Abbas Amanat: Iran Protests, Mahsa Amini, History, CIA & Nuclear Weapons | Lex Fridman Podcast #334 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Abbas Amanat: Iran Protests, Mahsa Amini, History, CIA & Nuclear Weapons | Lex Fridman Podcast #334".
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This is not a nice Islamic, fatherly regime. Clear sons of fascism. Clear sons of the state, control and pay any price to stay in power. So even violence. Extreme violence. The following is a conversation with Abbas Amunah, a historian at Yale University specializing in the modern history of Iran. My love and my heart goes out to the Iranian people in their current struggle for freedom. I hope that this conversation helps folks who listen, understand the nature and the importance of this struggle. This is the Lex Friedman podcast. To support it, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now, dear friends, here's Abbas Amunah. Let's start with the current situation in Iran. On September 16th, protests broke out in Tehran and quickly spread over the death of a 22-year-old Maksa Amini. I witnesses saw her beaten to death by the morality police. This is a heavy topic, but it's a really important topic. Can you explain what happened? The protests are now in the sixth week. The death of that young woman occurred who was visiting Tehran as a tourist. It sparked something very deep that particularly concerned the younger generations. That is what you would call the equivalent of the z generation in this country. They call themselves the Hei Hashtadi in Persian because Iran follows the solar calendar of its own as an ancient solar calendar. And the time that they were born, they were in the 1380s. That's what they call themselves Hashtadi, 80s, Hashtadi for the 80s. And well, the circumstances that surrounds the unfortunate death of this young beautiful Kurdish woman is really tragic. She was arrested by what is referred to as the morality police, morality patrol called the "Yashtadi Ershad" A guidance police that is presumably there were two women fully clad that his officers serving on that force and two men.
Protests And Socio-Political Climate In Iran
And nobody exactly knows what had happened.
Marryam Nasri (02:50)
She had been beaten up and apparently there was no sign of any wrongdoing on her side. She was fully covered. It seems that there was some altercation in the process.
Iranian protests explained (03:11)
And the outcome was that she was unconscious. Not necessarily when she was arrested, but in the course of detention. When they take them to a center, presumably to re-educate them. And she apparently collapsed and maybe my senses that she must have had some kind of a problem because of the skull being broken or something had happened. And she died in the hospital the next day. And that through the social media was widely spread throughout Iran. And almost the next day surprisingly you could see this outburst of sympathy for her. People are in the streets weeping because she was seen as such an innocent young woman, 22 years old. And the family, the mother and the father also mourning for her. And being a curt, visiting Tehran. This all added up to really turn her into some kind of a martyr of this cause. And that's what it is. Her picture graphics that were artistically produced based on her portrait has now dominated basically as the symbol of this protest movement. And the protest movement goes on everybody was thinking or at least the authorities were thinking that it's going to die out in a matter of a few days. But it became more intense. First in the streets of Tehran by young women. Mostly probably between I would say 17, 18 teenagers to 22, 23 or they're about. And then to university campuses all around the country and then even to high schools. And that also made it a very remarkable protest movement because first of all it involves the youth and not necessarily the older generations. You see them around but not as many. Also you see men and women together young girls and boys. And they are adamant. They are desperate in the sense of the tone of their protest.
What are the currents of pain, emotion (05:47)
And they are extremely courageous because they stand against the security forces that were immediately were sent off to the streets. So in full gear that is. So what are the currents of pain, emotion. What is this turmoil that rose to the surface that resulted in these big protests. What are the different feelings, ideas that came to the surface here that resulted in such quick scaling of this protest. Well, if you listen to the main slogan which is the message of this movement. It's called women life freedom. Zahn Zendegi Ozzadi which is a translation of actually the Kurdish equivalent which is close to Persian being in the European language. And it's apparently initiated first in the Syrian Kurdistan where they were fighting against the Islamic. The Islamic Daesh forces because they were attacking the Yazidis there and the women being enslaved. But the message as it moved or historians are interested in this kind of trends. So it's just moved to Kurdistan and from Kurdistan now being the message of this movement reflects pretty much sums up what this movement is all about. The movement and the forefront because of all the what might say discrimination, the treatment, the humiliation that the younger generation feels well not only the younger generations but most of the Iranian secular middle class since 1979 basically for the past 43 years. And they would think that these all basically symbolized or represented by the mandatory varying of the hijab which is at the core of this protest. You see the young women if you look at many of these clips that comes through in the past six weeks women in streets take off their mandatory scarves which is a young troll or some kind of a head covering that's all. And they throw it into the bonfire in the middle of the street and the dancer on it and slogans. So there is a sense of complete rejection of what this regime for 42 years, 43 years have been imposing on women. It's not as it sometimes been portrayed a movement against the job through and through, but it's basically says there has to be a choice for those who want to wear a job and those want to remain without a job. The hijab is a symbol of something much deeper much deeper and actually before we get into that it's interesting to note that in many of these demonstrations you see in the university campuses or in the streets, you see women with a job. Young women with a job or next to those have to remove their job and they are together basically protesting that's most interesting feature of this of these demonstrations and then men and women together against the segregation that the regime has imposed upon them with all these years. Now in terms of what it represents, as I pointed out, one is the question of the whole series of one might say civil and legal discriminations against women. You are considered as a kind of a second class citizen. You depend on your men. There's a kind of a patriarchy that has been institutionalized in the Islamic Republic in a very profound fashion. And that means that probably in matters of divorce, marriage and divorce, in matters of custody of your children, in matter of inheritance, in matter of freedom of movement, you depend on your husband, your father, your brother, a male member of your family, your child, your son. It could be the case. And because of that, obviously a younger generation who is so well informed through social media knows about the world as much as an American does, American kid does probably sometimes more.
Life, appearance, freedom (10:55)
They are very, very curious. It's from what I hear, but sometimes I met a few of them outside here. You'll see that how this new generation is completely different from what the Islamic Republic wanted to create in its social engineering. It's basically the failure of 43 years of the Islamic Republic's act of imposition of a certain, so-called Islamic values on women. Then it's a matter of education. You would see that there is segregation in the schools. One of the issues that now, right now, is at the heart of this demonstration is that self-services in many of the campuses of Iranian universities are segregated, male and female to different rooms, to different homes. Now they are breaking through the walls, virtually everywhere, and sit together in order to basically resist the authorities who wants to impose segregation. In matters of appearance in the public, of course, it may seem to us as a kind of trivial and secondary, but appearance is important. Clothing is important. How you would imagine yourself is important. They don't want to be seen in the way that the authorities would like to impose upon them as this kind of an idea of a chased Islamic woman who is fully covered and is fully protected. The idea of a male member of the family protects the female. That is what you would see at the heart of this rebellion. Of course, that goes with everything as the second part of this message, the idea of life, basically means, if you like to use the American equivalent of this pursuit of the happiness. That's what they want. They want fun. They want music. They want dancing. They want to be free in the street. They want to have girlfriends and live freely and don't be constantly looked by the big brother to tell them what to do or not to do. They share with the entire Iranian society as of all. Although the older generations, that's a big puzzle, but you would see that the older generation don't, so far at least, don't take part as extensively as one might imagine. This is a variety of reasons. Perhaps we can get to that later on, if you like. But as far as this younger generation, they don't care. They don't listen even as much to their parents as the older generations did. Or one might say, even the nature of the relationship between the parents and the youth has changed. It's not the concept of again a patriarchy that a father or even a mother would tell the daughter or son what to do. Basically, they have to negotiate. It's fundamentally a rejection of the power of authority. Parents, government. Yes, it's that every person can decide their own fate and there's no lessening of value of the wisdom of old age and old institutions. Precisely, that's what it is. And they are surprisingly aware that where they are as a generation.
Why was Iran under Shah horrible for women? (14:48)
So it's a sense of pride as we are different from the older generation, from your parents to compromise and lived with the restrictions that the Islamic regime put on you. Your grandpa, your grandparents was the generation that actually involved in the revolution of 79. The parents, which were the middle generation, and these are the third generation of the revolution of 1979. And therefore, they differentiate themselves in terms of their identity from the older generation. So that's the life part of it. One can go more and more. They want to access. And they see on social media what happens in the rest of the world. They're well aware. They're much better digitally skilled than my generation, for instance. And they know about all the personalities, they know about all the celebrities, they know about all the trends that goes outside Iran. So that's the second part of this message. And then of course, the third part is the word "azadi", meaning freedom or liberty, which is this long standing demand of the Iranians, I would say for the whole century ever since the constitutional revolution of 1906. Iran has witnessed this problem of authorities that usually emerged at the end of a revolution to basically impose its own image on the population, on the youth, and create authoritarian regimes of which, over the course of time, I would say that the Islamic Republic is the worst.
The Historical context of Authoritarianism in Iran (16:12)
The sense that it's intrusion is not only in the political sense, for instance banning the freedom of speech, you know, meddling with the elections, banning political parties, all kinds of that, things which are the political or civil freedoms, but it's intrusion into the personal life of the individual, which is the worst kind in a sense as you would see that there is always an authority that basically dominates their life or monitors their life. So, and they do it in a kind of a very consistent fashion, which makes this idea of freedom so important as part of the message of this new movement. You would see that in today's Iran, there are no independent political parties. There is very little, probably freedom of the press. I wouldn't say that it's entirely gone, but it's fairly limited. There's enormous amount of propaganda machine which dominates the entire radio and TV system in Iran. It's completely in the hands of the government. And of course, you would see this variety of other tools for trying to indoctrinate Iranian population across the board. So, that's another sign of this kind of a sense of being totally left out. You're not belonging to what's going on in terms of power, empowerment and disempowerment. So, that's the situation as far as the idea of a freedom of this concept. And there's three somewhat miraculously and perhaps unintentionally the three parts of this message complement each other.
The Selling of Protests (18:50)
Because perhaps for the first time we see that women are in the forefront of a movement. I hesitate to say revolution because I'm not particularly happy with revolutions. The revolutions worldwide in Iran have always been so miserable in terms of their outcome that we have to be careful not to use the revolution. So, that's where it stands now. And the regime was thinking that, well, these are kids. They're going to go away. And of course, they're completely conspiratorial in their thinking. They constantly think that these are all the instigations and provocations of foreign powers. These are the great Satan United States, Israel or Israel. Actually, the Supreme Leader says in so many words, his only response so far that he had in the past six weeks with regard to this demonstrations is that these are the children of the Sabak. Sabak being the security forces of the Shar's time. That's 43 years later, he claims that the children, 16, 17 years, 20 years old, kids in the street are the grandchildren or children of some imaginary survival of the Shar's security force. So, there's the idea is that these protests are internal and external saboteurs. So, people trying to sabotage the government. And they are misled. And misled. That's what they can go. And then there's the great Satan United States and other places are controlling sort of either controlling the narrative, feeding propaganda or little things. They are literally sending people to instigate. I don't think even they have that kind of imagination precisely to say what you have said. They would say that they are controlling the narrative. They basically say, no, these are agents of the foreign powers. And their families are all sold out and they are basically lost their loyalties to the great Islamic Republic. And therefore, they can be treated so brutally. They can be suppressed or brutally. Which I haven't actually said what they are doing because I thought perhaps first we should talk about who these kids are in the streets before we move on about the response of the government. But one major factor which seems to add to the anxiety of, well, the regime is extremely anxious now because they are in a position.
