The lettre aux anciens fonctionnaires passed across my desk the other day, no doubt as a sort of heads up for an increasingly ancient functionary. And a very fine publication it is too, with practical little miscellanies (“a glass of milk before bed will help you sleep”), hopeful, but perhaps unrealistic, news (“one’s mental capacity does not diminish with age”), and some interesting literary articles (“James Joyce: Irish-Swiss connection”). I particularly liked its smudgy b/w appearance; the day it goes glossy will be the day I call it quits.
But that’s not why you came to an article on the Iranian revolution. The latest lettre reprints an excellent article by Michael Binyon called “The Iranian revolution: second only to Lenin’s” from the Times (12 February 2004). [Sorry, because the Times is owned by bloodsucker Rupert Murdoch, you have to pay to read it.]
“The return of Ayatollah Khomeini to head an Islamic theocracy sent shockwaves through the Muslim world that still reverberate today … were it not for the radical message coming from Iran, al-Quaeda might not have been born.”
Binyon goes on to note the profound influence of the revolution, not only on Iran (which switched overnight from being a loyal ally of America to an implacable foe), but on Egypt (the assassination of Sadat), the formation of Hizbollah, increasing American dependence on Saudi Arabia and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the rise of the anti-Soviet Mujahidin (supported by America), who eventually masterminded the destruction of the Twin Trade Towers in New York.
As if that were not enough, Binyon points out that the Iranian revolution spawned a more general movement:
“Perhaps the most profound effect of the revolution was Iran’s virulent defiance of America.. This prompted not only the 444-day captivity of US diplomats in their embassy, but also emboldened anti-American movements around the world.”
Since I am writing this in the week of the death of one of the main beneficiaries of the Iranian revolution, I’ll add one more country to Binyon’s list, America. It was the revolution in Iran, the hostage crisis and what it revealed about America’s impotence (remember those photos of the charred shells of American helicopters in the desert?) that did for Jimmy Carter’s 1980 re-election bid. Without it we might all be remembering such headlines as “Incumbent Carter thrashes Reagan”. That really would have meant a different world.
And for what is shaping up to be the defining paradigm of the 21st century, you gotta read Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations. I disagreed with him so much that my copy is littered with enraged marginal notes, but who could argue with his overall thesis:
“that culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civilization identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world.”
And it all started on 1 February 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini stepped onto the tarmac of Tehran airport.