We Need To Talk About The Pahlavis

Hearing the news coming from various sources Reza Pahlavi has regained some impressive popularity. Iranians, especially younger people have accused the former generations for ousting the Pahlavi regime and replacing it with a bunch of fanatics with far more dictatorial tendencies, abolishing even those basic human rights that people had under the monarchy, all in the name of religion. In the last nationwide demonstrations in 2017 people were boldly chanting the return of the Shah and praising Raze Shah the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty in public, in holy cities like Qom and Mashad and other capital cities. The satellite television Manoto is one of the most popular channels in Iran. Broadcasting from London it is in possession of impressive archival footage covering the Pahlavi era. The carefully curated footage of that time has managed to create a feeling of nostalgia for a country that once was peaceful and prosperous and had some prestige and the people in Iran cannot get enough of it.

Younger generations obviously didn’t have anything to do with the Islamic revolution and because of easy access to information they can see their country was in better shape prior to 1979. But an important question for the younger generation to ask is that 1979 wasn’t the first time the Pahlavi monarchy was overthrown? A pattern of ‘Shah comes and Shah goes’ is etched across Iranian history, believe it or not. Whenever the Shah goes people come with legitimate reasons to bring the king back and whenever the Shah comes back there are even more legitimate reasons to oust him. In every transition many people lose their lives and the economy declines and chaos reigns and many begin reinventing the wheels.

The Pahlavi regime failed in identifying the strong religious elements in the Iranian society that were always plotting to take over. A bad regime sometimes creates a worse one. But the malicious intent of the mullahs was no secret to many. It was Muhammad Reza Shah that abandoned his father’s warning and began flirting with the clergies. He had one foot in pre-Islamic Iran, one foot in Shiism and one foot in the West. At the end neither could save him.

The support of people for Reza Shah to put an end to the power and conspiratorial nature of the mullahs was there. But he didn’t.

My grandfather, who was a religious man, gave a stern warning to my grandmother when they betrothed. He said to never step foot in a mosque. He despised the mullahs. There were many who thought like him during the Reza Khan period. For the first time in Iran’s history the curtain fell and people had the courage to look into the corrupt souls of the mullahs even if for a brief period. The ground was ready for a real change in Iran similar to Turkey. Many in Iran believed the mullahs never had the best interest of the country at heart and could not be trusted. The support of people for Reza Shah to put an end to the power and conspiratorial nature of the mullahs was there. But he didn’t.

By the time we get to the reign of  Muhammad Reza Shah any criticism of the clergy becomes almost forgotten. They had once again become free to roam as they pleased. But they used their freedom to plot and conspire, to murder and divide, and finally, do whatever it takes to come to power. During the reign of Muhammad Reza Shah the mullahs and their institutions went through a rejuvenation phase, they gathered their resources and aimed high. They were confident that they could overthrow the monarchist for good. No trick was dirty enough, no bloodshed was big enough, and no propaganda was deceitful enough to fool the populace in believing in their fake Islamic utopia which turned out to be the biggest nightmare for most Iranians, including many of their own key supporters.

The mullahs, in fact, have never been politically inactive. If miraculously they are all removed from power today they will still plan a comeback. It is in their DNA. Islam from its inception was both religious and political. Ataturk’s achievement in separating the two cannot be praised enough. In Iran, Ahmad Kasravi was one of the first to recognise the ambition of the Iranian Shiite clergies. He urged people to see the oppressive reality of their country. There was no security and hardly any freedom to criticise the Qajars or the clergy for their corruption and backward tendencies. Reza Khan, he believed got a few things right: securing the country and curtailing the power of clergy. Although Kasravi was not a fan of Reza Khan but he worked in his system for he thought it’s better to build on those few important things that Reza Khan had achieved which the country never had before.  They both knew the ultimate goal of the mullahs was to take over the power and keep the country back from progress. Tragically one was murdered and the other relented in his belief and never completed what he set out to do, which was to curtail the power of clergies for good.

