The Trump administration has announced tough sanctions in the wake of Iran’s alleged involvement in the Sept. 17 attack on a Saudi oil installation. Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility. According to USA Today (Sept. 18), “The Trump administration has already slapped Iran with crippling sanctions aimed at driving the country’s oil exports to zero and choking Tehran’s economy.” And Sec. of State, Mike Pompeo, stated, “The leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat. They have to make a decision that they want to use their wealth to import medicine…” effectively threatening Iranian civilians, including children, with starvation and death by illness as retaliation for an alleged military act by Iran’s leaders.
The raging civil war in Yemen is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions. It isn’t my purpose to unpack that in this post. Only to say that the Saudi regime is militarily backing the government of Yemen against Houthi rebels, and that the US is selling weapons and providing logistical support to Saudi Arabia. As far as the human cost, check out this article: https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/02/1032811
But what about Iran? Since the so-called “Islamic Revolution” in 1979, the default state of US/Iran relations has been one of animosity. Less than a year after 9/11, George W. Bush labeled Iran as part of his “Axis of evil.” Why?
The roots of US/Iran animosity go much deeper than the hostage crisis of 1979. In the early 1950s, the CIA facilitated a military coup that overthrew Iran’s first-ever democratically elected leader. Classified details of CIA “Operation Ajax” did not come to light until 60 years later. Those of us who hungered for details during the hostage crisis saw only the media’s best explanation – Islamic fundamentalists burning the Stars and Stripes and hoisting signs saying, “Death to Carter.”
Before we once again meddle in Iran, we need to make ourselves aware of the effects of our past meddling there.
As the founder of nonprofit SalaamUSA.org, with the mission of creating friendship and mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, I recommend three practical actions for every day Americans to help counter Islamophobia:
- Awareness – learn the real facts about Islam and your Muslim neighbors.
- Meet a Muslim.
- Understand and affect US foreign policy – towards diplomacy, not war.
My book, Why Do They Hate Us? Making Peace with the Muslim World, addresses items 1 and 3. Chapter 4 specifically addresses CIA involvement in Iran:
Iran is one of the few ancient civilizations still in existence today, and had always been ruled by various monarchs. By the end of the colonial era Iran was in a bitter struggle for democracy and was attempting to free itself from the tyranny of the Qajar dynasty. In his book, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, Stephen Kinzer writes about the little-known story of Iran’s unsuccessful attempt at becoming a democracy.
In the waning years of the Qajar dynasty, the last two shahs had developed an insatiable thirst for extravagance. After depleting the wealth of the populace, they became so desperate they began selling off the rights to Iran’s most valuable natural resources, including petroleum. The shah inked a sixty-year deal with the British that, in 1920, netted him only £47,000 for an entire year of oil production.2 Iran had become, quite literally, an extravaganza for the British.
While the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) was enjoying its status as the most profitable British business in the world, conditions for the Iranian workers were appalling. They were paid fifty cents a day and denied basic benefits such as vacation pay, sick leave, and disability compensation. Oil workers lived in a squalid shanty town near the oil fields lacking running water and electricity. Not far away in the British sector, according to Kinzer, “there were lawns, rose beds, tennis courts, swimming pools and clubs,”3 and no Iranians allowed.
As virtual slaves to the British, Iranian workers, farmers, and merchants coalesced into a democratic reform movement. After several decades of bloody struggle against the British-backed monarchy, in April 1951, Iran emerged with its first democratically elected prime minister, a passionate champion of workers’ rights named Muhammad Mossadegh. The Iranian dream of democracy had seemingly been fulfilled.