Reply to Kambiz Atabai

Sir, I appreciate the time you took to comment on some of my work. Please allow me to respond.

First, you take issue with my portrayal of Mohammad Mossadegh, who you describe as a “populist and a demagogue” and definitely no democrat. I disagree with that, and find it curious that a spokesman for the Pahlavi family can, given the dynasty’s history, seek to judge the democratic credentials of politicians active during the family’s reign. There may well be positive things to say about Mohammad Reza Shah, but that he promoted or encouraged democracy is not one of them.

You also suggest that “blind admiration” of Mossadegh has led some people to romanticize him and blindly hate the Shah. This may well be true. Anyone is entitled to his or her own view of each man’s legacy.

As for Reza Shah, I find much to admire in him. Despite his brutality and corruption, he rescued Iran at a moment when it seemed about to crumble. You assert that he was not an “illiterate soldier,” as I have described him, but “a Cossack colonel of formidable intelligence.” I would suggest that he was both.

The tragedy that has enveloped Iran in recent years may have made it possible to view the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah more positively. No doubt his excesses pale before those of the mullahs’ regime. The crimes of this current regime, however, have the opposite effect on some people; they detest the Shah more than ever because they blame him for creating the conditions in which such a regime could come to power. Weighing the reputations of historical figures is a complex and subtle challenge.

I was sorry to read of your disappointment with my recent column about the tragic death of Prince Ali Reza Pahlavi. His background made him a figure of public interest, and he symbolizes the sad fate that has followed his family and his great country.

In my column, I made clear that the prince was entirely blameless for any of his family’s misdeeds. As for those misdeeds, I do think it is fair to say that Mohammad Reza Shah was a dictator, though admittedly in a neighborhood that included far more murderous ones. The fact that the Pahlavi family was so deeply intertwined with the United States for so long makes it especially fascinating to Americans. In many ways, the Shah’s sins were also America’s sins; we Americans share much responsibility for Iran’s sad fate.

My heart goes out in true anguish to the Pahlavi family, and especially to the prince’s mother. This family’s role in history does not insulate it from grief or the other natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Its tragedy mirrors the tragedy of modern Iran. Inshallah they will both find better times ahead.


Stephen Kinzer

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