In the Iranian mythology, Great Britain — “England” — has a more prominent and more venerable role than those newcomers to Satanhood, the United States and Israel. The no-longer existent England of Palmerston and the Great Game, and manipulations by assorted Curzons, live on in the vivid oriental imaginations to be found both in fictional bulbuls-and-roses Gulistan, as well as in the all-too-real tanks-and-missiles Teheran of Khatami and Ahmadinejad.
That is why the Iranian mobs are so easily brought out to denounce England. Because for them, it was “England” that ruined Persia in the nineteenth century. It was England that severed the Shi’a of Persia from Karbala and Najaf. Of course, in reality it wasn’t England at all. The 1847 Treaty of Erzerum was brokered by the Czar of Russia, and was made between the Ottoman Empire (that is, the Turks) and the Persian Empire. And even though it was the Soviet Union that seized a swath of northern Iran after World War II (an idea whose time may have come again), and “England” that was the ally of the Americans, and it was the Americans and the other Western powers that forced a Soviet retreat, still in the popular mind in Persia “England” was to blame. It is true that the English were partly responsible for the coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, for he had threatened the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s concessions — they responded by persuading the Americans to stage that coup.
There is a certain kind of left-wing Iranian, the kind who at first supported the overthrow of the Shah and then found that the real and only winners were the Ayatollah Khomeini and the primitives who make up the Iranian masses. (These masses are not our sort — not the Nafisi or Bina or Tabatabai sort, the sort who have names like Cyrus and Darius rather than Mohammad, but the sort who actually make up the masses of Iranians that those upper-class secularized Iranians in exile still can’t quite recognize or allow themselves to understand, because it would be too painful.) For these left-wing Iranian the entire Khomeini phenomenon can be explained by two words or, possibly, three: “Mossadegh.” “Coup.” “England.” In other words they want to believe, and want us to believe, that Shi’a Islam is just fine, and that if only Mossadegh had survived, and thrived, and the Shah had the feathers of the Peacock Throne clipped, everything would have been all right — because such people still can’t see how the very forces of modernization brought about by oil wealth would naturally unhinge the country.
And its unhingement would in turn naturally cause Islam, the Islam of Khomeini and his ilk, to make a comeback. In this these Iranian leftists resemble the secular Shi’a in exile, who couldn’t imagine what Iraq would turn out to be like, and how it would not conceivably rise to the fantastic occasion offered in by the American removal of Saddam Hussein. These “unrepresentative” Best People, in Iraq and in Iran, simply can’t face up to what most of their countrymen are deeply like, and deeply like because of Islam. They are embarrassed. They are personally and civilizationally embarrassed and don’t know how to face it, deal with it, talk about it.
It is, for them, much easier to mutter about the coup against Mossadegh, which supposedly made ineluctable, a quarter-century later, the takeover by the Khomeinist forces of black reaction. And behind that coup, the Eternal Enemy in the manichaenism that comes naturally to Islam with that Zoroastrian substratum: “England.”
That’s the kind of analysis too many otherwise seemingly sane and westernized Iranians allow themselves to indulge in. And it’s the kind of thing they inveigle the shallowest reporter/writers on Islam — such as Stephen Kinzer with his “All the Shah’s Men” — into believing, uncritically, and then repeating, as if hearing that the Mossadegh Coup in 1953 is the necessary and sufficient explanation for the rise of Khomeini, and the re-emergence of Islam that, whenever and werever possible, will rise to the surface, whether it is in Kemalist Turkey or Pahlevi Iran, or in any Muslim country that might have allowed itself to believe this particular rasputin was safely under the ice. To blame “England” through its role in getting the Americans to remove Mossadegh just will not do as an explanation, and those credulous foreigners who accept and pass on such stuff are merely holding up their side of a comical folie a deux.
What is of note is that in Iran, the generally observable Muslim penchant for conspiracy theories, and for blaming some Infidel country or people, takes the particular form of blaming “England.”
That is something to think about during these days, day 2, or is it 3, or even 4, of this, the New Hostage Crisis, created under the baleful eye of a direct participant in the previous example of Persian androlepsy — the smiling, utterly fanatical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.