Expatriates Protesting (21:46)
This shows that they don't have the lack of confidence in a sense, that they would see them reacting in a very forceful way. Because basically they don't seem to have that kind of a confidence to allow this message or the movement to be aired. But the one element which corresponds to that is that there is an expatriate population of Iranians worldwide. They are probably now according to some estimates close to 4 million even more Iranians abroad. And they are all over the world from Australia and New Zealand, Japan, Western Europe, Turkey and United States and Canada. So, just to give you one example, last Saturday, there was a mass demonstrations in Berlin by the Iranians from Germany and all over Europe, Western Europe. And it was at least, I think probably the conservative estimate was about 100,000. So, 100,000 Iranians showed up in Berlin demonstrating against the treatment of the women in Iran or the movement in Iran. The government thinks obviously this must have been some instigation by foreign powers and they want to destroy the Islamic Republic. And not only that, but the propaganda is kind of ridiculous because I listened actually to how they portrayed it in the newspapers. I listened to the Iranian news that is officially controlled, government controlled news. And in the papers, there's much of the papers that are in the control of the government. One of them, or actually the major news program, portrayed the demonstrations that 10,000 people showed up in Berlin and protested against the rising prices, rising rates for gas and oil in Germany. So, that's how they mislead in a very rather stupid fashion because probably 95% if not 100% of the Iranians are listening to pressure and speaking media outside Iran. So, it's a BBC pressure. There is Iran international, there are at least five or six of them. That's probably really important to highlight that Iran is a very modern and tech savvy nation, not just the young people. Probably more than I feel sometimes when I compare myself to what they are doing. It's this 1979, the earlier years, for a decade or two, they tried in a very crude fashion to restrict access to media outside Iran because it's all through dishes. And satellite dishes are everywhere. If you look at the buildings, small towns and villages in Iran, there's always a dish. And they watch all kinds of things through this. And particularly because of what's happening now, they listen to all the news broadcasts from all these media and they're extremely active. There are probably some of them even 24 hours or close, very extensive coverage of every clip that comes through.
Iranian frustration increases (25:41)
So, what the government is doing now, the Islamic Republic, is that they restrict the entire internet. They shut down the internet. But they cannot afford shutting the internet because much of the business, much of the everyday life, much of the government depends on the internet, like everywhere else. And Iran is extremely, if I hear from many of the colleagues and friends, you know, it's like in certain respects, it's like Sweden, where you go there, there's no more currency. And for very good reason because there's so much inflation that the banknotes are worthless in a sense. So, everything is through sweeping your card. And that system is an standstill because people cannot buy food. You go to the supermarket, that's how you would do it. You order food to come to your house, which Iranian is at least a middle class, more prosperous middle class is doing all the time. So, they deliver everything. And because of the COVID, it became even more. And they have to pay all through this system. So, what happens is that now they're estimating that every day, 50 million dollars, the Iranian government or the Iranian economy is losing because of slowing the internet. Plus, the frustration is growing because you can't order food. Among others, I mean, they are in touch with what's app, every Iranian, virtually every Iranian, that has education and education in the sense that has gone through the high schools and universities knows how to use the WhatsApp. So, there's a big middle class, like you said, secular middle class in Iran. And there's a lot of at least capacity for, if not revolution, then political, ideological turmoil. And a huge amount of hatred. So, the hatred is growing. Yes, hatred of the policies of the regime, of isolation. That's a huge point that you hear a great deal about. We don't want to be isolated. We don't want to be humiliated. Iran is not about this miserable regime that is ruling over us. We have a great culture. There's a sense of pride in their own culture, some of its Islamic, some of its pre-Islamic. So, there's a huge sense of pride in that. And they see that they cannot communicate with the outside world. They want to travel abroad, which they do. I mean, for one thing, the Iranian regime never actually, for majority of the population, never put restrictions. It's not like Soviet Union, where you have to have a, you used to have a permission to move from one place to another. And then, of course, the Islamic regime since 1979, basically chased away or destroyed the old middle class. It was my generation, basically, or my parents' years. These are the secular middle class of the Pahlavi era. In the hope that they can do this social engineering and create this Islamic society of their own. The bad news for them was that that didn't happen.
An Iranian democracy (29:41)
And that memory persisted. And the middle class that was created since past 40 years is much larger in size than what it was. Because there was, of course, the demographic revolution. That's a very foundation of its demographic revolution. Population in Iran, I've written an article about it, actually. Population in Iran, since the turn of the century, last century, the 20th century, population of Iran was about 9 million or so. It's now 83 million. And that is, since 1979, the population was 35 million. Between the past 40 years, it's basically doubled. So it's 83 million. Although, one of the great successes, I don't want to bore you with the details about the demography, but it's important in it. The demographics is not boring. You can see that the birth rate was very high. Otherwise, you wouldn't have doubled your population in a matter of 40 decades. But Iranians, because of the urban shift to an urban population, because of the growth of the middle class, because of the education, they basically, the pattern of the growth, population growth, changed. Iran used to be 2.8 or 3% birth rate in around 1980s. I would say 1970s, 1980s. Now, it is 1.1. And it's probably the most successful country in the Middle East in terms of the population control. Despite the government, a consistent attempt to try to encourage people to have more kids. Middle class refuses to do that. And this is middle class, not only anymore in the capital, but this is the very smaller towns and cities, places that used to be villages. Now you look at them, they have a decent population, 50,000, 100,000, and they live an urban life, and they don't want to be subjected to that old pattern of agrarian society when you have 10 children or 8 children.
The middle class and demography (32:01)
And of course, it's a much more advanced in terms of health and medicine. So you don't lose children as they used to. And in antibiotics, there's always of kids to survive. And therefore, if you have 10 kids, you're sick with 10 kids. You don't end up with four as it used to be in the past. Six of them would have died after the age of five, actually. But now, because of that, you see that this urban population in the cities have completely different demands. And of course, the education is important. That's another area of how the social engineering of the Islamic Republic went away because they were thinking that the growth of the population, the growth of the higher educated middle classes in their benefit, or they could not even control it in a sense. Now, Iran, in my time, probably had in the 1970s, probably by the time of the revolution, had 10, 12 universities. Now, it has 56 universities all across the country. And there is something referred to as the Free University, Ozad, which has campuses all over the country. It has 320 campuses all around Iran. What does that mean? In many respects, this youth that are brought up in these families, even in small towns, in very traditional families, in families that belong to that kind of a more religious, loyal to the clergy or to the clay car classes, their children can now move on, which particularly women, because in my times it would have been unheard of that you would have a young woman of 18 or 17, 18, 19, from a traditional city such as, for instance, Yazd or in a statistic in Iran to move on elsewhere for education as you do in this country. Now, it's completely accepted that a woman wears a job because he's forced to wear a job to go to a university completely on the other side of the country. And this movement of the population, not only because of the universities, but in general, if you now visit Iran, you hear accents, local accents, provincial accents, all over the country. That is a Azerbaijan-y Turkish accent from the north west of the country, you can hear it in the first province in the south and vice versa. So, and Kurdish, for instance, or even more marginal regions such as the Eastern Province in the Southeast of Iran, which has been the subject of this recent massacre when they actually attacked the population when demonstrating and killed a fair number of at least 60 people. So, this movement of the population, this creation of a larger middle class, the better educated middle class, is better educated. Iran has 86% literacy, which I think probably, I haven't checked that, but probably is better than Turkey even. It is probably better than anywhere else in the Middle East. And it sounds like there's that's quickly increasing. Because of the movement, because of the growth of the education system, that's not... Iran has 1 million school teachers, which may not seem as much if you are in the United States, but it's a fairly big number, actually. Can you linger on the massacre? What happened there?
Regime Impact And Political Anxiety
Massacre in Eastern Iran - Who are the Baloch? (36:25)
Well, the Eastern Province is the Baluch ethnicity, of Baluch ethnicity. Baluch is a particular ethnic group in southern Iran, which is stronger rather than she, majority. And we should say that most of Iran, if she and those are, that's a branch of Islam. She is them. Yes. Let's maybe just briefly linger, she is them and Sunni. Let's not get into it. Yeah, I don't want to. Let's do a one set in summary and that maybe which is what most of Iran is. Majority of the population of the Muslim world are Sunnis. These are mainly sleep, if you like, to call them. Actually, "stonna" means that kind of a mainstream. Can you actually linger on the Sunni, Sunna? She means party. It means those that belongs to a party of Ali, which goes back to the early Islamic history of 7th century. I mean, I'm almost lingering to the silly notion of pronunciation and stuff like that. Ah, I mean, I mean part like what is the extra idea and do? She means belonging to the Shia community. Shia means a person of a Shia. That belongs to that community. Are you a Shia? Yes, I'm a Shia. Yeah, and she is the community community. And in English, when it was anglicized, it becomes Shiite. So if you say Shiite in today, it's perfectly acceptable. And of course, I myself in my writings, I always street between one and the other. One of my books is always Shiite. The other books are always Shiite. And that hasn't been settled. What the Shia population is the smaller compared to the Sunni population in the world. In the world. But in Iran is the opposite. The Iran and Iraq, and possibly in Lebanon, are the free countries who barely Iraq and Lebanon have barely majority Shia population. Whereas Iran is a large Shia population due to its history of conversion to Shia. And that by itself is another story. But in the sense that the way that historically it evolved, the center became more Shia and the peripheries remained Sunni. So you have communities of the Baloo, in the southeast, you have the Kurds, a large portion of the Kurds, are Sunnis, they have shis as well. And they have the indigenous religion of their own ideal, what's called Al-Hak, which is the religion of indigenous to Kordestar. There are two commands in the northeast of Iran, who are also Sunnis, there are other communities, the Khora Sanjije, in the peripheries of Afghanistan. They are also Sunnis. And you have some Arab population, Arab speaking population in the Khosistan province in the southwest of Iran, which is also or across the Persian Gulf. Is there a lot of conflict between these regions?
Identifying with Iran (40:07)
And also, like if I blindfolded you and dropped you off in one of the regions, would you quickly recognize the region? Like by the food, by the music, by the accents, by so on? Yeah, the answer to your lovely question, which I think I hope it would have happened to me, is that yes, you would see different cultures. But different food, most important different accents, or different languages. So they have dialects, the Baluch is a different language altogether. But so for that matter Kurdish, which is closer to Persian, because they are all Indo-European languages. But Turkish, other Turkish, which is probably closer to the Turkish of Turkey, Republic of Turkey, or to the Republic of Azerbaijan in the north. They are the same, basically. Actually, if you would have looked as a fascinating picture, if you have looked at the, let's say, even 19th century, early 20th century, linguistic map of Iran, you would have been amazed in the number of dialects, the number of languages that have survived. This is an ancient country, it's an ancient land. And it's a lot of mountains all around it, or big deserts. So there's a sense of isolation. So you would say here and there you see a different community that speaks differently. All ancient traditions and languages. And because of the great number of invasions that Iran witnessed, over more than two and a half millennia, of course, all kinds of cultures were introduced into Iran. The ethnicities were introduced to Iran, mostly coming from the north east of Iran, from the lowlands of central Asia and beyond, and continued into Iran proper. So, now what has happened, that's what my point that I wanted to make, a century of modernity or modernization has produced a national culture of great strength, in a sense.
Sticking together (42:10)
I would say I ended my book, the book on Iran, Iran, a modern history, basically saying that despite everything else that has created so much trouble for today, Iran, there is a sense of a cultural identity that is very strong. And I think I can say with some confidence that despite this regional identities that are still there and are great and they should be celebrated, today if you go to Kurdistan or if you go to the system, they all can speak Persian, they all have an education in Persian. So, they all basically are becoming part of whether they like it, whether they like their regime in power or not. They have a sense of belonging to a culture and an identity with the center. And of course, the idea of a center versus periphery in Iran is very old. It goes back to ancient times because even the name of the country was the guarded domains of Iran. This is the official name, Mamaw, Lecha-Mahum, say, Iran, namely that it was recognized that this is not just one entity, but it's a collection of entities in the country. Like the United States of America. Exactly, exactly. But the United States of America, in a sense, you can say that it was a very successful, well, it remains to be seen how successful. To be continued. That was basically invented, created, that you would have this sense of it. In the case of an old nature, which has been on the map of the world for 3,000 years, 2,500 years, this is not an exaggeration name, not a nationalist per se, but if you look perse on the map of the world in ancient times, this is still there as it is today. Very few countries in the world are like that. That they would have that kind of continuity over a course of time. And that's not without a reason because there was this sense of a center versus periphery that had found some, there's a huge amount of tension, but there is also a sense of belonging to something and state is very much at the center of it. I mean, that's why the concept of a state matters for the creation, for the shaping of this culture. What happened is therefore you can see that today in answer to your point about traveling blindfolded, is that you would be surprised to see how much people share. And in terms of, I just give you one anecdote. In 1968, I believe, must have been, I traveled to Azerbaijan. I used to travel and actually photograph. Not blindfolded. Mostly. Well, yeah, not blindfolded. No, not blindfolded. So I went to a bazaar in the city of Khoi, which is in the north western Iran on the border with what is today the Republic of Turkey. And I went to the bazaar and they was interested in the kind of a leather work that they produce. So I tried to buy some stuff and they were surprised to see that how few people knew Persia. So they could not communicate in Persia with you. Either they have to ask somebody from some other store to comment translate for you. This is 1968. So even though it's the official language. What's Persia? Of the country, they're still, what are they teaching school? So it doesn't matter. It's a special. But this guy, that was, he hasn't been to the school or he was not fully exposed to it. And for God's usually are very conservative places stuck in my mind. Now, in the recently in 2004, I was traveling to the same area, not to the same city, but to the same area. And I was amazed to see how the youth, as soon as they would know that you're coming from somewhere else. So it's an open conversation with you talking about the latest movies that was produced in the West. And it's not only Hollywood, of course, there's a huge amount of fascination with Hollywood, then West and cinema. Cinema is a major thing. Filmmaking is a major thing. So if these kids in the city of Ahad were asking me, we're having lunch and asking me, what do you think about this producer, not producer, this director or that actor?
