Evaluate the role of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1979 Iranian revolution (1200) Various factors influenced the 1979 Iranian revolution, but at the core of this significant event was Islamic fundamentalism. The Iranian religious leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, led this movement to end the thirty-seven-year reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, also known as the Shah of Iran (Diller 1991, p. 152). The revolution was a combination of mounting social, economic, political and religious strains. The nation of Iran was never colonized, unlike some of its bordering countries, making its people intolerant of external influences.
The Shah had gradually westernized and secularized his country, creating a strong American presence that was being felt by the people of Iran. The Shah ruled by oppression, which was implemented by the notorious secret police force known as the ‘Savak. ’ This separated the monarch even further with his people. The coalition of forces against the Shah consisted of the traditionalists and the modernists, but these categories brake off into many diverse groups who all had their own motivation to dethrone the Shah. The Islamic fundamentalist, Ayatollah Khomeini, was seen as the figurehead of this movement.
Khomeini’s followers shaped the movement within Iran while Khomeini was in exile, spreading the beliefs of Islamic fundamentalism, which evidently acts as the binding notion that was to bring the Shah of Iran to an end (Diller 1991, p. 152). Iran in the seventies experienced a booming economy and hasty increase in income. The Shah, however, was given little credit for this economic success, as Iran’s citizens felt that he had not given his people what he had promised. Clawson (2008, p. 15) suggests that he Iranian people were promised ‘European style income, however the Shah could not deliver. Clawson (2008, p. 15) also writes that in an interview with the Shah in 1974, he had promised that “"In twenty-five years, Iran will be one of the world's five flourishing and prosperous nations ... I think that in ten years' time, our country will be as you [in Britain] are now. " The Shah’s predictions were not entirely false, but as the poor received more spending power, so did the upper class. This continued to exacerbate the gap between the social classes of Iran. The main reason for the Shah’s confidence in bringing his people prosperity was the mass amount of revenue Iran was generating from Oil.
The nationalization of Iran’s oil in the fifties meant increased profits for the nation. Iran’s economy was growing exponentially; its GDP was five times higher in 1976 than it was in 1960 (Clawson, p. 15). Islamic modernists, such as Marxist Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, opposed the Shah’s capitalist economic policies (Diller 1991, p. 152). There were several other groups that were not pleased with the Shah’s growing focus on economic growth, including the ulemas (councils composed of local Mullahs or respected religious leaders) (Sanders 1990, p. 66).
These ulemas possessed considerable local influence, as they were in charge of the educational systems and had influence over the urban poor and bazaar merchants (Diller 1991, p. 152). In the midst of all that was going on in Iran, Khomeini lived in exile in Paris. The Ayatollah however, was well informed, and managed to sneak tapes into the country to his supporters and the local ulemas. These tapes spread the word of Islamic fundamentalism to these groups that opposed that Shah, and gave them a binding power that eventually would be the revolution of February 1979.
Not long, Khomeini had become the face of the movement that was to remove the Shah from power. By the 1970’s the Shah had created an Iran that was westernized, secularized, and that had a strong American presence. Tensions were growing between Iraq and Iran at their border. The Shah looked to his allies, America, for military support. Having just been through the Vietnam War, the threat of communism was still in the air and America was determined to form a strong friendship with an ally in the Middle East.
Doing so with Iran, America supplied the nation with all the latest arms and war machines they needed if tensions with Iraq grew further (Fall of Shah, BBC Productions, 2009) This strong military and American presence created by the Shah incensed the people of Iran, letting the coalition grow. Lavish 50th anniversary celebrations of the Pahlavi dynasty held in 1975 particularly infuriated the ulemas (Horrie and Chippindale 2003, p. 211). These celebrations clashed with Islamic religious festivals (Sanders 1990, p. 15).
