IRANIAN HISTORY - 1990's Manipulation of History by the Iranian Press

Beginning in the 1990s, and especially after the reform-minded Mohammad Khatami was elected president in 1997, Iranians used Mossadegh as a symbol in their political debates. Anyone who paid tribute to him or waved his portrait was implicitly challenging the principles of Islamic rule. Laws forbade calling for a democratic republic to replace the Islamic regime, but praising Mossadegh's legacy was another way of doing the same thing. I found that many Iranians still associated his name with the idea of freedom.

"Oh, he was a good leader," one young man told me. "When he was in power, you could say what you wanted. Not like today. Shah killed him, right?" Not exactly, I replied. But in a sense perhaps yes.

Islamic leaders do not know quite what to make of Mossadegh. They take his defeat as proof of their view that Iran is the eternal victim of cruel foreigners. Because he was a secular liberal, however, they cannot embrace him as a hero.

The Iranian press reflected this ambivalence in the way it covered the forty-ninth anniversary of the 1953 coup. One television station broadcast a damning documentary about it, but there was hardly a mention that Mossadegh was the victim. A small group of pro-government students rallied outside what was once the American embassy, but they, too, limited themselves to condemning "the crimes of the Great Satan against the Iranian nation" and did not refer to Mossadegh.

Only two of Tehran's fourteen daily newspapers ran stories to mark the anniversary. One of them, Entekhab, which is a mouthpiece for hard-liners, described the coup as having been launched "against Mossadegh and also Kashani," a bizarre rewriting of history that portrays Ayatollah Kashani as a victim of foreign intervention rather than as one of its agents. The lesson of the coup, this article said, was that Iranians must support their leaders because dissent only served the interests of "warmongers in the White House."

The other article, in the moderate paper Fereydoon Shayesteh, was quite different. It described August 19,1953, as "the day despotism returned," and although carefully avoiding any praise of Mossadegh, it summarized the episode quite well: "The coup was carried out by professionals from both inside and outside Iran, and it cost millions of dollars. It is not at all true that, as some people have said and written, the coup happened because of internal opposition and mistrust of Mossadegh. It became possible when various well-known politicians, many of whom owed their careers to Mossadegh, broke with him and used all their means to ruin his reputation. These accusations have had no lasting effect, and in the years after the coup, those who made them never managed to win back the people's respect."

Ayatollah Abulqasim Kashani




  • IRANIAN HISTORY - 1990's Manipulation of History by the Iranian Press

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