Change in tailoring (47:37)
American. American European as well, but mostly American. Were they speaking Persian or? Complete Persian that I would converse with them. Do they speak English too? Interesting. Yes, actually, you would be surprised to see what percentage of the Iranian youth, at least in big cities, are fascinated with learning language. And for a reason, because they think that's the way to get access either on social media or eventually leave Iran. Unfortunately. And because they don't see a future for themselves in the country, you have to be part of this regime. Or if you hate them and you don't like the way of their life, you look up outside. I was having drivers to drive me around the country in the cities around Iran. And the guy was a young, extremely well educated, well dressed. We would have looked at him. We could have found him in any street in any country in the Western world. And his major concern, knowing that I'm from outside, major concern is tell me which would be a better place for me to go. What's wrong with the place that you are in right now? You are in your own country. You speak your own language. This is no good. I have to have a better future. This has no future for me. Well, it's really interesting because the thing I feel about the protest right now is there's a large number of people that instead of giving into cynicism about this government is no good. They're actually getting this energy, this desire for revolution in the non-violence, in the democratic sense of that. Let's actually find the ideas. Let's build a great nation here. This is a great nation.
History write hope (49:45)
This is my nation. Let's build something great here. Well, that's my hope. That's what I'm hoping for. I share your aspiration, but I'm fearing that I hope it's not a wishful thinking. Certainly, that's what they want. Certainly, that's what they want to create. But the historian always tells you from where they start to where they finish. There is going to be a huge change. In this particular case, I would very much hope that it's not going to be a revolution like the 1979 Islamic revolution. I have my hopes in that.
The Anxiety of The Regime (50:32)
For one thing, this is a revolution that doesn't have a leader. It seems that you're comfortable with that. At least so far, because we are the sixth week of this movement. I hope it's not going to be actually a revolution, as I pointed out before. I hope it's going to be more of a sense of trying to come to some compromise and gradually move toward change rather than collapse of this regime and replacement with what. The anxiety of the regime, you hope, will turn into a kind of realization that you have to modernize. You have to make progress. You actually have to make certain compromises or constitutional changes, all those kinds of stuff. So, the basic process of government and lawmaking. The problem is that they say we have it all. We have our parliament, we have our constitution, we have our elections, which is all been, of course, fake. But they claim they have all of that. But the problem for them is that they try to superimpose a certain ideology like all other ideological autocracies or autarchies, as in this case, that tend to dominate all these institution buildings that they have, or they constantly claim we have this, we have that. And of course, there's a generational thing.
Regime'S Ideology And Violence
Do Not Superimpose Ideology (52:12)
The upper echelons of this regime are mostly all their people who have turned their clergy that are afraid of the fact that they may lose their control over their whole system, that this is a sophisticated, huge system of government. And they rely on certain tools of control, which is the revolutionary guards and other institutions that are loyal to their state.
Use of violence (52:49)
And they spend enormous amount of funds that is available to them, at least before the sanctions. But even during the sanctions, they still have enough funds to do so. And in order to remain in power, and they are extremely ruthless in that regard, this is not a nice Islamic, fatherly regime. This is a regime that I would see easily in it. Clear signs of fascism. Clear signs of the state's control and pay any price to stay in power. So even violence, extreme violence. To return to the massacre, what were the uses of violence to suppress protests? Well, yes, it was actually quite remarkable to see that from the first or the second day of the protests, you see out in the streets, this riot police, OK, which comes out in large numbers, fully geared up. Their appearance are rather terrifying, like any other riot police, probably more than any other riot police. They are violent and they stand in the streets when the students are demonstrating, they are getting smaller number. Because before I go to that, I should point this point, this ought to you as well. That this demonstrations are not large ones in one place. You see, you don't see a hundred thousand people in one place. But you see in every neighborhood, a couple of thousand of kids are demonstrating. All over Iran. All over Iran. Now all over the world in different parts. Yes. Yes. Actually, during the demonstrations three weeks ago, they, as I said, they had people in Sydney, Australia, New Zealand, Tokyo, all over the world, all protesting high gas prices. It's funny everywhere. Everywhere. To the extent that they could be ignored, nothing but if they could not be ignored. And it's actually quite remarkable that this is very embarrassing to them. But somehow they think that this propaganda machine of them is working. I'll say you think they don't have a good even sense. I mean, so there's an incompetence within the propaganda machine. Yes, it is. There's an incompetence across the board. I mean, despite all of this massive government, administration or whatever you would call it, all these various components of it, there is a sense of, there is a sense of inefficiency and incompetence that is associated with in every action that you see, even in their suppression of this street movement. But in answer to that question, you would see that there, this riot police very quite obvious that they were trained for the purpose. So this, their appearance, everything. But not just regular army forces or soldiers, conscripts. They are professional forces. And they come not only on foot number, but they come on motorbikes. So there are, you would see it, any of these demonstrations are 10, 12, 15, 20 motorbikes with two passengers, one in front, riding the one in the back, fully equipped with the baton, with paint guns, with palette guns and with bullets. So they are very fully equipped and they are terrifying. They go through the demonstrations that hit and beat people. And then the arrests. And then you see behind the first line of these riot police, you would see all these latest models of these special army trucks for moving to the demonstrations and arresting people throwing them into this. And then behind that, what are cannons?
Special army (57:30)
You see, and I was looking at that and say, "Okay, this is Tehran probably. They have this." And when you look at the smaller cities, they still have the same thing. So all over the country, one thing that they had managed to produce extensively, irrespective of the fact that whether they are effective or not, but you see them everywhere. So this just shows that how afraid this regime is. But that also shows that there's an infrastructure that can implement violence at scale. Yes, very much so. And it's probably part and parcel of this regime from day one. The number of prisons that they have according to perhaps an exaggerated version. They said that about 12,000 or so arrested. That are in jails today, since past six weeks. They were 230 or 40 people were killed, including children under 18. They beat up women in the street, which is extremely disturbing when you see these scenes. So there's a lot of this is on video too. Everything is on video. Everybody has a camera. And everybody sends to major news outlets outside Iran. And they immediately showed every night, if you look at BBC Pressure or Iranian International, I think there's six of them actually. All over the US, in England, there are in Duchyvella in Germany, which has a particular interest in the Iranian BBC World Service and so forth in London.
And was of America Persian here in this country. There is another one Radio Fado, which is also funded by the American government. Also fully covers all of these events. So there is no way that these people can, that Iran can miss what's going on in the streets of these demonstrations. And the scenes of beating up women, which in Iranian culture, as I presume in most cultures in the world, there is a certain sanctity that you don't attack women. But they do. And this is an Islamic regime that supposedly have to have a certain sense of concern and protection. Like a deep respect for women grounded in a tradition of protecting them. But instead this kind of idea that was instilled in law has turned into a deep disrespect to women. Exactly. Or fear that these women are not any longer the girls that we thought were bringing up in this society. The source of you losing your power will be these women. That's the fear. And you see of course this government do have a support base. I mean, it would be totally wrong to think that the Islamic Republic has not created its own power base. It does.
Why only 10% of Iranians support the regime (01:01:02)
But it's probably if there is no way there are no statistics that we can. Well, I'm not aware of any statistics that I can give you in numbers. What's the percentage of support for the regime in Iran? But quite frankly, I don't think it's more than probably 10% of the population. I would be surprised if it's that low. I would say so if my understanding because I've been very deeply paying attention to the war in Ukraine, to Ukraine, to Russia. And to support in Russia for Putin. I think without knowing the details, without even considering the effects of propaganda and stuff like that, is there's probably a large number of people in Iran that don't see this as a battle of human rights, but sees it as a battle of conservatism like tradition versus modernization and they value tradition. That what they fear from the throwing away of the hijab is not the loss of power and the women getting human rights. What they fear is the same stuff you fear when you're sitting on a porch and saying kids these days have no respect. Basically, there's a large number of Iranians that probably value tradition and the beauty of the culture. And they fear that kids with their internet and their videos and their revolution will grow away everything that made this country hold together for millennia. Right? Yes, I know. I would agree with you in the sense that probably like everywhere else in the world, this is the generational thing. Every generation thinks differently about the younger generation, no doubt. And in Iran is the same. But there is another factor here is involved. Those that we would consider as traditional, no longer seem to have their loyal history. This regime that's powerful, meaning that they consider as a brutal regime. That is prepared to kill children in the streets. And does a lot of things wrong. Of course, it tries to take care of its own power base. It is a very strong sense of if you start here. There's a very strong sense in this regime that there are people that is theirs and there are others which are not theirs. There's a word for it even in person. They call it "Chwadi", one of us. Oh, so it's a well, that's very foreshistic. It's like, yes, yes, it's all for that matter. I suppose Soviet Union, if you were a member of the party and your children would have received this special kind of treatment yourself as well. This sense of us versus them, for a while worked because the younger people coming from the countryside to the cities, certain factor, certain sector of them would have found protection and support from the government. They wanted to belong to something and the mosques and the morning associations in the neighborhoods and so forth would have given them. There is actually a term for it. It's called "Bacigi". Those have been recruited by the state. And this is the youth kind of vigilante, if you like. That you can see them also in these demonstrations. Sometimes thugs, they're called the civil cloth. So the people that comes to these demonstrations that start beating up these young people and they are not in security police uniforms, but they are just regular clothes. And these people, yes, they still support and they still benefit because they get jobs, they get privileges, and these are very important for a state that basically monopolizes most of the resources. You see, even during the sanction, let alone before the sanction, the oil revenue of Iran, which is the major source of the state government, was the monopoly of the state. It was the monopoly of the state during the Pahlavi era from this start, basically. So what does that mean? That means that the regime in power is not no longer particularly accountable to the majority population because it extracts wealth from underground and it uses its own purposes in order to make it more powerful, in order to make it more repressive than what it is the regime today. So it feeds a small, I wouldn't say, but a fair number of its own supporters. I mean, the revolutionary regard to Iran is probably about 350,000 or something like that. It's a very big force. And this is not a regular army, the revolutionary regards are independent from the revolution guard is armed forces controlled by the state. Yes, the same as the army, but these are more ideologically tied up with the state. And they're also in facing, internal facing. What's their state, what's the stated purpose of the revolution? From day one, when the revolution succeeded, the regime in power, the Islamic regime in power was vulnerable to all kinds of forces of opposition within Iran itself. For a longer revolution. Yeah, that's the revolutionary guards and the job was to try to make sure that the regime stays in power.
