Yuram Abdullah Weiler

Vibrant and Vigorous: The Islamic Revolution in Iran at 37

As evidenced by the recent implementation of the JCPOA with the U.S. and European powers, the Islamic Revolution in Iran remains vibrant and vigorous, confounding pundits in the west, in particular the United States, who remain perennially perplexed not only by the revolution’s longevity and endurance, but also by their own inability to explain satisfactorily the anomalous sequence of events that led to its victory.

By Yuram Abdullah Weiler*

While scholars have written numerous monographs attempting to investigate in depth the various causal factors behind the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran,[1] the most frequently cited major causes, broadly speaking, can easily be placed into two categories: First, there was the ever-increasing repression of the Iranian people by the tyrannical, U.S.-supported Pahlavi regime; and second, were the regime’s futile attempts to replace the Iranian people’s centuries-old attachment and loyalty to Islam with some sort of western-style, state-focused, nationalistic fervor, imbued with secular democratic overtones.  An example of the latter can be seen in the former shah’s “White Revolution,” which was an attempt, among other things, to impose a distinctly western educational system upon Iranians, and to curb the influence of Islam and the religious scholars.[2]


The enormity and barbarity of the despotic oppression inflicted upon the Iranian people by the Pahlavi regime cannot be overstated.  The CIA-trained SAVAK, the mainstay of the shah’s repressive security apparatus, had some 5,000 full-time operatives and an unknown number of part-time lackeys and informers.  Some estimates suggest that in every 450 Iranian men, one was affiliated with the SAVAK[3], which carried out surveillance, investigations, censorship, torture, kidnapping, and extra-judicial trials and executions on behalf of the shah.[4]  There were, of course, a number of other contributory factors such as the oil boom-bust cycle of the 1970s, which imposed severe economic hardships upon most Iranians by 1976 and led to increasing opposition to the shah and his policies by 1977.[5]  This is not to say that resistance to the shah arose suddenly in the 1970s, for Imam Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, had expressed his dissent in the tract Kashf al-Asrar written in 1941 soon after Reza Pahlavi had abdicated under western pressure and his son Mohammad Reza assumed power.[6]


Nevertheless, a distinct sequence of events driving the revolution forward took place in 1978 beginning with a government-planted editorial defaming Imam Khomeini published in Ettela’at newspaper in January.  This led to open protests by the religious scholars and students in Qom and subsequent brutal suppression by the shah’s security forces, which killed an estimated 70 among the protestors.   What happened next were three cycles of 40-day mourning observances, during which the mourners used the occasions to voice their opposition to the shah and his policies.  Next, on August 19, the 25th anniversary of the 1953 CIA-engineered coup ousting the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh, the Rex Theater in a working-class district of Abadan caught fire, trapping and killing 400 people inside.  Blamed on the hated SAVAK, the tragedy fueled widespread anti-shah protests across Iran. A climax of events occurred on September 8th when hundreds of peaceful protesters—Michael Foucault reported 4,000—were gunned down by the shah’s forces at Jaleh (now Shohada) Square in Tehran in a massacre referred to as Black Friday.[7]  By November of that fateful year, opposition to the hated shah had reached a critical mass of popular support making a revolution seem inevitable and unstoppable.[8] 


Following Imam Khomeini’s triumphant return to millions of cheering Iranians on February 1, 1979, Washington reacted negatively and with increasing hostility towards the fledgling Islamic government in Tehran, causing a diplomatic deadlock.  Acknowledging this perpetual problem since the time of the revolution in 1979, former Iranian career diplomat Seyed Hossein Mousavian explained that the stalemate between Iran and the U.S. is exacerbated by a lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of western “experts,” mainly those within the U.S., of the complex interrelationships between Iran’s society, culture and its Islamic political system.  Former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice candidly admitted that she did not understand the Iranian political system and that within the U.S. government “we don’t really have people who know Iran.”  This farcical but frightening state of affairs within the diplomatic ranks of this domineering power has existed since the Carter administration and likely before that.[9]


