Just East of Eden: Iran, images and reflections
By Gaither Stewart
Oct 30, 2007, 00:24
While the drums of war roll and the US president invokes
economic sanctions against Iran and continues to speak of World War III,
questions and more questions emerge from the disastrous past of US-Iran
relations. In this climate and after the great lie about Iraq, one is justified
to wonder if Iran�s nuclear ambitions are the problem. The answer seems obvious
-- not at all. Oil is the issue.
Oil is always the issue when official America speaks of
Are the president�s threats of war against Iran simply
electoral propaganda? Many Europeans believe so. For, they reason, America
cannot sustain another military front. Europeans believe the president�s
rhetoric is bluff, though a dangerous bluff, because it is combined with
America�s historical engrained ignorance about Iran.
One recalls that as late as August 1978, the CIA predicted
that the regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran could easily last another
10 years. Despite revolts exploding all over ancient Persia, Western
businessmen believed this, too, and swarmed over the country in search of
lucrative contracts originating in the corrupt court of the Shahinshah in
Tehran. Right up to the Shah�s end, Iran was a feast for Westerners. Even after
the entire nation knew of the torture the Shah�s American trained secret
police, SAVAK, practiced on dissidents and anyone even suspected of being
subversive in the dreaded Evin prison in the western part of the mountainside
As an employee and Italian-English interpreter (it seemed
nearly everyone in Tehran spoke English!) for a group of Italian companies, I
was in the ancient and captivating country of Iran for much of the time during
late 1977 and the year of 1978, up until the revolution was well underway.
Iran, as most foreigners who have lived there will testify, is a special
country, the kind that gets in your blood. Not all the foreigners were there
for the money. Maybe it�s the dry heat in the summer, or the cold winters, or
those enormous purple mountains ever present. I met foreigners who had been
there almost forever. They didn�t want to leave. They were much like Iranians
who like to travel, even emigrate, but they�re always drawn back home. They
never leave completely.
While the CIA was making its rosy Iran situation reports, I
witnessed the disintegration of the Iran created by the American puppet, Shah
Pahlavi. The pre-revolution was a period when curfews kept the streets relatively
clear after 8 or 9 o�clock; yet young people claimed that the resistance
controlled the city after midnight. University students everywhere were on the
warpath. The first students were shot down by the Shah�s police in the holy
city of Qom itself.
Then, on �Black Friday� in that same August 1978, the Shah�s
troops opened fire on the mobs on a Tehran square killing hundreds or
thousands. From day to day, millions of inebriated marchers, their lances
lifted toward the heavens, screamed for the heads of the Pahlavis and waved
their banners for the Ayatollah and the Islamic Republic. Inexorably, but much
more quickly than expected, the circles tightened around the Shah and US
interests there. The �people� were exhilarated. People learned the lesson that
the poor learn easily -- how easy it is to die . . . and to kill. On the
streets of Tehran, you smelled stale gas and felt the terror in the air.
Tensions palpitated under the plaster of the great avenues. Mystery and
suspicion smoldered under the tall trees up Khiabon Pahlavi to the north. No
one knew for certain what was happening but the whole city stank of greater
battles to come.
It stank of revolution.
I found it strange that in the growing chaos they continued
working on new streets, somehow emblematic of the enduring millenary continuity
of Persia-Iran. Still alive is the image of workers sleeping in tents under
viaducts, their gray-black feet sticking out of the openings, the canvas
flapping in the morning breeze.
Then when the great summer heat ended, they no longer worked
at night under the floodlights with the pounding jackhammers that made the
earth quiver and quake. In September, a general strike paralyzed the country.
The young cab drivers at the traditional old hotel where I lived spoke openly
of how they would hang the Shah and cut off the heads of the SAVAK beasts. All
those wild kids! Leftists all, doomed to be devoured by the revolution they
Conservatives and foreign businessmen wondered when the Shah
would make his move? What were their American protectors doing? Yet, you could
smell it, the revolution. It was in the air. Sometimes I would try to tell the
businessmen what was happening. But none of the company executives or the
investors felt it; they were still intoxicated by the brilliance of past
Persian glories and the apparent permanence of the Pahlavi dynasty. They didn�t
want to know the reality either. Their investments in the Shah�s Iran were too
But the revolution was there.
In Tehran in 1978 you didn�t know who was who. Monarchists
and Communists and Mullahs, and Islamic Marxists were everywhere making the
Yet, at night in the hotel bar time stopped. It was a sad
and lonesome place, like all the hotel bars in all the African capitals of all the
former European colonies. A place for lonely men. Images: a businessman sitting
alone in a corner holds his glass in mid-air as if considering the evanescence
of love and time. American technicians in dirty work clothes are loud at a big
table in the middle. A Frenchman in a far corner stares vacantly and with a
forefinger traces circular images in the moisture on the plastic tabletop. A
waiter passes among them all with trays loaded with drinks.
