The revolution that went terribly wrong
February 12, 2001
It is hard to describe the joy so many felt on February 11, 1979. The
Shah's dictatorship had ended. The sense of liberation was overwhelming.
People were free; they were in charge of their destiny. They had crushed
a mighty monarchy that had fought them with bullets and tanks. They had
toppled a regime that almost to the very end, had the support of the most
powerful superpower on earth.
Twenty-two years later, it is hard to describe the terrible let down.
The revolution's slow death began the moment the first bullet was fired
at its defeated enemies. When the Shah's captured generals were beaten
and shot, it was the beginning of the end. See
At the time, it seemed justice had been done. As the head of the dreaded
SAVAK secret police, Hossein Nassiri was responsible for the torture and
murder of numerous political prisoners. Hundreds of demonstrators were
killed or wounded during General Mehdi Rahimi's reign as the martial law
governor of Tehran.
It was easy to hate the Nassiris and Rahimis. There were no doubts about
their guilt. Hardly anyone felt sorry for them when they were summarily
tried and put to death. But their deaths were not brought about by a desire
for justice. It was pure revenge in the name of justice.
To this day, all real and perceived enemies, opponents and critics have
suffered the same fate: elimination.
First it was the Shah's most loyal generals. Then his close associates.
Then government ministers. Then members of parliament. Then prominent families
and businessmen. Then academics. Then civil servants. And Bahais.
Next were those who had supported the fall of the monarchy. Marxists.
Socialists. Intellectuals. Writers. Journalists. Democrats. Nationalists.
Islamic liberals. Even dissident clerics haven't been spared.
Finally, the guardians of the revolution have turned against their biggest
supporters. The masses. Women have become second class citizens. Basic
human rights are denied. There is constant interference in people's lives
in the name of religion. The votes of the vast majority of the people for
reform are ignored.
Some argue what Iran is going through is what every great revolution
goes through. The first few decades of the French Revolution were not pretty
either. Political scientists and historians may be right. Maybe Iran will
become a true democracy in a decade or two.
But tell that to the families of 4,000 or so political prisoners who
were executed in one night in the summer of 1988. Tell that to the families
of politicians, dissidents and writers who were secretly murdered by the
regime's agents inside Iran and abroad; to the growing number of prisoners
of conscience just in the past two months (Iran is now officially the world's
for journalists); to the students who are aching for freedom; to Bahais,
Jews and other religious minorities who live in fear; to the ordinary people
in the cities and villages who are desperately trying to survive in an
economy that's been struggling for 20 years; to the millions who were forced
to leave their country. You get the idea.
Happy twenty-second anniversary.