I see three main reasons for the negative reaction by the U.S. to the Islamic Revolution in Iran: First, the U.S. was caught off guard by the rapid progress and success of the revolution, despite that former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had predicted the shah’s downfall to U.S. president John Kennedy in1963;[10] second, the U.S. had invested heavily in the shah as the local enforcer of Washington’s policies in the Persian Gulf region, and believed he would remain in power for decades;[11] and third, the U.S. has held on tenaciously to a perception of itself as a victim of “a radical Iranian regime” following the U.S. embassy takeover by activist students.[12]  Washington’s enduring hunger for revenge over the hostages combined with an insistence on maintaining its ignorance of Iran’s Islamic culture and political system has yielded an extremely hostile political climate, which renders U.S. policymakers virtually incapable of viewing Iran in a positive way, much less of interacting respectfully with the Islamic Republic.  One can see that, in such a caustic atmosphere, American lawmakers see the passage of sanctions against Iran not only as a logical reaction, but also as a vital necessity.


British scholar Michael Axworthy credits the Islamic Revolution in Iran as being one of the three great revolutions of modern times, the other two being the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution.  Interestingly enough, Axworthy points out that populists diverted the French Revolution from its goals of establishing a bourgeois class and capitalist economics and transformed it into a vehicle for terror and political repression.  Likewise, Axworthy likens the Russian Revolution to a military coup d'état.  However, in the case of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Axworthy comments that while the revolution was “Islamic,” and has similarities to the previously mentioned French and Russian revolutions, “it remains an enigma.”[13]


Dr. Hamid Algar points out that western scholars focus on the Islamic Revolution in Iran as a reaction to modernity or western “modernization.”  The main accomplishment of this phenomenon of so-called modernization was the transformation of the Pahlavi regime from a backward Middle Eastern monarchy, like its Qajar predecessors, into a full-fledged western-style tyrannical dictatorship with all the prerequisite military apparatus for suppressing dissent.[14]  And in Iran, the leaders of political dissent were almost always from the Shia religious scholars.  For example, Shia clergy were at the forefront of the protests in 1890-92 against the tobacco monopoly granted by Qajar shah Nasser od-Din to the British.[15]


Western scholars are unable to assess the causes and significance of the Islamic Revolution in Iran primarily due to their inability to study the event other than through a lens of western secularism, which frequently appears in the characterization of the Iranian Revolution as religious and “fundamentalist.”[16]  Of course, Twelver Shi’a Islam, the official state religion of Iran, cannot be characterized as fundamentalist, particularly in view of the use of ijtihad, the derivation of Islamic laws based on logic and reasoning in the absence of specific hadiths addressing contemporary situations arising in our rapidly changing, technologically-oriented modern world.  Likewise, the emphasis in the west on the secular myth of “separation of church and state” deprives western scholars of the necessary perspective to assess the Islamic Revolution, resulting in frequent futile attempts to separate the revolution from its Islamic context.  Consequently, western scholars are unable to accept the reality that the Islamic Revolution in Iran has ushered in a stable, representative form of governance that recognizes the will of the people within the framework of values, principles and legal precepts of Islam.


There is no question that the Islamic Revolution in Iran not only had a profound effect on Islamic political movements in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and elsewhere in the Middle East, but also caused repercussions as far away as Malaysia and Indonesia.  Perhaps the best indicator of the profound impact of Iran’s revolution on other Islamic awakening movements by peoples seeking self-determination is the massive effort exerted by the U.S. and its western allies in containment of Iran and destabilization. Less than two years after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iraq invaded Iran and, with the blessing of the U.S. and its “partners,” imposed an 8-year-long sanguinary war on the fledgling Islamic Republic in an attempt to contain the spread of the Islamic Revolution.  That Carter gave Saddam a “green light” for the invasion of Iran was revealed in a 1981 memo by former secretary of state Alexander Haig.[17]


