Lex Fridman Podcast - #334 - Abbas Amanat: Iran Protests, Mahsa Amini, History, CIA & Nuclear Weapons

The following is a conversation with Abbas Amanat,

a historian at Yale University

specializing in the modern history of Iran.

My love and my heart goes out to the Iranian people

in their current struggle for freedom.

I hope that this conversation helps folks who listen

understand the nature and the importance of this struggle.

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here’s Abbas Aminat.


Let’s start with the current situation in Iran.

On September 16th, protests broke out in Tehran

and quickly spread over the death

of a 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Eyewitnesses saw her beaten to death

by the morality police.

This is a heavy topic, but it’s a really important topic.

Can you explain what happened?

The protests are now in their sixth week.

The death of that young woman, a Kurd,

who was visiting Tehran as a tourist,

sparked something very deep

that particularly concerned the younger generations.

That is what you would call the equivalent

of the Z generation in this country.

They call themselves Dahey-e Hashdadi in Persian

because Iran follows the solar calendar of its own.

It’s an ancient solar calendar.

And the time that they were born,

they were in the 1380s.

That’s what they called themselves, Hashdadi.

Eighties, Hashdad for the eighties.

And, well, the circumstances that surrounds

the unfortunate death of this young,

beautiful Kurdish woman is really tragic.

She was arrested by what is referred to

as the morality police, morality patrol,

called the Gasht-e Ershad, guidance police, that is.

Presumably, there were two women fully clad,

that is, officers serving on that force, and two men.

And nobody exactly knows what had happened.

She had been beaten up,

and apparently there was no sign

of any wrongdoing on her side.

She was fully covered.

It seems that there was some altercation in the process.

And the outcome was that she was unconscious.

Not necessarily when she was arrested,

but in the course of the detention,

when they take them to a center,

presumably to re-educate them.

And she apparently collapsed.

And maybe my sense is that she must have had

some kind of a problem because of the skull being broken

or something had happened.

And she died in the hospital the next day.

And that, through the social media,

was widely spread throughout Iran.

And almost the next day, surprisingly,

you could see this outburst of sympathy for her.

People are in the streets weeping

because she was seen as such an innocent young woman,

22 years old.

And the family, the mother and the father,

also mourning for her.

And being a Kurd visiting Tehran,

this all added up to really turn her

into some kind of a martyr of this cause.

And that’s what it is.

Her picture,

graphics that were artistically produced

based on her portrait,

has now dominates basically as the symbol

of this protest movement.

And the protest movement goes on.

Everybody was thinking,

or at least the authorities were thinking,

that it’s going to die out in a matter of a few days.

But it became more intense.

First in the streets of Tehran by young women,

mostly probably between, I would say, 17, 18 teenagers

to 22, 23 or thereabouts.

And then to university campuses all around the country.

And then even to high schools.

And that also made it a very remarkable protest movement

because, first of all, it involves the youth

and not necessarily the older generations.

You see them around, but not as many.

Also, you see men and women together,

young girls and boys.

And they are adamant.

They are desperate in the sense of the tone of their protest.

And they are extremely courageous

because they stand against the security forces

that were immediately were sent off to the streets.

So, and in full gear, that is.

So what are the currents of pain, emotion?

What is this turmoil that rose to the surface

that resulted in these big protests?

What are the different feelings,

ideas that came to the surface here

that resulted in such quick scaling of this protest?

Well, if you listen to the main slogan,

which is the message of this movement,

it’s called Women, Life, Freedom.

Zan, Zendegi, Azadi,

which is a translation of actually the Kurdish equivalent,

which is close to Persian being in the European language.

And it’s apparently initiated first

in the Syrian Kurdistan,

where they were fighting against the Islamic Daesh forces

because they were attacking the Yazidis there

and the women being enslaved.

But the message, as it moved,

well, historians are interested in this kind of trends.

So it has moved to Kurdistan and from Kurdistan,

now being the message of this movement,

reflects pretty much,

sums up what this movement is all about.

Women in the forefront,

because of all the, one might say,

discriminations, the treatment, the humiliation,

that this younger generation feels,

well, not only the younger generations,

but most of the Iranian secular middle classes

since 1979, basically, for the past 43 years.

And they would think that these all basically symbolized

or represented by the wearing,

the mandatory wearing of the hijab,

which is at the core of this protest.

