Why did the Iranian Revolution catch so many in US and UK Governments by surprise in 1978-79? Why were so many enthusiastic about the fall of the Shah? Why did so many Western observers - including Michel Foucault, Fred Halliday, and Edward Said, misread Ayatollah Khomeini? This lecture examines readings and mis-readings of the Iranian Revolution in Europe and the United States from the perspective of today’s uprising in Iran. Are we repeating the analytical mistakes of the past?
This lecture was recorded by Dr Roham Alvandi on 14 November 2023 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London
The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:
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What a pleasure to be here at Gresham College. I, I am usually on the other side of that screen watching these, uh, lectures. Um, so I feel very honored to have been invited, um, to speak to you. Um, Gresham College was founded in 1597, so this is an Elizabethan, um, institution, but, um, it also coincided with the reign of Shahab bas the great, uh, perhaps one of the greatest monarchs of Persian history, uh, an era of great flourishing of Persian culture. Um, any of you who've ever been to Isfahan, you will have seen the magnificence of the, of the Vid Dynasty. So I take that as a very good omen. Um, unfortunately, we are not speaking at the best of times for either my, uh, adopted country Britain, or indeed for my homeland, um, Iran. But I will endeavor, uh, to fulfill the brief that I've been given. Um, I had about five centuries of Iranian history to choose from. Uh, you'll be relieved that I won't be galloping through all five centuries this evening. Um, instead, I, I to compliment the lectures by my other colleagues, I'm going to focus on the 1979 Revolution. And rather than trying to give you a whole history of the revolution, I thought I would speak instead about the way in which the revolution was read and misread, um, here in Britain, in the United States, um, and, and throughout the West, because I thought that would be particularly relevant to us in the moment that we're living through now. Um, on the, uh, 16th of January, 1979, uh, Mohammad Reza, the last Sha Iran went into exile, uh, following more than a year of nationwide protests, um, in Iran throughout 1978. It was the largest and most significant popular revolution in the modern history of the Middle East. Um, it was also the single greatest setback for the United States in the Middle East during the entire history of the Cold War. Um, but it was a revolution that was very poorly understood at the time. And 44 years later is still quite misunderstood, um, for a whole variety of, um, reasons the nature of the revolution, a rejection of modernization and secularization under the Shah, and its call for the establishment of an Islamic state. The Islamic Republic caught the world by surprise. If you think of all the revolutions, the great revolutions that had preceded the Iranian revolution, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, um, all of these had been grounded very much in the values of the enlightenment, uh, emancipation, liberation, justice equality. These were universal values. The values of these enlightenment revolutions were for the whole of humanity. This was not the case with the Iranian revolution. It was a revolution that was specific to one particular culture, one particular country, and one particular time, and did not speak to any universal values beyond the borders of Iran. The Iranian Revolution represented a, a rejection of those enlightenment values, and indeed, a return to some invented notion of authentic Shia Islam or authentic Iranian ness. Um, the Revolution reimagined shiism as a revolutionary rather than reactionary form of political Islam. Um, this was not an ideology that could be exported because Iran was the only Shia majority, uh, only Shia state, and really the only Shia majority country at that time. Um, uh, it had little resonance or impact beyond Iran. Unlike the major revolutions of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century, the religious revivalism of the Iranian revolution surprised and confounded most international observers. None of our models of revolution anticipated that a revolution would be led by clerics, or that its content would be religious. Um, both the sympathizers of the Shah and the critics of the Shah, uh, and his modernizing vision of Iran failed to anticipate a, a mass popular uprising under the banner of Shia Islam. They saw the primary threat to the Shah as emanating from the Marxist left, uh, which had been, in reality, thoroughly defeated by the Shah's security forces. By the time we got, um, to the 1970s, the assumption of both the Shah's critics and opponents was that even if a revolutionary momentum, uh, was to gain momentum, you know, even if a revolutionary movement was to gain momentum in Iran, um, it would be crushed. It would be crushed by the, uh, security service sak, or by the very well equipped and armed, uh, Iranian armed forces. Um, virtually nobody, including the people in my position, including people in government, uh, anticipated or imagined the possibility, uh, that the Shah would fall and to go into, into exile When the victory of the revolution became apparent, when it became clear that the Shah was going to fall, and something new was going to emerge in Iran, these same observers, the same observers who'd failed to predict that revolution, were shocked and surprised by the horror that was to unfold under Khomeini and the Islamic Republic. Even more so, nobody anticipated the impact that it would, that the fall of the Shahs regime would have in terms of instability in the region, instability that by the way, we're still living with, um, today. The failure to anticipate the revolution to predict its victory and to understand its anti-liberal direction was a colossal failure on the part of Western governments, uh, but also on the part of Western intellectuals. The failure becomes even more apparent if we consider the scale of the disaster that unfolded after 1979. Miss some of you will remember the Tehran Hostage crisis and the way that it crippled the presidency of Jimmy Carter, uh, and in effect denied Jimmy Carter a second term as President, ushering in two terms of Ronald Reagan as president. Others will remember the Iran Iraq War, the eight year war between Iran and Iraq, with over a million casualties that bankrupted both countries. I would even argue that the 1991 Persian Gulf War was another outcome of the fall of the Shah. The lessons that Saddam drew from the Western reaction to the Iran Iraq War encouraged him to invade Iraq, uh, in 1990. So, the question I'm posing tonight is why were American and British decision makers so reluctant to see that the fall of the Shah was coming? Why