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American self-mythology and Iran
, January 17, 2009
This review is from: All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (Paperback)
This book is the standard reference for a widely accepted but delusional view of Iranian history. The story goes that the great "reforming" "democratic" leader of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh was overthrown by the evil CIA in the 1950s and put in place the "evil" "autocratic" and "unpopular" Shah who was overthrown in 1979 by the masses of Iran yearning to be free.
Pity but most of it is not true.
Mohammed Mossadegh was not a democratic politician. He was a gangster whose power was based on sending mobs into the streets to intimidate anyone that opposed him and gunning down the opposition. He was never popular in Iran and nobody in Iran shed a tear for him when he died.
The real chronology is as follows:
- (March 1951) Haj Ali Razmara, Iranian Prime Minister, and in the way of Mossadegh is gunned down in Tehran.
- (Late 1951) Mossadegh, sensing he lose the parliamentary elections, stops the election after a quorum of his supporters are elected.
- (July 1952) Mossadegh, after being constitutionally blocked by his opponents resigns and sends mobs controlled by himself into the streets to riot until he is given what he wants.
- 1952 - Mossadegh is restored and given the unconstitutional power to make laws by decree for six months.
- (January 1953) - Mossadegh's power to make laws by decree outside of the constitution is extended for a further 12 months. He issues a land reform decree which gives him the power to confiscate the entire property of anyone in the country who opposes him.
- Mossadegh, due to his autocratic unconstitutional rule and a collapsing economy, becomes progressively more and more unpopular.
- (1953) - Mossadeq unconstitutionally dissolves the parliament, abolishes the secret ballot and calls an unconstitutional "national plebiscite" which had an obviously fraudulent result of 99.93% in favor of his dictatorship.
- (1953) - Mossadeq suspends parliament indefinitely and rules as an unconstitutional autocrat.
It is at this point that Mossadeq is deposed and overthrown.
And this is the fraud of the book. The history I've presented above can easily be verified and what it shows is that rather than being the great democratic reformer that this book and the associated mythology want to make Mossadeq into, he was a thuggish unpopular dictator who had personally destroyed every aspect of democratic constitutional government in Iran.
The morality of the CIA plot to depose Mossadeq can be questioned, but questioning the right of outsiders to intervene to overthrow a dictator is not the same as making Mossadeq into a democratic hero. The truth must be respected.
The other truth that needs to be told is that the 1979 revolution in Iran wasn't a struggle for democracy or human rights or launched in opposition to the loss of democracy in 1953. The people who launched the Islamic revolution in Iran hold democratic government and human rights in utter contempt. The question nobody wants to ask is how it could, following the script, that Iranians who found the Shah's regime so brutal and intolerable in the late 1970s that they took to the streets could within a few years contentedly accept a government that was far more brutal, more autocratic and abused human rights more than the Shah ever did.
Stephen Kinzer suffers from all the normal faults of reporters at the New York Times. He is more dedicated to the "official" national view of history as expressed by the New York Times than the truth. He gets almost everything about Iranian history wrong but he gets it wrong in the same way that American academics also get it wrong.
1953 wasn't the great event in Iranian history that American and British historians want to make it. What the British did in the early 1900s was far worse. When the British militarily illegally occupied Iran in both world wars, that was worse. And for most Iranians the issue that focused anti-american attitudes wasn't 1953, it was in the 1960s when the Shah passed laws putting American soldiers in Iran beyond the reach of Iranian law.
Mossadegh is one of the worst leaders in Iranian history. Had he survived, he would have led Iran down the road that Iraq travelled in the 1950s into personal dictatorship and autocratic rule. He inherited a functioning constitutional government and utterly destroyed it.
It's time to put the mythology of Mossadegh into the trash where it belongs and start telling the truth about Iranian history.
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