April 8, 2009


Doomed to despotism: a review of Khomeini’s Ghost by Con Coughlin and The Life and Death of the Shah by Gholam Reza Afkhami (Jonathan Sumption, 4/07/09, The Spectator)

The legislation of 1964, conferring legal immunity on US forces stationed in Iran, touched a sensitive nerve, bringing mobs back onto the streets and assassins into the Shah’s household. To the outside world, the Shah embodied the swaggering new nationalism of the oil-rich Middle East. Inside the country, he was undermined by an older, more conservative nationalism which retained its hold on the mass of the population and proved to be the real source of the Ayatollahs’ power. Khomeini stood in an ancient and powerful tradition.

Of the mass of Iranians who celebrated the fall of the Shah in 1979, very few would have voted for Khomeini’s brand of totalitarian theocracy. Most probably looked forward to some form of liberal democratic state. Yet it is exceptionally difficult for the liberal model to survive in a society obsessed by the enemy without, whether it is a monarchy or an Islamic republic. The stand-off with the United States and the long war with Iraq served only to consolidate the new regime in power. As for Khomeini himself, the Iranians got what was on the tin. He had never pretended to be a democrat and was certainly not a liberal. The tragedy of Iran’s modern history was that it was doomed to exchange one kind of nationalist autocracy for another.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 8, 2009 8:20 AM
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