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The Mantle of the Prophet Religion and Politics in Iran – Reflection Notes

August 1, 2008

Which everyday common U.S.A. citizen would think that Iranian history and government-sponsored culture has changed so remarkably much over the past 100 years?  I continue to be gripped by the evolving governmental conditions that are part of present day Iran.  All within slightly over three quarters of a century the people of Iran have seen government move from decentralized Qajar dynastic power through the throngs of the establishment of a constitutional form which rapidly flexed and changed into a centrally powered government under Reza Khan (Reza Shah).  Under his control, many internal structures came into existence and the beginning of a developed oil industry.  However, with Reza Shah came the great influence of Westernization that would later mature under Reza’s son Mohammed Reza Shah and his west-stricken government.  Although a combination of many factors, the European-Western influences proved fertile ground for a reevaluation of the Shah’s government and plan to make Iran the reestablished Persian Empire under his tutelage as “The Light of the Aryans”.  This week has been most enjoyable.  In concluding the readings in Kurzman’s “The Unthinkable Revolution” I believe I have a better grasp of or understanding of the 1978 Islamic Revolution from the vantage point of an American (an ethical view) trying to grasp the Iranian perspective.   Kurzman’s style allows a continuum of events to evolve into not only a story that is most intimate and interesting, but explains the events leading up to the revolution in terms of both “faith” and “theory”.  In short, none of these theories is totally satisfactory in explaining the coming together of the events that culminated in the change of the regime.  In other words, each is partly instructive, but also fragmented and incomplete.  This leaves the unanswered question, debatable to some, static to others, staunchly exact to others: “How much reality, especially in explaining revolt, can theory actually answer?”  Hindsight it is arguable is 20/20 vision!  At the same instance knowledge of fact, false understanding and misperception continually unravel as time and investigation of events take place.  These “adjustments” in variations or variables of investigation continually influence investigation and conclusion, especially when associated with numerous extemporaneous factors which effect the variables considered.  As Weber concluded “social reality and making sense of it is so much ‘retrospective analysis”.  If I must select a more credible stance for explaining the revolution, I must rely on critical action.  There were many events and socio-economic-political-military and cultural fluctuation that occurred between 1977 and 1978 that bore upon different groups within Iranian society and caused different ones to head the call for change of regime in different ways and at different times.  This collectively called for action, but in various methods and times of mobilization and organization.

            Perhaps analysis of the revolution should begin with Khomeinis’ call for a “guardianship” government in the mid 1960’s.  If we call this the instance of calling to mobilization many more factors than those expressed by Kurzman may be found worthy of discussion.  Different and perhaps more holistic analysis of the culture of the times from the 1950s until 1978 appear in the book “The Mantle of the Prophet Religion and Politics in Iran”, by Roy Mattahedeh.  

            Mattahedeh writes a historical-cultural account of the early life of a real but fictitiously named Iranian boy until his late 30’s in 1979.  It is both ethnographic and historical-religious fact.  The story is told with brief interspersions of Ali’s life with great and interesting detail of the historical and religious events and occurrences in Iran.  Perhaps most interesting about Ali is that he is a sayyed (a descendant of Mohammed) who becomes a mullah.  With Ali, the reader travels with him as he examines life at his mother’s feet and later his father’s.  We travel his learning experiences in state school in 1948 and later to the religious madreseh ( the Islamic college) and his experiences as a talebeh, a “seeker” or student mullah    By chapter six it is 1966, and Ali is now a young man, a teacher and mullah.  His teaching is limited at this time, but he becomes more practiced in this phase of his life.  He travels to Najaf, Iraq (Iraqi center of Shi’i learning) and there he learns under two models.  One model is Ayatollah Khomeini and the other is Ayatollah Kho’i.  Up until this point in time the story has been segmented with history ranging from the Arab invasions (which resulted in the Iranians accepting Islam, but retaining Persian and the Arabs speaking Persian) to the government of Reza Shah (Pahlavi) and the 1953 coupe that overthrew the power of Mossadegh and firmly established Muhammed Reza Shah until his capitulation in 1979. 