Ataturk and Reza Shah Pahlavi meeting for the first time in 1934, Istanbul, Turkey
Ataturk and Reza Shah Pahlavi meeting for the first time in 1934, Istanbul, Turkey

Reza Khan instead of politically leading the country on a path where power would be shared and people have equal opportunity in being active in politics established his own dynastic enterprise instead. Again within the great tradition of Iranian Islamic monarchy self-interest won. The country once more was put on a dangerous path where everything could be derailed and was derailed. In reality, there was a time bomb underneath all the peace and prosperity that people characterise the Pahlavi era with and it did eventually explode. The example of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was there and Reza Khan failed to learn from it. Ataturk once said, “…by complete independence, we mean of course complete economic, financial, juridical, military, cultural independence and freedom in all matters. Being deprived of independence in any of these is equivalent to the nation and country being deprived of all its independence.” Ataturk was a much greater leader than Reza Khan. Yet, he was humble enough and showed affection toward Reza Khan and in 1934 invited him to come for a visit to Turkey. Reza Khan was inspired by Ataturk’s reforms but not inspired enough to put the interest of his country before his own. His personal ambition regarding wealth and elevation of his family into a dynasty without any accountability fell far short and proved pernicious for the future of the country.  Reza Khan should not be remembered for what he achieved because they only fell apart later but remembered for his failures and lack of foresight.

No dynasty in Iran’s post-Islamic history has ever created a civic society of any importance that has survived after changing of the guards. There were several powerful kings in Iran’s post-Islamic era that could have restored the country to its pre-Islamic prestige and help her to become independent, free and work toward a more enlightened and stable future. But they never wanted to share power, couldn’t see beyond their immediate personal gains and never heeded to the longterm benefit of the country. Usually, one king or dynasty made a huge mess and another came to clean up afterward only to repeat the same pattern. It is a miracle that a country has even survived this far into history. This is no exaggeration when you learn how many civilisations have gone extinct or broken up because of lack of wisdom by their leaders.

…it was their irrelevance to most of the Iranian population that the Islamists capitalised on.

Growing up in Tehran I found the Pahlavi dynasty irrelevant to my life. And I can say the same thing for most of the people that I knew, young and old. I can hardly recall a conversation that was about the Pahlavis. The only ones who talked with some fondness about them were those who were part of the system and fed off it. Corruption and nepotism was rife. They were no system of checks and balances that they had to abide by, they were not accountable to anybody. But more than anything it was their irrelevance to most of the Iranian population that the Islamists capitalised on.

Farah Diba was the exception, however. The Shah was very fortunate to have found her. She was the true royal in every sense. Thoughtful and genuine she mingled and interacted with every part of the society. It was sometimes dizzying watch her going from one function to the next, one village to the next, one gathering to another.There was hardly any respite in her busy schedule. But she was merely one honest, down to earth person among many who were in it for personal gains.

Queen Farah Diba at the age of 38 during a visit to Hamedan visited the Village of Laljin on June 7, 1976 where a couple humbly offer her bread, cheese, and yogurt which she enjoyed.

After the Shah died I thought in my own naïve way that Farah Diba and her children would be allowed or even encouraged to come back to Iran, at least for a visit. It was terribly sad to see two of her children die in their prime in such circumstances. No one is born choosing their parents or the county or religion. The young children before they could discover who they were and what they wanted to do with their lives found themselves on the run, hated and hunted down. It is interesting that the same fate: escape, exile, loss of identity and country and humiliation befell so many millions of Iranians. The same pain and suffering of the Pahlavi family became the pain and suffering of so many fellow Iranians. There are certain universal laws above all religions, ‘you reap what you sow’ and let no person from any religion tell you otherwise. I remember when Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator was overthrown. Four years after he died his body was allowed to be transferred to the Philippines the country of his birth. His wife and children safely returned and even got involved in politics. Now which culture is more humane?

Despite his childlike smile, he embodies many of the sufferings that people have endured during this last 40 years.

What should we be thinking of Reza Pahlavi now? We cannot hold the mistakes of his father and grandfather against him. Like the rest of us he has every right to be active in politics and he has been active against the IRI as far as I can remember. His firm commitment to his vocation as an activist is unwavering and has helped him grow as a person. He does not strike many as a great leader. Perhaps he is not a leader in a traditional style but he is of great value in people’s struggle against the Islamic Republic of Iran. He is reasonably intelligent. He has taken most of his mother’s good traits. He is articulate. He is not overly gifted in anything but has adequate talents. Most importantly he is a well-balanced person. Despite his childlike smile, he embodies many of the sufferings that people have endured during this last 40 years. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but everything was taken away from him and like so many millions of Iranians had to find a place of refuge, endure exile and accept all the humiliations that is associated with statelessness. I am sure he is not everyone’s prime candidate but his popularity cannot be ignored.  And he seems to be beckoning to a form of reform in Iran that it will put the country on a path where no particular group would be forever in-charge.

