The First Amendment; Geoffery Godsell
The First Amendment and a free people weekly examination of civil liberties in the media in the 1970s produced by WGBH radio Boston in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University.
The host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Rubin.
What happened in the Iranian revolution what does it mean for the future. What does it mean for all of the countries in the neighborhood and for the United States. I'm delighted to have as my guest today Jeffrey gunsel the former overseas editor of The Christian Science Monitor and now its roving correspondent for Foreign Affairs. Jeffrey has only recently returned from Canada where he covered the Canadian elections and before that from December 1978 until February 979 was in Iran primarily I gather in Tehran surveying the revolution from its earliest manifestations to Khomeini's arrival and the mob scenes and all the rest of it. Jeffrey let me start out with a very difficult question. You've been on this program before and you know I never offer a guest especially a good one an easy question. I have told a coming set anyone who applies the words Republic or democracy to our government is an enemy of the Islamic State. Does this show a man not only a religious fanatic or conservative whatever you want to put him. But this is your man who is notoriously out of touch with progressive forces around the world.
I think it does. I think to understand how to begin to understand Khomeini well have to see him very much in terms of an Old Testament prophet. I don't I don't know some people think he's a basically evil man. I don't go along with that. But I think he is a zealot. I think that he is out of touch with the modern world. And he I think his his his attitude in some way is a backlash if you like to the challenge of the modern world to traditional Islam. And in fact to traditional religion everywhere.
In other words he might be an alter ego to the Shaw being the mirror opposite of the Shah or hating the Shah for his kind of despotism but not necessarily an opposite that proves the reverse of the rule by authoritarian.
Now I agree completely. I think to understand what's happening in Iran one has to recall the particular role a special role of Shia Islam in Iran. Now what has been happening in Iran is in some ways connected with developments elsewhere in the Muslim world where there is a staring in this arc of crisis that.
Dr. Brzezinski has spoken about it but I think you have to see Iran in a special light because it is the only country in the world where Shia Islam is the religion of the state as against Sunni against a Sunni minority as is sort of the mainstream. Obviously I mean the Saudi Arabia is basically Sunni Islam. Sadat is a sunny Muslim. King Hussein is a Sunni Muslim. Sunni Islam is the mainstream of Islam. She is a particular school a particular sect of Islam and the division comes over recognition of legitimate succession to the Prophet Mohammad in the in the leadership of Islam. Now Shia Islam. It is the religion of the state it was the religion of the state in Islam under the Shah. But it has always been a component of what I would call Persian nationalism. Let's forget Iran for a moment which was invented by the Shah's father Persia I mean the country is Persia Persia. It is a shot called an empire you know he was an empress. There are other minorities but it is a country that was ruled by the Persian majority of the country. The Persians have a long long history going back 2500 years and they were they were conquered in that great wave of Arab conquest which whose whole aim was to spread Islam. Shortly after days of the prophet Mohammed himself. The Persians were not able to resist the conquest. They were not able to resist Islam. They were not able to resist accepting the Arabic alphabet for their writing but they were determined to remain Persian. Now remember they are not Semitic like the Arabs they are sort of ethnically or racially distinct. Their language is not related to the Arabic tongue. What could they do to keep their distinction under this great wave of Arab. If you like Sunni Muslim conquest All right. We can't resist Islam but to keep ourselves different will adopt Islam. That will give us a separate identity still as Persians within this great new empire of Islam. Way back in the middle ages now the Arabs receded their power receded. The Persians remained Shia Muslims but then they developed another threat to the Persians identity. The Ottoman Empire the Turks. And again they were threatened by a people who were Sunni Muslim. So what did they do. They reasserted their Shia Islam. And how did they do it that already they've already sort of adopted it. But now in fifteen hundred and one they made it the religion of the state which it has been ever since. So it has a row. Shia Islam has a role as part of the concept of Persian nationhood and Persian identity quite distinct from Islam in other countries. Now there evolved a situation from the 15th century onwards in Iran whereby the secular leadership of the Shah is going all the way back for 500 years. The secular leadership of the Shah's found itself always in a tug of war in confrontation or conflict with the religious leadership which was written into the country as part of the state. And so you had these two working as a check and balance on each other for a period of about 500 years. The Shah the Shah who has just lost his throne threw it out of balance threw it out of bounds. He pulled a pendulum right over to secular power in the hands of the monarchy to the exclusion of Shia. I think Khamenei is myopia then takes the pendulum pulls and absolutely I mean the revolution was to release the pendulum from this extreme position which was which is not only the exclusion of Islam it was off for a Tarion cruel monarchy. The revolution was to release that pendulum from that extreme position where had never been before. Right over an extreme position. Where does a pendulum go when it's released over to the other extreme.
