Monday, June 22, 2009

1953: What American’s don’t know and Iranians can’t forget.

Most Americans are proud of their “free press” and their history of great humanitarian achievements, but they are surprisingly ignorant of their own history – at least of the sordid activities of their government, some of them successfully veiled from their own “free press.” As a result, like every other people the Americans have a selective memory of the past. Currently there seems to be a return to stories of World War II, which is recalled as the last “good war” in which Americans participated. What we forget – or in fact, for most Americans, we never knew ‒ are some of the unseemly ventures of our government in other countries. One of those unseemly ventures was what the CIA did in 1953 in Iran: they overturned a duly elected government led by a very popular Prime Minister, Muhammed Mussadegh, by paying goons to create an appearance of public disorder so that Muhammad Reza Shah could be installed as an American client.

In fact, most of us had no idea; the act only became known many years later – at least to Americans; the Iranians came to know it very quickly, and were soon deeply resentful of it. [The tale is well told in Stephen Kinzer’s book, All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.] This affair has loomed in the Iranian public imagination ever since. It was a major factor in the massive revolt against the Shah in 1978 that eventually brought Khomeini to power. The Iranian people supposed that the Americans were behind the abuses – beatings, executions, intimidations, especially by the secret service agency known as SAVAK ‒ that became increasingly common in the 1970s. And the supposition was right, for indeed the Americans had trained SAVAK and funded the Iranian military that kept the Shah in power.

That memory, the sense that America messes with Iran’s internal affairs, is still alive. This is the reason why the Obama administration dares not take sides in the current struggle in Iran, for merely by expressing support for the opposition it will delegitimize it, turn it into ‒ again ‒ a seeming attempt of the American government to overturn a “duly elected” administration. Or at least “duly elected” as the Iranian administration wants everyone to believe but that many now doubt, judging from the demonstrations of outrage in at least the Iranian cities. And now the country’s highest electoral authority, the Guardian Council, admits that the "votes collected in 50 cities surpass the number of people eligible to cast ballots in those areas." [].

The government would like nothing better than to pin the opposition on American meddling. And accordingly the opposition most urgently desires to avoid any evidence of contamination by American support.

So the dance by all sides – Khameinei and the Iranian administration, the Mousavi-led opposition, the Americans, even the Europeans ‒ has been carefully calibrated in terms of that grotesque unseemly event of the past. As always, the past poisons the present, in this case a past that most Americans never knew and virtually all Iranians will never forget.

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