Mindful of this pattern, now many Iranians are hoping that the arrival of the former monarch to Afghanistan 29 years after his forced abdication, might harbinger a similar prospect for their own country.
Eyes are naturally turned towards the only person who can fulfill that aspiration, the 41-year-old Reza Pahlavi who from his exile in the United States works vigorously to discharge what he considers to be his historical mission of achieving democracy for his homeland through a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He was in his teens when in 1979, the Islamic Revolution toppled his father the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from power.
After the departure of the Shah, the Islamic militants boasted that they had sent the Pahlavis to the trash bin of history. In the face of what has transpired in Iran during the past two decades, the Pahlavis stand vindicated and in the eyes of an increasing number of Iranians Reza Pahlavi, who is still known by them as the Crown Prince is holding the key to his country's hope for regeneration and future stability.
His persistent efforts to forge solidarity amongst various opposition groups has gained him considerable respect and admiration. In his recently published book ” Winds of Change: the future of democracy in Iran“, he calls upon all his compatriots to work on the common priority of “setting the stage for an all-inclusive national referendum, with international observation, enabling the people of Iran to determine the type of democratic government they wish for.”
Other opponents of the government in Tehran can be faulted for their narrow and exclusionist politics, whereas Reza Pahlavi is the only one capable of ensuring the fruition of a pluralistic modern country which also enjoys a continuity with its past as an ancient kingdom and civilization.
Reza Pahlavi's personal style, the simplicity and dignity with which he has conducted himself in exile has done a lot to dispel the image disseminated by the propagandists of the revolution portraying him and his family as haughty and flamboyant individuals whose sole allegiance is to their Swiss bank accounts.
The Pahlavi family which was once conveniently blamed by the Shah's opponents for all that ailed recent Iranian history, now is looked upon with veneration by many intellectuals and ordinary Iranians who have come to reassess their roles with an insight they lacked at the early and stormy years of the revolution.
Talking to people in the streets of Tehran, one notices that the reflexive imprecations invoked at the mention of their names at the early days of the revolution are now given way to endearing and reverential epitaphs. Amongst the factors contributing to this vindication, total disillusionment with the current regime can be cited as a major one.
The exclusionist nature of the Islamic Republic has shut off many Iranians who simply do not qualify as fully fledged members of that Republic. Only those who toe the line and have the right connections are allowed to profit. The most women and religious minorities can hope for within this system, is the rank of a second class citizen.
President Khatami who was elected on the promise of upholding law and civic freedoms for all Iranians could do nothing to protect the human rights of those people who campaigned so hard for his victory. The failure of the reform movement spearheaded by him, indicated the impermeability of the system to democratic change and amelioration. Reza Pahlavi in his speeches underscores the subterfuge within this system when he describes the Islamic Republic of Iran as an “un-Islamic” and “un-Iranian pseudo republic”.
Cracks in the Iranian revolutionary leadership became increasingly visible after the intensification of the infighting between different interest groups within the system. Disclosures have unveiled atrocities committed from the earliest days of the revolution and have led to the demystification and even discredit of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself.
It is inconceivable that the fundamental human rights trampled upon in Iran during the past two decades can possibly have any religious justification. Creeping out of the closet of the history of the Islamic revolution are blatant signs of a Faustian bargain for absolute power. Vis-a-vis such a tremendous moral sell out, the Shah's abuse of power is increasingly viewed by a majority of Iranians as human foibles of a man during whose reign Iran nevertheless was able to enjoy peace and relative prosperity.
As Iranians are reexamining their recent history and owning up to their collective lapse of judgment in opting for a dystopia twenty-three years ago, the West should welcome their re-awakening. It should greet it as a sign of political convalescence and imaginative recovery. In Afghanistan, such a recovery required drastic surgical intervention from without. In Iran, recovery could come about by encouraging the growth of healthy cells and sufficient doses of antibiotics to weaken and isolate the malady.