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The book Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic by Michael Axworthy deeply discusses the revolution in Iran. It unearths the deeper and complex forces behind the revolution. The revolution in Iran was driven by many forces and hidden interest among the parties involved such as the US, Britain, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, and the Muslims. Every party was pushing for its interests. However, they all fought for the control of power in Iran and the major Middle East region.
The History of the Relationship Between the US and Iran
At the beginning, the US had a very good relationship with Iran before the Iranian revolution. However, this was a way for the US to achieve its interests. The good relationship was spread to the entire Middle East region. The US started engaging the Middle East region in the 1930's for interests such as oil exploration specifically in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain. The good relationship between the US and Iran improved rapidly after the US set up a military camp in Iran in 1942. The US embassy in 1947 and 1948 increased size of its staff. This further deepened their relationship in respect to cultural, commercial, and diplomatic ties. The US involvement in the Iranian government tightened their ties. It played a key to tone down Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union whose influence in the Middle East had continued to grow. The US and the Iran government complemented each other following the US global strategy to contain growing influence of the Soviet Union. The US grew to be the most influential power in Iran after removing Mussadiq from power 1953. Prior to the revolution, Iran had adopted the western lifestyle trends under the leadership of Shah. Westernization was one of the effects of the US-Iran relationship. Prior to the revolution, the Shah's leadership was autocratic and oppressive. It demeaned the Islamic religion by changing the Islamic calendar and creating a secular state. The Islamic religion became a force that unified the people in the revolution. The revolution in Iran was a resistance against westernization, economic, and social deprivations.
The Role of the US in Iranian Affairs/Revolution
The US supported Mussadiq arise to power. In return, the US wanted a share of the oil which was previously controlled by Britain. Britain did not like the changes in the oil management in Iran where the government nationalized the oil sector. A plan was made to invade Iran and hold its oil field. This was after Britain had attempted to make futile economic sanctions by asking the big oil companies in the world to boycott oil from Iran. The US informed Britain that it was not in support of its Britain's physical aggression in Iran. Rather, it proposed for peaceful negotiations and thus saved Iran from a war with Britain.
After the US had secured a share of Iran's oil field. It hatched a plan to oust Mussadiq. The process involved carrying out an intensive propaganda campaign that tainted his name and image as immoral and corrupt. The US and British further turned his political allies and religious leaders against his leadership. Together with Britain's intelligence, the CIA from America successfully ran down the Mussadiq's leadership and he left power in 1953. Additionally, the high clergies disliked Mussadiq in favor of the monarch. The Western felt that Mussadiq was not strongly against communism.
In full control, Iran became a virtual colony of the US companies. The US continued to support Iran economically. One of its financial assistance reimbursed almost a third of the economic revenue loss realized from the embargo created by the British. Thus, the economy of Iran grew extensively with the support of the US. Prior to the revolution, the US played a key role assistance Iran grow economically to an extent that it became a capitalist market of a global stature. The western powers led by America and the British had modernized Iran fully. According to Marxism, high levels of inequality in a capitalist society will eventually result in a revolution. To avoid such an occurrence, Shah embarked on programs that made economic and social transformation in Iran even though it was in a progressive manner.
Violence Before the Revolution
The western power played a key role in the revolution of Iran in 1979 even though Shah had mastered an art of serving the western power especially the US very well. Before and after the revolution, the US had a relationship with Iran which changed as time went by. For example, the US supported Shah Mohammed as the president in a coup assisted by the CIA against the formally democratically elected Iranian president because Shah could serve their interest better. However, Mohammed failed to provide a conducive atmosphere for democracy where secular leadership would take shape. As a result, religious minded political groups rose to power and grew very powerful. They used the mosques and organizations which were closely affiliated to religion to propagate their political agenda. Prior to the revolution, the US was like a partner to Iran. It was highly regarded for its foreign policies such as self-determination and anti-colonialism. \ It further advocated for modernity, liberalism, and progressiveness and these were the yearnings of Iran.