Jeffrey the accidents of my own research in the Muslim world have taken me to Southeast Asia and Egypt not to other places but to different Muslim countries and I have found of course there is the basic conservative movement which is always on the up grade especially since the Iranian revolution of Khamenei. But on the whole I found a very liberal trend especially amongst the middle class of Moslems Moslems by religion but middle class in other ways. And I wonder where their Khomeini's antagonism to the middle class doesn't only mark him as a Shiite Muslim but also marks him as a person who is very distrustful of liberalizing trends as being manifested in the Muslim world.
Oh I think you're absolutely right. I think although I sort of spent a minute or so sort of stressing the importance of Shia Islam to Iran I think you're still absolutely right to stew just to say that Muslims elsewhere well identify him with religious fundamentalism Sunni Shia or what have you.
And I think with the people kind of people whom you've met and with many people in Iran who wanted to get rid of the Shah. Khomeini is becoming more and more somebody who's let the side down. I'm sure they saw him as a venerable religious leader. But they hoped and they felt they had assurances from people around him particularly those who were with him in Paris like Dr. Yazdi who's now foreign minister and cited quotes about it who now runs radio and television in Iran.
They felt that that under Khomeini there would be a measure of free speech.
I say there would be. There would be some room for political pluralism.
Yet they had no way of knowing because over the years that they dealt with him whether he was in exile in Iraq or the short period in France he was a mystical character. And you can read anything you want into a mystical character.
I agree with you again. And of course there is another thing which I think has some importance on the Iranian scene. I spoke about being Shia Muslims and there. There she is and is identified with the question of the succession to the Prophet Mohammed. Now Shia Muslims identify 12 legitimate leaders. In their view whom they honor and respect as it is of Islam the 12th went into application went into hiding in the I think it was in the 9th century or thereabouts and they are awaiting his return his or rather messiah figure. So any religious figure in absentia has a particular appeal to Shia Muslim thinking. And here you had. Ayatollah Khomeini in absentia absent as the 12th EMA is absent and you see the parallel and the appeal. And so it was all the easier for this venerable and to a great extent venerated figure to be accepted as the symbol the symbolic leader of the revolution against the Shah.
One of the imposing leaders in the Muslim world perhaps the most imposing is of course Anwar Sadat of Egypt. We are doing is recording this discussion about 100 days after the revolution in Iran immediately after the revolution you might have thought that some of the commentary about the domino theory applied to the Muslim world was not out of line. One didn't know what to think. But looking ahead now because people were listening beyond a hundred days what would you say the the changes have been or likely to have been in the minds of people in the Middle East or in the Muslim world. 200 days after the Iranian revolution when they see that that Khamenei is that the economy is in collapse of the Arabs in the south of Iran are actually in the streets fighting at times that the Kurds are restive and that all the minorities are very restive. Do you think that people like Anwar Sadat who is a very religious man might be reinforced by the the Iranian episode rather than facing deposition.
I think you know I think that in many ways as more and more people in Iran and elsewhere become disillusioned with Ayatollah Khomeini's fundamentalism I think President Sadat were able to say I told you so. I agree with your your identification of President Sadat is a very significant figure in the world of Islam. If one sees it's source only in terms of the Arab Israel conflict that's one thing. But there is something else to bear in mind too and that is he is the one prominent Muslim leader I think who is consciously trying to do something about the dilemma which faces Islam and faces Muslims almost everywhere in seeking to reconcile themselves with today's not only industrial But technological world. It's a it's a cruel challenge to Islam. I mean I think those of us who live here in the in the western hemisphere will recognize what a challenge it is to our traditional religions.
