Monday, April 13, 2015

All the Shah's Men by Stephen Kinzer

Image result for all the shah's menWhat comes to your mind when you think of Iran? Ayatollah Khomeini, fatwa against Salman Rushdie, persecuted parsis or death threats to Israel and America from a horde of raging Muslims.  What about Winston Churchill? American spies? democratically elected secular government headed by a man who reached the same heights in popularity as Mahatma Gandhi. How did Iran go from being a democracy to the sponsor of terror that it is today?

The book tries to answer all these questions. The book starts with a succinct history of Iran formerly known as the Persia in ancient times. Persian empire was one of the greatest that man has ever seen, it was ruled by Zoroastrians, an ancient faith which prospered and thrived around 500 BC. There religion and empire collapsed once the Abrahamic religions started taking over the world.

Iranians or Persians an ancient and erudite race did not accept Islam in its traditional form which was the sunni sect but instead chose to follow the Shia sect, which is a kind of rebel form of Islam. To put things into context 90% of the world's population follows Sunni and only 10% is Shia, with modern day Iran being the beacon of light for Shias across the world.  The author also explains the difference between the two warring sects. So, basically If I understood this correctly, Sunni's after the death of their prophet Mohammed chose to follow his disciples(who become Caliphs, they are like religious kings) and Sunnis chose to follow his cousin, Ali, who for political reasons was over looked and did not became Caliph for a long time. Ali was assassinated, and later his son, Hussein, a rebel, was also killed and his whole family was murdered. Iranians or Persians have a history of standing up to corruption and authority, thus the Sunni attributes of sacrifice and standing up to the powerful and unjust would meant that Shia would fit perfectly with the Persian psyche.
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The Qajar dynasty took power in the late eighteenth century and began to decline in the early twentieth century, they could hold to power only with the help of the Super power of the time, the British Empire. The Qajar's in exchange for luxury and riches sold the black gold, oil, of their country to the British. The Anglo Persian Oil company was set up in Abadan, from where the Britishers looted oil from the Persians for peanuts. The Qajar dynasty finally fell and a new dynasty rose under Reza Shah, a brutal military dictator. The Anglo Persian company was renamed the Anglo Iranian Oil company, but the loot continued, while the Britishers on Abadan lived in luuxry and comfort, the Iranians lived in dilapidated housing and abysmal working condition. There was a farthing representation of the Iranians at managerial positions and the Iranian officials were not even allowed to audit the books of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company. The British empire was enthusiastically behind the Anglo Iran Company whose Oil had helped them and their allies defeat the Nazis.

The anger and resentment against the Imperialistic Anglo Iranian oil company had come to a boiling point, the Britishers were not only controlling the oil production but also politics of the country. They had already bought off the Shah and now were also controlling the Majlis, Iranian parliament. Amongst this chaos came Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh was a well respected anti Imperialist and anti corruption crusader.  He had the support of the Iranian people, kind of like a Mahatma Gandhi figure in Iran. Mosaadegh's life long campaign against the British and the Anglo Iranian Oil Company came to a culmination when he was elected Prime Minister of Iran in 1951. Mossadegh and the British both were adamant in their respective stands. Mossadegh forced the Britishers out of Abadan in turn the Britishers using their allies were able to put an embargo on Iranian Oil.

Super cop, USA, played mediator between Mossadegh and the Imperial powers. After failing miserably, the US went into panic mode and fear mongers in the US govt. made Mossadegh a communist. A change of guard in the US bought Eisenhower at the helm, Eisenhower along with the British premier, the famous monarchist and white supremacist, Winston Churchill, decided to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mossadegh by subterfuge. Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Teddy Roosevelt was chosen for the clandestine operation. Kermit proved to be a master manipulator. Kermit Roosevelt engineered a coup, which overthrew the government by bribing and coaxing the people of Iran. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah, was back on the throne.

Mossadegh spent the rest of his life in house arrest and died in obscurity, all signs of him were wiped out. The Shah was eventually over thrown in the Islamic "revolution". The country was overrun by fundamentalists and Jihadis, who sponsored terror and bred hatred for the West for decades and continue to do so today.

Stephen Kinzer, the author brings an obscure part of history to light(at least for me). The book is not only a recap of the coup of 1953, but also provides insights into Iranian history and psyche. Perhaps the author could have also included analysis of how this coup changed the course of history in the middle east, what would have happened if Mossadegh would have remained at the helm. Perhaps no Taliban and no Hezbollah. No matter how many history books I read, all maladies ultimately come down to either the British/US or Islam.

Oh and before I forget Anglo Iranian oil company is present day UK based oil conglomerate, BP(Yes, the oil spill BP).

3.5 out of 5 Stars, recommended read.

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