Comment on the Book The Shah and the Ayatollah:
Iranian Mythology and the Islamic Revolution
by Fereydoun Hoveyda.

Let me start by being quite clear: Mohamad Reza Shah Pahlavi did NOT kill Fereydoun Hoveyda's brother, our Prime Minister, Amir Abbas Hoveyda. Though in recent years Fereydoun Hoveyda has at last stopped implying this and accepted and acknowledged this as a matter of fact, his writings still indirectly imply this false premise.

Let us first recite some of his statements and our brief comments on them:

1 - Fereydoun Hoveyda says, “At one level, the 1979 revolution was the outcome of a personal struggle between the Shah and Khomeini. Each of them partially represented one of the key, basic, contradictory trends that agitated the nation since the early years of the twentieth century - secular modernisation on the one hand, in juxtaposition with religious orthodoxy and traditionalism on the other”.

A personal struggle between the Shah and Khomeini could be somehow understandable. The reader should also note that the American and European governments and media, based on their national interests, present Khomeini who had his hand in the assassination of several ministers and prime ministers and the burning of hundreds of people in the cinema Rex of Abadan, as an armless! harmless! innocent! holy man! placed in exile by a corrupt and evil despot.

But what kind of an Iranian, after experiencing Khomeini’s rule and school of thought, would present him as a man representing religious orthodoxy and traditionalism. How could the adoption of the “rules of Jihad” which were inspired through Gabriel and dictated by the Prophet to specific people engaged in various specific wars in order for them to deal with their opponents, and the reaction to a specific situation, be called religious orthodoxy, despite the fact that traditionally, for over a millennium, Iranian literature presents the religious hierarchy as a symbol of “tazvir va ria” (duplicity) and refers to them as “gheshry” (superficial).

Secular modernization is another misused adjective used by the Western politicians and media to reflect that the Shah was not in touch with his people. I have expanded upon this here.

2 - He says, “The Iranian mindset has not changed over the centuries. Its identity has survived the Greek hordes under Alexander the Great (!!!) along with the Arab and Mongol invasion. This sense of permanence might appear to provide some semblance of stability, yet in another way, Iranians are prisoners of this permanence and its accompanying worldview.

The ambiguities? - It is foolish to generalise about the Iranian mindset. Iran is a country with many schools of thought and thousands of scholars, each with their positive and negative contribution to the development of their culture.

It is not clear why Fereydoun Hoveyda considers permanence of identity, maintained through the symbolism in art and literature of the elite and reflecting the clash between rational thinking and religious and ideological terrorism of thought and belief, to be contradictory to social movement and the cyclical changes in the public view of the authorities.

Social identity is based on the main motives accepted by a culture. Why should it be considered as a prison if it is healthy and in line with human nature?

In Iran, the clash between rational thinking and Islam brought about two main schools of thought. One, reflected in the work of scholars such as Ferdowsy and Nezami, suggest righteousness of the principals of Iran’s pre-Islamic culture. The second, reflected in the works of scholars such as Attar, Mowlavi (Rumi), etc, not realising the effect of our thoughts on the reaction of our body in the safeguard of our health (what is termed as placebo effect), while accepting the originality of pre-Islamic culture, introduced mysticism. The second school of thought fearing religious terrorism of thought and belief had to express themselves in a way to be in line with Islam, and used the main morals that are common to all religions. For those who could not understand the special language used, they created the “Darvishy” sub-cultures.

If the “Dary” language is deciphered properly, it can be seen that the peak of rational and realistic thinking is reflected in the works of Hafez. In terms of modernity of thought and a realistic approach to life, no one in the West has gone beyond Hafez. Hafez accepts the originality of the principals of the Iranian old culture, developed under freedom of expression which was the ideology of accepting health and happiness of people as the aim of life, accommodation with nature, and seeking solutions to social problems through tolerance, dialogue, truthfulness and justice. Why Mr Hoveyda considers adhering to such Identity, as becoming a prisoner of such permanence?