Reza Pahlavi with his niece Aryana Pahlavi in a train on the way to New York
Reza Pahlavi with his niece Aryana Pahlavi in a train on the way to New York

Iranian history is full of inept rulers, because a divine right has been bestowed to the kings with no question asked. If you study history you will discover that the terrible catastrophes that had befallen Persia, the Arab invasion, the Mongol invasion, etc…  had their origins in the bad leadership of the Iranian kings.

Reza Pahlavi can play a role because he does not have some of the baggage that many opposition figures have. He does not have anyone’s blood on his hands to start with.  He seems to be free from any royal pompousness. He has political leverage with the younger generation of Iranian which is a great asset to be used against the Islamists.

It would be better if Mr Pahlavi considered himself only a citizen however. He should remember that his grandfather was forced to go to exile. His father was forced to leave Iran in 1979 and they were both ‘officially’ crowned as king. People are sick of titles. Usually, title is a coverup for lack of substance. To believe that by reestablishing the monarchy the ‘good years’ will return is no better than wishing for another Islamic utopia, or planting another time bomb that will only go off one day in the future.

The most pressing problem which not only engulfs the Islamic countries but the world is that political Islam (ISIS, Taliban, Al-Qaida, Hezballah) must be seen as the cancer of our time. Has Reza Pahlavi the courage to talk about the root problem. People should also demand to know his opinion. The Islamic Republic of Iran is only a symptom of the disease. People must learn to distinguish Islam as a religion from political Islam, however. When Ataturk separated the two he did not close the doors of the mosques or disallowed Muslims to practice their religion. In fact, all religions can act in oppressive way if they are given total power. Any group that controls or dictates the political processes without the consensus of people, in reality, creates a form of organised crime syndicate. Unless every mullah from the supreme leader to its lowest rank sign a declaration acknowledging this truth there won’t be any election choosing between parliamentary or constitutional democracy. So better stop fantasising about a free election. Unless every Islamic clergy issue a proclamation that all Iranian citizens regardless of their sex, religion or ethnicity has the same right to be active in every sphere of society no strike or civil disobedience will be effective. Unless every Muslim denounces political Islam publicly, the world won’t be a safe place and the fight will continue. Political Islam is anti transparency and accountability, against freedom of expression, enemy of human rights and religious freedom, biased and discriminatory against women and always bent on monopolising power by any unscrupulous means possible.

Wouldn’t  Iran be better off without so much power given to its religious leaders or aristocrats?

There are very constructive questions to ask for all Iranians in the meantime. For example, how other countries, like, Portugal, Spain, or Italy, to name a few, with a long history of monarchism, dictatorship and religious interference in politics freed themselves and how they govern themselves now? Can we learn from them? Wouldn’t Iran be better off without so much power given to its religious leaders or aristocrats? Can one day the God-given talents of ordinary people triumph over monopolisation of power based on bloodline or a religious belief? The old models are fraught with weakness, discrimination against minorities and anti-progressive tendencies. They have been recycled more than enough and have past their use by date. Sometimes we are closer to the truth by asking the right questions rather than providing cliche answers or simple solutions. The failure of Iranians to learn from other nations and even their own history is a terrible handicap.

Reza Pahlavi’s time is not up yet. Whether we like it or not. He seems genuine and has connected with the younger generation of Iranians. If it wasn’t for some of his fanatical supporters who never admit to the terrible wrongs of the Pahlavi and the monarchy, in general, he would have been even more popular. As himself, not as a prince or a future king he can be more effective. Winning back the basic human rights of Iranians is the next step.

Even after the rule of law is restored in Iran and the mullahs hegemony on power had ended it will take decades for Iran and Iranians to recover from the terrible traumas they have suffered under this ahrimanic regime.

The spirit of our ancient ancestors have always hovered over Ērānshahr and will help the people to end this nightmare one day; with or without any political leaders who are alive today.

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