            At this point, it is worth a moment to transgress and reflect on the change in form of government under the Qajars to the Constitutional form in 1906 and its morph under the control of Reza Shah.  As discussed earlier in week 1 the Qajars progressively became corrupt in seeking funds for exploitation and enjoyment of their position as leaders.  Concessions were constantly made with Britain and Russia and sometimes others in return for money.  In other words, the Qajars overwhelmingly sold out Iran and its resources for personal pleasure.  After the 1906 constitutional revolution the government was in turmoil.  For example, sessions of the Majiles were multiple, and records lost and under siege of those in opposition. The constitution (approved by Mazafar o-din 1906) was new and needed a bill of rights.  Many questions were being sorted.  In this midst, Reza Khan seizes power.  He maintains the Constitution and the Majiles.  Like Atwater in Turkey, Reza Khan is a military leader; he sees a westernization process being integral to a national identity of Iran and progressive government.  By 1924, Reza Khan comes to the throne and is approved by the Majiles under protest from Mossadegh.  Much national progress was made in the years of Reza Shah (1925-1941).  Urbanization, railroad system, industrialization, reformed judiciary and education system are perhaps best known.  However, Britain and other governments continued to seek to control Iran resources.  Oil became prime consideration.

            By 1941 Reza Shah had died and his son Mohammed Reza Shah came to power (1941-1979) except for usurpation by Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh in the interval of the late 1940s to 1953.  Foreign development of oil resources led to great dissatisfaction in Iran by 1949.  A final insult was that the British received more profit in taxes than did the Iranians.  In a patriotic movement, the oil industry was nationalized and Majiles committee for renegotiation was headed by Dr. Mossadegh who rejected offerings.  As time progressed, Dr. Mossadegh became more powerful and autocratic.  An assassination attempt was made on the young Shah and he faded into the shadows of the palace.  Mossadegh had become primary in the regime.  Production came to a standstill and Britain called for help from both the Truman and later Eisenhower administrations.  Truman rejected and called for the British to split profits more equitably, but Eisenhower fearing communist intervention appears to have sanctioned the 1953 coupe that displaced Mossadegh and reinstalled the Shah and reaffirmed him as the leader of Iran.  This said it is evident that we now have a picture of the delicacy of the constitutional form of government.  For further investigation and interest may be the similarities that could be drawn from an analysis of the tobacco strike of the 1890s and the oil shut-down of 1949-52.

            There is no doubt that Ali’s time ( 1966-1968 ) in Iraq at Najaf were instrumental.  He had learned directly from Khomeini.  Khomeini, shortly before in 1965, was exiled to Iraq.  He had now an open forum to speak and pose important concepts that would later develop more fully into the theme of the revolution and post revolution government formation.  Perhaps an instrumental discussion is that of the “guardianship”.  In the discussion on page 243, it is interesting to denote the similarities of the guardianship in the Muslim-religious sense and that of the secular component.  He posed: “Muslims should not accept anything less than a fully Islamic government, with Islamic courts and a leader who is from the point of view of Islam.  ‘Better than any other’ and is ‘a guardian learned in the laws.”  This is a “collective” responsibility for “just jurists”.  Of interest is that Khomeini had been espousing this concept for at least three years (since 1963-64) although he had not been vocal.  It appears that both Ansari and Khorasani opposed the “just jurist” concept of a guardian of the people and this in turn was supported by both Ha’eri and Borujerdi.  However, after their deaths Khomeini began to speak.  This is of course a major reason for the June 5 incident that resulted in Khomeinis’ expulsion from Iran.

            It becomes apparent in Chapter seven that during the time Khomeini is absent in 1966-68 that much change takes place in Iran.  Perhaps there is no relation to the fact that the Shah had expelled Khomeini, but regardless there was much change.  The Shah had begun the land reform and the White Movement.  After his 1953 restoration to power, the Shah had maintained martial law until 1957.  Redistribution of land deeds brought more urbanization and many reforms.  In early years the Shah was widely supported and admired, but as time progressed in the early 1960s he became more influential in the government through many specific appointments.  This gave him more authority.  With this came the greater use of the secret police.  The incident described by Ali in chapter seven is most particular to describe the concept of being “picked up” and to “drop out of the scene”.  It was noteworthy to consider that Ali’s article described on page 254-5 (which lead to his arrest) has the sound of Khomeinis’ “guardianship: “In every way he rejected the hypocrite’s choice of the path of least resistance in order to choose the path of those who strive— as all Muslims should do.  He had also understood that a conscientious vanguard could lead the productive forces of society to a more just society—and the mullahs, as the conscience of Islam, should form such a vanguard.”  (Continued)…

For a full copy of this reflection please contact Malcolm L. Rigsby. ( Copyright 2008 )

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tori permalink
    October 28, 2015 8:03 am

    Can I have a copy of this?

    • Malcolm L. Rigsby permalink*
      November 6, 2015 12:35 pm

      Sure, just list me in your references and cite me in your work, and send me a copy of your article or paper. I would love to read it.. Blessings.

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