3 - He says, “Of all causes of the Revolution, the role of Iranian mythology in the life of the nation is most noteworthy… . Understanding the root cause of the Revolution in 1979 involves a deciphering of this rich mythology. ….. For example, the place and role of the “father” in Iranian society is very different from that of other Middle Eastern patriarchs and tribal chieftains, as it is a divergence from the Western model as well. Iranian’s “father myth” is the exact opposite of the Oedipus legend. You will recall that Dr Abbas Milani discussed this in the book about my brother, the Persian Sphinx. He mentions that in the western Oedipus myth, the son kills the father. But in the Iranian Shahnameh, the father, Rostam, kills his son, Sohrab. It is a metaphor for the victory of the patriarch. The Iranian “father” is an omnipotent autocratic figure whose authority cannot be questioned by his offspring. His absolute power is ingrained in Iranian mythology and is a major key in understanding what has happened in that nation”.

What a shame Mr. Hoveyda has such a superficial knowldedge of the Shahnameh (Book of Kings). To be honest, it is sickening to have to deal with such an interpretation in deciphering of the Rostam and Sohrab myth. Let me briefly present this myth, and expand on it, to show you Mr Fereydoon Hoveyda and Dr. Abbas Milani have aligned themselves with non-Iranian political powers aims of uprooting our national culture.

A baby boy born with white hair and being rejected by his mother is taken by “Symorgh” (mythic bird symbol of the creator’s plan) to a mountaintop and is raised there. Later on, the son of this boy, Rostam, becomes the most powerful hero in the Iranian legends, and is assigned the job of putting down the Turanian attacks. In one of his hunting occasion near Samangan, a city of Turan, after hunt and feast, while relaxing, he goes to sleep. When he wakes up, he does not find his horse. In search of the horse, he reaches Samangan. When the Shah of Samangan learns of Rostam’s arrival, he welcomes him. At bedtime, Tahmineh, the beautiful daughter of the Shah of Samangan, goes to Rostam’s bedroom and tells him that he has such a world-wide fame of power and good behaviour that she wishes to be married to him and have a well-bred child from him. Rostam noticing that in addition to having beauty, she is learned too, asks a “Mubed”(Zoroastrian clergy) to request the Shah of Samangan for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Shah of Samangan appreciates this and a well-deserved marriage ceremony is arranged.

After the marriage, Rostam goes to Zabolestan. When departing, Rostam gives his armband to Tahmineh and tells her that if their child is a daughter to use it as her hair decoration, and if it is a boy, to use it as his armband, as his father did.

The child of this blessed marriage, Sohrab, is raised in Turan Zamin. At the age of 18, not only is he taller and stronger than the greatest Turanian historic heroes, but also he is taller and stronger than the greatest of Iranian legendary heroes, Rostam, and is assigned by the Shah of Turan to lead the war against Iran.

When these two heroes face each other to fight, Sohrab tries hard to find out the identity of his opponent. Rostam hides his identity and suffices to rhetoric and boasts about himself. They engage in different types of fighting. While wrestling, Sohrab, being the stronger, pushes Rostam to the ground. Rostam, cunningly, tries a trick and requests to be excused and be given a second opportunity. In the next move when Rostam pushes Sohrab to the ground, he does not give Sohrab a similar opportunity and pushes his dagger into his side. When Sohrab tells his opponent that you killed me, but you will not be able to get away with this when you meet my father, Rostam. Rostam is shocked and when he sees his armband on Sohrab’s arm, he notices that he has killed his own son.

Ferdowsy dramatises this myth to the maximum, and through it, indirectly suggests to the reader, the first of whom being the Soltan Mahmood Ghaznavy who wants his position to be cleared in Iranian history, the following:

Acceptability of the superiority of Iran to Turan, to Soltan Mahmood Gaznavy (a Turan king himself being a product of mixed marriage), by reflecting the superiority of the son of a mixed marriage. In this way, he welcomes mixed marriages of different races as improving the health of the next generation.

Inspiring superiority of the son of a mixed marriage to the Turanian older generation and presenting Iran as a more important country, Ferdowsy tries to use Iranian mythology to attract Turanians to accept Iranian identity and culture.

Dramatising and presenting the Turanian trained Sohrab as an Iranian dear son, he inspires acceptance of the Turk Shahs as Iranian, and in this way ends the old enmity and discrimination between these two races. (A point to be considered by today’s separatists)

Iranian women’s self-esteem, decency and independence in harmony and in line with nature for the creation of a stronger next generation.