Least understood in the west, and in particular the U.S., is the concept of spreading the Islamic Revolution, that is to say the dominance of Islam meaning the rule of Islamic laws and precepts, and not the dominance of Iran.  Article 154 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran expresses concern for “the welfare of humanity as a whole and takes independence, liberty and sovereignty of justice and righteousness as the right of people in the world over.”  Likewise, Imam Khomeini viewed the revolution as pan-Islamic and not exclusively the domain of Iran.[18]  Imam called upon Sunnis and committed Muslims everywhere to join in the Islamic awakening and rebel against the “satanic superpowers,” namely the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.[19]  Had those who heard the Imam’s message in 1980 heeded his call, Daesh, Al Qaeda and other takfiri extremist groups would never have come into existence, nor would the Middle East and much of the world have found itself in this current chaotic condition of continuous conflict.


Regrettably, due to ignorance and obduracy in the west, the U.S. continues to enact policies aiming at containment and destabilization of Iran in hopes of effecting eventual regime change.  Washington’s continuing antagonistic policies towards Iran not only have exposed the sublime stupidity of western-style statecraft, but also have managed to destabilize the entire Middle East, thus posing a security threat to Europe and even to the U.S. itself.

* Yuram Abdullah Weiler is a former engineer educated in mathematics turned writer and political critic who has written over 130 articles on Islam, social justice, economics, and politics focusing mainly on the Middle East and U.S. policies.  His work has appeared on Tehran Times, Mehr News, Press TV, Iran Daily, IRIB, Fars News, Palestine Chronicle, Salem-News, Khabar Online, Imam Reza Network, Habilian Association, Shiite News, Countercurrents, Uruknet, Turkish Weekly, American Herald Tribune and Hezbollah. In addition, he has frequently appeared as a guest commentator on Press TV, Al Etejah, and Alalam. A dissenting voice from the “Belly of the Beast”, he currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico USA.



[1] See for example Michael Axworthy, Revolutionary Iran (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), Charles Kurzman, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2004),  John Esposito ed., The Iranian Revolution: Its Global Impact (Miami: Florida International University Press, 1990), R.K. Ramazani ed., Iran’s Revolution: The Search for Consensus (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), Ervand Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008),  Nikki Keddie, Modern Iran; Roots and Results of Revolution (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006), Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Iran and the United States (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), and
The Islamic Revolution in Iran (Qom: Ansariyan, 2006).

[2] Seyed Hossein Mousavian, ibid., 26.

[3]FitzGerald, Francis. Giving the Shah everything he wants. Springfield, Mo : Nahḍat-i āzādī-i Īrān, 1975.

[4] Ervand Abrahamian, ibid., 126.

[5] Nikki Keddie, ibid., 214.

[6] Imam Khomeini, Hamid Algar trans., Islam and Revolution (North Haledon: Mizan Press, 1981), 169.

[7] Ervand Abrahamian, ibid., 158-159.

[8] Charles Kurzman, ibid., 143.

[9] Seyed Hossein Mousavian, ibid., 2-3.

[10] Premier Khrushchev stated, “The Shah will certainly be overthrown.”  See Laurence Chang and Peter Kornbluh eds., The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 (New York: The New Press, 1998), 11.

[11] Seyed Hossein Mousavian, ibid., 26.

[12] Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Going to Tehran (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2013), 291.

[13] Michael Axworthy, ibid., 15-16.

[14] The Islamic Revolution in Iran, ibid., 19.

[15] Michael Axworthy, ibid., 22.

[16] Michael Axworthy, ibid., xx.  For a description of Iran as a country riding the “wave of Islamic fundamentalism,” see Robert Baer, The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008).

[17] Seyed Hossein Mousavian, ibid., 84.

[18] Farhang Rajaee, “Iranian ideology and Worldview: The Cultural Export of Revolution,” in Esposito, ibid.,66.

[19] Imam Khomeini, ibid., 302.


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  • 2019-02-07 13:21
    Hi. Madam, I am sharing this article. Good Read !!!