Shah Mohammed leadership was not democratic. Immediately after securing power with the assistance of the US and Britain, he restructured the local intelligence and strengthened the military force in the country. His regime was repressive and never tolerated the opposition in the country. The newspapers that supported Mussadiq. Mussadiq sympathizers, as well as activists and armies, were stopped. Most of them belonged to the Tudeh.
The 1979 revolution was built around Ayatollah Khomeini, an Iran's spiritual leader. The people of Iran flouted their constitution which had been in place since 1906. This is after the US had admitted Shah Mohammed who was very sick. It is during this year that Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile. The attack of the US embassy in 1979 where diplomats were captured by the radicals and taken hostage triggered the US. The relationship between the US and Iran got worse since 1979. It has been characterized by confrontation and anger since 1979.
Some of the reasons as to why the US toppled Mussadiq was because his ambitions had grown far too much. He desired to acquire weapons that would make Iran the sixth strongest nation in the globe. However, this became a concern to the US, such a move would have created a great imbalance of power in the Middle East region especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The move would have threatened Iraq and force it to look for protection from the Soviet Union thus endangering the interest of the Western countries in the Middle East. Mohammed Shah further created contact with the USSR thus provoking the US even more. Due to the high accumulation of power and wealth, Iran's president treated the US as an independent partner. The president further threatened the US that if it turned its back against Iran, Iran would jeopardize the interests of the Western countries especially the US in the Middle East region. The move by Mohammed Shah to contact the USSR made Iran's threat real. Shah also differed with the US in regard to oil management policies. Iran was revolting against the US. The US president Carter started supporting Khomeini.
Religion as a Unifying Force for the Revolution
Religion played a key role in the revolution. Khomeini who was very active in the revolution. He argued that the Islamic religion had allowed the faithful to take action against leaders who were accused of treachery. According to Khomeni, Muslims can engage in a war to fight oppression or even take over a government. Thus, he encouraged the Islamic faithful to rise against the government to fight corruption and its ill ways. Khomeni cooperated with the CIA in the process. Thus, the Islamic religion became a force that unified the people in the revolution. The Islamic religion has been used in the past to radicalize, mobilize, and politicize the masses in the process of confronting unwanted leadership. For example, Khomeini mobilized people to rise against bad leadership. He further came up with the concept of Pan-Islamism and the question of Palestine.
Shah aspired to develop a society where religion played no role like it was in the western world or in Egypt and Turkey after he had managed to quell the clerical opposition in 1963. However, Radical Islamic teachings which had a strong influence on young people especially the students led by Shariati opposed the move by Shah. Between 1953 and 1970, attempts to use secularism as a major ideological influence in Iran failed, instead many intellectuals preferred political Islam which protected them from repression. Shah's attack and change of key Islamic teachings created revolt among the Islamic faithful's. For example, he attacked ulema, changed the Islamic calendar, and disregarded other sharia laws. Such acts of dumping Islamic teachings in favor of monarchial hallmarks such as the date on which Cyrus the Great ascended to power was unwelcome. Following the failure of Shah's government to connect with the desires of the people, the masses resorted to the leadership of the Shi'a clergies. Some of the ills which infiltrated the society in Iran included westernization, economic, and social deprivations. The Khomeini leadership resonated well with the wishes of the ordinary people. He declared that Islam was the religion which belonged to the people who were committed to justice and the truth, and whose hearts desired independence and freedom.
The Iran-Iraq War's Impact on The Revolution
The hostility between Iran and Iraq was built on a belief that Iran was exporting revolution to Iraq. The Shi'a Muslim occupied the borders between Iraq and Iran and therefore, the revolution in Iran excited the Shi'a Muslims in Iraq. Additionally, Saddam hated the bullish behavior of Shah prior to the revolution.
The revolution disorganized Iran and made it weak militarily. This created an opportunity for Saddam to attack aiming at the Khuzestan oilfields. Additionally, the attack would have appealed to the developing pan-Arabism ideology of the Baath Party. He also intended to create an image of himself as a powerful Arab regional leader. However, the Iran-Iraq war rallied the people of Iran behind their government and made it stronger than before. The war consolidated revolutionary institutions. As a result, Khomeini was able to overcome his political opponent in Iran.
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