The Revolutionary Guard spends billions on factory work (01:07:33)
And of course, over the course of 40 years, they became more powerful, more organized, better funded, better trained. Well, at least we think they're better trained, but we don't know because the level of incompetence perhaps you can be seen through the rank and file as well. But, you know, they developed their own industry, military industry. I mean, those drones that you see now put in regime are throwing on Ukrainians. For Ukrainians, those are all built by the revolutionary guards, by the military industry under the control of the revolutionary guards. And like similar regimes in the Middle East, at least, these are military industrial complexes. You can find them in Egypt, of course, which is very powerful, which traditionally has been in power and still is in power. You find them in Pakistan, which is extremely powerful. And they can change the prime ministers as they did in the case of the last one. You can find them probably in Myanmar is the same phenomenon. And I can if you look around, you can find quite a number of them. And the revolutionary guards is equivalent of that. This is a powerful establishment force, which militarily is powerful, industrially is powerful. And since the start of the revolution, they have been given projects. So you want to be dams, which they did a major disaster, environmental disaster. They built 100 and something dams all across the country. This is the revolutionary regard to does it. So they have all kinds of tentacles all around the country controlling various things.
Changes Across Generations And Inspiration
Tracking 3 generations of family belief breakups (01:09:41)
And because it's their job and they have power, their prestige, there's a huge incentive to join them and to stay so like they, you know, when they're having dinner at home with their families, there's not an incentive to join the protests sort of. Well, that is the point. I think our revolutionary guys may be extreme, but many of the people who depend on this state for their support. Now, the younger generation are telling their parents, you are wrong. You don't provide for us this society. This state does not provide what we want. So there is a dissent within the family. It seems to me, I hope it's not a wishful thinking. You know, there is a kind of a joke going around. You see this attempt at guys, the clergy, bearded, traditional clerical appearance. When you see them talking about women, they are very, of course, politically incorrect. They are very looking down towards women. As I said, you know, they have to be inside. They have to be protected. They have not to be seen and so forth.
The Young, Urban Revolutionary Generation (01:11:04)
But if they have a young person, a young daughter in their family, you see that their discourse changes. They no longer seem to be referring to women as second class. It is a. Yeah. So that's very important. Precisely that point that when you have this younger generation, no matter how privileged they are and many of them are privileged. You know, and there is also. The regime has created its own privilege class that are not necessarily directly paid by the regime, but they benefit from contractors, certain professions that benefit from what the state provides for them. And Iran is a. I mean, the past 40 years, you can see, Iran has developed in terms of material culture remarkably. Iran has good communication, has roads all over the place. It's not like a. It's more like I don't know whether you have ever visited Turkey, for instance, in certain respects, even more advanced than Turkey, but it's closer to that rather than if you travel, I don't want to bring particular names in North Africa or parts of the Middle East or other parts of the Islamic world. It's much, much different. So in this respect, you would see certain contrast or paradoxes here. On the certain respect, there is the growth. And there is urbanization, there is modern economy. On the other hand, you see this superimposed ideological doctrinal aspect that has driven the regime over all these years. And they cannot get rid of it. They cannot in this respect, they cannot modernize themselves. They think that they are already perfect in ideological sense. This is the best solution for the world, not only for Iran, but for the Muslim world and for the world as a whole. We are anti-imperialist. We have managed to survive either on their sanctions. This is all part of their rhetoric. But of course, at the huge expense, the huge expense for their own population. And the point that you have raised is the fact that we now witness there is not only a generation gap between the youth and their parents, but there is a break in a sense from all the generations. And they are very distinctly the youth that has a different view of the world. And it does not want to compromise. Whether they would be able to succeed or not remains to be seen.
Victorious Women Life & Freedom an Inspiration (01:14:18)
Whether this regime is going to suppress it, maybe. But it actually brought to surface many of aspects of the weaknesses of this regime in power. Well, I hear from a lot of people that are in these protests now. And so my love goes to them and stays strong. Because it's inspiring to see people fighting for those things. The women life and freedom, especially freedom. Because that can only lead to a good thing in the long term, at least. And if possible to avoid a violent revolution. Of course, that is something that we all want to see. Before we return to the present, let's jump around. Let's go to the past. We mentioned 1979. What happened in 1979 in Iran? Well, in 1979, there was a revolution that eventually came to be known as the Islamic revolution. And even up to this day, many of the observers or those who have strong views would not like to refer to it as an Islamic revolution or even a revolution. Because the nature of it in the earlier stages of it started really probably around 1977. It took two years. It was much more all embracing. It was not Islamic in a particular fashion or at all in a sense. It started with a kind of a very liberal, Democrat agenda, which demanded mostly by people who were the veterans of the older generations of Iranian, liberal nationalists that were left out in the Pahlavi period. It was a period of the Shah became increasingly authoritarian, increasingly suppressive and therefore basically living no space, no political space, open for any kind of a give and take. Any kind of a conversation or participation. That was in the 70s. 70s, particularly in the 70s. Can we actually even like just do a whirlwind review from 1906 to 1979? Okay, sure. In 1906, there was a period actually, as you might know, the first decade or the so of the 20th century, witnessed numerous what referred to as constitutional revolutions, including Russia, 1905, the first revolution, including the Chinese revolution in 1990, constitutional revolution in 1910, the Young Tech revolution in 1908 and the Iranian revolution in 1906. Do you understand why the synchronicity of all of it, why in so many different places, very different cultures, very different government? Very different cultures, but all of them in a sense were coming out of regimes that became progressively powerful without having any kind of a legal system that would protect the individual vis-a-vis the state. So the idea of law and the constitution according to which there should be a certain protection or certain civil society became very common. Yeah, but I wonder where that because that's been that way for a very long time. And so I wonder, you know, it's funny, certain ideas, just their time comes. Exactly. It's like 1848 when you would see that there's a whole range of revolutions across Europe, or you would see, for instance, the Arab Spring, you see all these revolutions in the Arab world, which unfortunately nearly all of them failed. So yes, these are very contagious ideas that move across frontiers from one culture to another. And I presume we can add to that there are two elements which one can say there is a greater communication, there is a greater sense of a world economy. And the turn of the century, which is the first decade of the century, which is a period of volatility, particularly in currency.
1906 Iranian Constitution (01:18:57)
So many of the countries of the world, particularly in non-west, suffered in particularly the businesses suffered. And not surprisingly, the business class were in the forefront of many of this constitutional movements requiring the state to give the kind of a creative, the right kind of institutions to listen to their voices, to their concerns and the creation of a democratic system, parliamentary and system in which there would be a popular representation, proper elections and so forth, and constitutions. And this very much is a kind of a French idea of the constitution going back all the way, perhaps to 1789, the relationship. Montesquieu, all this kind of philosoph were greatly appreciated, particularly the French system. So what were the ideas in the 1906 Iranian Constitution? They were precisely the same. They were demanding a creation of a legal system with division of power between the three executive, legislative and the judiciary. Not to unlike the American system. And they requested basically a certain public space to be created between the sources of power, the state which had this kind of a control over the, if you like, the secular aspect of life in the society and the religious establishment that had a full control over the religious aspects and both of them from the perspective of the constitutional, this considered as repressive. And therefore there has to be a new space open between these two. And that was the idea of a constitutional revolution. But it's very nature. It was an idea of modernity. They wanted the modern society. They wanted a better material life. They wanted a more representation and so forth. The constitutional revolution, as I always would say, is a much more of a innocent revolution. It's a revolution that did not particularly have much violence in it. Contrary to many other revolutions.
Echoes with 1906 (01:21:45)
It did not have a centralized leadership per se. That's why actually I'm getting, I'm beside the practices. I'm getting a lot of requests for interviews to compare what's happening now with the revolution of 1906, 1909. Are there any echoes? Yes, yes, there are. There are because that was a movement that started without a, without a centralized leadership, what actually values voices that emerged in various among the merchants or the businessmen in the economic community among the representatives who came to the first parliament, the press, the new generation of the privileged aristocracy who were educated and believed in the constitutional values. All of these voices emerged at the same time and somehow they managed to coexist in the first and the second parliament that were created between 1906 and 1910 or 1911. But they all faced huge problems in the sense that Iran was in a dire economic situation. This is before the days of the discovery of oil, but actually coincide in the discover. There are two important coincidences. One is that the oil was discovered in the south in 1909 during the course of the constitutional revolution. Second is that in 1907, the two great powers of the time, the Russian Empire and the British Empire, who always honored Iran as being a buffer state between them because they didn't want to get too close to one another. Basically came to an agreement facing the fear of the rise of the German Empire. So this is the period of on-town, as you might know in European history, whereby the French, the British and the Russians all create a alliance that ultimately leads to the first world war against Germany. And at the same time, the discovery of oil, that the oil industry being a very powerful defining factor of the 20th century for Iran. Exactly. So a lot of money. A lot of money, but not all of it in the hands of the Iranians, only one 50 of it. By way of royalties came to Iran.
Oil, power, and centralization (01:24:29)
Much of it went to the Anglo-Persian oil company, which they actually discovered the oil in the province, Jose San province in the southwest of Iran, based in the major oil industry today, right now. And this was an extremely profitable enterprise for that company. And for the British government, it's actually purchased by the British government. Churchill purchased Anglo-Iranian oil company for the British government. So it was not any more a private company. It was a British interest as a matter of fact. And in the course of the 20th century, although it helped the modernization in Iran, but it also helped the creation of a more authoritarian, more strong state, if you like to call it, that it does that 19th century. Never had that kind of a power. Never had that kind of resources. Is it 20th century? Even that one-fifth of the income that reached the Iranian state gave it a greater power. That's another coincidence. So yes, yes, you could say the oil was one of the catalysts for absolute power. But the 20th century saw quite a few countries have dictators with power. Unlike anything else in human history. Yes. That's weird too. But it's nicely. And you know, you can name them from the beginning of the century with people like, I don't know Lenin or Stalin, of course, Hitler. Even Mao, of course, you can name them. And probably as I would say, is the last of them is Khomeini in that century. That you would see this strong man with a sense of, even artificial or real or a sense of so-called charisma. And with this total power over the regime that they create. In the, some of them do, NASA, they didn't have much of an oil resources in Egypt. But he was also one of these strong men, OK, in the 20th century, loved by some hated by others. So it necessarily does not tie up to to resource, economic resources underground. But in the Iranian case, unfortunately, it did. And it was a, it was more than, it created more than one issue for Iran. It's created a strong state, which is the Parlavi state from 1921 onward. Because in 1921, at the end of the First World War, Iran was in it almost a state of total bankruptcy. And the British had a desire to try to bring Iran to the system that they created in the Middle East, in the post-war era, the mandate system, Palestine, Iraq, and then of course, French mandate of Lebanon and Syria, all of this. And Iran was separate because Iran was an independent country. It wasn't part of the Ottoman Empire that collapsed. So they had to somehow handle it. And what they tried to do didn't work. As a result, partly domestic, partly international issues wrote about a regime which is headed by the founder of the Parlavi dynasty, the Resa Shah, the first military officer called Resa Khan, actually a military officer of the Khosak forces. And the Khosak forces was the force that was created in the 19th century, model of the Russian Khosaks when the ruler in the 19th century visited Russia as in a royal tour and the desire showed the great Khosak forces that I like this.
Rise And Impact Of Pahlavi Regime
The rise of the Pahlavi regime (01:28:22)
And he created one for himself with Russian officers, actually. So the Russian officer served in Iran from around 1880s up to the revolution of 1917. The collapse of the desert is regime. So many revolutions. So many revolutions. And Resa Shah was an officer in that Resa Khan, was an officer in that force. And he created a new monarchy for reasons that he needed not to go to it. And this is called the Parlavi regime. Parlavi regime was a modernizing regime. That brought a effect, fulfilled many of the ambitions of the constitution, many of the aspirations of the constitution of the revolution. Better communication, secular education, centralized state, centralized army, better contact with the outside world, greater urbanization. That's what modern state is all about. And in that regard, in a sense, for the first 20 years up to the Second World War, was successful. Despite and more significant of all, it managed to keep the European powers, which was always interfering in the local affairs of Iran in an arm length. So they were there in an arm length. But they were also respecting the power of the state, power of the Parlavi state. During the Second World War, the same phenomenon as earlier interference led to the occupation of Iran by the allied forces, the British from the south, the Russians from the north, the Red Army. They took over Iran. And of course, they said the World War. It's from 1941 up to 1945. And of course, when the Red Army refused to withdraw from Iranian Azerbaijan and with some thought of possible annexation of that province, there was a big issue in the post-war Iran. So after 1945, 1945 to 1946, there was a big... So we're getting greedy? Yes, but eventually they agreed. Eventually Stalin agreed to leave the Azerbaijan province in the hope that it would get some concessions from Iran, which in the oil of the Caspian area, which didn't work.