On the other side of the world, Washington was paralyzed. No
one there knew what to do. No one seemed to realize that the Shah�s glass
castle was cracked and breaking on all sides. While the SAVAK continued to
torture subversives and martial law became more and more severe, Ayatollah
Khomeini moved from his exile in Najaf in Iraq to Paris, manifestations
mushroomed throughout the country, and in front of my eyes young soldiers threw
away their guns, jumped down off their military trucks and sided with the
people. The Shah had lost control of the nation. Yet, Westerners were still
blind. They waited for the US to move. German and French and Italian and Dutch
work teams drove out of downtown hotels each morning to their works sites in
the mountainous surroundings as if nothing of great significance were underway.
Paradoxically, in the later period, I attended a meeting, in
a downtown office building, organized by Bechtel Corporation to celebrate the
opening of its huge office in Tehran with over 100 employees. Close to
political power and the CIA in the USA, the Bechtel engineering and
construction company from San Francisco is dedicated, in its own words, �to
making money.� But it also helps to overthrow foreign governments judged
unfriendly to US interests. Yet, in Iran, Bechtel and the US government failed
miserably. It did nothing. It could do nothing, and its men vanished. Today, I
note, Iran is not even listed among the many countries where Bechtel has worked
to further American interests and to make money. Its history is not only a
story of duplicity but also of incompetence.
Meanwhile, in Iran, chaos reigned. It was revolution!
Washington had total confidence in the Shah�s American-armed
military forces that had made Iran the gendarme of the region. The entire West
seemed as surprised and incredulous as were the businessmen I was associated
with, who had counted on the US Marines to put things right. It couldn�t happen
here, they all thought.
The Iranian Revolution was a severe blow to US power in the
Middle East from which the world power has never recovered. The
miscalculations, misjudgments and blindness to reality concerning Iran of 29
years ago have led the USA down erroneous paths ever since.
The subsequent history is well known. In January of 1979,
the Shah fled to Egypt. In February, Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to
become the leader of the emerging Islamic Republic of Iran where he was
regarded as a semi-God.
Islam had invaded politics.
In February, Iranian students occupied the US Embassy in
Tehran and its personnel became hostages, forcing the Ayatollah to side with
the ferociously anti-American students. This was Iran�s sweet revenge for the
US-organized coup d��tat that overthrew Premier Moussadeq in 1953 for his
nationalization of Iran�s oil (read Iran, stop and always think oil!) and re-installed
the amenable Shah on the throne.
The American hostages stayed put for over a year. New Iran
didn�t really know what to do with them. It didn�t how to negotiate. The
fundamentalists were busy making the Islamic republic and Khomeini learning to
control power. What did the young revolutionaries, the mujahadeen and the
Socialists and the Communists care? What did they care about diplomatic and
international rules and niceties? This was not a tea party; this was
Iranians exulted again at the fiasco of the US military
attempt to rescue the hostages. Another slap in Washington�s face. Oh, how they
seethed on the banks of the Potomac. All their assessments were wrong, all
attempts to salvage something from the disaster wrong, wrong timing, wrong
So, in 1980 American-armed Iraq conveniently attacked Iran
in chaos, while Washington turned up the heat and upped its own confusion by
secretly selling more arms to Iran. Yep, to revolutionary Iran! In order to pay
for the dirty war against the new leftwing Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
The Iran-Contras scandal. La drole de guerre! America arms both sides. Until
Iraq launched its Us-provided chemical warfare, killing thousands of Iranians.
Nonetheless, Iraq could never come near defeating Iran, no
more than American armies today or its Blackwater mercenaries could defeat
ancient Iran whose history reaches back to the beginnings of time. Iran is not
tribal Afghanistan or artificially created and manipulated Iraq. From the
Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea, from villages of the Elbruz Mountains to the
magic fountains of Isfahan, Iran is solidity. Iran is durability, part of our
cultural heritage. This is territory of ancient peoples; according to some
theories, the location of the mythical Garden of Eden and Cain�s land of Nod,
somewhere East of Eden.
Stewart is originally from Asheville, NC. After studies at the University of
California at Berkeley and other American universities, he has lived his adult
life abroad, in Germany and Italy, alternated with residences in The
Netherlands, France, Mexico, Argentina and Russia. After a career in journalism
as Italian correspondent for the Rotterdam newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, and
contributor to media in various European countries, he writes fiction
full-time. His books, "Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A
Stranger" and "Once In Berlin" are published by Wind River
Press. His new novel, "Asheville," is published by www.Wastelandrunes.com He lives with
his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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