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Iran’s Tragic Century

Iran shares the shame of India in the betrayal of a nation by its rulers and population. India's Hindu kings were so occupied with their extravagant lifestyles and internecine quarrels with neighboring kingdoms, that they were completely unprepared for the raids of Arab conquerors and Afghan plunderers of Sind and northern India respectively. The raiders from Ghazni had been converted to Islam earlier within less than half a century of the birth of Islam. Islam legally and morally sanctioned discrimination against non-believers including their slaughter, expropriation of property and sexual abuse of women. In an era when there were no guns, cannons and transport was by foot, horse or camel, Mohammed Ghazni conducted thirteen annual looting raids a thousand miles south into India, dependent on food and victuals that he could confiscate along the way. Even after his first surprise raid, no advance preparations or reconnaissance measures were taken to thwart him despite a Indian superiority in numbers.

Iran, a Zoroastrian nation with superior culture under the Sassanid dynasty was in constant conflict with the eastern Roman or Byzantine empire based in Constantinople. In the seventh century it had been so weakened that Arabs under the new banner of Islam routed the Persians at Qadisiyah. The Arabs had a culture of poetry but not much more. The much admired Islamic art, architecture, science were all Iranian gifts to Islam. Jizya tax on non-Muslims, the prohibition on their holding any slaves who converted to Islam, the inadmissibility of any legal testimony by any non-Muslim against a Muslim and petty harassment of the majority of Persians, who were Zoroastrians, accomplished near total conversion to Islam, but it took over 400 years. Persecuted Zoroastrians were initially internally displaced and quite a few took ships and landed in Gujarat, India as refugees. They currently constitute a shrinking minority called Parsis.

The system of administration in the Arab empire was mainly Persian. Avicenna, a physician known to the West and Al-Khwarizme from whom we get the English word algorithm as well as the father of algebra were all Persians. The viziers and high officials of the Arab Islamic Caliphate were often Persian. Over time, by the fifteenth century fragmented Islamic kingdoms of Persia were unified by a new Persian dynasty called the Safavids. A resurgence of Iran began and the nation was converted to the Shia sect of Islam to distinguish the Persians from the Sunni Arabs. The Arab Caliphs became titular heads and the real power shifted to the Turkic Sultans who destroyed the Byzantine empire just as the Arabs had destroyed the Persian Sassanid empire eight hundred years earlier. 

In India, the Islamic conquerors were replaced by the Europeans in the eighteenth century. The despicably shameful behavior of Indians persisted. The kings once again sold out the nation, but this time the common folk enlisted as mercenaries in the service of the British, French and Portuguese and made war on their own people at the behest of foreigners and for their benefit. Britain triumphed and India became its colony and cash cow. Another European empire of the Czars of Russia was spreading from Europe to Central Asia and Afghanistan became a buffer and Iran became an area of interest between the two great behemoth empires. In the late nineteenth century Iran was ruled by the Qajar dynasty. Its Shah, a useless wastrel, sold a monopoly for tobacco products all over Iran to a British adventurer for a paltry sum of money, to maintain his profligate lifestyle. The railroad concession sale was on the agenda as well. It is reminiscent of the Mughal emperor in Delhi who sold the tax collecting concession to the East India company for the same nefarious purposes. These were later rescinded by popular protest.

In the first decade of the twentieth century oil was discovered in Iran and the British government which now controlled India, formed an oil company to exploit Iran's oil. It treated the Iranian workers worse than slaves and cooked the books to cheat the Iranian government of its share. Oil became a necessity as Churchill converted the British navy to run on oil instead of coal. Iran was divided into a northern part under Russian influence and a British southern half as WW1 broke out. Some time later the Qajar dynasty was removed from power by a Persian Cossack in the military, named Reza, who took over first as a prime minister and later became Shah. Prior to WW2, he was sympathetic to Germany and was deposed by the British and replaced by his son. After WW2, the Iranian clergy and population became agitated and altered the monarchy from absolute to constitutional and under the new prime minister Mossadeq threatened the nationalization of the oil company. The British resisted and engineered a boycott of Iranian oil, but to no avail. They asked President Eisenhower to help but he refused. They then used the bogie of labeling Mossadeq as a stooge for the communists and took the plan to overthrow him to the Dulles brothers who were the secretary of state and CIA chief. They convinced Eisenhower to sanction a coup carried out by Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA. 