Democratization and chaos (01:31:18)
And it's a different story altogether. But what happened is that in the post-war era, between 1944-45 and 1953 is a period of greater democratization, because that resolution, dictatorship basically disappeared. And this is where you would see political parties, free press, a lot of chaotic, really, as democracies of an hour. So something like, was it officially a democracy? Yes, it was a democracy. Was there elections? There were elections, yes, of course. And there were very diverse political tendencies came to the picture, including the two-day party of Iran, which is Communist Party of Iran. It's Communist Party of Iran, it's probably the biggest Communist Party of the whole of the Middle East. And one of the biggest in the world, actually, at that time. Did the Soviet Union have a significant influence on the... Of course. They were basically following orders from the Soviets. Although they denied it, but in reality, that's the case. But what happened, they were seen by the Americans doing the Cold War as a threat. And Iran was going through a period of demanding nationalization of its oil resources. That's a very important episode with Mosa Derk, whom you might have heard about his name. Dr. Maa Mademoisadek was the prime minister and the national charismatic leader from 1951 to 1953. Prior to that, it was a famous parliamentarian. But this period was a prime minister of Iran. And he nationalized the Iranian oil industry and the British didn't like it at all. And eventually resulted in a famous coup, which at least partly was supported by the funding and by the moral support of the British and the Americans, particularly by the Americans.
CIA: US fascination with Iran (01:33:26)
It was always seen as one of the earliest and the most successful CIA operations during the Cold War. -To CIA, I had something to do with it. -Yes, of course. That's one of the earliest operations of the CIA. Wait a minute. What was... Yes, of course. What was the CIA doing? CIA, this is the time at the post-war era. In the '50s. In the '50s, '40s and '50s. The British Empire, which was really the major superpower of the region, after the collapse of the Desai's Empire, gradually took the second seat to the Americans where the newcomers and the great powers and the victors of the Second World War. And the Americans viewed Iran as an important country since it has the largest common borders with the Soviet Union. And it was... I did the South, was the Persian Gulf, which at the time was the greatest supplier of oil to the outside world. And therefore the Americans had a particular interest in Iran. And in the earlier stages, their interest was in the interest of the Iranian government. Because they wanted to get rid of both the Soviet Union, which made the return in the post-war era. And of course the British that were gradually withdrawing from Iran. But they had a full control over the Anglo-Iranian oil company. They changed the name to Anglia Iranian oil company. When the name of the country officially changed from Persia to Iran in the West, the name of the company changed. And they got into a huge dispute with the... was that the government that eventually led to the coup of 1953, which eventually created a very, very distrestful memory in the minds of many of the Iranian nationalists. That this was the betray of the great powers, the British and Americans. Yes, CIA played a part because CIA feared country to the British that they were afraid of their own oil in Iran. The CIA was afraid of the Soviet penetration in the South. And particularly because there was a very powerful Communist Party in the two-day party of Iran. So they gradually shifted between the Truman administration and Eisenhower administration. These are early days of the CIA. And then they actually did participate to send their agents. There's a long story to that. And it eventually resulted in a successful coup that removed Mossad der Frompower. What's the United States' interest here? Why are they using CIA? Are they trying to make sure there's not too much centralization of power in this region? They were afraid of the fact that the Soviet Union and during the Cold War, that was the concept. They actually almost want to protect Iran and its own sovereign processes from influence of the Soviet. Because they were afraid of the fact if Iran, or at least this is part of the, I'm simply finding a very complex picture. But the Americans basically were thinking that if Iran is going to be lost, true Soviet influence, then eventually, basically all the resources in the Persian Gulf are going to be threatened. And this basically is the national security of the United States and all of the Western allies, European allies. So in a sense, this was the long arm of the CIA to try to make sure that that's not going to happen. And then of course, they were persuaded by the British.
Mohammed Reza Shah: Embodiment of Iranian identity (01:38:11)
British were the old hand, which were in Iran since the beginning of the 19th century. They always had relations with Iran and so forth. So they gradually replaced. And of course, they don't want to give them this kind of a satanic view that American was a bad influence because they had also some very good influences in Iran. But this particular episode somehow shed a dark light on the American presence and was used that abused time and again, particularly the revolution in 1979, which was this great Satan idea that Khomeini created. Basically was based on the fact is 1953, you were responsible for the downfall of a national government in Iran, which as a matter of fact, he had no respect for it. Khomeini had no respect for the national secular national liberals, including Mohammed Masadi. But he was using it as a rhetorical tool for his own purposes. But what happened is that after 1953, we see again the rise of authoritarian Mohammed, the Shah's power. And that he is, that's the Shah. That's the Shah that we know as Shah. This is the son of the Shah. And technically, what is Shah? Shah is an old term in Persia that comes from a pre-Islamic Persian of ancient times. In the context of democracy, should it be seen as like a supreme leader, King? Is the head of the executive power according to the Constitution of 1906? Oh, that's in the Constitution. They actually turned Shah. Of course, he has a place in the Constitution. But they actually turned Shah. Okay, interesting. What they're Shah is a very old term. Yeah, it's almost like a monarchic term like a king. Yeah, it is actually is the term peculiar to Iran. I've written about it somewhere. But because the term that Western world in the ancient times has been wrecks for royalty and the king. In the Eastern world in India is Raj is the same origin, the same root. Iran never shared that. They had the idea of because it wrecks and rots. They don't want to get into too much of a technology. But this is an interesting one. Rex and Raj both means the one that opens the road for basically enforcer of religion. Okay. Enforcer of the right religion because Rex and Raj both have the theological origin of right, you see, and right means the right religion, basically. By the way, there's so much beautiful language here. Just looking at the Persian Constitution in 1906. And it says it's the Constitution of the sublime state of Persia, the Jhaar Iran. I mean, just just the extra adjectives on top of this stuff is beautiful. Yeah, because that was actually the change that came about. I don't want to go too much into it. But it was called, as I pointed out before, the guarded domains of Iran. Yes. They changed that to the sublime state of Iran during the Kastushar revolution. Because they wanted to give a greater sense of centrality of this state. Yeah. And sublime was the term with you.
Iran, poetry, visual (01:41:48)
But also what permeates all of this is a poetic. I mean, there is a history of poetry. Of course, very strong. It's just fascinating. So, I mean, it's, of course, I don't speak the language, but even in Russian, there's also a music to the soul of the people that represents itself, that presents itself in the form of poetry and literature in the way that it doesn't in the English speaking world. I don't know what that is. There's a romantic side. Romantic side. Yeah, I agree with you. In Iran, of course, you know, there's a time of the Kastushar revolution. It's a time of great poetry. This kind of patriotic sentiments that comes through poetry plays a very important part. Of course, these days poetry has kind of declined. And instead you see the visual image that is at the center. That's why cinema is so important. It is these days with TikTok. Yeah, let me finish this about this period of my madras, Russia, he built up because he received the greater income from the oil revenue and he built up a very strong state with a strong security force. A strong security apparatus, which is the Savak, which is an acronym for the security force in the security organization. And he, of course, unfortunately in the 1960s and 70s, particularly in the 1970s, basically suppress the voices of or the possibility of any kind of mass participation in the political process. It became very much an authoritarian regime with its own technocrats, very much a modernist vision of Iran's future. And almost kind of Missyani that he was hoping that Iran in a decade would become the fifth most powerful state in the world and the reaches, as he would have said, the gates of the great civilization, very much in the mind, had this image of ancient Iran of the Aikim in the Empire. And we want to go back to that greatest of the Aikim in the Empire, somewhat rather naive and very nationalistic in a crude fashion. And what happened is that as a result, there was built up some kind of a resistance from the intellectuals, from the left, eventually resulting in a kind of a protest movement, as I said, by 1977, that's what it is. Then, of course, the question that comes to mind, and probably you would like to know about, is the fact that why it becomes religious, why it becomes Islamic, if it's the popular, you know, nationalist, liberal tendency of opening up the political space and allowing greater participation going back to the constitution of 1907, why it's all of a sudden it becomes Khomeini where they see come from. The reason for that, at least in a concise fashion, is the fact that on one area that after the greater suppression of all the other voices remained open was religion.
How did it become Khomeini? (01:45:17)
The mosques, the mollas on the pulpit, and the message that gradually shifted from the old traditional message of the Sharia of Islam, I mean, all the rules and regulations of how one has to live, into something very political, and not only political, but also radical political. So, in the whole period from the constitutional revolution to the revolution of 1979, basically the religious establishment gradually was pushed to the opposition. They were not originally very conservative, supported as a state, as the Catholic Church, for instance, was supported of majority of the authoritarian governments around the world. But the politicization was the result of isolation because they were left out of the system. And while in isolation, they did not, they were not successful in trying to reform themselves, to try to become, to try to find answers to many of the questions of modern times. What happens to women? What happens to civil rights? What happens to a civil society? How modern law and individual freedoms have to be defined in Islamic terms? How to separate religion and state? Or how to separate religion and state? These issues were never addressed. What happened is that there was this bypass through political Islam, and revolutionary Islam, as it gradually they learned, that this is the bypass. Bipass to power, basically, to become again a voice in the society, and eventually a prominent voice and eventually a monolithic voice in the society. That's the process that led into the revolution of 1979, basically this period. Greater attention was paid to religion, even among the secular middle classes, who were alienated for a very long time because of this extensive modernization of the pala. The period, they didn't have a sense of that old monolith with their turbans. But they became, they had a kind of aura in this period. Yes, they are those who remained not corrupted. They are the people who basically went against the suppression of the pala.
Khomeini'S Regime And Its Implications
Ayatollah Imam, titles (01:48:30)
And it became a leader, a symbol of that. Nobody ever thought in the earlier stages, among these very excited multitudes that came to the streets of the Iranian cities in 1979 or 1978 actually. They thought that this old monolith, 70s, that all of a sudden has appeared from the najaf through Paris to Tehran, is going to take over and create a autocracy, a religious autocracy. We have to back up for just a second. Who is Homini? You just mentioned a few disparate facts about the man. He was the person that took power in 1979, the supreme leader of Iran. You mentioned something about Paris, something about being in the 70s. What should we know about the guy? Ayatollah Khomeini, who eventually was known as Imam Khomeini, he was kind of promoted to an even more sublime position. Okay, can we, I'm just a million tangents. Ayatollah Imam, what do these terms mean? Well, Ayatollah means the sign of God in the course of the 19th century or early 20th century. As the religious establishment gradually lost its greater presence in the society and its prominent places in society, they had some kind of an inflation in titles. So they gave themselves more grand titles. More adjectives, more grand titles such as Ayatollah, that became a kind of a highest rank of the religious hierarchy. But it's not. It was in an unofficial hierarchy. It was not like the Catholic church that you have, you know, bishops and, you know, feather off. It was very unofficial mother. And he was an Ayatollah, was eventually recognized as an Ayatollah. He was in the first Ayatollah?
Ayatollah Khomeini (01:50:45)
No, no, not at all. The Ayatollahs were before him ever since the beginning of the century. But he was eventually recognized as an Ayatollah. And if I want to start it this way, Ayatollah Khomeini was born in 1900. And in a sense, all these tremendous change that Iran witnessed in the course of the 20th century was in a sense materialized in this person. He become a mola of a lower rank, went to the traditional madreces, to the traditional centers for the education of the seminarians. Never had a secular education. Had a very complex Islamic education on this one hand jurisprudence, on the other hand, from the Elizabeth of Islamic philosophy, mysticism, which is unusual for the juris, for the, for the faculty as they call them. This religious scholars or legal scholars of Islam. And then he, in the 1960s, when he was residing in Tehran and gradually becoming more important, he became a voice of opposition against the Shah. And the reason for opposition in the 1960s, was the fact that the Shah carried through a series of extensive modernization policies, of which the most important was the land reform. So in effect, the land distribution that took place in the early 60s removed or weakened greatly that class of land owners from the 19th century. And he, Khomeini, saw himself as a voice of that old class, that felt that actually declared that this land redistribution is un-Islamic. According to the Islamic law, property is, property is honored and you cannot just, no matter how much and how large are these, a state that the landowner class has, the government has no right to redistribute it, even among the peasants, among the people who are tilling the land.