You see the young women,

if you look at many of these clips

that comes through in the past six weeks,

women in streets take off their mandatory scarves,

which is a young shawl

or some kind of a head covering, that’s all.

And they throw it into the bonfire

in the middle of the street

and they dance around it and slogans.

So there is a sense of complete rejection

of what this regime for 43 years

have been imposing on women.

It’s not, as it’s sometimes been portrayed,

a movement against hijab through and through,

but it basically says there has to be a choice

for those who want to wear hijab

and those who want to remain without hijab.

Yeah, the hijab is a symbol of something much deeper.

Much deeper.

And actually, before we get into that,

it’s interesting to note

that in many of these demonstrations

we see in the university campuses or in the streets,

you see women with hijab,

young women with hijab,

or next to those have to remove their hijab

and they’re together basically protesting.

That’s the most interesting feature of these demonstrations.

And then men and women together

against the segregation that the regime

has imposed upon them all these years.

Now, in terms of what it represents,

as I pointed out,

one is the question of the whole series of,

one might say, civil and legal discriminations against women.

You are considered as a kind of a second-class citizen.

You depend on your men.

There’s a kind of a patriarchy

that has been institutionalized in the Islamic Republic

in a very profound fashion.

And that means that probably

in matters of divorce,

marriage and divorce,

in matters of custody of your children,

in matter of inheritance,

in matter of freedom of movement,

you depend on your husband, your father, your brother,

a male member of your family,

your child even, your son, could be the case.

And because of that, obviously a younger generation

who is so well-informed through social media

knows about the world as much as an American does,

American kid does, probably sometimes more.

They’re very, very curious.

It’s from what I hear,

or sometimes that I met a few of them outside Iran.

You’ll see that how this new generation

is completely different from what the Islamic Republic

wanted to create in its social engineering.

It’s basically the failure of 43 years

of the Islamic Republic’s act of imposition

of a certain so-called Islamic values on women.

Then it’s a matter of education.

You would see that there is segregation in the schools.

One of the issues that now, right now,

is at the heart of this demonstration

is that self-services in many of the campuses

of Iranian universities are segregated,

male and female to different rooms, to different halls.

Now they’re breaking through the walls

virtually everywhere and sit together

in order to basically resist

the authorities who wants to impose segregation.

In matters of appearance in the public,

of course, it may seem to us

as kind of trivial and secondary,

but appearance is important.

Clothing is important.

How you would imagine yourself is important.

They don’t want to be seen in the way

that the authorities would like to impose upon them

as this kind of an idea of a chaste Islamic woman

who is fully covered and is fully protected.

The idea of a male member of the family

protects the female.

That is what you would see at the heart of this rebellion.

And of course, that goes with everything.

There’s the second part of this message,

the idea of life.

Basically means, if you like to use

the American equivalent of this,

the pursuit of the happiness.

That’s what they want.

They want fun.

They want music.

They want dancing.

They want to be free in the street.

They want to have boyfriends and live freely.

And don’t be constantly looked by the big brother

to tell them what to do and not to do or not to do.

So that they share virtually with the entire

Iranian society as a whole.

Although the older generations, that’s a big puzzle.

But you would see that the older generation don’t,

so far at least, don’t take part as extensively

as one might imagine.

And this is a variety of reasons.

Perhaps we can get to that later on, if you like.

But as far as this younger generation,

they don’t care.

They don’t listen even as much to their parents

as the older generations did.

So one might say even the nature of the relationship

between the parents and the youth has changed.

It’s not the concept of, again, a patriarchy.

That a father, or even a mother,

would tell the daughter or son what to do.

Basically, they have to negotiate.

It’s fundamentally a rejection of the power of authority.

Parents, government, it’s that every person

can decide their own fate.

And there’s no lessening of value of the wisdom

of old age and old institutions.

Precisely, that’s what it is.

And they are surprisingly aware

that where they are as a generation.

So it’s a sense of pride,

as we are different from the older generation.

From your parents who compromised

and lived with the restrictions

that the Islamic regime put on you.

Your grandparents was the generation

that actually involved in the revolution of 79.

The parents, which were the middle generation.

And these are the third generation

after the revolution of 1979.

And therefore, they differentiate themselves

in terms of their identity from the older generation.

So that’s the life part of it.

One can go more and more.

They want to access.

And they see on social media

what happens in the rest of the world.

They’re well aware.

They’re much better digitally skilled

than my generation, for instance.

