The Life and Times of the Shah

The Life and Times of the Shah

The Life and Times of the Shah

The Life and Times of the Shah

Synopsis

This epic biography, a gripping insider's account, is a long-overdue chronicle of the life and times of Mohammad Reza Shah, who ruled from 1941 to 1979 as the last Iranian monarch. Gholam Reza Afkhami uses his unparalleled access to a large number of individuals--including high-ranking figures in the shah's regime, members of his family, and members of the opposition--to depict the unfolding of the shah's life against the forces and events that shaped the development of modern Iran. The first major biography of the Shah in twenty-five years, this richly detailed account provides a radically new perspective on key events in Iranian history, including the 1979 revolution, U.S.-Iran relations, and Iran's nuclear program. It also sheds new light on what now drives political and cultural currents in a country at the heart of today's most perplexing geopolitical dilemmas.

Excerpt

The Iranian revolution of 1979 was a watershed in world history, although the events that followed did not flow in the direction many observers had expected. Most scholarly and political “experts” assumed that revolutions propelled history forward and so took the Iranian revolution as an instance of progressive change. None of them was inclined to examine the revolution’s leadership, ideology, organization, strategy, or tactics. If the revolution seemed to be run by the devout in and around the mosques, this was assumed to be a needed catalyst. Over the preceding years, these experts argued, a hasty modernization policy had created a two-tiered society—a veneer of modernity superimposed on a vast body of tradition. They said that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s appeal was to the vast traditional majority, but that he was not after power; rather, being a saintly figure, he could be expected to yield power to the forces of democracy once tyranny was overthrown. No one suspected that a seemingly popular revolution might usher in a theocracy.

But that is exactly what it did. Khomeini forced a formulation of legitimacy at odds with both tradition and modernity— a political and ideational dispensation in which God’s word became the people’s word, and he, the religious jurist, the arbiter of the word. He substituted faith for freedom and thereby sublimated warfare to jihad, soldiers to martyrs, and death to salvation. He redefined in Islamist terms human felicity, social progress, economic development, individual freedom, and popular sovereignty. In his person, power spoke to truth.

The new dispensation, however, hit hard at the human and material foundations of development that had been built in Iran over the previous fifty years. In the 1920s, Iran had been one of the world’s least-developed nations. By the mid-1970s it had become a showcase of development among the Third World countries, boasting one of the highest rates of economic growth and a superior record of social services. It had developed the critical mass of educated people . . .

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