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He's not a particularly reliable narrator of events, in my opinion, and he has a personal axe to grind. Still, the revolution became Khomeini and Khomeini became the revolution. So, it'd be hard to say that he betrayed the values that he himself incarnated. What he did was leave behind a state that was structurally unable to cope with his departure because it had been built around him. So when you removed him, it's much more dramatic than simply there not being any one big enough to fill his shoes.

The entire nature of the state had been formed around him.

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And we see that today. Let's rewind a bit more. The coup that removed him from power happened more than two decades before the Iranian Revolution, where we often start contemporary analyses of the country.

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Why is Mossadeq important? I was inspired to write it because no proper cradle-to-grave biography had been written of this extremely important and emblematic figure not only in Middle Eastern history but also, to an extent, in world history. When Mossadeq was prime minister and nationalizing the Iranian oil industry, the world was becoming bogged down in the Cold War. Britain was ceasing to be an imperial great power and was declining very rapidly, its place being taken by a U.

From an Iranian perspective, this is hugely important. Had Mossadeq been permitted or even encouraged to prosper, and had the British and the Americans not taken him down, then it's possible that Iran's history would've developed very differently, and that great watershed in human history which is would either not have happened or would have taken a very different form.

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Are there any Middle Eastern figures global audiences ought to be learning about today, especially if they want to better understand the legacy of the revolution in the region? In my opinion, thought in the Muslim world is one of the great neglected areas of global and particularly Western scholarship.


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That's something that I tried to address in part in my book, The Islamic Enlightenment , because it brings to an audience that's unfamiliar with the Middle East a new cast of actors and characters, all of whom were grappling with the same questions and conundrums that beleaguered Western thinkers and innovators at the time. So, there's a huge cast of characters who need to be looked at and praised and thought about. It'd almost be misleading to single one out, because none of them are known.

Khomeini is known because he was aggressive and hostile, and he frightened people.

Forty years of the Iranian Revolution: Referendum on the Islamic Republic

But the actual nuance of his thought and the way his thinking evolved hasn't been fully appreciated. Mossadeq, again, is someone who's an immensely fascinating and many-layered character in the way he thought about the import of Western ideas, and his conception of what the nation was is hugely relevant today. Still, no one knows anything about him. Looking even beyond Iran, what are some of the biggest misconceptions that U.


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  • I'd say that the overwhelming misperception is that the Islamic world is somehow waiting for the West to enlighten it. And that has driven American and, more broadly, Western foreign policy for such a long time.

    Iran 1979: Anatomy of a Revolution l Featured Documentary

    It almost is part of our policymaking superstructure, our DNA. It's predicated on the idea that we have something to teach and nothing to learn. And, of course, this has now been shown to be false, particularly as Muslims living in the West contribute to policy and discussions as they unfold. But also, as our own Western political and societal model comes increasingly under strain, it's right that we look elsewhere, and start looking much more curiously at other ways of doing things and seeing if there's something we can learn.

    Islam has to be part of the solution rather than simply a problem. It's a fact of life that for so many people it enriches their lives, and it's incumbent on us to work out where it can be a useful factor in our modes of thinking and our approaches to tackling problems. It's just completely absent from the Western approach, and it needs to be there. The now-suspended legislation to allow China to extradite Hong Kong citizens to the mainland has revealed concerns over the growing creep of Chinese government influence. But for a few flare-ups of protest—all quickly and violently quashed—the movement to rid the country of its powerful ruler is all but over.

    The Iranian Revolution

    The most obvious point of contrast is that in Western revolutions, the societies in question were divided, and it was the underprivileged classes that revolted against the privileged classes, who were most represented by the state. In both the traditional and the modern Iranian revolutions, however, the whole society — rich and poor — revolted against the state. Similarly, it would make no sense by Western criteria for the entire state apparatus except the military, which quit in the end to go on an indefinite general strike, providing the most potent weapon for the success of the revolution.

    Nor would it make sense for almost the entire intellectual community and modern educated groups to rally behind Khomeini and his call for Islamic government. The conflict within the groups with Islamic and Marxist-Leninist tendencies was probably no less intense than that between the two tendencies taken together. Yet they were all united in the overriding objective of bringing down the shah and overthrowing the state. More effectively, the mass of the population who were not strictly ideological according to any of these tendencies — and of whom the modern middle classes were qualitatively the most important — were solidly behind the single objective of removing the Shah.

    Any suggestion of a compromise was tantamount to treason. American and British] masters. Many changed their minds in the following years, but nothing was likely to make them see things differently at the time.


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    • Those who lost their lives in various towns and cities throughout the revolution certainly played a major part in the process. But the outcome would have been significantly different if the commercial and financial classes, which had reaped such great benefits from the oil bonanza, had not financed the revolution; or especially if the National Iranian Oil Company employees, high and low civil servants, judges, lawyers, university professors, intellectuals, journalists, school teachers, students, etc.

      The revolutions of and look poles apart in many respects. Yet they were quite similar with regard to some of their basic characteristics, which may also help explain many of the divergences between them. Both were revolts of the society against the state. Many of the traditional forces backing the Constitutional Revolution regretted it after the event, as did many of the modernists who participated in the revolution of February , when the outcome ran contrary to their own best hopes and wishes.