The ulemas anger peaked with parades that were glorifying ancient Persian Pagan gods, as well as the Shah partaking in binge drinking with prominent western figures (Fall of Shah, BBC Productions, 2009). The lavish parade held by the Shah displayed to the world a sense of wealth and prosperity, but it was know to the poor of Iran that this wealth and prosperity was only seen in the upper class (Fall of Shah, BBC Productions, 2009). The people of Iran saw Islamic fundamentalism, as the only route as a means of dethroning the mighty Shah. The Shahs rule by oppression meant any opposing force of monarch was crushed in its tracks.
At first, the Shi’ite opposition joined forces with the secular left in what was called the Red Mullah’s. This movement focused on the cultural and economic effects of Western style capitalism and the enormous American military presence within Iran (Horrie and Chippindale 2003, p. 211). This movement was swiftly crushed by the Shahs secret police, the SAVAK (Horrie and Chippindale 2003, p. 211). The Shahs rule by oppression made him even more significantly different and out of touch with the people of his country (Fall of Shah, BBC Productions, 2009).
The secularization that Iran was ruled under was revered by all Iran’s religious figures, including Khomeini. The push for Sharia law was filtered through the educational systems of Iran through the teachings of Ulemas (Fall of Shah, BBC Productions, 2009). Nearly all Iranians shared an intolerance of a western presence and wanted to become more traditional. Khomeini saw this want and took advantage of it, headlining the movement to form an Iran that was to be ruled under Islamic fundamentalist views. Politically the Shah was significantly out of touch with his people.
A series of reforms in 1963 called the White Revolution was a far-reaching attempt by the Shah to westernize his country (Unknown author 1994, p. 968). Some of these new policies included the opportunity for voting rights for women, Land reforms and the eradication of literacy (Unknown author 1994, p. 968). These reforms were tremendously approved by the nation (Unknown author 1994, p. 968). An unknown author of the encyclopedia of Britannica (1994, p. 968) suggests, “When land distribution ended, about 2,500,000 families were estimated to have benefitted from the reforms.
During 1960-72 the percentage of owner occupied farmland rose from 26 to 78 percent. ” These reforms however where not supported by all of the Iranian community. Wealthy landowners and Islamic clergy joined forces to oppose the Shahs land reform program (Diller 1991, p. 152). The Ulemas also opposed the Shahs new law allowing women to vote, as well as education schemes that replaced secular classes for religious teaching and permitted coeducation (Diller 1991, p. 152). To infuriate the people of Iran to an even further extent, the Shah brought in American foreigners to help with technical aspects of the reforms (Diller 1991, p. 52). Khomeini’s supporters regard the White revolution riots of 1963 as the start of the Iranian revolution (Diller 1991, p. 152). The various groups that were Khomeini’s supporters relied on the prominent religious leader to bring change to their country. The people of Iran saw Islamic fundamentalism as the only path that could bring this change. The Iranian revolution of 1979 marked the end of the Pahlavi dynasty, and a government ruled under Islamic law (Fall of Shah, BBC Productions, 2009).
Despite the diversity of the groups opposed to the Shah and their different reasons for the monarch’s reassignment, the powerful force of religion, that was Islamic fundamentalism, truly gave the coalition strength. The people opposed to the Shah needed to put a face to the revolution, and that figure was Ayatollah Khomeini (Fall of Shah, BBC Productions, 2009). The people of Iran accepted that Islamic fundamentalism was the only path to solve the issues they wanted solving. Islamic fundamentalism soon became the prominent force driving the Iranian revolution, and ultimately removing the Shah from power (Fall of Shah, BBC Productions, 2009).
References * Clawson, 2008, The Islamic republics Economic failure, 12/5/12, http://www. meforum. org/1982/the-islamic-republics-economic-failure * Diller, 1991, The Middle East, Congressional Quarterly Inc. , Washington D. C. * Horrie and Chippindale, 2003, What is Islam? , Virgin Books ltd. , London. * Sanders, 1990, Places and people of the world: Iran, Chelsea house publishers Philadelphia. * Iranian Revolution: Fall of a Shah, video recording, BBC, 2009. * Unknown, 1994, The New Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth edition, USA