were some Western intellectuals celebrating the fall of the Shah? Why were other western intellectuals so reluctant to acknowledge that they'd got the revolution wrong? And what kind of lessons does this afford us today as we look at events, um, in the region? Let me start with the Americans. Initially, the United States seemed to get Iran right in the early days, uh, of the US Iran relationship, going all the way back to the 19th century. When Protestant American missionaries began to go to Iran, Americans were terribly sympathetic to the aspirations of Iranians, the, the, the ideals of the, the dreams of Iranians for national sovereignty, for constitutionalism, the things that my colleague Ali Ansari spoke about here in October. Um, there was even an American martyr in the Constitutional Revolution. A young man called Howard Baskerville, a young Princeton graduate who went to Iran as a missionary, was teaching young Iranians in a missionary school, formed his students up into a battalion, and actually died during the siege of Tabriz. Um, and he is remembered as a hero in Iran. Um, in the Second World War, Iranians look to the United States as an alternative to the imperialism of Britain and the Soviet Union. Um, they hoped that the, uh, United States would stand on the side of Iran as it tried to preserve its independence in the face of first European colonialism, and then subsequently the Cold War. And at first, it seemed that this would be the case. Harry Truman, president Truman defended Iran in the face of Soviet aggression in 1946 when Stalin had occupied northern Iran and refused to withdraw his troops after the war. It was the United States that stood up for Iranian sovereignty and the newly created UN Security Council. But all these hopes and dreams and aspirations were vanquished in 1953, when Britain and the United States supported a covert coup, uh, to topple the government of Mohammad Mossad. Mossad was a Iranian nationalist, a constitutionalist, and a liberal, um, who, uh, had of course done the great sin of nationalizing the British owned Iranian oil industry, uh, uh, and he remains a sort of anti-colonial hero to Iranians and, and, and beyond. But that was the moment at which the United States began to get it wrong in Iran and found itself on the wrong side of history. Um, the, the image began to grow of the Shah as a kind of client instrument of the United States, a client who did the bidding of his masters in Washington. But as time went on in the sixties and seventies, it be, this was, this was not an accurate picture, actually. The Shah's autonomy began to grow. He began to defy the United States in many ways, particularly on oil prices and, and, uh, and other issues. Um, America's constituency in Iran was reduced to just one man. The Shah and US Iran relations was reduced to simply the question of dealing with the Shah. Uh, uh, the assumption on the part of Ameri on, on of American officials was always that the Shah was strong. He was wealthy. He was backed by a powerful security force and a well armed army, um, and that, uh, he would be able to survive, uh, whatever crisis came his way. Um, and that was largely the case throughout the 1960s, um, and 1970s. What they failed to see was the crisis of legitimacy that the Shah faced after the 1953 coup. The way in which the Monarch, who is supposed to embody Iranian nationalism, who is supposed to embody the aspirations of Iranians for na, for national sovereignty, um, had instead become the embodiment of foreign interference in Iran and foreign manipulation, um, of Iran. The other misreading that took place was the assumption that the Shah would hold onto power, by all means that he would do whatever was necessary to hold onto power, uh, which of course, as it turned out in the revolution was not the case. Um, and he relinquished the throne, uh, and left the country. These, these misreadings, of course, become apparent during the administration of Jimmy Carter. Um, president Carter, uh, ends the policy of sort of uncritical support for the Shah. Um, there is talk of human rights, um, in Iran, and this, of course, is in the context of the post-Watergate America post-Vietnam War America. Um, but it is not the case as, as many Iranians imagine that Carter abandoned the Shah. There were no sanctions on Iran. Uh, arms continued to flow to Iran. Uh, oil sales continued to take place. Um, uh, this was very different to the policies that the Carter administration instituted in Latin America. For example, the policies that Carter had towards many of the right wing regimes in, say, Argentina or Chile or other places. Um, nonetheless, there was a perception on the part of many Iranians that the United States had, had enough of the Shah and was now pressuring him, uh, to either leave or concede power to his opponents. And the, the sort of iconic image of that was the visit that the Shah made to Washington in November, 1977. It was his last state visit to the United States, um, and his, uh, helicopter touchdown, uh, uh, at the White House. Uh, and the usual arrival ceremony was supposed to take place on the South Lawn with the military bands and the fanfare and the music. But of course, uh, he was greeted by thousands of Iranian students who were studying in the United States who'd come to demonstrate against him, all arrayed, uh, along the perimeter of the White House. Um, the Iranian government had shipped in some prosha demonstrators, uh, to, uh, to buck up the Shah. And of course, quite naturally clashes begin to take place between these pro encounter sha demonstrators, the Washington DC Parks Police, very, very nervous that these protesters might actually, uh, uh, go over the barricades and into the White House, begin to fire tear gas into the crowds. Now, very predictably, the wind picks up the tear gas, wafts it over the south lawn of the White House, and you are left with a televised image of President Carter and the Shah of Iran, with tears flowing down their faces, um, uh, at the White House. You can imagine how that was interpreted by Iranians watching these proceedings live, uh, uh, on television. There was an, there were divisions. The reality was that there were divisions within the Carter Administration about what to do about Iran. There were the liberals who wanted to pressure the Shah to reform, uh, who were sympathetic to the pro Mossek liberals, um, in Iran. And there were the Hawkes, uh, the people like Vic New Brzezinski, uh, who wanted to support the Shah at all costs, and saw him as a vital anti-communist, um, uh, bulwark. Um, the, the expectation amongst the doves, amongst those who wanted to pressure the Shah was that the alternative to the Shah was a liberal. Iran was a constitutional, Iran was a return to the Iran of Mossad de again, a misreading of, of, um, what was happening, um, uh, in, in, in