Wednesday 6 December 2023

The great Iranian crisis

The expert contributor* to yesterday's Great Lives programme was of the opinion that one cannot draw a straight line between the events of 1951-1953 in Iran and the Islamic revolution of 1979. However, 1953 was surely the year in which Iran might have settled to a future of stable constitutional monarchy (alla UK) but instead tipped into monarchic dictatorship shepherded by the USA and all the instability that that engendered.

The great movie sound-sculptor and editor Walter Murch had chosen Muhammad Mossadegh as his Great Lives subject. Murch had been attracted to the subject by his background reading to conflict in the Middle East in preparation for work on Sam Mendes's Jarhead. He went on to work with Iranian exile Taghi Amirani on a documentary about the 1953 insurrection, Coup 53. It no doubt helped that both Amirani and Murch are now British residents.

I am gratified that I got so much right in my earlier post on the subject - and, of course, that such a major figure as Walter Murch is championing Mossadegh's cause. Having access to much more original material and people who knew the players in 1953 enabled Murch to produce a richer and more rounded picture. For instance, the switch from the Democrat Truman, who was sympathetic to the democratic aspirations of Mossadegh and against the effective colonialism of the Anglo-Iranian Oil company, to the Republican Eisenhower in the White House was significant. Eisenhower, himself an anti-Communist brought the cold-warriors, John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen to the State Department and the CIA respectively. Thus the scales were weighted against Mossadegh, but the revolution was not inevitable if some other key events had turned out differently. The whole programme is well worth hearing. Sadly, there is little chance of our government listening to it and even less chance of issuing a long-overdue apology. 

Only a couple of minor details were missed: the fact that the signal for the decisive riots was given by a coded message on the BBC Overseas Service** (now the World Service) revealed if I recall correctly by this analysis programme from 1980; and Mossadegh's hypochondria (from Christopher de Bellaigue's biography), which may or may not have affected his political judgment.

Professor Ali Ansari of St Andrews University, presenter on Radio 4 of Through Persian Eyes

**A very rare example of the BBC's breaching its ethos of impartiality, even more marked in the World Service than in terrestrial broadcasting. Of course, the management may not have been aware of (presumably) MI6'ht s initiative.

1 comment:

Gav said...

Off-hand I can't think of any regime changes, or attempted regime changes, carried out around the world by the UK and its allies that have turned out well. But the 1953 insurrection in Iran has to be one of the worst in terms of its long-term adverse effects on the unfortunate Iranians themselves, on the Middle East and indeed on the rest of the world.