Like father, like son
Reza Pahlavi’s idiotic comments show that there should be no nostalgia for the shah’s regime, writes Yassamine Mather
Donald Trump’s alternative plans for regime change in Iran are so awful, it is difficult to say who is advising him. Can it be that there is an Islamic Republic spy in the White House?
The reality is that animosity against Iran (not just the Islamic Republic), plus US determination to find candidates to implement regime change from above, has created the conditions for the most ridiculous contenders. First we had Mojahedin-e Khalq, a religious cult supported by Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton, and now we have Reza Pahlavi stepping into the limelight. The shah’s son has already provoked much condemnation by suggesting that any US or European journalist or commentator who has ever supported the ‘reformist’ faction of the Islamic regime should be sacked from TV and radio stations like Voice of America, BBC Persian and Radio France Iran. It is a bit like Trump saying that journalists who supported Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton should be booted out.
As various Iranians have commented, this idiot wants to follow in the footsteps of his father, and his dictatorial rule, even before coming to power. However, he has done opponents of Iranian reaction a service, as almost no-one in the Persian media would be stupid enough to support such a suggestion.
That controversial comment was among a number of bizarre statements made by Pahlavi when he spoke at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. There is a lot of negative information on the web about this so-called ‘think tank’, so, in order to avoid any misrepresentation, let me stick to what Wikipedia says. It is
… focused on the foreign policy of the United States, as it pertains to the countries in the near east. Established in 1985, the institute’s mission statement says that it seeks “to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them”.1
Its first executive director was Martin Indyk, a former deputy director of research for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), which advertises itself as “America’s pro-Israel lobby”.2
To say that Pahlavi’s choice of venue was a mistake, given the institute’s close association with Aipac and the US state department at a time of severe sanctions and war threats, would be an understatement. Since his grandfather came to power with the help of British imperialism and his father only clung on thanks to a coup organised jointly by the United States and the United Kingdom, you would have thought he could have chosen a more suitable location for what was going to be a major political intervention.
However, that issue aside, it is what Pahlavi actually said that has drawn attention. He suggested that in order to weaken the Islamic republic the US and other western governments should confiscate that part of the assets of Iran’s current Islamic leaders which is invested in the west. I personally think this is a brilliant idea. However, like many others, I suggest we start with the ex-shah’s fortune. After all, Pahlavi and his extended family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, etc, have lived in luxury for their last 40 years in exile and, now that he denies getting any funding from the Saudis, we should assume that the riches stolen from Iran are financing not just their luxurious lifestyle, but also their renewed political activity. It is only right that the wealth which the shah and his family took with them illegally, as they fled the 1979 revolution, should be returned to the Iranian people.
Having said that, I also believe that the wealth of the corrupt leaders of the Islamic republic - who, on the one hand, shout ‘Death to America’ and, on the other, take their fortunes out of the country, fearful of a plight similar to that of the ex-shah - should be confiscated. Apart from anything else, it will show the schizophrenia of these people, including senior clerics and government ministers, who simultaneously ‘hate the west and envy the west’. Workers at the Ahvaz steel factory, who mounted a major protest this week against the non-payment of their wages, have used placards featuring the official slogan, ‘Death to America’, but with the words, “to the leaders of the regime who have taken their fortunes”, between ‘Death’ and ‘to America’!
This whole episode, and the fact that the ex-shah’s son is still on the political scene, is itself an indictment of the Islamic republic. Forty years after the revolution which forced Pahlavi to flee, it has created such a corrupt, unequal system that some misguided people - albeit a small minority of mainly young people - express nostalgia for the shah.
Honouring a victim
The last years of the Pahlavi dynasty were also a time of revolutionary opposition and the birth of the radical left. By 1979 there were political demonstrations and strikes of historic significance. However, for some of us born into rightwing families, it was not the repression of revolutionaries that made us political; because of the severe censorship some of us were not even aware of the execution of Marxist activists. We became political when we saw the terrible injustice in society, the gap between the rich and poor, the scale of corruption engulfing every aspect of political and economic life. This was recounted not by Marxist radicals, but by those who favoured the ancien régime.
People like me became activists because we could not stand the cultural imperialism of the teachers in the posh French school we were attending in Tehran. Unlike Farah Pahlavi, the shah’s widow, who years before had attended the same school and remains an admirer of French cultural imperialism, many of us rebelled against the obnoxious attitude of those teachers (including nuns) towards Iran and Iranians.
Of course, in some cases this took the wrong form, as was the case of an older friend of mine, Catherine Adl, the daughter of the shah’s personal physician, who was the leader of one of the two pro-shah parties. (That was before Pahlavi decided to end the joke that was Iran’s ‘two-party system’ and instructed the two parties to merge.) I have decided to post an item about Catherine on social media every time Reza Pahlavi makes a political statement.
Catherine was shot dead by Savak, the shah’s security force, in a village near Tehran, while sitting in her wheelchair (after falling badly, she had become paralysed). When we both left the French school, she went to university in France and I was studying in Britain, but we were often on the same plane travelling to or from Tehran before and after the holidays. I am not sure if it was the fall and subsequent paralysis or the Islamophobic cultural imperialism of the French nuns that made her religious, but she was politically conscious and hated the privileges that many, including ourselves, benefited from.
During those trips we often talked of our common experience and how much we wanted to see revolutionary change. In her case, it was a rather utopian approach - she and her husband, Jahnbani, wanted to liberate a particular village with the aid of a stockpile of arms that they never actually got the chance to use.
However, her execution by Savak had a lasting effect on many of us. As much as we disagreed with her turn to religion (a form of ‘liberation Islam’), we considered her shooting a political act and we were determined - and we remain determined - to keep her name alive and to seek justice for her as a symbol of the victims of the ex-shah’s murderous regime.
All this has never been more relevant than now, when the idiot pretender to the Pahlavi throne is presenting himself as the defender of human rights and claiming that his father’s rule was the era of democratic freedom.