And they know about all the personalities.

They know about all the celebrities.

They know about all the trends that goes on outside Iran.

So that’s a second part of this message.

And then, of course, the third part is the word azadi,

meaning freedom or liberty,

which is this long-standing demand of the Iranians,

I would say, for the whole century,

ever since the constitutional revolution of 1906.

Iran has witnessed this problem of authorities

that usually emerged at the end of a revolution

to basically impose its own image

on the population, on the youth,

and create authoritarian regimes,

of which, over the course of time,

I would say that the Islamic Republic is the worst,

in the sense that its intrusion

is not only in the political sense,

in, for instance, banning the freedom of speech,

meddling with the elections,

banning political parties,

all kinds of that things

which are the political or civil freedoms,

but its intrusion into the personal life of the individual,

which is the worst kind, in a sense,

as you would see that there is always an authority

that basically dominates your life

or monitors your life.

So, and they do it in a kind of a very consistent fashion,

which makes this idea of freedom so important

as part of the message of this new movement.

You would see that in today’s Iran,

there are no independent political parties.

There is very little, probably, freedom of the press.

I wouldn’t say that it’s entirely gone,

but it’s fairly limited.

There’s enormous amount of propaganda machine

which dominates the entire radio and TV system in Iran.

It’s completely in the hands of the government.

And, of course, you would see this variety of other tools

for trying to indoctrinate Iranian population

across the board.

So that’s another sign of this kind of a sense

of being totally left out.

You’re not belonging to what’s going on

in terms of empowerment and disempowerment.

So that’s the situation

as far as the idea of a freedom is concerned.

And there’s three somewhat miraculously

and perhaps unintentionally,

the three parts of this message complement each other.

Because perhaps for the first time,

we see that women are in the forefront of a movement.

I hesitate to say revolution

because I’m not particularly happy with revolutions.

Revolutions worldwide in Iran have always been so miserable

in terms of their outcome that we have to be careful

not to use the word revolution again.

So that’s where it stands now.

And the regime was thinking that, well, these are kids.

They’re going to go away.

And then, of course,

they’re completely conspiratorial in their thinking.

They constantly think that these are all the instigations

and provocations of foreign powers.

These are the great Satan, the United States.

This is Israel.

Or these are the,

it’s actually the Supreme Leader says in so many words.

His only response so far that he had in the past six weeks

with regard to this demonstrations is that

these are the children of the Sabaq.

Sabaq being the security forces of the Shah’s time.

That’s 43 years later,

he claims that the children,

16, 17 years, 20 years old,

kids in the street are the grandchildren or children

of some imaginary survival of the Shah’s security force.

So there’s the idea is that these protests are internal

and external saboteurs.

So people trying to sabotage the government.


And they are misled.


As far as they can go.

And then there’s the great Satan, United States

and other places are controlling,

sort of either controlling the narrative,

feeding propaganda or literally sending people

to instigate.

I don’t think even they have that kind of imagination

precise to say what you have said.


That they would say that they’re controlling the narrative.

They basically say, no, these are agents

of the foreign powers and their families are all sold out

and they are basically lost their loyalties

to the great Islamic Republic.

And therefore they can be treated so brutally.

They can be suppressed so brutally.

Which I haven’t actually said what they’re doing

because I thought perhaps first we should talk

about who these kids are in the streets

before we move on about the response of the government.

But one major factor which seems to add to the anxiety

of, well, the regime is extremely anxious now

because they’re in a position,

this shows that they don’t have the lack of confidence

in a sense that they would see them reacting

in a very forceful way.

Because basically they don’t seem to have

that kind of a confidence to allow this message

or the movement to air, to be aired.

But the one element which corresponds to that

is that there is a expatriate population

of Iranians worldwide.

There are probably now according to some estimates

close to four million, even more, Iranians abroad.

And they’re all over the world from Australia

and New Zealand, Japan, Western Europe,

Turkey, and United States and Canada.

So just to give you one example,

last Saturday there was a mass demonstrations in Berlin

by the Iranians from Germany and all over Europe,

Western Europe.

And it was at least, I think probably

the conservative estimate was about 100,000.

So 100,000 Iranians showed up in Berlin

demonstrating against the treatment of the women in Iran

or the movement in Iran.

The government thinks obviously this must have been

some instigation by foreign powers

and they want to destroy the Islamic Republic.