Oppositions in the 1960s, law reform, etc (01:53:09)
So that was a major issue. Shah also gave the right of vote to women and that also he objected. So is that women should not have a right? We just linger on the Islamic law, how firm and clear is the Islamic law that he was representing and embodying? Is this... -Codified? -Codified, yes. -That's a good term. -Yeah. That's another issue. Not only the hierarchy was unofficial. It was informal, but also Islamic law, particularly shiilo, did not have any codified system, because this religious authority is always resisted, becoming under an umbrella of a more codified system of Islamic law, because they were outside the state in a sense. Sibil law was in the hand of the religious establishment.
Authorization in Islamic Law (01:54:29)
They had their own courts independent of the state. But other matters of legal matters was in the hand of the government. There was a kind of a... the fact of division between these two institutions, state versus the religious establishment. Therefore, it was not codified. So he could declare that this is unofficial, or, sorry, illegal according to the Islamic law, that you would distribute land to the present. And another most ahead or another religious authority would say, "No, no, it's perfectly fine," because he would have a different reading of the law. So that being in mind, that adds to the complexity of the picture. He, in the 1963, there was a period of uprising of the supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini. That was a turning point, in a sense, to try to politicize the religious supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini. And, in a sense, all the community of more religiously orientated against the secular policies of the Shah, and against, of course, the dictatorship of the Shah. So that's where the religious movement became a political party. In 1963 is the first moment. It's a huge uprising. And the government suppressed it. But then, suppression would start to build. Of course. And he was sent to exile. He went to Najaf, which is this great center in southern. So, became a martyr on top of this. At martyr, he was probably even forgotten, to some extent. But not, he was forgotten for the secular middle class. But not to those supporters of his who were paying him their dues, because in Islam, you would pay dues to religious leaders. You know, there's religious dues and arms that you put pay to the clay car authorities. And they redistribute them among their own students and so forth. They built actually a network of loyalty based on these donations. And these donations that received by Atollohamayni was very effectively through his network, was distributed even if he was in exile at Sadira. So, the 1977, 1978, when the situation changed, and there was a little bit of opening in the political climate, then you saw that Atollohamayni started sending cassette messages. That was his mean of communication. The sending cassettes and cassettes were sent through the country by his network. So, all declarations and saying first, that we would like to see a greater democratization. And the shock has to abide by the Constitution of 1907. This is a constitution, this is a democratic system and so forth. Was he charismatic? Well, it depends who would call, what do you call charismatic? The long beard, it was kind of a man, an interborn and the gown, which was a very unusual leadership for people who were much more accustomed to the civilian clothing or to the equipment of the Shah's military uniforms that he used to wear. But I also mean like he is a man that was able to take power, to become popular, sufficiently popular. So, like, I would like, is it the ideas? Is it an accident or is it the man himself, the charisma or something about the man that led to this particular person basically changing the tide of history in this part of the world in a way that was unexpected? All the above that you mentioned? Or was it just the beard? No, I think beyond the appearance. The appearance is greatly helped as you know. In the 20th century, appearance is helpful. Pictures from propaganda from us, genius. That's an important factor. And he was a kind of an adamant and very severe in his own positions. He could appear very uncompromising. And he had a sense of confidence, self-confidence, that literally everybody else lacked. And he was a man of opportunity. As soon as he would see that a chance in opportunity would open up, he would jump on it. And that's what he did basically. As more the political space opened, the weaknesses of the Shah's government became more evident. His indecision became more evident. His lack of confidence became more evident. Khomeini managed to move further into the center of the movement because he was the only authority that had this network of support through the masks, through the people who paid homage to him, who followed him because there's a sense of following of the religious leader in Shiza. You are a follower of this authority, you're a follower of that authority. And he's basically created an environment in which people looked upon him as a kind of a messianic figure that came to save Iran from what they considered at the time the problems of dictatorship under the Shah. So there's not a suspicion about Islamic law being the primary law of the land. Not at all. People had very little sense that what Islamic law is all about because the secular education has left that into the old religious schools. This is not something that ordinary, educated Iranian who goes to the universities. It's going to learn. Therefore, there is a sense of idealization that there is something great there. That is good. And there were quite a number of intellectuals who also viewed this kind of an idea of they would refer to as West Toxication. That is this civilization of the West that has brought with it all the modernity that we see around ourselves has enormous sinister features into it. And it has taken away from us our authenticity. That was the thing that there is something authentic that should be protected. And therefore, a man in that kind of a garb and appearance seemed as a source for return to this originality of their own culture, authenticity of their own culture. And it perfectly took advantage of that. That is Khomeini, tricky advantage of it and the secular around it. At the expense of everybody else, which he managed in the course of 1979 to 1989, which he possibly died in the 10 years during this period, managed to basically transform the Iranian society to create institutions of the Islamic Republic and to acquire himself the position of the guardian jurists. That was something completely new. It didn't ever exist before. As a matter of fact, as you might know, the model of government that a religious establishment takes over the states is unprecedented throughout the course of Iranian history, throughout the course of the Islamic history, I would say. This is the first example and probably the only example of a regime that the religious establishment that has always in the course of Iranian history ever since I would say probably at the 16th century, if not earlier, has been always separate from the state and always kind of collaborating with the state with the certain tensions in between the two of them. They were too basic as they would call themselves the two pillars of stability in the society. That situation changed for the first time the religious establishment took over the power of the state and that's at the core of what we see today as a major issue for Iranian society because these are basically that all the balance between the religion and the state, which was kind of the fact of separation of the authorities of the two, has been violated and now you have in power all theocracy in effect, which of course only in its appearance is theocracy. Deep down, in my opinion, is the brutal fascist regime that is in power, but it has the appearance of religion into it. So this is really the story of the revolution. And as a result of that, the Iranian middle class has greatly suffered. It's not without a reason that you see four million Iranians abroad because basically the emergence of this new power gradually isolated or marginalized the secular middle class who could not survive under that regime. And gradually moved out in the course of perhaps 30, 40 years up to now. Iran has the largest, I think I'm right to say so, has the largest brain drain in any country in the world, according to its population. So fascinating that how much of a weird cork of history is it that religion would take hold in a country? Like, is it have to do with the individual? It seems like if we reran the 20th century, a thousand times, when we get the 79 revolution resulting in Islamic law, like less than, you know, 1% of the time it feels like or no, which percentage would you put it? I think it has something to do with the very complex nature of how Iran evolved over a long period of time since the 16th century. That's why if I would for a moment talk about what I have written, I have written a book that's called Iran and Modern History, and it does not start in the 20th century. It starts in the 16th century because that's what I have argued that this complex process that at the end of today resulted in what we see around us.
Modernity, Law, Religion, Terminology (02:07:05)
Today is something that was in making for a very long time. Religion was a big part of it. She and the Messiah complex, the longing for this great vision of a great nation that somehow is the sublime nation that can only be fully sublime through religion. Or at the time it was thought that is true religion.
Sadat vs. Khomeini (part 1 version A) (02:07:38)
Ever since then, it's disillusionment with that image. Or at least a process of disillusionment, the outcome of it is what we see today. Basically, that process of 40 years is a process of readjusting to the realities of the world. That great moment of romantic success of a revolution, like most revolutions of course, that is going to change Iran and bring this kind of a moment of greatest led into this great disappointment, the movement of the greatest appointment in essence. Like most Messianic movements, by the way, Messianic movements in general are always leading into great disappointments. But what I have here that perhaps should be added to it, that yes, it was a peculiarity of Iran as a society that had to experience this eventual encounter between religion and state. That's something to do with the nature of Shiza. That's just one point that should be pointed out. Most of Sunni Islam don't have that kind of, I say most because there is something there. But Sunni Islam in general does not have that kind of an aspiration for the coming of a Messianic leader. Chism does. Chism in its very shaping, particularly the way that it was set up in Iran, was a religion that has always this element of expectation to it, for the coming of this Messianic leader. Of course, I mean, between parenthesis, all societies look for Messianic leaders. And just look around us. But some societies more than others. There's certain culture, it might have to do with the romantic poetry that we mentioned.
Khomeini Vs. Populism And Nuclear Deals
Sadat vs. everyone (part 2 version A) (02:09:50)
I mean, surely, not to draw to me parallels, but with the Soviet Union, the Romanticism too. I mean, I don't know. Does maybe idealism? Sense of a savior who would bring you out of the misery that you are in. And always looking for a third party to solve your issues. That's why probably this movement has a particularly significant, because it probably doesn't look for a messiah. Although I was talking to my brother who is a historian also, and he was saying, "Perhaps the messiah of this movement is that Massa Amini, the 22-year-old girl that was killed." So I've marked it, messiah, who is now leading a movement, which no longer has that charismatic leadership with it. But yes, I would say that Iran has been the birthplace, if I might say, that of Messianic aspirations, going back to ancient Zoroastrianism, which is really the whole system that you see in major religions, at least so-called Western religions. So Abrahamic religions is parallel or perhaps influenced by Zoroastrianism, in which there is an idea of this world and the other world, there is a here or after. There is an idea of a judgment at the end of the time. And there is a concept that there is a moment of justice that is going to come with the rise of a religious or a charismatic year. So it's a very old phenomenon in Iran, very old. And it's time and the game repeated itself in the course of its history, but never as powerfully as it happened in 1979, and never in the form of authority from within the religious establishment, it was always the dissent movements that were kind of anti-nomia, or against the authority of the religious establishment. That changed in the 20th century. But the revolution in 1979, that change is still with us today. Can we just linger on, are there some practical games of power that occurred in the way that Stalin took power and held power in the early days? Is there something like this in terms of the establishment of the revolutionary guard and all those kinds of stuff? Yes. So the main seonic figure that has some support from the people, but does he have to crush his enemies in competition? It certainly did. Probably not certainly not as brutal in terms of the victims, as you would see in Soviet Union under Stalin, who the bloodshed or the destruction of the population was far greater than what you would find in Iran of the Islamic Republic. It's uncomfortable. Perhaps I would find the greater parallel with Mao Zedong and particularly because China has a very strong messianic tradition since the ancient times. So they have something and Mao appeared as the kind of a messianic figure. There I can see there is a parallel, but also you can see with any other authoritarian regime with a messianic figure at the head of it that it destroys all the other forces. So during the course of the first 10 years of the Islamic revolution, it destroyed the liberal nationalist secular. It destroyed the guerrilla movements, some of them Islamic, some of them Marxist, who turned into political parties or tendencies in the course of the post revolution, 1979, they were completely destroyed and in a very brutal fashion. And their opposition even within the religious establishment, because it wasn't a uniform, there were many different tendencies, those that were opposed to the authority of Ayatollah Khomeini or not Imam Khomeini, meaning almost the sacred religious figure above the level of a religious authority. He is a saint kind of a figure. He says she is a man, has this idea of imams, there were 11 of them, the 12th is hidden and would come back at the end of the time, this is a messianic figure. So the title that was always used for them only in she is never used for any other person. He is the first person in the revolution of 1979. First, referred to as the deputy of Imam, but the term deputy gradually disappeared and became Imam Khomeini. That is official title. I love human beings so much.
The Iranian Messiah Spirit Readvised (02:15:39)
It's so beautiful. These titles that we give each other, it's marvelous to observe. You love it because you haven't been on that system. No, I love it in a way. I love it in a very dark, human kind. In a kind of way. It caricatures itself. It's almost funny in its absurdity, if not for the evil that it has led to in human history. But also the fact that it's a man, it's in fact fulfillment in a kind of completely unintended fashion. It's a fulfillment of that idea of a messiah that they've been fighting for. This Imam, which is in a heat that for a thousand years is here and not here.