Again enough Iranian traitors were bought to spread false rumors, agitate the Shia clergy with the specter of communism and engineer violence and protests. The cowardly Shah went along but fled to Rome in morbid fear, to return as an absolute monarch, after the coup. Iranian oil was divided between the British and Americans. The Shah signed a humiliating agreement including one for Status of Forces with the US in 1964. Khomeini's criticizing speech led to his exile.
'..All American military advisers, together with their families, technical and administrative officials, and servants - in short, anyone in any way connected to them - are to enjoy legal immunity with respect to any crime they may commit in Iran! If some American's servant, some American's cook, assassinates your marja'-i taqlid (main Ayatollah)in the middle of the bazaar, or runs over him, the Iranian police do not have the right to apprehend him! Iranian courts do not have the right to judge him! The dossier must be sent to America so that our masters there can decide what is to be done! '

The Shah's secret police -SAVAK'were trained by the CIA to torture, kill and intimidate any protesters or dissidents. The megalomaniac weakling in his delusions of grandeur went on an arms buying spree, held a lavish 2500th year celebration of Persian monarchy, even though his dynasty was less than fifty years old and despite that nearly half the Iranian population survived on bread and onions. There was no planning of the economy. Imports of luxury goods were expanded without adequate port facilities or roads. Expensive goods and machinery rotted because of bottlenecks in transport and lack of expertise and ships had to wait a fortnight or more in ports for lack of unloading facilities. Cronies and sycophants grew filthy rich while people starved. Many of the 750,000 Iranians now living in Los Angeles were rich Shah supporters who sought asylum in the US when the Shah was overthrown in 1979.

Once again the Iranian population was made a fool of. The Shah was admitted to the US for medical treatment. Iranians thought a repeat coup was in the offing and occupied the US embassy in Tehran and held the diplomats hostage. Khomeini ignored all diplomatic niceties and encouraged the hostage taking. There were border disputes between Iran and Iraq. Saddam had taken power in Iraq decades earlier with help from the CIA and used the turmoil in Iran to militarily attack Iran's southern oil rich province with a large Arab population. He received US encouragement and support including the chemicals to make banned chemical weapons that he used against the Iranian defenders. Khomeini, no saint himself, used the opportunity to eliminate his opponents, throw out the civilian government and establish a theocracy with nearly absolute power for himself, the infallible religious ruler and his unelected assembly of experts. All this was passed in a national referendum. This alone should give any thinking individual an idea of the depth of religious feelings of the entire population. The communists and socialists had been killed or exiled by the Shah's secret service. Few who remained and the parliament or democracy oriented were mopped up by Khomeini.

Some years later, a new law vetted candidates for election to office by the unelected religious body They were disbarred if disapproved. Once again this should tell us something about hoping for democratic change in Iran and the temper of the population which accepted all this without a pipsqueak. The protests at the results of the present election are mainly because of severe economic privation of the majority poor and the rich 'Westoxicated' of north Tehran wanting to dress liberally, dance and frolic. Those supporting the so-called reformist Moussavi should know that he is deeply religious and as prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war of eight years, at best silently connived at his government's sending of unarmed children in their early teens to walk through the mined battlefield with a wooden key designated as to the gates of heaven, instead of using minesweepers. There is no side for America to choose from or as Secretary Baker under Reagan once put it, 'we have no dog in this fight'

The real reason for the election unrest is that at the end of the war, the unofficial second army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, created by Khomeini who did not trust the remains of the Shah's army, has acquired tremendous power and its captive companies have a monopoly on trade, oil and much manufacturing. They have become like the Pakistani military and Pentagon, blood suckers of the economy and nation. The second group of hogs feeding at the public trough are the 'Booniyaads' or religious foundations controlled by some of the top Mullahs. Rasfanjani, the richest man in Iran, an Ayatollah, former president and chief of the Assembly of Experts was a bitter opponent of Moussavi when he was the prime minister, but has now joined his side because he covets Khameni's power and position. He is also supported by the merchants (bazaaris) whose finances are taking a hit because of US sanctions, inflation and unemployment. 

The poor and religious are supporting the populist Ahmedinejad, but are somewhat disillusioned by lack of jobs and inflation. The IRGC has a finger in every pie and are using oil and trade revenues to establish hegemony in Iraq, Lebanon and even Bahrain. Moussavi's election would reveal the details of which funds were used for what purposes. To prevent the revelation, Ahmedinejad of the IRGC, would be the best choice like the CFTC and SEC heads, Geithner, Summers etc., selected by Obama in the US, in deference to those who funded Obama's election. Khameni lacks superior religious qualifications and was an afterthought choice of Khomeini to succeed him. He has therefore chosen to align himself with the controllers of the Booniyaads and the IRGC and against Rasfanjani. That is what all this hoopla is about. The US stands to gain or lose nothing by the outcome of the elections, as both sides are for nuclear power, hegemony in the Gulf and respect from America. The shrill voices of the neo-cons rooting for Ahmedinejad to start bombing Iran and the Iranian expatriates and the US left rooting for Moussavi, smug in their secular and intellectual credentials, probably have used their California medical prescriptions for marijuana in excess of the therapeutic dose and are hallucinating.  


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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