And not only that, but their propaganda

is kind of ridiculous.

Because I listened actually to how they portrayed it

in the newspapers, I listened to the Iranian news

that is officially controlled, government controlled news.

And in the papers, much of the papers

that are in the control of the government.

One of them, or actually the major news program

portrayed the demonstrations that 10,000 people

showed up in Berlin and protested against the rising prices

or rising rates for gas and oil in Germany.

So that’s how they mislead.

In a very rather stupid fashion,

because probably 95%, if not 100% of the Iranians

are listening to Persian-speaking media outside Iran.

So there’s a BBC Persian, there is Iran International,

there are at least five or six of them.

That’s probably really important to highlight

that Iran is a very modern and tech-savvy nation.

Not just the young people.

Probably more than I feel sometimes

when I compare myself to what they are doing.

Since 1979, the earlier years, for a decade or two,

they tried in a very crude fashion

to restrict access to media outside Iran.

Because this is all through dishes, okay?

And satellite dishes are everywhere.

If you look at the buildings, small towns and villages,

in Iran, there’s always a dish.

And they watch all kinds of things through this.

And particularly because of what’s happening now,

they listen to all the news broadcasts

from all this media, and they’re extremely active.

There are probably, some of them, even 24 hours,

or close, very extensive coverage of every clip

that comes through.

So what the government is doing now, the Islamic Republic,

is that they restrict the entire internet.

They shut down the internet.

They shut down the internet,

but they cannot afford shutting down the internet

because much of the business, much of the everyday life,

much of the government affairs depends on the internet,

like everywhere else.

And Iran is extremely, if I hear from many of the colleagues

and friends, it’s like, in certain respects,

it’s like Sweden, where you go there,

there’s no more currency, and for a very good reason,

because there’s so much inflation,

that the banknotes are worthless, in a sense.

So everything is through sweeping your card.

And that entire system is in a standstill

because people cannot buy food.

You go to the supermarket, that’s how you would do it.

You order food to come to your house,

which Iranians, at least the middle classes,

more prosperous middle classes, doing all the time.

So they deliver everything.

And because of the COVID, it became even more.

And they have to pay all through this system.

So what happens is that now they’re estimating

that every day, $50 million, the Iranian government,

or the Iranian economy, is losing

because of slowing the internet.

Plus the frustration is growing

because you can’t order food.

Among other things.

I mean, they are in touch with, I mean, WhatsApp,

every Iranian, virtually every Iranian,

that has education, and education in the sense

that has gone through the high schools and universities,

knows how to use the WhatsApp.

So there’s a big middle class.

Like you said, secular middle class in Iran.

And there, there’s a lot of, at least, capacity for,

if not revolution, then political, ideological turmoil.

And a huge amount of hatred.

So the hatred has grown.

Yes, hatred of the policies of the regime, of isolation.

That’s a huge point that you hear a great deal about.

We don’t want to be isolated.

We don’t want to be humiliated.

Iran is not about this miserable regime

that is ruling over us.

That is ruling over us.

We have a great culture.

So there’s a sense of pride in their own culture.

Some of it, you know, Islamic, some of it pre-Islamic.

So there’s a huge sense of pride in that.

And they see that they cannot communicate

with the outside world.

They want to travel abroad, which they do.

I mean, for one thing, the Iranian regime never actually,

for majority of the population, never puts restrictions.

It’s not like, what is it, Soviet Union,

where you have to have a, you used to have a permission

to move from one place to another.

And then, of course, the Islamic regime, since 1979,

basically chased away or destroyed the old middle class.

That’s my generation, basically, or my parents’ generation.

These are the secular middle class of the Pahlavi era,

in the hope that they can do this social engineering

and create this Islamic society of their own.

The bad news for them was that that didn’t happen,

and that memory persisted, and the middle class

that was created since past 40 years

is much larger in size than what it was,

because there was, of course, the demographic revolution.

That’s the very foundation of it,

is the demographic revolution.

Population in Iran, I’ve written an article

about it, actually.

Population in Iran, since the turn of the century,

last century, the 20th century,

population of Iran was about nine million or so.

It’s now 83 million.

And that is, since 1979, the population was 35 million.

Between the past 40 years, it’s basically doubled.

So it’s 83 million.

Although, one of the great successes,

I don’t want to bore you with the details

about the demography, but it’s important.

Please, demographics is not boring.

You can see that the birth rate was very high.