Falling Out of Favor & Creation of a Terrorist Iran (02:16:29)
And therefore, Khomeini would have in effect fulfilled those anticipations. But beyond that, I just give you one example. I know that you may have other concerns. But when I say elimination at the end of the Iran-Iraq War by the direct order of Ayatollah Khomeini, a fat war that he wrote, a group of prisoners who belong to a variety of political parties, the left religious left, majority of them, the left and the Marxist left and the religious left. In a matter of a few weeks or perhaps a few months, I'm not actually quite sure about the time span. In a series of, these were people who have already been tried and they were given sentences. They were brought back before the summary trials of three judges or more three, four of them. One of them is now the new president of the Islamic Republic, Raisi. And they were given a quick summary sentences which meant execution. So something between probably six to eight thousand were executed in a matter of a month or two months, something like that, mostly in Tehran but also in provinces. And that remained an extraordinary trauma for the families, for those who had these kids, they're all young. So this remains very much a kind of original scene of the Islamic Republic that cannot get rid of. And it's in people's memories, they didn't allow them even the families to go and mourn their dead in an official cemetery which they created for them. Now the latest thing is that they put a huge concrete wall around it so nobody would be able to get into it. So these all part of this extraordinary level of atrocity, brutality, that you see that the regime who claimed that it comes with the morality of religion and Islam to bring back the justice and be more in a sense kind to people, ended up with what it is in the memory of many of the people in Iran. So developing these fascistic tendencies. Very much so. Destroying minorities, Baha'i is one of them. Hundreds of Baha'is were without any reason, without any involvement. They picked up and executed the properties were taken over, the rights were taken away from them even up to this day. There's the largest, by the very religious minority in Iran. So you would see that in many areas, this is a acts very much as a beyond authoritarian. It's a kind of really a fascistic regime. So how many held power for 10 years? And then took power the next Supreme leader who is still the leader today for over 30 years. Who is he? Well, he was one of the, this is the Ali Khamenei. Ayatollah. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Amam one day perhaps? No, well, they hesitated to use the term Amam for him. But in any other respect, he was given all of that adulation that they did to Khamenei. He is the guardian juris. That's what's important. Because the guardian juris in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic is an authority that is above the state. He is not elected, quote unquote, because this is a divine authority. Although he has been designated by the group of the term and more or less like himself. And he has the full power over all institutions of the state, the army, the media, the economy, every aspect of the acts like a shop. He acts like this authoritarian authority. Did that gradually develop or was that very early on? Well, that's part of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic. The first constitution in the first draft of the Constitution did not have the authority of the guardian juris. But then it was added by Khamenei and his supporters. Are there actual in the Constitution any limits to his power? Yes, there is a council of the experts, so to say, that would remove him from power, I think theoretically. But there is so much restrictions to that that I don't think it would have ever happened in reality in his case at least. But in terms of executive to make decisions and all that kind of stuff, does he need to check with anybody? No. He does check with his own advisors, but he doesn't have any constitutional obligation to check on the decisions that he's making. So that's the Supreme Leader, but there's been presidents. Yes. And what's the role of the president? The president in a sense is the executive power under the Islamic Republic.
How the Ayatollahs Beat Populism in Their Regime (02:22:53)
There are three heads of powers. There is the president that presumably has the executive power. There is the head of the judiciary and there is the head of the Speaker of the Parliament, much less Islamic, much less, which is the legislative, so the legislative, judiciary and executive. The EC with not the president is the head of the executive. Above them is the Supreme Leader or the Guardian jurist. Can you give me some insight because I, especially, I'm not exactly sure why, but the president of Madinajan is somebody I'm, as an America, really familiar with, why is that exactly? But why was, why was the president, the public facing person to the world versus the Supreme Leader? Is that just an accident of a particular human involved or is this by design? No, because the Supreme Leader tries to keep himself out of issues of everyday politics, supposedly. But therefore, he is not coming to the United Nations to give a speech during the session. But Mr. Ahmadinejad, at the time, was the president, would come and make outrageous statements. That's why you probably know something about it. So all of them make public statements, but he had a proclivity for outrageous statements. He does all kinds of things, he makes all kinds of statements, but he is somewhat above the everyday politics in theory. But of course, he is pulling all the strings without doubt in every respect.
Two presidential elections (02:25:12)
And it seems that you were asked, I thought you were going to ask me this question, almost without an exception, since the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979, up to the last of the presidents of the Islamic Republic, Ruhani, before the guy that is last year or a year and a half ago, was in a phony election, got into the position of the president. All of them, and the long list, all of them eventually fell out with the regime. So there is no president, except perhaps to some extent Ruhani, but he will wait and see what is going to happen to him. But prior to him, all of them, including Ahmadinejad, fell out with the regime, with the current regime in Iraq. Who is Ruhani? He was officially president for eight years. Yeah, prior to Naisi. Ibrahim Naisi, the 221, what you're saying is a phony election. Yes, it's a phony election. What's the election? Because the process of actually candidacy for presidency is completely controlled by a counsel that is under the control of the supreme leader. So they have to approve who is going to be the candidate. So why did everybody can enter and say I would like to be a candidate? So did Ruhani fall out of favor? You're saying there's a flavor? Well, he is kind of out of favor now because he was more moderate than this. He was the most recent regime. But the point is that if you look, this is something almost institutional, constitutional to the regime. This is a regime that rejects all of the executive powers because it's because the division between the supreme authority as a place of a supreme authority versus the presidency has problematic. It is as if there would be a supreme leader in the United States above all the three sources of power. That's the kind of an view that we can see in today's Iran.
Nuclear deal talks (02:27:48)
And of course, he is at the focus of all the criticism that he receives from the demonstrators in today's Iran. So on top of all this, recently and throughout the last several years, US and Iran are in the midst of nuclear deal negotiations. This is another part of the story of Iran is the development of nuclear weapons, the nuclear program. They're looking to restore the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the CPOA. What is the history, the present and the future of these negotiations over nuclear weapons? What is interesting to you in this full context from the 16th century of the messianic journey? What's interesting to you here? You can argue that for a long time, even under the Shah, but much more expressively and decisively under the Islamic Republic. There was a determination to have a nuclear power or nuclear weapon in a sense. I think the bottom line of all the negotiations, everything else is that Iran of the Islamic Republic had the tendency of having its own nuclear weapon. The reason for that is that Iran was subject of nearly nine years, eight and a half years of Iran-Iraq war, when not only Iran faced an aggressor, Iraq, that attacked Iran at a very critical time at the very beginning of the Iranian revolution. But the fact that Iran felt kind of helpless in the course of this war and has to make great sacrifices, actually, which supported the Islamic regime, consolidated the Islamic regime because of this war. And most of the time, the support of the United States was behind Iraq vis-a-vis Iran. And Iran felt that it's been isolated and has to protect itself.
International Relations And Iran'S Global Involvement
International efforts to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons (02:30:25)
So there is some argument for having nuclear capabilities. But in reality, this has resulted in a completely mindless, crazy, a wasteful attempt on the side of the Iranian regime to try to develop a nuclear power. And therefore, the rest of the world, particularly in this region, but very worried that if Iran would get access to a nuclear weapon, then the entire region of the Persian Gulf might particularly Saudi Arabia, possibly Turkey, possibly Egypt, all of them may require, may demand to have also nuclear weapon, even the fact that Pakistan and India has already have it. So there was a determined attempt, as you might know, on the side of the Western communities or now gradually world communities, to try to, as much as possible, to control Iran from getting access to a nuclear capability, or actually limit Iran's nuclear capabilities to what was defined, actually, in a euphemism as a peaceful fashion. Okay. That being said, there was also Israel, which viewed the Islamic Republic as a arch enemy. And some of it might be due to the Israelis' own exaggeration of Iran's threat. And some of it is because Iran has developed a fairly strong military, as we see today. And as such, this attempt to try to prevent Iran from ever getting access to a nuclear weapon, which resulted, as you might know, in these massive sanctions that were imposed upon Iran, ever since the beginning of the revolution in 1979, and of course, more intensively, since 2015, 2016, even prior to that probably a little bit earlier. This agreement, the nuclear agreement, was supposed to control or monitor Iranian nuclear industry or nuclear set-off in exchange for removing the sanctions. What this never worked, in a matter of fact, in a very successful satisfactory way for the Iranians or for the Americans, particularly under Trump administration, which I think foolishly decided to scrap the agreement that was reached under President Obama. Like many other policies that was implemented under Trump administration, this created a major problem. That is how to under-biden, how to try to come up with a new nuclear agreement with Iran. In this process, since 2016, where the United States withdrew from the agreement, Iran felt comfortable to try to go and do whatever they want without any kind of being monitored by the international community. And that's the situation now. We don't know whether Iran is really sincere under the present regime to negotiate a deal. We don't know that if the United States is willing to do so. And it seems that now what is happening in terms of the protests in the Iranian streets makes it even harder in public eye to try to negotiate a deal with Iran. Because that means in the minds of many, and with some justification, that if the nuclear agreement would result in the removal of many of these sanctions, millions, billions as the result of the removal of the sanctions and Iran's ability to sell it. It's oil in the international market without any restrictions. Means that the Iranian government is going to become even more powerful. More financially secure in order to suppress its own people. So that's the agreement that goes against coming to terms with Iran. But the problem is that there is no clear alternative, even I'm not particularly personally debatable for this agreement to be ratified. But the alternative is very difficult. There's no way to try to see what can be done. Geopolitics where every alternative is terrible. Let me ask you about one of the most complex geopolitical situations in history. One aspect of it is the cold war between Iran and Israel. The bigger picture of it is sometimes referred to as Israel Palestine conflict. What are all the parties, nations involved? What are the interests that are involved? What's the rhetoric? Can you understand, make the case for each side of this conflict? You're opening a new kind of war, that it takes another three hours of conversation. Just three hours?
The collapse of 1979 Iranian revolution (02:37:05)
At least. What I can tell you is this. Iran prior to 1979, viewed itself under the Shah, as a kind of a, if not a supporter of Israel, was in very good terms with Israel. They had an embassy in Iran or an official embassy in Iran. They had certain projects that helping with the agriculture and so forth. But since 1979, that completely reversed. Part of it is that the issue of the Palestinian plight remained very much at the heart of the revolutionary Iranians. You would see that part of the United States is to support part of the United States guilt. Sin is to support Israel. We, it's very suppressive, very oppressive treatment of the Palestinians, completely illegal taking over of the territories, which is not theirs, since 1967. And therefore, it is upon the Iranian regime, Iranian Islamic Republic, to support the cause of the Palestinians. This came about at the time when the rest of the support for the Palestinians, including Arab nationalism, basically reached a stage of bankruptcy. I mean, much of the regimes of the Arab world either are now coming to terms with Israel or in one way or another because of their own contingencies, because of their own concerns and interests are really nearly accepting Israel in the region. Now, that old task of rhetorically supporting the Palestinians falls upon the Islamic Republic. That sees itself as the champion of the Palestinians now. Without, as a matter of fact, having either the support of the Iranian people behind him, if you ask if tomorrow there would be a poll or a referendum, I would doubt that 80% of the Iranian people would approve of the policies of the Islamic Republic vis-a-vis the issue of Palestine. Nor the Palestinians themselves, because the Islamic Republic is only supporting those factions within the Palestinian movement which are Islamic, quote unquote. And even within that, there is problems with Hamas, for instance. But nevertheless, it's for the Islamic Republic some kind of propaganda tool to be able to use it for its own sake and claim that we are the champions of the Palestinian people. Whether they have a solution, if you look at the rhetoric, if you listen to the rhetoric, it's the destruction of the state of Israel. And that, it seems to me, creates a certain anxiety in the minds of the Israelis, Israeli population and Israeli government, particularly those who are now in power, not on Yahoo, the liquid, and more kind of a right wing politics of, this is the quality of today's Israel. That being said, I think also the Israelis try to get an extra mileage out of threat of Iran, quote unquote, in order to present themselves a rightful to, for terms of security and whatever else, that they are treating the Palestinians, which I think is extremely unjust. I think it's extremely unwise for Israel to carry on with these policies as they did since '67 at least and not to try to come to terms with it. Of course, there's a huge amount of, I'm not denying that at all, the huge amount of failures, mistakes and stupidity on the side of the Palestinian leadership in various stages, not to try to make a deal or try to come to terms in some fashion.
