EMEMBERING A LOST WORLD – BEFORE THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
PHOTO: The Student Lounge at the University of Tehran in 1971.
According to the New York Times, “Until the revolution, Iran was among the most cultured, cosmopolitan countries in the region. It had a progressive movement in art and literature and a sophisticated film and television industry.”
Foreign Policy magazine notes: “When Westerners think of Iran today, images of women wearing chadors, American flags burning, and militant crowds shouting nationalistic slogans often come to mind. But those who have memories of Tehran in the 1960s and 1970s paint a very different portrait of Iranian life.
“Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the country’s capital was a cultural vanguard. . . Tehran University was opened to women in 1934, when the college was founded, which was well before most universities in the United States were integrating women into the classroom. After the revolution, women were still allowed to attend the university — but they now sit in segregated areas. . .
“The tree-lined Pahlavi Avenue, one of Tehran’s main thoroughfares, was once thronged by people frequenting hip coffee shops and restaurants. . . The jet set kicked off their shoes and danced to rock-and-roll music in the early 1960s. . .
“Fashionable American cars were common and visiting the Iranian capital was considered as cosmopolitan as a trip to New York or Paris.”
The Shah of Iran was guilty of denying political freedom and opposition to his reign, but he was not a totalitarian ruler.
His government did not meddle into private lives and they never told the people how to dress.
Iranians could travel anywhere. Foreign periodicals were sold even if they criticized the Shah. There was petty corruption and propaganda. Now three decades have passed, and historians are able to place his regime in perspective.
Ayatollah Khomeini repeatedly claimed the Shah killed over 600,000 people. Today the real figure is thought to be 383.
The over 300,000 political prisoners held by the SAVAK secret police, is now thought to be 3,000. They included future leaders such as Khamenei, Rafsanjani and Massoud Rajavi.
The Shah used Iran’s oil wealth to build a large military, which probably saved the country from being conquered by Saddam Hussein in 1980.
The celebration of his reign in Persepolis was expensive, and damaged his popularity. Nevertheless, living standards were raised significantly. His greatest contribution was increasing levels of education, which was provided free. Over 50,000 Iranian students were studying in the U.S. in 1979 thanks to the Shah.
Their tuition was paid by the government. In the final months of 1978, the U.S. Embassy in Iran was vigorously involved in negotiations to accomplish a transfer of power to the opposition.
The new Islamic Republic of Iran was a dictatorship, and it agreed with the Shah about the political prisoners. They were all executed, along with 20,000 pro-Western Iranians during their first months in power.
Under the Shah, miniskirts were in fashion but the new regime immediately placed women into servitude. The Shah had allowed international broadcasts but the Ayatollah had people arrested for owning satellite dishes.
American diplomats were taken hostage, and the Soviet Union invaded Iran’s eastern neighbor Afghanistan as a result of the chaos.
The radicalization and emergence of Muslim zealots like Osama bin Laden had begun. Within a year of the Shah’s ouster, the Iran-Iraq War began in which over 1 million died, and Saddam Hussein developed and used weapons of mass destruction.