Otherwise, you wouldn’t have doubled your population

in a matter of four decades.

But Iranians, because of the urban shift

to an urban population, because of the growth

of the middle class, because of the education,

they basically, the pattern of the middle class

growth, population growth, changed.

Iran used to be 2.8 or 3% birth rate

in around 1980s, I would say, 1970s, 1980s.

Now, it is 1.1.

And it’s probably the most successful country

in the Middle East, in terms of the population control.

Despite the government, a consistent attempt

to try to encourage people to have more kids,

middle class refuses to do that.

And this is middle class, not only anymore in the capital,

but this is very smaller towns and cities,

places that used to be villages.

Now you look at them, they have a decent population,

50,000, 100,000, and they live an urban life.

And they don’t want to be subjected to that old pattern

of agrarian society when you had 10 children

or eight children.

And of course, it’s much more advanced

in terms of health and medicine.

So you don’t lose children as they used to.

The antibiotics, there’s always kids to survive.

And therefore, if you have 10 kids,

you stick with 10 kids.

You don’t end up with four as it used to be in the past.

Six of them would have died up to the age of five, actually.

But now, because of that, you see that this urban population

in the cities have completely different demands.

And of course, the education is important.

That’s another area of how the social engineering

of the Islamic Republic went away.

Because they were thinking that the growth

of the population, the growth of the educated,

higher educated middle classes in their benefit.

Or they could not even control it, in a sense.

Now, Iran in my time probably had,

in the 1970s, probably by the time of the revolution,

had 10, 12 universities.

Now it has 56 universities all across the country.

And there is something referred to

as the free university, Azad,

which has campuses all over the country.

It has 321 campuses all around Iran.

What does that mean?

In many respects, this youth that are brought up

in these families, even in small towns

in very traditional families, in families that belong

to that kind of a more religious, loyal to the clergy

or to the clerical classes,

their children can now move on, particularly women.

Because in my times, it would have been unheard of

that you would have a young woman of 18 or 17, 18, 19

from a traditional city such as, for instance, Yazd

or in Southeastern Iran,

to move on elsewhere for education,

as you do in this country, okay?

Now, it’s completely accepted that a woman wears hijab

because she’s forced to wear hijab

to go to a university completely

on the other side of the country.

And this movement of the population,

not only because of the universities,

but in general, if you now visit Iran,

you hear accents, local accents, provincial accents

all over the country.

That is a Azerbaijani-Turkish accent

from the northwest of the country.

You can hear it in the first province in the south

and vice versa.

So, and Kurdish, for instance,

or even more marginal regions such as Sistan province

in the southeast of Iran,

which has been the subject of this recent massacre

when they actually attacked the population

when demonstrating and killed a fair number

of at least 60 people.

So, this movement of the population,

this creation of a larger middle class,

the better educated middle class, much better educated.

Iran has 86% literacy,

which I think probably, I haven’t checked that,

but probably is better than Turkey even,

is probably better than anywhere else in the Middle East.

And it sounds like that’s quickly increasing.

So, because of the movement,

because of the growth of the education system,

that’s not.


Iran has one million school teachers,

which may not seem as much if you’re in the United States,

but it’s a fairly big number, actually.

Can you linger on the massacre?

What happened there?

Well, the Sistan province is a Baluch ethnicity,

of Baluch ethnicity.

Baluch is a particular ethnic group in southern Iran,

which is Sunni rather than Shi’i, majority.

And we should say that most of Iran is Shi’i,

and that’s a branch of Islam.

Shi’ism, yes.

Let’s maybe just briefly linger Shi’ism and Sunni.


Let’s not get into it.

Yeah, I don’t want to.

Let’s do a one-sentence summary,

and that maybe, which is what most of Iran is.

Majority of the population of the Muslim world are Sunnis.

These are mainstream, if you like to call it.

Actually, Sunna means that kind of a mainstream.

Can you actually linger on the Sunni, Sunna, Shi’a?

Shi’a means a party,

means those that belongs to a party of Ali,

which goes back to the early Islamic history

of seventh century.

I’m almost lingering to the silly notion

of pronunciation and stuff like that.

So, ah, ah means part,

like what does the extra I at the end do?

Shi’i means belonging to the Shi’i community.

Shi’a means a person of a Shi’a.

That belongs to that community.

If you say, are you a Shi’a?

Yes, I am a Shi’a.