Focusing attention to rhetoric and avoiding truthfulness has tragic results.

Prejudice regarding appearance (things beyond our control) is not justified.

Race discrimination is not justified.

Furthermore, he describes the qualities of manhood and leadership as understood in the Iranian culture, together with the weaknesses in human beings

To present Rostam’s killing of his son in a myth that as put by Ferdowsy “del e nazok as Rostam aayad be khashm” (anyone with a sensitive heart would be angry with Rostam) and which clearly presents the superiority of the son and suffering of the father who through trickery and diverting from truthfulness kills his son, and to use this myth as a metaphor for omnipotent autocratic “father” whose authority can not be questioned by his off-springs, in order to hint that the Iranian Monarchy is inherently dictatorial, and to justify the Revolution is almost beyond belief!

Again I must re-iterate, Mr. Hoveyda, the shah did not kill your brother.

When those who had access to foreign classified documents that indicate foreign intrigues make such comments, it shows that their moral standards have gone as low as the moral standards of their new compatriots.

To appreciate the role of the “father figure” in Iranian mythology, one should learn how a society is formed, the function of leadership in a society, how the leadership is formed, the reasons for symbolization of leadership, how the different social forces act in a society, the forces that bring people together, the forces that create discrimination, forces of competition, the force of lust for power, etc.

When they noticed the unconscious effect of the characteristics of the “father figure” on the followers, the creation of the symbolic “father figure” became a solution to co-existence of groups of people with different languages, different religions and different ways of life. To solve the question of co-existence in a multi-cultural society, symbolization of the leader became a way of creating a general approach to life among different sub-cultures. Through accepting hereditary leadership, stability of the culture was safeguarded. Hereditary leadership also acted as a solution to the struggle of those hungry for power and those hungry for plunder. Accepting the leadership as a “father figure” which has a social position above all religious and ideological leaders was to create a counter-balance against the totalitarian religious or ideological rule which forced one groups views on the others, and to safeguard freedom of expression, and dialogue between different cultures, aimed at the improvement of knowledge and moral standards for the good of all.

Implying dictatorship to the Iranian mythological and historical “father figure” is a misrepresentation of history and should not be mistaken with the absolute totalitarian rule of God, which appeared in Iran two millennium later (or absolute totalitarian ideological rule that has attempted to seize power in the past).

Iranian Mythology is expanded upon here.

4 - He says “but I believe I discovered the reason for the decline of intellectual achievement in the Islamic world after the middle ages. …..

This topic is expanded upon here as part of the Islamic Revolution section

5- He says “the notion of a clash of civilization between the Islamic world on the one hand, and the Jewish and Christian worlds on the other is completely absurd. ….. Now, I am not opposed to religion and to the quest for the things beyond this world. Evolving insight about the divine and the cosmos are not illegitimate, but in the best mainstream of each of the world’s major religions”.

Likewise this topic is expanded upon here as part of the Islamic Revolution section

6 - He says (on the legacy of Shahanshah Ariamehr) “The legend of Jamshid in the Shahnameh provides a fundamental explanation to the tragedy of this man. ….. The Shah’s 1971 festival at Perspolis followed the pattern of Jamshid, including the cult of self-deification. He took credit for any and all of the advances made in Iran. He stopped acknowledging the obvious help and contribution of the United States in this historical process. He forgot the group of liberal reformers within his country, which included Amir Abbas, in their collective contribution to the attempt to bring Iran into the modern, scientific, technological era. The Shah, like Jamshid, became a despotic autocrat, with identical, tragic result. ….. All of this shows that there must be a complete break with the circular past. There must be a political and cultural alternative in Iran that is neither Achamenid kingship nor Islamic theocracy, but the development of an honest Republic. ….. But it must not be an attempted copy of European or American constitutional models, but a constitutional republican model that takes account of the unique role and influence of the Iranian mythologies. ….. Now in terms of this man (the Shah), I remember my last conversation with my brother on telephone after the Shah’s departure. My brother was appalled that this man would run away from his historic responsibilities to defend the interests of his nation during a crisis, and to argue the merits of his own motives and legacy.”

