Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Shah of Shahs

from the diary: “Tuesday 1/19/88

“Excellent book on terror and dissolution of Shah’s reign in Iran: Shah of Shahs by a Polish journalist.”

When I was in 8th grade the Shah of Iran fled the country he had ruled with an iron fist. He was ill with cancer and President Carter did not even allow him into the U.S. for cancer treatment. The Ayatollah Khomeini flew home from his exile in France to a tumultuous welcome in Tehran. The Western press seemed consternated by the popular embrace of this ascetic priest, the fervent rejection of its playboy and seemingly liberal (in the context of the Middle East/Central Asia) ruler, the Shah. The U.S. was losing the staunch ally it had created. The Iranian Revolution led to the Iranian Hostage Situation when Iranian student revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy and made prisoners of the diplomats there.

Years went by and I still had little idea of who the Shah was. I got some detail on the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government (coup help courtesy CIA), which led to the installation of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah or King, when I read Endless Enemies (see DIR 2/27/07). But what was so terrible about Pahlavi?

Reviewers love to quote from Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book. One review grabs this chilling paragraph describing the Shah’s enforcers, the secret police, the Savak:

“[The] Savak meant, above all, torture of the most horrible kind. They would kidnap a man as he walked along the street, blindfold him, and lead him straight into the torture chamber without asking a single question. There they would start in with the whole macabre routine—breaking bones, pulling out fingernails, forcing hands into hot ovens, drilling into the living skull, and scores of other brutalities—in the end, when the victim had gone mad with pain and become a smashed, bloody mass, they would proceed to establish his identity. Name? Address? What have you been saying about the Shah? Come on, what have you been saying? And you know, he might not have said anything, ever. He might have been completely innocent. But to Savak, that was nothing, being innocent. This way everyone will be afraid, innocent and guilty alike, everyone will feel the intimidation, no one will feel safe.”

After describing a man nabbed at a bus stop (he utters a few disparaging remarks about the state of things -- perhaps of nothing more political than the state of the weather, which is unpleasant on this day), another review quotes this ‘graph: “For a moment, for just an instant, a new doubt flashed through the heads of the people standing at the bus stop. What if the sick old man [the one arrested] was a Savak agent too? Because he had criticized theregime (by using ‘oppressive’ in conversation), he must have been free to criticise. If he hadn't been, wouldn't he have kept his mouth shut or spoken about such agreeable topics as the fact that the sun was shining and the bus was sure to come along any minute? And who had the right to criticise? Only Savak agents, whose job it was to provoke restless babblers, then cart them off to jail."

All properly horrible. Sounds like reason enough to tear down the bastard. Another reviewer gives us this, “The Shah left people a choice between Savak and the mullahs. And they chose the mullahs...It is not always the best people that emerge from hiding...but often those that have proven themselves strongest, not always those who will create new values but rather those whose thick skin and internal resilience have ensured their survival." [Amazon reviewer's edits]

How did that turn out?

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