His royal lowness
Why should we go from one aqazadeh system to another?
October 26, 2001
Many years ago, I was invited to attend an informal breakfast at the
Harvard faculty club. Reza Pahlavi was visiting and had expressed interest
in meeting some of the students. We were a handful of students who sat
across from a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt-wearing son of the ex-Shah of Iran.
The day before he had given a talk to members of the Harvard and Boston
community and I had been rather surprised at the number of people who began
crying the minute he opened his mouth. There was nothing awe inspiring
about him and nothing he said was necessarily interesting or thought provoking.
This is not to say he is a "bad" person. Just that he came across
so ordinary to me, I couldn't understand why anyone would cry upon seeing
him. Sitting on a couch across from him that morning only reinforced the
blandness of him and of his way of thought.
I am much alarmed and a little surprised by the talk I hear of Reza Pahlavi
tasting good to some people's palate as an alternative to the current regime
in Iran. People of my father's generation (the generation who refers to
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as "oon khoda beeyamorz"), influenced by
nostalgia and prodded by the gibberish heard on Radio 24 Saateh and
seen on NITV, seem to think of the Pahlavis as potential saviors of Iran.
In his various appearances on US and European media (not to speak of the
LA based reactionary media) Reza Pahlavi has come across as a balanced,
democracy loving, educated, English speaking, completely viable leader of
Iran. In response to the question of "you seriously can not be advocating
a return to a monarchy in the 21st century?" these people respond that
he just wants to stand in a free referendum and the people can chose for
There are many layers to my alarm and disbelief at this line of thought.
One layer is based on my above-mentioned experience but then again, I concede
you don't have to be very charming or smart to be the democratic leader
of a country (especially in a Bush-led kinda world). The other is that
I cannot understand how anyone can believe in royalty, believe that someone's
blood is bluer than their own just because they have a certain name. This
seems to especially be the case with the Pahlavis for whom the word "dynasty"
barely even applies. I mean don't you need more than 2 rulers to call yourself
a dynasty? In their case it's actually only 1 1/2, the first came into
power through a coup d'etat he led himself and the other through a coup
d'etat the Americans led for him. In all fairness, it's not Reza Pahlavi's
fault that his ancestors had a thing for coups (speaking of which, who are
the Pahlavi ancestors anyway?), but then again, that's the problem of claiming
royalty through your ancestors: You get the good and the bad. If you're
not responsible for your father's mistakes (like overthrowing an extremely
well-loved leader with the help of foreigners in 1953), then you shouldn't
reap the benefits either. If you do want to be recognized as the third
monarch of the Pahlavis, then well, let's talk about your family's past.
Either way, it doesn't look pretty.
Let's cut the guy some slack. Let's put aside logic and a belief that
a move from a Republic to a Monarchy is retrograde and just go straight
to the horse's mouth. To this end, I visited his website rezapahlavi.org
with the hopes of understanding for myself, and illuminating for others,
the deeds and actions of Reza Pahlavi.
I begin of course with the personal page: There is a picture of the
40-year-old man and a brief biography. We read about who is parents were,
his siblings, his wife and children, where he was educated and then we are
told he left Iran in 1978 to complete his Air force training but since the
death of his father, he has lived in Egypt, Morocco, and the United States.
My initial goodwill immediately melts away. I mean c'mon... Did you just
happen to end up in Egypt by chance? What could you possibly hope to gain
by not saying what would be obvious to just about anyone who reads this?
Is the absence of the word "revolution" meant as a way of denying
its occurrence? Its legitimacy? Khajaalat kesheedee? What could be the
The website also has various treaties on non-violent resistance, a correspondence
section where he receives and answers people's queries, a rather useful
latest news link, media information, and "my goals". I search
rather vainly for a section that even remotely could be called "charities"
or "foundations" or "scholarships" -- anything that
would point to the Pahlavi family's philanthropy. I'm not saying there
is none, just wondering if there is, what is it and where can I find information
about it if not on his website? The only time the word "financial
assistance" appears, it is to ask for it from others. And now that
we're talking money, I was wondering what he does for a living? Is he preparing
full time for a nonviolent secular democracy that would eventually vote
for a king? Really, how does he make a living? He doesn't have to because
he has money? In which case, I ask again, what was the name of that charity?
We now get to my favorite part: It is called "my goals".
