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The Unthinkable Revolution – A Reflection

August 1, 2008

The Unthinkable Revolution:  by Charles Kurzman

            In fall 1978 the CIA issued a favorable report that the Shah of Iran would remain in office; safe and secure in his massive military, well trained secret police and enjoying the resources of his super-power.  One hundred days later he had been overthrown in a largely peaceful and popular revolution.  Where had the CIA and many other people including many Iranians gone wrong in their thinking?  Why was this seemingly so safe and secure regime so swiftly and effectively dispossessed in such a short time span.  Why was it that in the midst of confusion, underground pamphlets, encouraging edification by Khomeini and disruption of the pre-Revolutionary year to result in “the unthinkable revolution” of 1979?

            In an attempt to analyze how this seemingly unthinkable revolution occurred, Kurzman examines the theories of revolution and applies them to the factual setting and context of Iran in the late 1970’s.  The theories of interest are: political, organizational, cultural, economic, military, and critical mass.  Each of these concepts is analyzed in a particular chapter of the book.  The question arises; was the 1979 revolution a deviant revolution?  It seems that none of the traditional theories of revolution satisfactorily explains what transpired.  Or, was the revolution consistent with a blend of theory?  Perhaps the answer is forthcoming once more information is known.  For the time being questions remain and some facts seem to be shrouded in secrecy, some perhaps taken to the grave.

            In the first sentence of the Preface to the book, Kurzman writes, “Iran first entered my consciousness, as it did many Americans’, when U.S. diplomats were taken hostage in 1979.” In addition, I too must admit that I experienced the same.  I had no true understanding of what Iran had been, or was like; its people, government, and I barely knew where it was located other than somewhere in the Middle East.  Day after day reports were issued as news agents feverishly covered the story of the hostage situation.  Days become weeks and weeks months and time still passed.  Unlike Kurzman, it was many years later before I gained an appreciation for and interest in the Middle East and its culture.  As he, I must admit that even though I had long been a lover of the study of people and society I was vastly ignorant of the “mystical” Middle East and subject to many western myths about it.

            As discussed in class, the government of the Shah had come to power in a coupe that displaced a popular, democratically elected government.  In early years, the Shah had been popular with the people and served his function as a figurehead.  However, power begets power and often corruption.  The Shah experienced this sequence and through manipulation and appointment succeeded in creating a puppet Parliament that gave him increasing dictatorial power.  The result was that his secret police and agents of state quieted the various khans, landowners, religious leaders and merchants.  No longer did the constitution and the assembly serve to balance the power of the regime for the common interest of the society, but rather the subservient interests of the Shah… (Continuted).


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


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