Friday, January 21, 2011

The Shah - A New Biography

Imprisoned by the shah for a year in 1977 at the notorious Evin prison, Stanford professor Abbas Milani has now written an enlightening biography of the of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who ruled Iran from 1941 to 1979 and whose policies inadvertently brought on the Iranian upheaval. The Shah, who decked himself out in uniforms and medals, is portrayed as being timid and indecisive and who was ill-suited for a very difficult job. Milani was able to draw on more than 400 interviews and newly released documents by the U.S. and British embassies. The Shah was a shy, coddled boy suddenly thrust into the spotlight at the age of seven by his father who had proclaimed himself king of Iran in 1925 with the help of the British. The Shah's father secularized the country and began to industrialize. In ancient Iran, Zoroastrian priests ruled in conjunction with divinely anointed shahs. This idea of melding the autocratic grandiosity of yesterday's kings and the progressive pragmatism of modern leaders was accepted by both Pahlavi shahs. Ultimately, it led to their downfall, first the father's, then the son's. What remained was a modernized populace with a hollow political infrastructure. The one area where Pahlavi diverged from his father's policies was in regards to the clergy. The Shah reinstated many of the privileges his father had wrenched from the clergy. In large part, he believed that the clerics were the best "antidote to communism," a policy which weakened the democratic left while the strength of the clerics grew.

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