It really it is a very very hard to reconcile traditional teachings of church synagogue or mosque with some of the our contemporary experiences and the advances of science knowledge and technology in today's world now. President Nasser was normally a Muslim and I don't think he would ever want to have anything but that. But he was not a practicing and thinking and concerned Muslim in the sense that President Sadat his presidency that is a is an unashamedly religious man. I mean he doesn't he doesn't wear it on the sleeve all the time. But he but he does think in terms of the traditional teachings about God and God's relations in all mad dogs and yet contemporary. That's right. This is this is his this is this makes him in terms of Islam quite apart from politics to me and it I gather to you. You're a fascinating figure. And from the start he has been against the fundamentalism of the Muslim Brotherhood and in his own country and he is very much against the fundamentalism associated with Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. And if you know it's Sadat is really on a tightrope he really is in pain. He is in a corner. But I think there are these things going for him. And it will be interesting to see who to sort of see down the line. There are things going from I things going for him politically which would enable if he can survive through the through the rapids through the through the periods of testing trial and agony if you can get some money well be one of the things he has to say further down the line to those who have heaped abuse upon him. I told you so. And I think equally in the area of religion particularly in terms of Islam and its relationship to the modern world he will be able if he can survive to say I told you so there. That Muslim fund fundamentalism is not the answer to the crisis of Islam as it feels itself challenged by modern technology and other trends in today's world.
Of course the Sunni Muslim. Headquarters is Saudi Arabia that's where the great holy cities outside of Jerusalem are. And that is perhaps the most conservative we always thought of that is the most conservative and depending upon your point of view reactionary what not in the Muslim area. Now they grew quite concerned and watching the Arab Israeli conflict primarily withdrew their support from Siddharth. Do you think that they are having second thoughts about abandoning one poll of the Islamic world in favor of the speculation about rain IANS.
You know speaking you know speaking 100 days or so after the Iranian revolution. I would say not yet. I think to understand what the Saudi government or Saudi Arabia does one has to use one simple yardstick that is is what we are doing likely to strengthen the longevity of the House of Saud the Saudi royal family.
That is the that is that is their only yardstick. Arab the Arab Israel thing. Price of oil or what have you. Those things are all subordinated to the one overriding question. Why does this make more likely or less likely.
Don't you think they played their cards badly because if Egypt goes into turmoil no matter what else happens in the rest of the Muslim world the House of Saud is is in jeopardy.
Well Egypt is only one of the concerns you're absolutely right. They would not want to see anybody but so that at the moment running Egypt I mean I think their conclusion is that any any any successor to Sadat would be worse for them than Sadat. So that is in fact basically the kind of man I'd like to see that year. But they have to think about two other things. That is their their immediate neighbor Iraq. And the Palestinians they have within Saudi Arabia. When Palestinians run much of the bureaucracy of Saudi Arabia and they are part of the alley they help run the oil industry and the administration of the oil industry and the Saudi I mean the Saudi royal family has always played it both sides of the street with the Palestinians.
I mean the Saudi as we know in the past the radical Arab governments supported the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia was against the radical Arab governments but Saudi Arabia quietly financed the Palestinians. I mean it's again it's the yardstick is always we will do what is necessary to ensure the longevity of the house of Saudi. And so it is it is to Iraq which has a common land frontier with Saudi Arabia and to the Palestinians very large community of Palestinians within Saudi Arabia that keep Saudi Arabia going when it comes to the nuts and bolts in the country.
You know the Iranians now again at the point that we're talking the Iranians are very anti-American the Khomeini government at least I'm not so sure the middle class would not like to see a new relationship with the United States in a favorable sense. But Khomeini's group is. All that being true it seems to me that these the Saudis have nowhere to go but to us and the the holding us at bay and trying to get substitute planes from France and all of that is just perhaps one of those Middle East in the shell games trying to find out what to do for the long run as you suggest.
Well I think I think there may be some shell game going on I think. I think I think many of us here in the United States made the mistake of underestimating the Saudi opposition to the Camp David and the peace treaty and sort of made the mistake of taking the Saudis for granted saying what we can we can bring them along anyhow at the right moment.
Well they've been very restive dealing with people like Kissinger at one point they would have allowed him in the country even dealing with him even though he was the secretary of state even though he's a very independent man. To the to the soda's this is quite a step forward I could see where they might wonder where they are dealing with any liberal democracy.
Yes but they but they only because they cannot. I mean. Under under no under no circumstances can I ever imagine the Saudi royal family thinking that the Kremlin is a better protector than the White House.
That was my point you know I can't under any circumstances. But they may they may fall if they get too clever. Yes I think one of the things we have to do though is not underestimate their sophistication. I think one of the one of the things one of the things that upset the Saudis was was was President Carter sent Dr. Brzezinski to try to explain Camp David in the peace treaty.
