September 21

Shah or president?

If you go to the website of the late Shah of Iran’s son and heir, Reza Pahlavi, you will find a fascinating interview on the BBC on 5 May, 2006. He comes across as a modern democrat, who wishes to unite monarchists and republicans in bringing democracy to Iran, and in liberating her women and her minorities. The impression is of a great communicator who is sophisticated and caring – the ideal person to be at the head of his country.

Born on 31 October 1960, he is the elder son of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Shahbanu (the Empress) Farah Diba Pahlavi. His supporters refer to him as ‘His Imperial Majesty Reza Shah Pahlavi II.’ In the BBC interview he says this title is not an issue-what is an issue is the governance of Iran. To the West of course and to the nations of the Middle East, what is also in issue is the nuclear policy and the foreign policy of the present government.





In 1978, the then Crown Prince went to the United States to complete his education at the University of Southern California. He also trained as a jet fighter pilot at a US Air Force Base in Texas. In 1980, his offer to serve in the air force during the Iran-Iraqi war was rejected by the Islamic republican government.

He now lives in the United States in Maryland, with his wife Yasmine and their three daughters. In 2004 he was named as the unofficial godfather of Princess Louise of Belgium,  the eighth granddaughter of King Albert II of Belgium. This was criticised by the Islamic Republic.

As to a restoration, Rob Sobhani, an academic told BBC News on 30 July, 2003 “… Iran today is thirsty for leadership….for someone with vision. I think what's lacking in Iranian politics today is someone with a vision. I think if that individual – a man or a woman – appears on the scene and grabs the attention of the Iranian people, with a vision of what he or she would like the country to move towards, they will certainly be the beneficiary of that goodwill, that thirst for a leader”.


And there seems to be a growing curiosity about Pahlavi, and not only in the Western media. A Wall Street Journal report in November 2001 quoted a 17 year old Iranian student as saying “We didn't know who he was. But as soon as we heard him, we felt it was our own words that we couldn't say. He said them beautifully”.

Imagine if he were the Iranian head of state rather than the present incumbent.

In the meantime, during interviews and lectures in Australia in August 2006, the noted Canadian writer Mark Steyn, who often contributes to The Australian,  quoted the former Shah of Iran. He said that “..when my people are as nice as the Swedes, I will reign like the King of Sweden.” Mr. Steyn is highly critical of the policy of the Carter administration, which pulled the rug from under the Shah.(Readers of this column on 24 April, 2006 may recall that Mr. Steyn  has made very short shrift indeed of those so called “Royal Watchers ‘ who have imagined a conversation between The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh concerning the 1999 referendum.)

Lowell Ponte, writing in on 8 August 2006, made a similar observation about President Carter’s policy in relation to Iran.. This was in response to recent opinion pieces by the former President about the current situation in the Middle East. Mr. Ponte said that while the Shah was “heavy-handed… his government was establishing equal rights for women, modernity, and a friendly open door between America’s culture and the Muslim world”.  The Shah, he says, provided the oil that kept Israel afloat during Arab oil embargoes of the 1970s.  Iran was America’s ‘pillar of strength’ in the Gulf region during the Cold War and thus a prime target for Soviet subversion So the Shah came down very hard on the up to 3,000 Soviet agents in Iran.

This persuaded President Carter that the Shah was an intolerable violator of human rights, and he withdrew American support from his government. In particular, he ended the system of CIA bribes to the Mullahs, which used to ensure they cooled any criticism of the Shah in the mosques. The Shah was toppled, the Ayatollah Khomeini returning from exile outside Paris with French government complicity, the French no doubt believing Iran would move into the French sphere of influence. (It seems the French have not lost all hope on this account. In August, 2006, as The Lebanon crisis raged, the French foreign minister, Monsieur Philippe Douste-Blazy, described Iran as “a force for stability in the region,” a comment that drew “pained winces” from officials in London: Simon Tisdall in Tehran reporting in The Guardian ,8 August,2006.)

In place of a monarchy moving, albeit unevenly, towards constitutionalism, the Mullahs installed a brutal and extremely regressive theocratic dictatorship. Among the Ayatollah Khomeini’s first acts was to execute more than 20,000 people, including most of the 3,000 Marxists President Carter wanted to protect from the Shah’s police.

Mr Ponte pulls no punches, saying Jimmy Carter personally destroyed the structure of international security and peace that earlier Presidents of both parties had carefully built.  He blames him for the disasters which followed- the war with Iraq that cost at least 500,000 lives and turned Saddam Hussein’s regime into the world’s “ fourth biggest military power, one that used poison gas on both Iranians and its own people.” He says the Soviet Union exploited the chaos to invade Afghanistan, killing many more people and creating highly skilled terrorist Muslim “holy warriors,” including Al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden, who regards the Iranian theocratic republic as a model.  Mr. Ponte says the defeat the Soviets suffered in Afghanistan – “thanks largely to U.S.-supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles” – convinced bin Laden that the U.S. was also a paper tiger which could be defeated too”. 

Mr. Ponte says Jimmy Carter, more than any other single politician alive today, is therefore responsible for global Islamo-fascist terrorism. Whether or not we agree with this assessment, I would venture an opinion that after reading and hearing their views , there would be few in the world outside Iran, and probably within, who would not prefer Reza Pahlavi , whether as Shah or not, to the current Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose record of repression and whose views on Israel’s right to exist, his support for and arming of Hezbollah, and his progamme for nuclear development are causing such concern across the world.








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