Revolution in Iran

Just back from Spring Break and March Madness is upon us.  Basketball is a preoccupation at Carolina for the next few weeks (we hope), even more than it usually is .

This week is devoted to the Iranian Revolution, and I began by telling the students that this is really, really, REALLY important.  One cannot understand US policy in the region without recognizing the complete alienation that resulted–on many sides.  I welcomed them with a music video by one of Iran’s preeminent rock stars, Googoosh, who earned the respect of many by remaining in Iran after the revolution for many years.  (Please note: many of the images in the blog are clickable and will take you to the videos used in class.)

Spring break is very long, even longer than the week that marks it on the calendar.  To review where we had been before the break, I asked the students to think about the two biggest issues and two most important events in the region between World War I and the revolutionary period we covered right before spring break.  The result really surprised me: it seems that, though many included other issues and events, everyone included the creation of Israel.  It didn’t seem that I had spent very much–or even enough–time on this, so I was quite surprised.  (I wondered if this was a result of the Daily Tarheel’s coverage of the student walk-out during David Horowitz’s talk on campus the night before.)  The wordle was so unanticipated that I didn’t know how to respond.  I will return to it next week, I think.

I began my lecture with a review of Mossadegh and the Shah (from before break), then re-introduced the Shah in the context of the 1971 Persepolis ceremonies.  Although we haven’t yet talked about the 1973 war, I introduced the oil “weapon,” describing the longer trajectory (since 1947) during which producing countries had been demanding more control over and higher prices for their petroleum exports.

Rapidly growing oil revenues helped the Shah fund his White Revolution, as well as encouraging corruption and allowing the growth of an expanded military and a repressive police force.  The results, I pointed out, were quite dissimilar from the goals.  The students got to hear President Jimmy Carter toasting the Shah at a state dinner, while reading Amnesty International’s 1975 report that “The Shah of Iran retains his benevolent image despite the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts, and a history of torture which is beyond belief.”   Then they got to hear the shah deny torture while talking with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes.

The problem is to convey the complex nature of events.  We think of this as an “Islamic Revolution,” so I wanted to introduce them to some of the demands articulated by the Shah’s opposition.  At the same time, they needed to know that religion did play a role, or more accurately, a number of roles.  After a three-minute introduction to the seventh-century division that led to the emergence of Shi’is, I explained the importance for Shi’is of having sources for emulation and the problem of legitimate rule after the disappearance of the Twelfth Imam.


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