I don't need to remind the readers that today is the 50th anniversary of the tragic demise of the first democratic government in Iranian history at the hands of the CIA and oil interests of the West and the enemies of democracy at home.
But rather than repeat what has been repeated for 49 years now, as an Iranian I would like us to ask ourselves some serious questions. Hopefully answering (or at least thinking about) these just might help us pick up where we left off some day.
There are two very important parts to this anniversary:
1-Democracy was defeated, and the struggle for democracy is a difficult and sometimes lonely and seemingly hopeless one, and
2- It was 50 years ago already!
Basically, we cannot trust anybody to do our work for us, and even to not directly oppose us in our quest for advancement. But I won't harp on that, for we Iranians by now are well known for our mistrust (well placed, I might add) of foreign powers.
So I must bite the bullet and ask the difficult and touchy question which tends to get asked less: “Is there something needing improvement with us and the way our society views democracy?” Now wait, before you start flaming me and calling me a Zionist, racist, anti-Iranian, or an American puppet, I ask you to humor me for a minute.
The CIA and its “allies” allegedly spent a couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring back the monarchy. Is that really all it took? And if so, was Dr. Mosaddegh's administration standing on strong ground domestically? Honestly, could the CIA have overthrown Khomeini's government 25 years later for the same amount (even if one adjusts for inflation)?
Of course, we have all heard the answer already-Khomeini's rise was a direct result of the intervention by the CIA in 1953 against Iran's democracy and its continued support for the Shah, and the radicalism that followed can be traced back to that treachorous crime.
But the CIA did similar (if not worse in some cases) interventions and supported equally (if not more brutal) regimes in other places, such as the Phillipines, Chile, and South Korea. All these countries are secular democracies today with good human rights records and even have good relations with the United States that are based on mutual respect and interests. They are not terrorist countries, do not have sanctions, and are not puppets of anybody. They have less natural and human and other resources than we do. They just moved on, that's all.
Why did not the Chileans, South Koreans, and Filipinos turn their pent up energy of opposition to the oppressor into a radical Islamic movement? We Iranians, on the other hand, concentrated on Marxist or fundamentalist Islamic ideologies (sometimes even mixed the two), and the “democratic” opposition was a minority. Why is that? What did they do right and what did we do wrong? Could our “intellectuals” and “educated” have possibly erred in their judgement?
If the West had just stood aside like the nice guys we would like them to be, what challenges would Dr. Mosaddegh have faced internally in the years following 1953? Would the clergy just quietly have stepped aside and not insisted on having Islamic as opposed to secular law? In the inevitable showdown, who would have won?
When the Soviets would have tried to invade us like they did Afghanistan, how would this challenge have been met without having a strong military relation with the US? Would the communist party have been allowed to operate?
These are complicated questions with complicated answers. Unfortunately, however, we have always followed a person and have looked for a cult like figure, a “pahlevan” who single handedly and magically saved us and impressed our enemies. This phenomenon existed among the monarchists as well as the opposition, and yes, even the democratic opposition. One can see this in very subtle ways, some elevate Dr. Mosaddegh higher than the ideals of democracy themselves, which I think is a disrespect to the late Dr. Mosaddegh.
We have to change our way of thinking from “who should come to power” to “what type of system should we have”. The latter is not as exciting and involves more boring and hard work, but that is what is needed to build a democratic system.
I am happy to see things getting much better with the newer generation in Iran, in the way they organize, the things they say, and the maturity and tolerance that they show. This is indeed very encouraging and we have come a long way. But where are the millions of people in the streets supporting the students today (who in my opinion are no less than Dr. Mosaddegh in their commitment to democracy)?
Where is the immense organization and unity of the expatriate Iranian communities in defense of our students? (They are busy deciding whether or not they like NITV) Both these ingredients were there for Khomeini in 1979, why not for democracy (and not a person) in 2003? We have come a long way, but I fear we still have a long way to go.
The world is not a fair place and the superpowers were never and will never be exercising their power other than for their interests. We can't change that. But reflecting on the last 50 years, I think there is a lot about ourselves and the way we deal with that unfair world that we can change that would strenghten the chances of a future democracy. We cannot keep blaming the events of 50 years ago for our failures today.
As we join together and commemorate this tragic and dark chapter in our modern history, I think one of the best ways we can honor Dr. Mosaddegh and the democratic movement in our country is to move beyond the blame game and honestly ask ourselves these questions, and to think hard about what we can do to pave the way for a future, modern, democratic Iran. I believe Dr. Mosaddegh was a man ahead of his time, and I don't want to wait another 50 years.
Now go ahead, criticize me as much as you want. After all, that is what democracy is all about!