1979 The Year Everything Changed in Iran
A Trip Back in Time… Sunni-Shia split – “struggle for the soul of Islam” • Influences on democracy/globalization • Iranian foreign policy • Water and oil Oil field in eastern Iran
Demographics • Sunni population 1.3 billion people • Shia number between 130 and 195 million or about 10-15% of all Muslims • 80% in Persian Gulf region
Sunni-Shia split happens early in Muslim history • Split happens as result of succession crisis following death of prophet Muhammad in 632 • Sunnis follow succession line from Muhammad’s father-in-law Abu Bakr • Shia believe Abu Bakr selected to succeed Muhammad in error • After a chaotic period, a group of dissenters identify Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali as the true successor
Arab illustration showing Mohammed (on the right) preaching to the earliest converts. From a manuscript in the collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris (Manuscrits Arabe 1489 fol. 5v). This scene was popular among medieval Islamic artists, and several nearly identical versions of this drawing were made in the Middle Ages.
Helpful Analogy • Parallels to Catholic-Protestant split that informs European politics (Shia/Catholic like icons, Sunni/Protestant not so much/Ashoura rites of Shia parallel Lenten festivals for Catholics) • Sunnis believe in consensus rule, Shia in “divine guidance” again, a parallel to low-church Protestantism and Catholic dogma • Split crystallizes in 680 at Battle of Karbala in modern Iraq, where Ali’s son Husayn is killed, his martyrdom is central to Shia belief – Ashoura is celebration of this • Husayn’s story often used to rally the troops, fighting the Shah in 1979 and fighting Saddam in 1991 • Sunni’s grew to see Shia as heretics/blasphemers
Minority Status • Shia openly attacked and grew more insular, went “underground,” so to speak during the Middle Ages • Shia start to dominate Iran-Persia in the 16th century courtesy of the Safavids • Iran is distinctive in language and culture as a result, Iranians embraced Shia most fully
The Twelfth Imam • Hidden Imam – Shia believe 12th Imam hidden by God for protection in 939, believed when he returns, the ‘end times’ will come- very similar to Christianity and Armageddon • Shia ulama or religious scholars (ulema in Almond) are spiritual “descendants” of this 12th Imam – references to him used by Khomeini in Iranian revolution
20th Century and the rise of Arab Nationalism • During most of its history, Shia is a religious movement, not really a political one • Shias made a bid for power in 1920’s in joining Sunni tribes against the British – when rebellion failed the Shia were blamed • Sunni power linked to Arab nationalism in Egypt, Syria and Iraq and further ingrains the bias against all things Shia • Shia treated as outsiders, “lesser Arabs” religious wackos by rest of the Islamic Middle East • Used as a justification for dictatorship/oppression in Saudi Arabia and Iraq
Result: increased tension between Iran and rest of Arab world Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser King Fahd of Saudi Arabia Syrian president Hafez al-Assad
The Shah-nah-nah of Iran • Post-WW I, Iran is a mess, in need of strong leadership • Colonel Reza Shah takes over in 1921 coup d’état and ruled as a dictator – the Shah • Forced to abdicate by UK and Russia – thought too cozy with Hitler • His son, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi took over during WWII • Mohammed Mosaddeqwas elected prime minister in 1951 and nationalized the oil industry – this made the US very unhappy • Pahlavi is “reinstalled” as leader-Shah in 1953 (CIA-backed coup d’état) – Iran has been upset ever since President Carter and Shah of Iran at White House state dinner in 1977
Operation Ajax – the plot to overthrow Mohammed Mosaddeq President Eisenhower agreed to the coup. President Truman thought it a bad idea. Mohammed Mosaddeq nationalized the oil industry in 1951. Overthrown by CIA-staged coup, August 19, 1953 Kermit Roosevelt, Jr., grandson of Teddy Roosevelt. CIA operative who oversaw the coup Sir Winston Churchill believed protecting Britain’s oil and national interest was at stake.
Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran After his overthrow in 1979, was allowed to live in exile in the United States. The Shah died of cancer in 1980.