The ambiguities? - Mr Fereydoon Hoveyda is certainly not a lunatic. He is not blind or deaf either. Has he lost his faculty due to old age? Most probably not. To make such statements he may be acting either as a loudspeaker for the well-documented political objective of de-stabilizing Iran or, being brother to the ex-prime minister of Iran and in exile, fear for his life has made him utter the same things he reads in the Western media, which is based on their national interests. Do not be shocked by the harsh thoughts I have delved in, you will find my reasons in the following. The judgment is yours.

After the deranged comment on the mythology of Rostam and Sohrab, discussed earlier, one should not be surprised to see the most celebrated Iranian mythical figure “Jamshid” being presented by Hoveyda as a metaphor for a despotic autocrat. Does he not know that Iranian myths created the Hakhamaneshi Shahanshahi? Does he not know that Judaism accepted Kurosh as a God sent saviour? Does he not know that Arabia, Cartage, independent Mediterranean islands and the countries north of Greece, voluntarily requested to pay “Kharaj” (tax) and become Iranian Satrapees (Province)? Does he not know that all the various religious establishments got the most support during the Hakhamaneshi Shahanshahi? Does he not himself mention that the Iranian identity survived Greek hordes under Alexander? So why should the upholder of freedom of expression be called a despotic autocrat by him, unless he is influenced by the enemies of Iranian culture. If he has any doubt on these matters, he should read Herodotus’ (the Greek historian) works.

When he addresses the Shah, as “this man”, a despotic autocrat, was he himself not His Majesty’s Ambassador to the UN. Does this not reflect his own duplicity?

When he says, “he (the Shah) took the credit for any and all of the advances made in Iran. He forgot the group of liberal reformers within his country, which included Amir Abbas...", was it not Amir Abbas Hoveyda, the prime minister, who constantly expressed his honour in executing His Majesty’s wishes (the “manviaateh mobarakeh molukaneh”) and announcing his pride of the Shah’s motives for the future of the country? Is Mr Hoveyda not aware of symbolism and does he reject the creation of national identity?

What were those liberal reformers able to carry out when the shah left the countryAmbassador Hoveyda?

Why criticise the departure of the Shah, when those liberal reformers were insisting that His Majesty should leave the country, and His Majesty who had to leave the country due to urgent medical necessity transferred the power to those liberal reformers? When he presents the Shah as a despotic autocrat and refers to an admirable legacy for his brother, is he creating a legacy or is he insulting Amir Abbas who acted as the main player in this alleged blame? Does His Majesty’s order that no blood should run from the nose of the opposition, reflect a despotic character?

When he says the Shah stopped acknowledging the obvious help and contribution of the United States in this historical process, what further acknowledgement could he provide above that of a military pact with the U.S., which was aimed at preventing the Soviet aggression against the U.S.? Did you Mr Hoveyda, expect the Shah to act as a servant to the U.S., or to look after the Iranian interest? What help did the U.S. show in the industrialization of Iran, other than giving ill advice that the government should not invest in the industries?

Mr Ambassador, Iranians are aware of the fact that the democratic attitude of the Shah put the security of the country at risk of communist takeover, and the U.S. and their staunch ally pressed the Shah to take a strong attitude. The Shah did take a strong attitude, but this strong attitude was in line with Iranian interests as well. This comprised the increase of oil price and the control of the oil industry, as well as the industrialization program, which was not in the interest of the West.

You have read the classified U.S. documents presented in the book about your brother, “the Persian sphinx” and probably many more de-classified documents regarding the U.S. support of the Islamic fundamentalists. You, yourself, mention “one must remember that it was the Americans who put pressure on the Shah to leave Iran”. You should agree with the content of the B.B.C. documentary film “reputation” expressing the international conspiracy to darken the Shah’s reputation. Did you expect the Shah, in need of urgent medical treatment abroad, to fight the most powerful nations of the world, when the Iranian secular liberals, such as yourgoodself, agitated in favour of a republic/revolution? Do not forget your own words, “Iranian revolution was, in fact, started by secular liberals. It was hijacked by Khomeini and the Islamic Mullahs”.

When you mention that he (the Shah) should have defended the merits of his own motives and legacy, do you Mr Hoveyda, understand the meaning of the word revolution?