Iran. Let me turn to things close to home. Britain, of course, was no longer the great power in Iran after the nationalization of the, uh, Anglo Iranian oil company. What is today, British petroleum, uh, Britain had lost its position of dominance, um, um, in Iran, and had ceded that influence to the Americans, um, nonetheless, a a myth endured, which I'm sad to say, endures until today of the omniscient and omnipotent Perus Albion, uh, that nothing happens in Iran without the consent of the British Ambassador. Um, and the old saying that if you lift the, the beard of the mullahs underneath, it says, made in Britain, you know, <laugh>, um, uh, this, this myth endured. Uh, whereas in reality, British diplomats in Tehran and other officials were really just concerns with the grubby business of commercial contracts. Uh, a Britain that was not in very good, uh, economic, uh, in a not a very good economic state in the 1970s, was really concerning itself with how to get as much of the pie of Iran's oil income as possible, whether that was armed sales or, uh, uh, other contracts for British industry. Britain, of course, had also withdrawn from the Persian Gulf as part of the greater withdrawal east of sewers, uh, under the Wilson Administration. Um, and so, uh, there was really a sense amongst the Iranians, including of the Shah himself, that Britain was in decline, that this was a former imperial power that couldn't really push Iran around anymore. And the Shah actually kind of relished in, if you watch any of the interviews he gave when he came to Britain, he sort of really enjoyed lecturing the British and saying, oh, you don't work hard enough, and that's why you have an inflation problem. And, you know, um, so no one in the British Embassy in Tehran, including a series of British ambassadors, anticipated that there would be a revolutionary movement against the Shah, or that the Shah would fall from power. And, uh, there was a report commissioned by, by David o after the Revolution, foreign secretary David Owen, um, to look into this. Uh, it was written by a diplomat by the name of Nicholas Brown, and it's now been declassified, and, and you can read it. Um, and Brown really concluded that the, that the foreign office shared many of the same mistaken assumptions as the Americans, uh, when it came to Iran. And they were really no better and no worse than anyone else at failing to predict, um, uh, what would take place, um, in Iran. Did anybody get it right in, in, in, in the uk? That's a good question to ask. Well, within the governing labor party, there were those on the back benches of the Labor Party, um, who were sort of dissenting voices on Iran. One of them, for example, was the late Robin Cook. Um, uh, but there were others. Um, but their dissent from British policy came not really from an analysis of what was happening in Iran, but rather from their ideological position, which was an opposition to American imperial, what they perceived as American imperialism. Um, there were those amongst the British left who were also highly critical of the Shah most notably, uh, the late professor Fred Halliday, who was, uh, my late colleague at the, at the LSE. Um, and also, uh, groups like Amnesty International, which of course were headquartered here in London and were very critical of the human rights, um, situation, uh, in Iran, but none. But the labor ministers, the labor government at the time, did not really take any of these dissenting voices very seriously and dismiss them as, uh, ignorant of Britain's commercial interests, britain's national interests, um, in Iran. The other key dissenting voice, which is something that is very familiar to Iranians, but will be unknown to British audiences, is the role of the BBC Persian service, the Persian language service of BBC World Radio, uh, which was staffed by many, uh, Persian speaking journalists who were rather critical of the Shah. And, uh, in the broadcast that they made to Iranian Persian, uh, they would slip in some rather, um, unflattering news about the Shah and some rather encouraging news about the protests against the Shah. And this was the subject of repeated protests by the Shah to the British government. And the poor British ambassador would get summoned to the court after every one of these broke broadcasts, and then he would send a telegram to the chairman of the BBC, and the chairman of the BBC would dutifully say that we are an independent service, and we won't bow to political pressure. Um, but this was the state of affairs in, in, in, in, in Britain. What about the intellectuals? Well, The Shah had become a sort of, uh, hate figure for the new left, uh, both in Britain and the United States, and, and, and in Europe, uh, particularly after his visit to Berlin in 1967. Uh, those of you who know your modern German history will know the significance of the protests that greeted the Shah in Berlin in 1967. Um, enormous student protests that were organized by German student groups in cooperation with a very large, um, community of, uh, Iranian students who were in, um, uh, west Germany at the time. Uh, the Shah was going to go to the Berlin Opera, uh, in, in West Berlin. And the, uh, the students had arrayed themselves all up and down, uh, uh, uh, I think it's Bismarck Strata, uh, wearing these, um, uh, uh, brown paper masks with the faces of the Shah. And it was a sort of carnival almost atmosphere. There was a, I've seen photos of a Volkswagen Beetle driving up and down in front of the, in front of the, uh, opera house, um, the Iranians, as was their want, had had brought in the prosha protestors to try to create a positive atmosphere for the Shah. And, uh, and that quite naturally there were, you know, clashes between these protestors and the demonstrators. And, uh, uh, very sadly, uh, a, a German student, a student at the F Free University in Berlin, um, Benno, uh, honor org was killed. He was shot and killed by a, uh, o off-duty West Berlin police officer, who subsequently, by the way, turned out to be a STARI informant, but we've never quite gotten to the bottom of that mystery. But the death of Onor, you know, this martyr for the student movement in Germany really radicalized the German student movement. And of course, out of that, grew the Red Army faction, uh, by the Meinhof, uh, uh, in fact, Eureka Meinhof, uh, had lit, had written an open letter to Empress Farrah, uh, ahead of the visit, basically criticizing her and, and calling her a hypocrite, um, and pointing out all of the miseries and sufferings of, um, of people in Iran, the, the dominant ideology amongst this Iranian opposition to the Shah abroad, all these Iranian students that, that had been assembled on university campuses in Germany and Britain and the United States. Um, the dominant idea was what one Iranian intellectual had coined as West