Yeah, and Shi’i is the community.

Community, and in English, when it was Anglicized,

it becomes Shi’ite.

So, if you say Shi’ite in today, it’s perfectly acceptable.

And of course, I myself, in my writings,

I always switch between one and the other.

One of my books is always Shi’ite,

the other book’s always Shi’i.

That hasn’t been settled.

But the Shi’i population is smaller

compared to the Sunni population in the world.

In the world.

In the world.

But in Iran, it’s the opposite.

The Iran and Iraq, and possibly now Lebanon,

are the three countries who barely,

Iraq and Lebanon have barely majority Shi’i population.

Whereas Iran is a large Shi’i population

due to its history of conversion to Shi’ism,

that by itself is another story.

But in the sense that,

the way that historically it evolved,

the center became more Shi’i,

and the peripheries remained Sunni.

So, you have communities of the Baluch in the southeast.

You have the Kurds.

A large portion of the Kurds are Sunnis.

They have Shi’is as well.

Then they have the indigenous religion

of their own, what’s called Ahlul Haqq,

which is the religion of indigenous to Kurdistan.

There are Turkmens in the northeast of Iran

who are also Sunnis.

There are other communities in Khorasan region,

in the peripheries of Afghanistan.

They are also Sunnis.

And you have some Arab population,

Arab-speaking population in the Khuzestan province

in the southwest of Iran,

which is also, or across the Persian Gulf.

Is there a lot of conflict between these regions?

And also, like if I blindfolded you

and dropped you off in one of the regions,

would you quickly recognize the region?

Like by the food, by the music,

by the accents, by so on?

Yeah, the answer to your lovely question,

which I think, I hope it would have happened to me,

is that yes, you would see different cultures.

But different food, most important, different accents.

Or different languages, since they have dialects.

There’s Baluch, different language altogether.

But, or so for that matter, Kurdish,

which is closer to Persian

because they’re all Indo-European languages.

But Turkish, Azeri Turkish,

which is probably closer to the Turkish of Turkey,

Republic of Turkey,

or to the Republic of Azerbaijan in the north.

They’re the same, basically.

Actually, if you would have looked,

that’s a fascinating picture.

If you have looked at the, let’s say,

even 19th century, early 20th century,

linguistic map of Iran,

you would have been amazed in the number of dialects,

in the number of languages that have survived.

This is an ancient country, it’s an ancient land.

And it’s a lot of mountains all around it, or big deserts.

So there’s a sense of isolation.

So you would say, here and there,

you see a different community that speaks differently.

All ancient traditions and languages.

Yeah, and because of the great number of invasions

that Iran witnessed over more than two and a half millennia,

of course, there are all kinds of cultures

were introduced into Iran.

There are all ethnicities were introduced to Iran,

mostly coming from the northeast of Iran,

from the lowlands of Central Asia and beyond,

and continued into Iran proper.

So, but now, what has happened?

That’s my point that I wanted to make.

Century of modernity, or modernization,

has produced a national culture

of great strength, in a sense, I would say.

I ended my book, the book on Iran,

Iran in Modern History,

basically saying that despite everything else

that has created so much trouble for today’s Iran,

there is a sense of a cultural identity

that is very strong.

And I think I can say with some confidence

that despite this regional identities

that are still there and they’re great

and they should be celebrated,

today, if you go to Kurdistan,

or if you go to Sistan, they all can speak Persian.

They all have an education in Persian.

So they all basically are becoming part

of whether they like the regime in power or not.

They have a sense of belonging to a culture

and an identity with the center.

And of course, the idea of a center versus periphery

in Iran is very old.

It goes back to ancient times

because even the name of the country

was the guarded domains of Iran.

This is the official name,

Ma’malik-e Mahrumseh-e Iran.

Namely, that it was recognized

that this is not just one entity,

but it’s a collection of entities.

Like the United States of America.

Exactly, exactly.

But the United States of America,

in a sense, you can say that it was a very successful,

well, it remains to be seen how successful.

To be continued.

To be, that was basically invented, created,

that you would have this sense of it.

In the case of an old nation,

which has been on the map of the world

for 3,000 years, 2,500 years,

this is not an exaggeration.

I am not a nationalist, per se,

but I mean, if you look Persia on the map

of the world in ancient times,

it is still there as it is today.

Very few countries in the world are like that.

That they would have that kind of a continuity

over a course of time.

