The Greatest Holiday Gift of Them All
Tis’ the season for warm embraces, good company, and yes… presents, presents, and more presents (on a side note, I hope Santa was good to everyone this year). So in the name of the Christmas spirit, I have conjured up the ultimate holiday gift that some IR enthusiasts may take to heart. This gift is not exactly your typical holiday trinket- nor a state of the art HD television with surround sound- but it is a gift that resonated across all cultures and societies. In fact, this gift changed the course of history in ways that the world is still experiencing thirty years later.
The monarchial-dynasty of Reza Pahlavi (a.k.a. the Shah of Iran) is the gift I am so feverishly unwrapping.
For the United States and Western Europe, the Shah transformed Iran into a country that was exclusively devoted to containing the spread of communism in its surrounding neighborhood. A pro-American regime in the Middle East- albeit an authoritarian one with brutal tendencies- was just what the doctor ordered for the United States. In fact, the Shah’s rule could not have come at a better time for the White House. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, populism was becoming one of the most widespread and legitimate political ideologies of the day. Egypt and Syria- two of the day’s most powerful countries in the Muslim world- were highly sympathetic to the Soviet regime, challenging and delegitimizing the very tenants of free-market individualism. The U.S. image, though misunderstood by Arabs, was in shambles. Who knows…if it was not for the Shah and his skeptical outlook towards communism as a whole, the Cold War may have turned out differently for the U.S. and for the very notion of democracy?
Of course, the Shah of Iran was also a gift for those Islamic fundamentalists that were so desperately trying to publicize their movement. Before Reza Pahlavi’s dynasty, the Shia community was at a standstill, unable to foment the type of support from the Iranian population that would transform their campaign into a viable force. But as the Shah’s heavy-handed ways were exposed in further depth (and as the international media picked-up on the story), the position of the Islamists changed practically overnight.
In fact, thanks to the monarchy’s harsh crack-down on political dissidents, its extreme marginalization of the religious establishment, and its habit of countering popular discontent with brute force, Islamic revolutionaries were finally given the opportunity to increase their membership. Ordinary Iranians, regardless of ethnicity, were quick to jump on board. Millions of citizens finally unleashed their voices through coordinated marches and demonstrations. Their objective was designed to severely curtail the Shah’s authority, but what happened was much more significant; they drove the Shah’s inner-circle into exile.
All of a sudden, the Islamic Revolution became much more than a simple religious outcry. It built itself into a symbolic representation of anyone seeking a change in Iranian society.
With all of this in mind, it is pretty amazing how the forefathers of the Islamic Revolution have failed to prevent a return to history. The same opposition that overthrew the Iranian Monarchy now threatens to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
This is the greatest gift of them all.
P.S.: Speaking of gifts, I have to thank Dr. Stephen Walt of Harvard University, from which this posting was inspired.
-Daniel R. DePetris