Toxification, uh, in Persian, the idea that Iranians were poor imitations, the, the were poor imitations of the West, that the Shah and his technocratic elite, um, didn't really understand, uh, the, uh, actual roots of Western culture, but instead, sort of blindly aed, um, the trappings, uh, of Western culture, dress, food, uh, the superficial, superficial sort of aspects of, um, Western culture. It implied, of course, that, that the Shah and his elite were inauthentic. They were not authentically Iranian, that they had, uh, uh, betrayed or abandoned their own authentic culture. Um, and if you study what these opponents of the Shah were saying to each other in Persian, it is of course, couched in this language of West Toxification, but also increasingly couched in the language of the militant new left, um, struggle revolution, um, Maoism, uh, Marxism, et cetera, et cetera. But if you look at what these same people are saying in English and German and French to Western audiences, to people like you, they speak of human rights, constitutionalism, democracy, freedom, the rights of women, the rights of minorities. So there is two different audiences, two different languages, right? Which is the truth. Where do they really stand? Um, for the Western observers, particularly western intellectuals who were in contact with these opponents of the Shah, this was very confusing. Um, uh, on the surface, what did they see? They saw, uh, young Iranians who were calling for human rights, who were calling for freedom, who were critical of an autocratic Shah who had, who imprisoned his opponents, where torture took place in prisons, where, you know, quite naturally they were sympathetic to these, to these young Iranians. But what they didn't understand, and what they were not privy to, was the internal conversation that was going on amongst the Iranian opposition in Persian, amongst themselves. Um, what they couldn't understand, particularly those intellectuals on the left, was that the fault lines of Iranian politics were not class in the way that they expected, but rather culture, that the divisions were not between the upper class and the middle class, and the petty bourgeoisie, and the lump and proto and all the language of the, of the left, but rather a division between those who, um, were in favor of the modern secular westernized Iran that the Shah was trying to construct. And those who were against it for a variety of reasons. Um, the person I think who encapsulates that very well is, is the French, um, philosopher Michelle Fuko, who of course was one of the most important postmodernist, arguably the most important postmodernist philosopher of his time. Um, Fuko challenged the emancipatory claims of the Enlightenment, um, including both liberalism and Marxism. Um, so we have to be careful not to label him as an intellectual of the left. I think that's slightly misleading. Um, he, he saw, he argued that the ruling classes of Western societies simply supplanted, uh, violent forms of power in traditional societies. So say pre-modern Iran, um, for less violent and more sophisticated forms of power and discipline. So the Enlightenment was not just about liberty, but it was also about discipline. Um, this led for co to have a, a, a real fascination with a sort of romanticized idea of the pre-modern world, the pre-modern east, or the pre-modern, um, orient, um, which he contrasted with the rational modern West, where individualism and technologies for disciplining people, uh, and controlling people and controlling nature, um, had suppressed emotion and spiritualism and nobility and any sense of paternal duty. Um, so for, for example, this, he in his work on the history of sexuality, um, uh, he, he, he said that the modern West had a science of sex. We saw sex in a scientific way, whereas in the pre-modern East, there was an art of eroticism and of sexual pleasure. Okay? Um, he drew similar distinctions when it came to madness or illness, or the idea of death. Um, so as revolution erupts in, in Iran in 1978, the Italian newspaper, corre Deera asks FCO to travel to Iran, uh, and report on what he saw. Now, first of all, what a wonderful time when newspapers asked intellectuals to travel to foreign places. A shame, we don't do that anymore. Um, FCO made his, uh, first trip to Iran, uh, from 16 to 24, September, 1978. This was just after the violence of Black Friday, the Les Square incident, where large number of protestors had been killed. Um, he then made a second trip from the ninth to the 15th of November, 1978. And that was just before the absolute peak of the protests against the Shah during the Shia month, the holy month of Mohara. Um, so Fko, how would someone like Fko see the Pat Leve monarchy? Um, he, he, he saw the Pat Le monarchy as a, as a failed project of nationalism, secularization, and modernization. Um, it, it, it wasn't simply that modernization had been poorly applied in Iran, uh, uh, but rather that, uh, uh, the, so it wasn't simply that modernization had been poorly applied, generating opposition. It was rather that for Fko, the Iranian revolution, the uprising against the Shah was a complete wholesale rejection of the very idea of modernization itself. Um, during his first trip to Iran, he, he went to gom, the holy city of Gomme, the Shia seminaries, um, and he met with, um, AYA Maari, who at the time was the most senior Iranian cleric in Iran. Um, and he also met with Meti Bgan, who would go on to be the first Prime Minister, Khomeini's first prime minister. Um, after the Revolution, um, uh, returning to France, uh, he wrote a series of articles in which he dismissed any criticism of Khomeini or Islamism, including by Iranians on the left, uh, as some, he basically dismissed these critics of Khomeini as somehow inauthentic. They were Iranians. In other words, who'd lost touch with Iran. Um, uh, they'd been seduced by Western ness. They were, in essence, west Toxified. Um, he compared the anti-Western Iranian clerics with, uh, southerner in 15th century Florence, or the Anabaptists of 16th century pro of the 16th century Protestant reformation in Germany, or the Puritans of Cromwell's England in the 17th century, um, FKA had become completely infatuated with the rhetoric, the symbols, and the rituals of militant revolutionary Shia Islam, particularly the emphasis on martyrdom and the role of a militant clergy, militant anti-modern clergy, as the representatives of the popular will of the Iranian people. Fko then actually met Khomeini when he was in exile outside of Paris, before he, before Khomeini returned to Iran. Um, this was in early October, uh, 1978. Um, this was a time when Khomeini was making statements from Paris that revealed his deep hostility to the secular opposition to the Shah. Uh, yet KO's writings in the French periodical Le Observator revealed the extent to which he had