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American self-mythology and Iran,
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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Showing 21-30 of 38 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on Jan 8, 2011 10:21:15 AM PST
I'm not making an argument for the removal of the government by the US. My argument is for honesty in presenting the history. A despot should not be presented as a democratic leader. I understand how the case I make could play into the hands of those who wish to make an argument in favor of the CIAs actions, but given a choice between the truth in history and telling stories, I prefer the truth.
The current narrative of Iranian history suggests that was all peace and love and moving toward democracy when CIA restored the Shah. And that the lack of democracy and human rights in Iran traces back to the intervention. The problem with that narrative isn't that it paints the American side in a negative light, its that it misrepresents what was going on in Iran. Iranians didn't overthrow the Shah in the 1970s searching for democracy and human rights lost in the 1950s. They overthrew the Shah and instituted an even more autocratic government that was worse on human rights than the Shah.
I dont want to rehabilitate the CIA in Iran. I want the myth that the 1950s respresented a lost democratic moment for Iran overturned. And I want the corresponding myth that the 1970s Iranian revolution went wrong because of what happened in the 1950s gone as well.
There is nothing in the case against the Iranian intervention that requires these myths.
Posted on Jan 16, 2011 10:01:26 PM PST
Mark, I completely agree with you. The false image, created for Mussadegh, representing him as a symbole of freedom and democracy must be changed.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 3, 2011 6:47:52 PM PDT
Cathy Small says:
OK, I can accept that they didn't overthrow the Shah searching for democracy - but why DID they institute a worse government? Did Muslims want a theocracy? Is that why they were killing all the non-Muslims?
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 3, 2011 8:06:11 PM PDT
There is no single answer to why. There was a component to it that rejected the whole modern world and wanted to turn the clock back. There was a component that, while they rejected the Shah, favored the Iranian tradition of something like a monarchy. What people seemed to really hold against the Shah was that Iran was changing too fast. The funny thing is that Khomeni turned the clergy into a new aristocracy and himself into a new Shah. In some sense, things changed but they stayed the same.
In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2011 2:58:50 AM PDT
P. S. Bunn says:
I have to agree with Mark. Certainly the CIA as well as British and Soviet assets were in play at the time, the CIA had very little to do with the overthrow of Mussadeq. Another good reference for an alternative version of events is
The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution by Amir Taheri
Posted on May 9, 2011 9:01:29 AM PDT
"The other truth that needs to be told is that the 1979 revolution in Iran wasn't a struggle for democracy or human rights"
How did you figure the statement above? Were you present in Iran during 1978-79 when millions of people took to the streets to protest Shah's regime. You may question the figure head of the revolution "Khomeini" but you can't question the intent of people. Further, Iranians did not "contentedly accept" the clerical regime. They took out to the streets and protested. They were confronted by Khomeini's thugs and hoodlums much worst than Shah's "Brainless one." They sprayed acid on women and terrorized the population by their revolutionary courts. Thousands were slaughtered by these courts and the relatives were told to be silent or killed. This is all documented. You have a few facts lined up with major flaws in your logical reasoning.
In reply to an earlier post on May 9, 2011 10:49:56 AM PDT
I was not in Iran. But I do know things that happened. I've read accounts of the massive crowds that welcomed Khomeini into Iran. I know that the "islamic republic" referrendum was overwhelmingly voted for by Iranians.
Some Iranians (such as the National Democratic Front) did not accept the new regime. They did protest. They were attacked by Khomeini's tugs. All true. But other parts of the Iranian left were complicit in Khomeini's rise to power and supported him until it was far too late to accomplish anything.
I think it still fair to say that the majority in Iran supported Khomeini and his Islamic Republic in 1979. You do well to point out that there were other voices in Iran at the time (particularly on the left), but its necessary in the name of honesty to say that those voices were either complicit in the rise of the Islamic Republic (up until Banisadr's removal) or they didn't represent enough people to direct the future of the revolution themselves.
In reply to an earlier post on May 9, 2011 5:09:59 PM PDT
The "Islamic Republic" referrendum was a sham. It could as much be trusted as Ahmadinejad's 90% and up votes. I agree with you about the left. Their ideologists lived in a fantasy land believeing that the Mullahs are not smart enough to usurp the power. They just went according to classical Marxist dogmas, assuming that Iran would take its "natural course" based on class divisions.
As far as khomeini's popularity is concerened, instead of using the word "majority" I would use the world "significant" describing the number of Iranians who supported Khomeini. Their support was symbolic at best. But he gradually usurped power. Instead of going to Qom and sit in his house, as he said he would do, he began meddling in politics. It is on tape when he promised Iranians there would be no compulsory head covering for women and hundreds of other reassurances that he gave to Iranians. Unfortunately Iranians were so fed up with Shah that they could'nt distiguish between bad (Shah) and Calamity (Clerics). I would say they were naive to believe that clerics would just sit back and allow people to participate in a civil society.
The secular educated middle class did not have the will to wage war against the mobilized and radical Islamists. The government expropriated large businesses and purged government employees and replaced them with Islamists. They did the same thing with the military and education institutions. All of this led to millions of educated middle class leaving the country. There were attempted coups, but they failed. It took 2 to 3 years for the government to completely eradicate opposition. The war was another reason for them to silence the opposition in the name of national unity.
At any rate, Iranians did demonstrate for democracy and human rights, unfortunately their religious leaders failed them miserably.
Posted on May 22, 2012 8:57:20 AM PDT
Posted on May 22, 2012 9:52:29 AM PDT
I dont respond to people who talk in threats. "Literally" put me in the trash? Hold me "responsible"? Call me an "accessory to murder" for reviewing a book about events over half a century past?
The review specifically does not offer support for the US intervention in Iran in that era or any other country. Telling the truth about Iranian history and the nature of the Mossadegh government does not make the case for the intervention any stronger nor does it damage the case against intervention.
And for the record, I opposed the Iraq war from the start as well as most other interventions by the US.