We are at first informed that Iran was doing splendidly in all aspects
but then POOF! "a catastrophe descended upon my homeland and reversed
decades of progress." Put aside for a minute what you now know of
the eventual shape of the Islamic Republic (which frankly at this point,
one could make an argument that more has been done to create civil society
than before the Revolution). Iran, whether you want to admit to it or not,
went through a POPULAR uprising, and the same people that Reza Pahlavi now
exults to high heavens, those same people, more than 20 years ago, ousted
the Pahlavis. That an Islamic Republic took its place is quite another
story but to call the revolution a catastrophe is, to say the least, not
My favorite question is related to the next rousing paragraph:
I have called for unity among all groups dedicated to a democratic agenda
and outcome to work together for a common cause the establishment of a
democratic and secular government. I intend to lead this movement culminating
in a national referendum, beyond this system, and with international supervision,
as a means to guarantee freedom and self-determination for the people of
I'm curious to know why exactly he should lead it and not anyone else?
If it's because of his name and lineage, then from step one, we have a
problem and I doubt that any good will come from a democratic movement not
based on merit, achievement, and qualifications. If he feels he should lead
because he is qualified to do so, does he mind telling us all why he is
so qualified? What has he done with his life in the past 22 years? What
has the family done for Iranians if not in Iran then abroad? Why should
we go from one aqazadeh system to another?
Additionally, I have listened to the broadcasts that Reza Pahlavi has
put on his site with CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, etc. The inaccuracy
of the information he provides is rather appalling really. For example,
the idea that Iran has the only constitution in the world not based on popular
sovereignty is such an egregious error, one wonders if he has ever even
glanced at it. Iran's problems now one can argue are actually related to
the fact that the constitution is based both on popular sovereignty AND
Then I tried to read his ideas on the Iranian elections. Based on his
letters to his fans (or retractors to be fair to the man), Reza Pahlavi
believes Iranian elections to be an undemocratic event. Repeating what
is often fed to the listeners of Radio 24-Saateh by its slew of pseudo-analysts,
Reza Pahlavi remarks to "compatriots" that "the process in
Iran is NOT an election, rather it is a selection, of a handful of individuals
who are approved by the Guardian Council to run in that undemocratic event."
The interesting thing to me is that there is SO MUCH with which to criticize
the Iranian regime, so why go for the one thing that has happened in a positive
way, i.e. the development of a critical and aware electoral polity? How
utterly condescending to say that the 20 million who voted for Khatami knew
not what they were doing. If it is as bad as you say, if the existence
of the Guardian Council (a completely undemocratic institution by anyone's
measure) completely undermines the democratic nature of the 1997 and 2001
elections in Iran, then I honestly like to know what he thinks people were
doing, all those people who with their eyes open and without any pressure
voted for Khatami, and no, they were not under pressure to vote so they
could get coupons, daftarcheh baseej, or jobs.
Statistics on the elections show that in the 1980s when there WAS this
kind of pressure on people to vote, the number of people who voted in elections
was still less than the 20 million votes Khatami has gotten each time.
The city council, parliamentary, and presidential elections of the recent
past in Iran are democratic events, albeit imperfect ones. They have led
to the creation of a culture where people do feel their votes count, that
voting is a civil duty, something that cannot be said about the political
culture of pre-revolutionary Iran. And I suggest if Reza Pahlavi has no
or little respect for the opinions of these more than 20 million people,
he stop referring to them to further his political agenda.
I have nothing against Reza Pahlavi. He seems like a nice person really.
What I am against is people giving up their ability to think imaginatively
in politics, to think that the only alternative to what exists is something
from the past (and yes, despite his protestations, Reza Pahlavi is from
the past.) We do not live in a binary world where only two options are
available to us at a time. There are in Iran right now, and outside of
it, a large group of thinkers and activists whom without the benefit of
the Pahlavi money and privilege and without any of the sense of entitlement
that ousted royal families traditionally have, have contributed more to
the propagation of democratic ideas in Iran than Reza Pahlavi (and the monarchists)
have done in the past 22 years.
I don't see why every time the door hits the framework, there is talk
of restoring the Pahlavi dynasty (and I don't care if it's through a referendum
or not.) Are we so unimaginative and so desperate that after all these
years, we think we are incapable of building a new progressive political
system? Have the events of the 1979 revolution taught us nothing? Has
it not taught us that just because we are against one thing, we don't have
to necessarily be for its opposite?
I believe my generation has learned these lessons. I just hope our father's
come to learn them too.