completely embraced and accepted Khomeini's attempts to cast himself as a saintly, almost divine figure in a cosmic struggle between the Shah and the Iranian people. Fuko denigrated the moderates who sought to achieve a compromise between Khomeini and the Shah, or who hoped to channel the revolution into a more secular or democratic path. What Iranians wanted f proclaimed was not just revolution. What they wanted was an Islamic state. He was correct in arguing that the real power in Iran lay with Khomeini and the religious leaders, and not with the, um, secular politicians who were still thinking in ter in terms of the enlightenment, the enlightenment values of Marxism or Maoism, or whatever it may be. Um, these secular politicians underestimated Khomeini. But the question was, what is an Islamic government? What is an Islamic state? We've never had one in the modern world. Um, and Fuko, and I think this was the most embarrassing thing that he wrote, uh, he, he wrote, quote, nobody in Iran means a political regime in which the clerics would have a role of supervision or control. He was, of course, totally wrong. The clerics had explained to Fko that under Islam liberties, quote, this fko writing here will be respected to the extent that their exercise will not harm others. Minorities will be protected and free to live as they please on the condition that they do not injure the majority between men and women. There will not be inequality with respect to rights, but difference since there is a natural difference with respect to politics, decisions should be made by the majority. The leaders should be responsible to the people, and each person, as it is laid out in the Quran, should be able to stand up and hold accountable. He who governs. Now, Fuko had some reservations about these pronouncements, but his reservations were perhaps not those that you would expect. Um, his reservations were not about the illiberalism of Khomeini, but rather that these pronouncements sounded a little too liberal, uh, for his liking. Um, were these formulas a little bit too much, too similar to the bourgeois formulas for democracy, um, uh, which would lead, which might lead to some sort of oppressive liberal democracy as existed in the West? Um, what most impressed Fuko about the idea of Islamic government was that it opened a quote, spiritual dimension in politics. He called this political spirituality, which had been lost in Europe since the Renaissance, and that was something that the West could learn from the Iranian revolution. Fko was, of course, criticized for presenting these views in the French and Italian press. Um, uh, a young Iranian leftist woman living exile in exile in Paris, uh, wrote in to Ur under the pseudonym Arta H. She took Fuko to task for his uncritical celebration of Islamism, and his disregard for the dangers that it posed to both women and religious minorities. KO's response was to dismiss her concerns and to say that Islam would be an essential political force of our time, and it could not be ignored or dismissed. So, so much for the record of the intellectuals, when the revolution, of course is victorious, um, we begin to see the reality of what it would mean Almost immediately after Khomeini's return to Iran. The revolutionary terror began, uh, the first to be murdered were four generals of the Shah's army, who was shot on the rooftop of the Refa Girls School, where Khomeini had established his temporary headquarters. That was on the 15th of February, 1979. The next target, of course, were Iranian women. Khomeini began almost immediately rolling back the laws, uh, that had been instituted under the Shah to grant greater, um, freedom and equality to Iranian women. His first edict was to impose the veil on female civil servants. Um, in response, of course, on International Women's Day, on the 8th of March, 1979, mass protests took place in Iran, the first major against Khomeini's, um, rule. A month later, we saw the execution of the Shah's Prime Minister Amir, our boss, Vidar, who'd served as Prime Minister for 13 years. He was shot, uh, after a kangaroo, um, court. And then on the 8th of August, 1979, we saw the closure of the I Undergone newspaper in Iran. And when I say closure, I mean that the building was ransacked and set on fire. Um, and the closure of I undergone, which was a sort of left-leaning, um, uh, a newspaper. Uh, these series of events in 1979 began to give pause for some intellectuals who had been rather sort of celebratory, um, about the Iranian revolution. Um, this of course, was not the worst of it. It would get even more grim as the 1980s went on, culminating in mass executions of prisoners in 1988, um, in Iranian prisons. Yet despite this, there were foreign observers who were still holding onto the hope and still holding onto the view that the Iranian revolution was something to be celebrated. I think the most notorious of all of them is a, a man by the name of Richard Fork, who was a, who was a law professor at Princeton University, and a prominent, uh, American, uh, of the left, um, who had met with Khomeini prior to his return to Iran Fork, wrote in the New York Times on the 16th of February, 1979. And I quote the depiction of him, this is Khomeini, the depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary, and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certain, seems certainly, and happily false. What is also encouraging is that his entourage of close advisors is uniformly composed of moderate progressive intellectuals. Uh, even after the executions in Iran and the, and, and the clear oppression of women and minorities fork wrote, quote, ATO la Khomeini seems dedicated to evolving for the people of Iran, some form of humane governance that centers very much on social justice for the poor. He has an intense, popular mandate to achieve this goal, successfully enable Iran to demonstrate that a revolutionary victory need not be spoiled by the tensions raised in the post-revolutionary period of consolidation. At least we should be skeptical about all those who now call for the observance of human rights after decades of utter silence during the Shah's long reign of terror. So what you see is once these opinions, once these misreadings are formed, they're very difficult to dispel no matter what the true, no matter what, uh, evidence to the counter, to the con, contrary, uh, is reaching us. Um, there is an exception to this, and I think he deserves to be mentioned, and that is Fred Halladay. Um, Halladay was a prominent Anglo-Irish Marxist intellectual who had established links with the Iranian left in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly during his activism in spar, in support of the Dfar Relu Rebellion in, uh, Oman. So he had correctly anticipated, um, that the Shah would face serious political difficulties by the end