A fresh look into life of Shah of Iran.
By Omid Memarian
Inter Press Service
SAN FRANCISCO, California: In "The Shah," Abbas Milani, a prominent Iranian author and scholar at Stanford University in the U.S., offers new insights into Iran's modern history, including the 1953 coup, the 1979 revolution and the current repressive political situation.
"If you understand why the shah of Iran fell in 1979, we understand why the Iranian government is unstable today and based on that, predict what the future of the country will be," Milani told I.P.S.
Drawing on more than 400 interviews and newly released documents by the U.S. and British embassies, "The Shah" traces the rise and fall of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who died less than a year after his ouster.
He is remembered for efforts to modernize Iran's culture and economy, including giving women the right to vote, but also for his brutal secret police force known as SAVAC, which tortured and killed thousands of opponents.
Thirty years after the Islamic Revolution toppled the House of Pahlavi, Milani says, it is still important to learn about the shah "for two reasons. One is historic in the sense that he is a very pivotal figure of the 20th century and I think there is room for an impartial biography of him based on documents that have only become available recently.
"Second, because in my view the same dynamic both in terms of the coalition of forces and in terms of political demands that overthrew the shah in '79 has been the cause of more or less incessant unrest and instability in the Islamic Republic in the last 30 years.
"That coalition demanded democracy and was essentially aborted by the usurping clerical establishment."
Pahlavi is the subject of numerous books, including a 2009 biography by Gholam Reza Afkhami, a former official in the shah's regime, entitled "The Life and Times of the Shah."
Milani says there is still much to be learned from his new book that has not already been revealed such as the fact "[that] the shah had a completely misguided understanding of who his foes and his enemies were. I found some remarkable statistics on the number of mosques, for example, that were built in the last decade of the shah. When you compare that to Reza Shah [the shah's father] who literally cut to a third the number of mosques, and to about a third the number of talabes [students in seminaries], you see that you have a scorched earth policy against the left and against the center and you allow the clergy to organize, mobilize, train, have their schools, collect their funds and when the system went into crisis that force was the only force that could keep the country together.
"The Europeans and the Americans decided they should make peace with [Ayatollah] Khomeini [the founder of the Islamic Republic], and again I have shown very clearly that Khomeini volunteered contacts with the Americans, he answered their questions, he advised his allies in Iran to negotiate with the American Embassy. So in almost all of these phases the reality, at least as far as I have uncovered, is very, very different than what has been, so far, assumed about it."
The shah's family did not agree to be interviewed for "The Shah." Milani says it "would be a different book certainly" if they had decided to do so. "Particularly two members of the royal family that I was very interested in interviewing and I made repeated efforts to do it. One was the shah's twin sister, Ashraf, and the other one was the queen. "There are moments in the shah's life that only these people know the details of. I can find the documentary traces for them but the emotional context for those decisions could have only been provided by them."
Milani's book portrays the disconnection of foreign intelligence services from Iranian society and politics, which led to a number of failures in reading Iran's political events before the 1979 revolution. It seems there are lessons to be learned from history about today's U.S. policy in Iran. "The U.S. really has not had a strategy on Iran for 30 years," says Milani. "They've gone from one reaction to another. A kind of a strategic vision that is based on a concrete, realistic, intimate understanding of the situation has been wanting.
"One of the reasons it is lacking, and it's difficult to make is, they have no embassy. And when you have no embassy, you have no diplomats telling you what is happening on the ground. When you don't have an embassy, you become reliant on a phone bank in Istanbul calling 700 people inside Iran, 702 to be exact, and asking them what their opinions are on very sensitive issues.
"To think that you could possibly get a correct answer from a call from Turkey to an Iranian living under the current oppression in Iran is a level of desperation that is hard to fathom. It shows a desperate need for information." -- With The Daily Star
Abbas Milani's "The Shah" is published by Palgrave Macmillan.
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