No, Mr Hoveyda, the Shah had the responsibility of safeguarding what the Iranian Shahanshahi symbolises - the desires and aspiration of the people. It seems that you have difficulty distinguishing the difference between the Iranian Shahanshahi and despotism. The Shah had the military power to help the US against the Soviet Union and could crush any movement, but he did not order to shoot at the people. The people noticed this and a short while after the revolution addressed him as “Khoda Biamorz” (the blessed one).

It is not entirely accurate to state: The revolution was not hijacked by Khomeini and the Islamic Mullahs. It was the secular liberals, the “rowshanfekran” (the enlightened) and the reformists who were misled to believe that “Republic” is a cure for the ills of the country. They listened to “aavazeh dohol” (the sound of hollow drum). They did not realize that this is the voice of the trusted Western governments, the so-called civilized industrialized democracies betraying them. They did not look around themselves to see what a Republican system has brought for Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other third world countries. In the developed world too, Republics have prompted the actions of leaders like Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. They could not have visualised that when the combination of economic, social and political climate is not ripe to adopt a democratic system, it is the voices such as “Allah o akbar” and promises of free water, electricity, bus fare and the Mercedes Benz car, and the voices of the unscrupulous, machiavelist charlatan, that attracts the vote. They did not realize that the Shah symbolized the desires and aspiration of the people and it is the responsibility of the people to safeguard this symbol not the shah.

It is unfortunate that the Iranians had to learn the hard way. Now the people have realized this. They will not give up the positive aspects of their culture, no matter how misrepresented. They will see the “father figure” representing desires and aspirations of the people, symbolised by the hereditary throne. They will adhere to their national aspirations of freedom, respect, security, justice and overcoming natural difficulties of securing proper means of living. They will follow this in their traditional attitude of tolerance. They have noticed that they have to secure freedom of expression.

Mr Ambassador, when you conclude that “there must be a complete break with the circular past, there must be a political and cultural alternative in development of an honest republic”, could you identify an honest republic in the third world today? Has twenty-five years living in the U.S. not shown you the machiavelistic attitude and corruption of the world leadership and elite to the core?

When you present the Rostam and Sohrab and the Jamshid myths, the way you do, when you state that Iranian identity has survived the Greek hordes under Alexander along with the Arab and Moghol invasion, when you suggest a complete break with the circular past, when in shaping and developing an honest republic (!!), you suggest that it should be based on a model that takes account of the unique role and influence of the Iranian mythology, and not to be modelled on European or American constitution, when you state that Iran was a prisoner of its own mythology, think Mr Hoveyda, think. These statements are contradictory and reflect a confused mind.


Item One Expanded upon:
Secular modernization is another misused adjective used by the Western politicians and media to reflect that the Shah was not in touch with his people. Mr Hoveyda should know that since when the Iranians introduced wisdom (rational thinking) and justice into their brand of Islam, they were not permitted to make pilgrimages to Mecca. He should know that it was only after Nader Shah’s war against the Ottoman Empire that a seminary of Islamic Sages from all Moslem countries in Baghdad accepted Iranians as Moslems and allowed their pilgrimage to Mecca.

To mention a few other points, does he not know that Mowlavy (Rumi) has become the most fashionable subject of study in the U.S. Has he not heard Goethe’s comment on Hafez, that I’d like to join you in your way of life. Has he read in the Western classic literature a social critic more apt than Obeydeh Zakani? As far as moral standards of culture are concerned, what has the West to offer us that can be considered modernization?

Iranian national culture is a rich culture that the rest of the world, especially the West, had emulated. It is true that religious terror of thought and belief stopped the development of science and technology in our country. It is true that the Pahlavi Shah's did their best to fill this gap in the shortest possible time.

It certainly is not true that the Shah was influenced by the Western culture and tried to force it on his people. His admiration for Kurosh (Cyrus) the Great is a clear indication that he could not accept duplicity and Machiavelism that has sunked the Western political leaders to such moral ebb.

The point that Mr Hoveyda has missed is that the Iranian elite and those who called themselves “rowshanfekran” (enlightened) did not realized that in the West the political parties were based on different economic schools of thought which had originated during the period that philosophic thought had greater weight in the life of the people. The Iranian public were not aware of these schools and they did not notice that the Iranian society was not ready for political democracy and revolting against the political system will give rise to the power of the most eccentric, savage group who know how to manipulate the public.

For those who have not read this book in its entirety, here are some extracts.