of the 1970s, um, and had published a book to that effect, uh, on the eve of the revolution. However, the Halladay, you know, being a of a Marxist, um, had very much underplayed the Islamic character, um, of, of the revolution, his 1979 book, dictatorship and Development, which had been written in the period 76 to 77. Um, he, he wrote in that book, and I quote, the Aya and Mullahs on their own can probably not sustain or channel the popular Upe search. His v his views began to change after he visited Iran in August, 1979. He witnessed the attack on, I Undergone, he saw the arrest of many of his leftist friends. Um, he, he witnessed, uh, or read about the executions. He returned to London and wrote a series of articles for the New Statesman, uh, the headline for one of which was Islam, with a Fascist Face. I really wonder if any newspaper would dare to publish such a headline today,<affirmative>, By 1987, Halladay was writing in the new left review of the anti Imperialism of Fools and admonishing the Iranian left for not supporting the liberal government of Ur bti, the Shah's last Prime Minister, who had tried desperately to seek a transition from the, uh, the, uh, autocracy of the Shah to some form of constitutional government. Um, but what Halladay demonstrated was that it is possible, it is possible to acknowledge when we get something wrong, uh, and to, and to revise our views. Now, where does that leave us today? Women Life Freedom. We were of course, all greatly encouraged when we saw the uprising in Iran beginning in September last year. It filled us with hope that perhaps the moment had come when Iran would finally transition from a theocracy to some form of representative democracy. That was the great hope, and it was so encouraging to see that generations of Iranians who had completely grown up under the rule of the Islamic Republic, the millennials, the Gen Z, um, what were the values that they were espousing? What were the values that they were demonstrating for risking their lives, for? They were the values of the enlightenment, rationality, equality, liberation, justice, um, universal values. What they were doing in September and October, 1979 was nothing short of completely rejecting the values of the 1979 Revolution. Uh, it was in a way, a reversal where 79 had been a rejection of the enlightenment. 2022 was an embrace of the Enlightenment. Um, but how was it interpreted here in Britain and in Europe and in the United States? Well, I think it was widely seen as a feminist revolution, and I think that that's understandable, given that Iranian women were at the forefront of the revolution, um, that it part, it was particularly young Iranian women, uh, leading the movement, uh, in Iran's urban centers. Their slogan is, was, and is Women Life Freedom? And we focused on women, but we didn't pay much attention to the life and freedom aspects of that slogan. And this, I think, is our misreading of what is happening in Iran. What we are doing is we are projecting our own politics onto what is happening in Europe. We are projecting our own culture wars, which is very understandable, given the context of what is happening in, in, in Europe and the United States, in the context of our enormous cultural debate about what is the definition of a woman, uh, uh, the political debates in the United States about wom a woman's right to abortion, et cetera. You know, it's understandable that we are now projecting these same debates onto what is happening in Iran. But when women in Iran are protesting, when men in Iran are protesting, and when their slogan is Women Life Freedom, what are they talking about in their own context? What do these slogans mean in an Iranian context? Well, I would argue that if we break down this, uh, this slogan, women Zan stands in, I think, for the debate on secularism versus Islamism, because it is women more than any other person in Iranian society who feel on their skin in their daily lives, the impact of living under an Islamic regime. So the battle to abolish compulsory veiling is not simply about the emancipation of women, which it is to some extent about it, is really a complete rejection of Islamism. And an, and an argument that the whole of Iranian society embraces men and women, that the, that political Islam should not define the nature of gender relations in Iranian society or any other aspect of Iranian society. Um, what about life? What do they mean when they, when, when, when, when they speak of life? Here, I think they speak of the, the issue of prosperity versus corruption. Uh, the corruption that has plagued the Islamic Republic for decades that has made life feel hopeless for this younger generation. Um, it is an aspiration to live life, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, you might say. Um, and finally, freedom. What freedom would seem to be fairly self-explanatory. But again, I think it is a slogan that touches on the issue of liberalism versus authoritarianism. Um, these are the issues that are relevant in the Iranian context. And to understand that you have to place what is happening in Iran in 20 22, 20 23 in a much longer historical trajectory, you have to look at all of the protests that have taken place, not only under the Islamic Republics since 2009, but in fact a century long struggle. That goes back to the constitutional revolution that Ali Ansari spoke to you about, um, last month. It is the issue of secularism versus Islamism, prosperity versus corruption, liberalism versus authoritarianism that concerns Iranians. And, uh, my plea is for us to not project our own politics onto what is happening in, in Iran, but rather to try to empathize with the Iranians themselves and understand, uh, what it is they are struggling for from their own point of view. Um, so let us make it about them rather than about us. Okay. I'll stop there. Thank you very much. Um, so as ever, with the receiving questions that come in from outside, I'm gonna try and group some themes together to make it a little more rational. You, you, um, talked at the end of the, if I can go back to the end of the Shah regime, you kind of glossed over the fact that they had already wiped out the left. Yes. And many of the questions which, um, I'm trying to group together here relate to that moment and whether or not the impact of a religiously led revolution was in fact opportunistic, that if the left had been there, it might well have been communist rather than religious. And so what was the, what the people in your conversation sort of being glossed over in a way, because you've talked about the leadership in various places. Sure, sure. What did the people really want and who was, who was leading them? Was it entirely the religious sect or were there other people who were taken over by them? Yeah. Um, There is a narrative about the Iranian