I just finished watching the five part Manoto TV’s documentary about the Islamic Revolution of 1979. I highly recommend everyone to watch it. One fact that becomes clear, despite the efforts of the producers maybe, is that Khomeini's leadership and courage played a huge role in his triumph. Next to him the Shah seems like a scared boy. Khomeini could control millions. He was so hugely loved and respected that he could make the entire oil production of the country stop with one word. In 2009 we lost a few hundred lives but never did one shop close or one group strike. Even the students did not strike and the University never shut down. Compared to ’79, 2009 was a little sneeze. No wonder the regime is still solidly in place. They know a thing or two about revolutions and what makes them work. Because, any way you look at it, the Revolution was a huge success for those who won it, namely the religious elite.
Another point that becomes clear is that there was really no other viable opposition. I used to believe that the Revolution was hijacked. But, in fact, the other groups never had a remote chance in the face of competition from the clergy and the mosque. We spend much time debating the ‘what ifs’, in fact this whole documentary seems to be made around those ‘what ifs’.
We spend a lot of time thinking about ‘what if’ the intellectuals had not sided with Khomeini. What intellectuals? They didn't matter at all. They were a small group the masses couldn’t remotely care about. The leftists who joined Khomeini did so to save their neck and were cleansed from the regime soon after. The leftist groups were made up of mostly students and had a small number of followers compared to those who followed Khomeini. Everyone who joined Khomeini did so because it was obvious that he would win. The masses were completely at Khomeini's service in a devoted way never before seen in a revolution. That is why the Revolution was an Islamic one and never had a chance of being anything else.
The National Front (which an 18 year old I, at the time, supported) was mostly made up of tired old men castrated by the Shah. Their time had passed and we paid the price. The point where after Ashoora Tasooa demonstrations Bakhtiar comes on TV and says I want a 'social democrat' government the distance between him and the masses becomes apparent. Bakhtiar was so French sounding in his ideas that it was better if he ran for the mayor of Nice than to try to save the constitutional monarchy (which was never really constitutional) from a devoutly Shiite nation. Khomeini spoke the language of the masses and he seemed to lack fear or emotion, which made him a great leader.
The Shah, on the other hand, comes across as a scared man waiting around for, either, orders from the Americans or fate. The contrast between his previous huffing and puffing and his newfound timidity encouraged the revolutionaries and must have discouraged the army as well. It is sad to watch, on the screen, rather Zhivagesque indeed, this extreme contrast between the Shah after the Opec boom and the Shah at the time of the revolution.
Nothing he did was as bad as his departure in his private jet from Iran. Imagine the folly of leaving an army that supposedly idolizes you in the middle of that chaos. The Shah’s fear and lack of character played a big role in the manner of his fall. It’s palpable in every clip he is in from the tear gas attack on the White House lawn onward the man was panicked. It's shocking how he flees leaving his beloved army and many of his ex-cronies in prison. No gloss of history or repeated viewing of him interviewing in impeccable French or English will ever wash that. He acted in a shameful way towards the end making an unswerving Khomeini seem even stronger and nobler.
Khomeini owes much to the PR savvy of the Western educated Yazdi and Ghotbzadeh whom he got rid of in the end. They made all the right moves as the people on the Shah's side made all the wrong ones. I’ve heard many of the Shah’s close aids, at the time, claim that they told him not to act the way he did, I wonder if there is any truth to that. To the bitter end he was encircled by courtier rivalry, like the one between ex-prime minister Hoveyda and the newly appointed one Amouzgar. Imagine, they are losing the country to Muslim revolutionaries and all they care about is out doing one another in front of the Shah.
Leaving the country in the hands of the very un-charismatic general Azhari and then general Gharabaghi, was another huge mistake. But the Shah seemed, even to the end, afraid of people who could outshine him so he surrounded himself with incompetent men. Regardless of the mistakes of the Shah, the intellectuals, the leftists, or the national front, one thing becomes crystal clear after watching the Manoto TV documentary, no one could have stopped the revolution or Khomeini. And all “what ifs” are really mute. The only ‘what if’ that makes sense posing is the one that goes back to twenty some years before 1979: what if Mossadegh had not been overthrown?