As I tried to pay close attention to both the gossiping women and the head-strong men arguing about Iranian history and politics, I took a good look around and carefully analyzed the people who filled the host’s home with drinks, jokes and roars of laughter. These people had always been my image of the Persian culture and heritage. Thinking further, I had an interesting thought-a question,rather: what makes the Iranian people greatly different and exception in regards to their neighbors? My earliest and most immediate thought was Reza Shah the Great.
The common and numerously repeated modernizing actions of Reza Shah are all well-known and, perhaps, drilled into the heads of Iranians supporting and against the deposed monarchy. Roads, education, railways, security forces, secularism and westernization (if it can even be called that) are all common attributes given to Reza Shah. Although all of these advancements were, in fact, directly related to the reign and new system of Reza Shah, the most important attribute of Reza Shah is never written or mentioned; Reza Shah forcefully opened the minds of the Iranian public to make them see the world from which they had been repressed from for centuries.
As a general statement, the majority of Iranians against the reforms of Reza Shah argue that the fashion in which he implemented reform was brutal and far too strong-handed in nature. Such reforms, in particular, included women’s emancipation, the weakening of the clergy, the dispersion of Iranian tribes, education reform and also the anti-communist feeling his government possessed. In Iran’s particular circumstance, the majority of these strong-handed reforms are able to be justified when observing objectively.
The women of Iran had been confined to the home for centuries. As sheep and cattle, they were expected to obey their master and be dutiful. The extreme influence of Islam on the Iranian way of life had made Iran appear more as an Arab nation than the great empire of Cyrus the Great. When the veil was banned and women were forced to leave the home without covering themselves, they were forced into a necessary realization and awakening. Advocates of religious freedom see this act of Reza Shah’s to have been highly inappropriate and offensive to reverent women of the Muslim faith. Stepping away from the boundaries of political correctness, it can be argued that such an assessment is far from the reality and true purpose that Reza Shah intended. As a father to the nation, Reza Shah had a responsibility to do what was necessary for the nation’s progress. Integrating women into society was one such action towards progression. Old habits die hard and Reza Shah was the one who broke them. Iranian women who criticize this action of Reza Shah always seem to forget that it was that very action that has even allowed them to voice their opinions freely as individuals amongst the Iranian community today. As children are forced to go to school at an early age when they have no desire to do so, Reza Shah forced the women of Iran to integrate into society in order to create a better future.
Secularism and the weakening of the clergy as well as education reform all go under the same category. Before the kingship of Reza Shah, the clergy was a powerful entity supported financially by the government and believers. Common customs of the time show us that people’s every-day lives were, in some odd way, connected to the clergy. People consulted the clergy regarding financial issues, social issues, blessings and other every-day happenings. Since the public was vastly connected to the clergy by a strong sense of faith, the government controlled the clergy by paying them large sums of money to support and back up the government. In essence, the clergy and the government were directly related. Reza Shah sought to gain the power of the clergy and replace Iranian religiosity with a sense of national pride. For this reason, maktabs,or religious schools, were shut down and modern education became mandatory for all children. Reza Shah wanted to educate the masses and loosen the grip on religious ideology. By forcefully taking the dependence on the clergy of the people away, Reza Shah created a new generation of less religious and innovative citizenry. Universities became accessible to the public and were no longer a luxury of royalty and nobility. Reza Shah’s new nation was going to be a red rose amongst the thorny bushes of the Middle East.
Instead of criticizing Reza Shah, we must strive to understand the time in which he ruled, the motives he carried and the vision he saw for Iran. When we think of the banishment of the veil, we must think of the women of today and how greatly it has impacted them. When we think about the radical dismissal of the clergy, we must remember the the independence Iranians gained mentally and financially from an entity that only sought to generate money. When we think of the brutal dispersion of the Iranian tribesmen, we must remember that our boarders are still intact because of Reza Shah’s forced assimilation of the tribesmen. As we ponder the injustices of the left wing citizenry of Iran who pledged their allegiance to the USSR, we must remember half of our preserved Azerbaijan and the sliver of the Caspian Sea we can still claim as Iranian waters. History will be kind and just to our King, Reza Shah the Great, who took Iran and created a proud culture, people and nation.