revolution, that the revolution was hijacked. That the revolution was really a revolution of the left, that at the very last moment, the Islamists stepped in from the wings and captured this, um, revolution. Uh, I don't subscribe really to this view. Um, uh, it is the, the, the rising force of, uh, is Islamist opposition to the Shah was really clear beginning in 1963, as early as 1963, and Khomeini's opposition to the White Revolution and the Iranian left, which of course became more and more militant over time, uh, and embraced the armed struggle in the 1970s, trying to sort of emulate what had happened in Cuba. Um, uh, in, in, in, in Iran. Um, really failed to, uh, connect in any way with sort of, have any mass appeal, um, in Iran. It was really a phenomenon of the Iranian sort of middle classes and upper classes, quite irania. You look at the social backgrounds of many of the leaders of the Iranian left, and they come from the finest families of the <laugh> battle of the era. Um, and so, uh, combined with that, yes, it's true that, uh, the, the other factor you have is that they were of course, the target of oppression, enormous target of oppression by Sak and by the armed forces, because the perception was that the danger to the Shah came from the left. And so they, uh, the, the Islamist opposition did not quite face the same level of oppression as the leftists did. Um, and so that also made life easier for them in terms of building, um, support for themselves and competing with the left. And so, by the time you get to 1979, it's, um, again, it feeds into this misreading because the Iranian left is so overrepresented outside of Iran amongst opposition groups to the Shah, but really is not of such a significant political force within Iran itself, where it's really the Islamists who are the ones who are, um, mobilizing people against the Shah. And do you think that, uh, I've, I have read, and I've heard said that the orator style of Khomeini hit a note with the Iranian people, which was somewhat unexpected by everyone.'cause he, he, in that sort of rather simplistic language he chose to use and so on. Uh, is that correct or is that, um, an illusion? No, he, Khomeini had a number of things going for him. One was that he was an illah, and, and that gave him a certain authority, um, and, and credibility, you know, within Iran, within Iranian culture. But the second was, if you read, if you go back and read Khomeini's speeches beginning in the 1960s, if you, if you see the things that he speaks about, he rarely talks about religion. It's very political. You know, the, the, the sermons that be, that transform him into a figure of opposition to the Shah are all about, he begins with opposition to the white revolution where he compares, um, giving the franchise to women, to turning all Iranian women into prostitutes and whores. And he talks about, um, he, he's a great opponent of the, uh, status of forces agreement that's signed with the United States that gives, uh, legal protections to American military personnel who's serving in Iran. He sees that as a sort of capitulation to America. And, um, but they're all, uh, it's khomeini. It's Khomeini as a political figure, um, that excites, uh, many young Iranians. And, and you have to remember, the same thing is happening in the seminary in Iran, in the seminary. The same thing is happening that's happening in the universities. The younger generation is more attracted to the more radical teachers, the more, uh, unorthodox teachers and less interested in the same old sort of very conservative, quietest Iranian clerics who want to talk about esoteric issues of religious law. And you know, what they want is the , you know, academic. Um, and, and that's what Khomeini was. And he, and he could, uh, his other great qua quality, uh, uh, that that works in Iranian politics really, is that he, uh, saw everything in this manan black and white view. There was no gray. Um, and that's very appealing as well. Presents a very simple version of the world, um, which is very satisfying. Without any nuance or, uh, Let's see if we can take some questions from the floor. We have one at the front here. Oh, you've been hijacked on the way <laugh> you first and then one back there. Okay. Thank you very Much. Uh, very interesting talk. I want to ask you the Moic revolution of Yes. When he came to par now that was overturned with the help of the CIA, now had that continued, maybe Iran, uh, would've been on a different pathway. Could you like to pick some comment on that? Yeah, it's, it's the great counterfactual, isn't it? What would've happened if Mossek had continued, I mean, Mossek obviously would not have been Prime Minister forever. He would've at some point relinquished the premiership. But I think it is not so much the continuation of Mossek government that would've mattered, but if the principle of the primacy of Parliament had been established, which was the case under the Iranian constitution, I mean, the Constitution that was created as a result of the constitutional revolution that Ali Anari talked to you about, uh, placed sovereignty in the hands of Parliament of the Malo. And that was Mossad's view that the Shah should reign, but not rule. And if that principle had prevailed, even if Sade's government had eventually gone as it would have, then I think Iran would've been in a very different place. For one thing, the Shah would not have had a crisis of legitimacy. You know, the Shah was prior to that, a very popular figure in Iran. Um, and so I very much doubt, you know, he would've had the same problems and difficulties that he had in the 1960s and seventies. But that doesn't mean that I think the revolution in 79 was inevitable. We mustn't jump to that conclusion. There's no inevitability about it. Yeah. Just on your back, I stand, uh, I really enjoyed the lecture. Um, you noted that the intellectuals and the leadership of the Iranian revolution were you, as you say, um, anti enlightenment. Wallerstein mentions that one of the reasons that it was so difficult to co-opt this governments, um, and, you know, the end of the Cold War, as many Marxist regimes were across the world, and, uh, the third world was because its leaders were, or its progenitors were anti enlightenment, whereas the Marxists weren't. How do you reconcile that with the fact that the revolution led to an Islamic republic? Like Rajani said, there's no veil in the Quran, there's no parliament. What we end up with looks a lot more like the third state in France than, or, um, than it does like, uh, fundamentalist caliphate of, you know, the Abbasids. So was the revolution really anti enlightenment? And how do you reconcile with the inspirations it took from in the Enlightenment? Um, I think there were those, some of those people around Khomeini, uh, who, who had been French educated in