The Return of the Shia • Iran serves a buffer-state in Cold War politics but a cleric is waiting in the wings, spending part of his time as a guest of Saddam Hussein • Later Saddam says one of his biggest mistakes was allowing Khomeini to leave Iraq alive in 1978 – Khomeini lived in exile in Paris • Ulama in Iran grow more frustrated with the Shah during the 1970’s • Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-1989) a religious scholar and philosopher leads 1979 Iranian revolution
The Man with the Plan • Khomeini seen as spiritual/political leader of Iranian revolution that gets underway in 1978 • Uses imagery of Husayn the martyr, and the 12th Imam to legitimize his role • Refers to the Shah as a ‘false god’ and Iranian government as “corruptors of earth” • Even starts to refer to himself a Imam Khomeini to set himself apart from the other clerics, equating himself with the saints • Thus a fundamentalist revolution is born – kick out the infidels and restore true Islam to Iran
Shah leaves Iran 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini February 11, 1979, people cheer in the streets near Tehran University
1979 • Khomeini establishes himself as political and spiritual leader of Iran on Oct. 22nd, 1979 • College students and demonstrators take over the U.S. embassy, Nov. 4th, 1979 • A nightly news report on ABC tracks the “hostage crisis’ that becomes the show we now know as NightLine. • 64 hostages were originally taken, later 13 women and children released. 52 remained. • The hostages are kept for 444 days until their release on the day of President Reagan’s inauguration, Jan. 20, 1981, just minutes after his speech
Iranian students with U.S. hostage 1979 "Nightline" evolved from the ABC News special broadcasts, "The Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage," which began November 8, 1979, four days after the American hostages were seized at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran.
Back in the USA • Bay of Pigs redux – April 24, 1980 attempt at rescue fails miserably – many see the hostage crisis as the real undoing of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, consigning him to one term • Legend still surrounds the so-called “October surprise” – Reagan’s foreign policy advisors talking to the revolutionary gov’t about a deal to release the hostages. Congressional investigation found no evidence of this, but the rumor persists. This would be a big time no-no, violation of the International Commerce Act of 1798 – US citizens are not to try their hand at amateur foreign policy ventures
The wreckage of a Sea Stallion helicopter at the Desert One base in Iran – Operation Eagle Claw, April 24-25, 1980. Yellow ribbon flown in 1979 by Penne Laingen when her husband, US diplomat Bruce Laingen, was held captive during the Iran hostage crisis; among the first of the modern "yellow ribbons.“ Picture courtesy Library of Congress Reagan inaugural – January 20, 1981
1980’s Iran-Iraq War • Saddam amassed troops on the Iran-Iraq border in 1980, planted land mines, used chemical weapons (courtesy of USA) • Very young Iranian soldiers mobilized, innocent and ill-equipped, each given plastic keys to “paradise” - see white-shrouded figures on horse back (actors hired to stir up morale) • Literally throw themselves at the invading Iraqis in martyrdom • War fought to a stalemate until 1988
The End of Khomeini • Attempted to spread his brand of Iranian-Shia revolution throughout the rest of the Middle East, tried to sell it as “Islamic revolution” • But Sunni’s didn’t buy into Khomeini’s brand of revolution • Too much baggage, centuries of sectarian strife for unified revolution • Iran also spreads revolution around with money and power through groups like Hezbollah • Khomeini dies in 1989 – theocracy still in place, clerics still run the show, Ayatollah Khamenei now in charge
Current Issues in Iran • Nukes • Oil • Iraq • Lebanon • Saudi Arabia • Ahmadinejad – election unrest • US relations President of Iran and leading Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
No, they don’t like the US – according to author Hooman Madj, the actual translation is “death to the USA.”
“The Islamic Revolution today is a spent force in Iran, and the Islamic Republic is a tired dictatorship facing pressures to change. The victory of hard-line candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election cannot conceal the reality that grassroots concerns about democracy and economic reform are the key defining factors in Iranian politics as a whole today.” Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival, 2007
Modernity or theocracy: Which will win out in the end?