I don't think Dr. Brzezinski is particularly sensitive to the Saudis and I think I think I maybe do an injustice but the impression I get you some stories about being a little too rough shod for you and of course there's there's there's the cartoon stereotype that these are fairly primitive ignorant people dressed in bed sheets Shake your money certainly is not you know you see it when when when when shaky money appears on American. You can see it here. They're smart and sophisticated and I did I read the other day that that Mr. Carter And I think Mr. Carter's intentions are utterly decent and I I don't think he is basically the sort of the victim of racial prejudices and things like that I think he's actually a decent man. But it's the kind of crap any of us could feel into when.
He was speaking to a group somewhere I think was a Democratic fundraising group and he was commenting on Robert Strauss has a point with his Middle East negotiator he said you know he's a fine negotiator. He has already persuaded Israelis and Arabs to buy tickets to share a table here. And he's clever still. He's gotten the Saudis to pay for it. Now. I think that was the most unfortunate gaffe. I mean I mean yes you know I mean I mean you might say it was just a just toss off of the site. But but whatever it is whatever President Carter said that day the only thing that mattered to Saudi Arabia was that Joking aside which to them would have implied.
An underestimation of the approach understanding sophistication of the Saudis by the way Jeffrey came up with a very good characterization through semi Freudian slip of the Carter administration when you said it was a trap that they could feel into. It seems to me that they do have the very best of intentions. They don't fall into traps but they are groping.
Well I I think that's it. I think that's it you know.
Jeffrey what do you think the the complaints of Mr. Barr's A-Gon the nominal prime minister who says that there are 100 chiefs rather than than a government here and he has said this several times it seems to me that at one point or another the elderly Mr. Abbas is gone becomes a political leader who is criticizing the Khamenei the wing more than they will be able to take.
Well but that could be. But that's again I've you know I sort of saw watched and listened to back down in Tehran when I was there and to Bakhtiar know who was prime minister before him. Now in many ways both men are fairly decent men. You know they're not young men. But to them the ideal government is a kind of sort of. Lead a French Republic. There are truly civilized rational men now Bakhtiar who got pushed aside and did approach this this great revolutionary flood he saw it was a revolutionary flood and he wanted to tame it. And Bakhtiar felt I think that to tame the revolutionary flood you yielded on the obviously necessary points like getting the shot out of the country ending sat back arresting people guilty of corruption or torture. You did all that when you said stop. And you'd expect the revolution to stop. But revolutions don't work like that they just overwhelm you.
That's our Dan I think assessment was very much the same. But with one big difference he understood you couldn't put your hand up and say stop the revolutionary flood which had all the force of the Mississippi that oppressed its banks. He felt that the only way to try to tame that revolutionary flood was to get in it and to work a way to chip here Chip there a bit. And that's what he's doing.
He rode the waves as it were of the flood why do I remember that fable about the poisonous. Spider that that bit the frog that was carrying him across the from the fiery forest and the Frog when bit said Well now we'll both drown Why did you do that. And he said I realize that I'm sacrificing my own safety but I'm true to my nature.
Well yeah there's something about that in the rainbow I know yes. If Iranians are a very gifted very intelligent people.
But I think very hard for us westerners to understand very hard for me to understand what it must be hard for the French educated the sophisticated and the international middle class Whichever category they would fall into individually to deal with Khomeini who is the master of a peasant revolution in a country that's 70 or more percent peasant.
Well exactly. But Iranians are. Are really used to authoritarian governments and Iranians introduce ambiguity into every every sort of aspect of public life and this is what is or is awfully difficult for a Westerner to grapple with this. If anybody wants to understand what's going on in around a bit better let me recommend to them a book that was written a hundred fifteen hundred sixty years ago by a British diplomat who served in Iraq at that time called The Adventures of Hagee Ispahan. It's published in a reprint box University Press that will help you to understand.
Well you certainly have me intrigued and I'm looking forward to reading about Ali Baba which is for and I've even heard. Jeffrey it's always a delight to to have you because I find that your comments are not only scintillating but wise. And so for today I want to thank Jeffrey gunsel the roving correspondent in foreign affairs for The Christian Science Monitor for this edition Bernard Reuben.
The First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties in the media and 1970. The program is produced in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
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