particular, um, and who wanted to insert some elements of Republicanism, you know, into the revolution. And the early drafts of the, of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic had more Republican elements to them. But of course, what happened over time, very, very quickly is that those Republican elements were jettisoned. And what we have is the veneer of a republic, but the reality of an Islamic state where, where all real power is vested in the Supreme leader. Um, and in the Guardian Council and in the Revolutionary guards and all the unelected, so-called Islamic institutions of, of the Islamic Republic and the elected institutions, the parliament and the presidency are really powerless. Um, uh, we saw the reality of that during Tami's presidency when, you know, when the Iranian reformists made an attempt really to, to, to seize control of the Republican elements of the Islamic Republic, the Parliament and the presidency, and to try to use those institutions to implement serious reforms. Well, it didn't even last a year or two before they were completely rolled back. Um, so fundamentally, IIII do not, I do not see the Islamic Republic as an enlightenment project. I see it as an anti enlightenment project, and that is why the Iranian people are rising up against it, because it does not represent the will or the views of a majority of Iranians. There's one question in the middle here, please. And then I think one at the back after that, lady with the glasses in the middle there. Um, so your lecture was very interesting. Um, I learned a lot more from this than I did in any world history class. So <laugh>, thank you for that. Um, I think the only question that I have right now is, um, you talked about how the US misread gravely the Iranian revolution, and also how the UK misread the, the, um, Iranian revolution. But, um, some people like myself do believe that some revolutions have been misunderstood historically, like the American Revolution, the French Revolution, Cuban Revolution, et cetera, et cetera. But I think the, the bigger question is, did Western powers like the us, like the uk like, like other European countries, did they gravely underestimate the power that these revolutions would have? Just because we've seen it historically that when you underestimate revolutions, they become more powerful. Mm-Hmm. And so I guess for, because some people would argue is that this is sort of a, a western ver global north versus global south argument. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>. So I'm just curious as to, is that, is that the case back then? Is and is that currently the case now? Um, I think we tend to overestimate the power of Western governments to shape events. And it's very clear in the case of the Iranian revolution, if you go through, you go through the file, go to the national archives in queue and go through the files, cabinet office, foreign office, And what, and the impression you get is that not only are these people not shaping events, they barely have an idea of what's actually going on, and they're struggling to find any source of information that will help them understand, you know, and it's somewhat similar, very similar thing with the, with the Americans. And what you find is that the na the nature of Democratic government is such that it takes time, it takes time to create policy. Uh, meetings have to be held, papers have to be written, officials have to be consulted, and so on. And so by the time you've gone through all of that process, the facts on the ground have changed. Your policy is already out of date, you see. And so, um, the picture that I have really is one of paralysis and, um, and ignorance really of what's going on, and immense, immense frustration on the part of those who did have some sense of what was going on <laugh>. Um, so I don't, you know, I think we have to be careful about, uh, not in a way lowering our expectations a little bit. Yeah. We had one question at the back, Amit Sabi. Thank you. Uh, one question I have is regarding the role of other leaders during the revolution, Raan, uh, like Sanja and Mm-Hmm.<affirmative>, uh, Balhan himself and the other leftist leaders Hmm. Who failed to really move their supporters forward and basically surrendered everything to Khomeini, and he managed to manipulate them seriously. What, was there any chance that they would succeed if they were not so weak? I think we could have a, a lecture on their misreading of the, you know, what I found very interesting? I mean, I'm working on the, I'm writing a book about the Iranian revolution now, and what I find really very interesting is the way in which even Khomeini himself did not anticipate that he would be able to come to power so easily. Um, and that, uh, one, one of the main misreadings on the part of the opposition was that the Shah would relinquish power so easily. The real expectation was that there would be a crackdown, that there would be enormous vi similar to what we saw in Syria, for example, 2012, 13, you know, but that didn't take place. Um, in fact, one of the frustrations of the British and the Americans beginning in around November, December, 1978, was that it was quite clear the Shah had made up his mind to leave, and he was searching for a sort of face saving way to do that. You know, and I think what, what I find really extraordinary about the people that you mentioned, Boag gone San Jbi, these are the, essentially the liberal figures. These are the, um, followers of the national front or the liberation movement. Um, what I find really extraordinary about them is, you know, why did they not support Backyard's government, right? Because here was so, so here's the sort of Kosky figure of the Iranian revolution. Here's somebody that the Shah essentially surrendered power to, uh, reluctantly someone who'd been a political prisoner, um, someone who had spent his whole life fighting for constitutionalism in Iran. My goodness, when he was a student in France, he even joined the French resistance and fought against the Nazis. I mean, what more do you want? You know, if you're a liberal figure and you really want a sort of liberal democracy in Iran, what more do you want? You know? And yet, I think they rather opportunistically chose to oppose B'S government and throw in their lot with Khomeini. And it had not, it did, it was not because of a misreading, I think it was opportunism. It was a sense that Khomeini, the power that was coming was Khomeini, and if they didn't side with him, they would become irrelevant. Um, that's my view. I'm, I'm gonna have to stop the questions there. Please do carry on sending the questions through Slido. We can hopefully persuade you to come and answer them in a podcast later on. Would Be my Pleasure. Yeah. Which will be fantastic. Yeah. Yeah. In the meantime, , please thank Dr. Wonderful.