Israel-Palestine conflict (02:41:55)
But it's a very complex picture and it's rather unfair to the Palestinians to accuse them for not coming to terms with Israel under a very uneven circumstances when they are not in a position to try to make a fair deal in terms of the territories or in terms of their security in future vis-a-vis Israel. So I think there is, as you probably know, quite a lot of people that would have a different perspective than you just stated in terms of taking the perspective of Israel and characterizing the situation, can you steal men at their side? Can you steal men Israel's side that they're trying to be a sovereign nation, trying to protect themselves against threats, ultimately wanting to create a place of safety, a place where people can pursue all the things that you want to pursue in life, including foremost happiness? I tend to agree with you and I have all the respect for the fact that Israel would like to create security and happiness for its own people. But there are two arguments. One is a moral argument. To my mind as a historian, Jews across around the world for all through their history suffered. And this is a history of suffering, the history memory of suffering. And I find it enormously difficult to believe that a nation, as a product of so much sacrifice, suffering, loss of life, and a variety of Holocaust above all, would find itself in a position not to give the proper justice to a people who could be their neighbors. And that is a moral argument which I cannot believe under any circumstances can be accepted. Second, in real terms, what do you want to commit to genocide? Do you have a population there that you have to come to terms with it? And you cannot just postpone as they did, since '67 they are postponing and hoping that it goes away somehow. I don't think it's going to go away. And it's going to get worse rather than better. It's a long, nuanced discussion and I look forward to having it. So we'll just leave it there for the moment. But it is a stressful place in the world where the rhetoric is existential, where Iran makes claims that it wants to wipe a country off the face of the earth. It's just the level of intensity of rhetoric is unlike anywhere else in the world. And extremely dangerous in both directions. And one, the real danger of the rhetoric actually being acted upon. And then the extreme political parties using the rhetoric to justify even a greater escalation. So if Iran is saying that this is saying that they're wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, that justifies any response. On the other side. On the other side. Of course, I tend to agree with you fully. And unfortunately, this is a very critical situation that this region is facing Iran in particular. I would say that I hope that in the minds of the people of Israel, there is enough or common sense to realize that probably escalation on the Israeli side is not in the favor of anybody. And try to let the Iranians to go on with their empty rhetoric as they do so far. But at the same time, I cannot deny the fact that, you know, there is a danger on the side of this regime.
Iranian regime involvement in parts of the world (02:47:16)
And what it says, it cannot be denied. Nobody can justify that. Particularly because the Iranian population is not behind this regime, certainly in the case of the Palestinians. Or for that matter, it's not Palestine. It's the Islamic Republic's involvement in Lebanon with Hezbollah. It's the Islamic Republic's involvement in Syria with Bashar Assad. It's involvement in other parts of the world, perhaps even Yemen. That all of them creates extraterritorial responsibilities or interventions. Unnecessary interventions that ultimately is not in favor of best interest of the Iranian people or Iran as a country. Iran has never been involved in this kind of politics before of the Islamic Republic. So in a sense, the Iranian regime, it seems to me, by going to the extreme, try to create for itself a space that it did not have or did not deserve to have within the politics of the region. In other words, that has become part of the tool, kind of an instrument for, if you like, to call it, some kind of an expansionism of the regime. In parts of the world where it can see there is a possibility for its presence, for its expansion. Of course, historically speaking, Iran ever since 15th century, I think that's the earliest example I can see. In early modern times, has always a tendency of moving in the direction of not only what is today the state of Iraq, but further into the eastern coast of Mediterranean. So that's a long-term ambition that has been in the cards as far as Iran as a strategic unit is concerned. But by no means justified and by no means could be a reasonable, could be a sane policy of a nation, state as today's Iran. But the second point is that also regimes are always victims of their own rhetoric. So once you keep repeating something, then you become more and more committed to it. And it cannot remain anymore in the level of a rhetoric. You have to do something about it. So it's something compelling pressure to try to materialize what you've been saying in your rhetoric. And that is even extremely more dangerous. As far as Iran is concerned. And it brings it to some unholy alliances that today we are witnessing. Iran is getting involved, even more dangerous than this rhetoric in terms of the Israel, is its involvement with Russia and to some extent with China. Which we can't talk about. What do you think about the meeting between Homini and Vladimir Putin in July? What's that alliance? What's that partnership? Is it surface-level geopolitics? Is there a deep growing connection? I cannot see the difference between geopolitics and this deep connection. I see this one on the same. Why? Because I think the experience of 40 years of distancing from the West in terms of the Islamic Republic.
The Reports Blue Area (02:51:21)
And the fact that there is a shelf life to imperial presence for any empire anywhere in the world. So after the terrible experience of the United States in Iraq and in Afghanistan, pretty much like the British Empire that after the Suez experience in '56, decided to withdraw from east of Suez. Maybe there is a moment here that we are witnessing or it may come that a great power like the United States sees in this benefit, not to get too much involved in trinity-gritty things in other parts of the world, that it's not its immediate concern. And I think that is part of the reason, not the entire reason, part of the reason why we see the emergence of a new geopolitical environment in this part of the world of which China, Russia, possibly Iran, possibly Turkey, possibly both of them are going to be part. Perhaps Saudi is also, but I doubt that the Saudis under the presence circumstances, although we have witnessed some remarkable issue in the course of the past few weeks, where the Saudis giving assurances to American administration and then shifting and getting along with Putin in terms of the oil production, I think it's more than that even. And it's not only them, but also the Emirates are doing the same thing. So what does that tell us? And that's another many hour conversation about the world industry in Iran and the whole region. In emerging, this kind of a world which was perhaps even ten years ago unimaginable, that you see now a great power, China, that it's going to remain from what we see around us as a great power and Russia, adventurous, foolish, but nevertheless would remain a criminal, I would say as far as its behavior in Ukraine. But actually, it's a rogue nation that attracts another rogue nation. So Iran finds itself now in a greater place of security in alliance with Russia in the hope that this would give Iran a greater security in this part of the world. Whether this is realistic or illusion, I think remains to be seen. I think Iran-China relation makes more sense. Although if you ask ordinary Iranians, they don't like it, they would tell why should we be tied up with China as the only trade party with America because of the foolish isolations that you have created for us, because of all the sanctions that you have created for us, the Islamic Republic. So in a sense, it's a very difficult question to answer.
Iran China Relationship & Ideological Blocks (02:55:11)
Probably, Iranian is also like to be more on the other camp. But what happens is that in real-term, what surprises me most is not this alliance with China, but it's kind of becoming a lucky or subservient to put in regime in Russia. Since if you look at it, Iran ever since at least the 19th century, not going further back. The beginning of the 19th century always viewed Russia as the greatest threat, strategically, because it was sitting right at the top of Iran. It was infinitely more powerful than Iran has ever been. And Iran fought two rounds of war at the beginning of the century, lost the entire Caucasus to Russia and led its lesson that you have to be mindful of Russia and you have to keep it as an arms-length. And that's what was the Iran's policy throughout the course of the 20th century, 19th and 20th century, up to what we see now around us, which is a very strange situation. Whether the balance has changed in terms of if Russia is purchasing weapons from Iran, which was unheard of, means that there is a new balance is emerging, a new relationship is emerging. Perhaps remains to be seen. But if you look at the historical precedence, it would have been enormously unwise to be an ally of Russia, given its long history of aggression in Iran. So, part of the reason why it's actually Iran, allied itself with the British Empire, was the fact that it was so much afraid of the Russian expansion. And as such, I don't know what's going to be the future of this relationship.
Perspectives On Future And Iran'S Learning From Outside
Future Hope (02:58:02)
There is a big disconnect between governments and the people. And I think ultimately, I have faith that there's a love across the different cultures, across the different religions amongst the people. And the governments are the source of the division and the conflict and the wars and all the geopolitics that is in part grounded in the battle for resources and all that kind of stuff. Nevertheless, this is the world we live in. So, you looked at the modern history of Iran, the past few centuries. If you look into the future of this region. Now, you kind of implied that historian has a bit of a cynical view of protests and things like this, that are few, at least in the minds of young people with hope. If you were to just for a while, have a bit of hope in your heart and your mind. What is a hopeful future for the next 10, 20, 30 years of Iran? I'm not cynical. I'm trying to be realistic. And I actually may be critical, but I have great hopes in Iran's future for a variety of reasons. I actually did write an article only if the last version of it is going to go out today, in which the title of it is the Time of Fear and Women of Hope, which in a sense is this whole coverage about what this movement means that we see today. It may be fizzle in a few weeks time, or it may just go on and create a new dynamics in Iranian society that would hopefully result in a peaceful process of greater accommodation and the greater tolerance within the Iranian society and with the outside world. And I think majority of the Iranian people don't want tension. Don't want confrontation. Don't want crisis. If 40 years they have suffered from a regime that have dictated an ideology that is very effective and is very effective.
Open Minded Verses Radical Ideology (03:00:32)
They want to go back to a life in which they don't really create trouble for their neighbors or for the world. And therefore, I would see a better future for Iran. That's for one reason. Strategically or geopolitically, maybe in Iran's advantage in a peaceful fashion to negotiate as it's the fate of all the nations rather than commit itself or sworn to a particular course of policy. So, this is a give and take as the nature of politics is art of possible, as it been said. So, probably Iran is going to be hopefully moving that direction. I think there is a generational thing. That's the third reason. No matter how much the Islamic Republic tried to Islamize the Iranian society its own image of radical ideological indoctrination, it has failed. It has failed up to what we see today in the Iranian streets. And the Iranian population said no to it. And I think if there would have been and I very much hope there will be a possibility for a more open environment, more open space where they would be able to speak them their views out. Iranians are not on the side of moving in the extreme directions. They are in the side of greater accommodation and the greater interest in the side world.
Theyre pursuing freedom. (03:02:37)
And if you look at every aspect of today's beside the government, every aspect of life in today's Iran, we can see that from the way that people dress to the way that they try to live their lives, to the way that they are educating themselves or educated in the institutions, do you see a desire and intention to move forward? And I'm optimistic. Well, in that struggle for freedom, like I told you offline, one of my close childhood friends is Iranian. Just a beautiful person, his family is a wonderful family. And on a personal level is one of the deeper windows into the Iranian spirit and soul that I've gotten, she has to witness. I really appreciate it. But in the recent times, I've gotten to hear from a lot of people that are currently living in Iran that are currently have that burning hope for the future of the country. And so my love goes out to them and the struggle for freedom. I have to say it's so nice of you to say so. And they very much hope so. There are moments of spare and there are moments that you would think that there is no hope. But then again, something triggers and you see 100,000 people in the streets of Berlin that are hoping for a better future for Iran. And I very much hope it eventually emerges. Even I'm hoping at the same time that it's not going to be a very strong leadership as it was the case in the past. We started with hope. We ended with hope.
This was a real honor. This is an incredible conversation. Thank you for giving such a deep and wide story of this great nation. One of the great nations in history. Well, that's kind of easy to say. So thank you for sitting down today. Well, and history that as I've said in the start of my book, I say it's the history of a nation which has learned a huge amount from the outside or by force of its geography.
History of a nation which has learned a huge amount from the outside (03:04:51)
It was always located somewhere that people would invade or come for trade or something happened to it that this diffused culture continued to.
Take Me Down To The Paradise City Where The Grass Is Green And The Girls Are Pretty (03:05:05)
And they were not afraid of learning or adopting as they do right now today. This is a very different society. Never a boring moment in its history as you write about. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thanks for listening to this conversation with Abba Samana. To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors in the description. And now let me leave you with a few words from Martin Luther King, Jr. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. Thank you for listening. I hope to see you next time. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.