And that’s not without a reason,

because there was this sense of a center versus periphery

that had found, there’s a huge amount of tension,

but there is also a sense of belonging to something.

And state is very much at the center of it.

I mean, that’s why the concept of a state matters

for the creation, for the shaping of this culture.

What happened is, therefore,

you can see that today in answer to your point

about traveling blindfolded,

is that you would be surprised to see

how much people share

in terms of, I just give you one anecdote.

In 1968, I believe, must have been,

I traveled to Azerbaijan.

I used to travel and actually photograph.

Not blindfolded, mostly.

Well, yeah, not blindfolded, no, no, not blindfolded.

So I went to a bazaar in the city of Khoi,

which is in the northwestern Iran,

on the border with what is today the Republic of Turkey.

And I went to the bazaar,

and I was interested in the kind of leather work

that they produce.

So I tried to buy some stuff,

and I was surprised to see how few people knew Persian.

So they could not communicate in Persian with you.

Either they have to ask somebody from some other store

to come and translate for you.

This is 1968.

1968, so even though it’s the official language.

Was Persian.

Of the country, there’s still.


So what are they teaching in school?

So it doesn’t matter.

It was Persian.

But this guy.

He doesn’t go to school.

He hasn’t been to the school,

or he was not fully exposed to it.

And bazaars usually are very conservative places.

So it stuck in my mind.

Now, recently in 2004, I was traveling to the same area,

not to the same city, but to the same area.

And I was amazed to see how the youth,

as soon as they would know that you’re coming

from somewhere else,

opening conversation with you,

talking about the latest movies

that was produced in the West.

And it’s not only Hollywood.

Of course, there’s a huge amount of fascination

with Hollywood and Western cinema.

Cinema is a major thing.

Filmmaking is a major thing.


So these kids in the city of Ahar

were asking me, we were having lunch.

They’re asking me, okay,

what do you think about this producer,

not producer, this director, or that actor?


American, European as well,

but mostly American.

Were they speaking Persian?

It was a complete Persian

that I would converse with them

Do they speak English, too?


Yes, actually, you would be surprised

to see what percentage of the Iranian youth,

at least in big cities,

are fascinated with learning language.

And for a reason,

because they think that’s the way to get access

either on social media or eventually leave Iran,


And because they don’t see a future

for themselves in the country,

either you have to be part of this regime,

or if you hate them

and you don’t like the way of their life,

you look up outside.

I was having drivers to drive me around the country

in the cities around Tehran.

And the guy was young, extremely well-educated,

well-dressed, and we would have looked at him,

we could have found him in any street,

in any country in the Western world.

And his major concern,

knowing that I’m from outside,

major concern is,

tell me which would be a better place for me to go.

What’s wrong with the place that you’re in right now?

You are in your own country,

you speak your own language,

no, this is no good.

I have to have a better future.

This has no future for me.

Well, it’s really interesting

because the thing I feel about the protests right now

is there’s a large number of people

that instead of giving in to cynicism

about this government is no good,

they’re actually getting this energy,

this desire for revolution

in a sort of non-violent,

in the democratic sense of that.

Let’s actually find the ideas,

let’s build a great nation here.

This is a great nation, this is my nation,

let’s build something great here.

Well, that’s my hope.

That’s the outside.

That’s what I’m hoping for.

I share your aspiration,

but I’m fearing that,

I hope it’s not a wishful thinking.

Certainly that’s what they want.

Certainly that’s what they want to create.

But a historian always tells you

from where they start to where they finish,

there is going to be a huge kind of a change.

And in this particular case,

I wouldn’t be,

I would very much hope that it’s not going to be

a revolution like 1979, Islamic revolution.

And I have my hopes in that.

For one thing,

this is a revolution that doesn’t have a leader, okay?

And it seems that they’re comfortable with that.

At least so far,

because we are in the sixth week of this movement

and they hope it’s not going to be actually a revolution

as I pointed out before.

I hope it’s going to be more of a sense of trying to come

to some compromise and gradually move toward change

rather than a collapse of this regime

and replacement with what?

So the anxiety of the regime,

you hope will turn into a kind of a realization

that you have to modernize.

You have to make progress.

You actually have to make certain compromises.


Or constitutional changes,

all those kind of stuff.

So the basic process of government and lawmaking.

The problem is that they say we have it all, you know?

We have our parliament,

we have our constitution,

we have our elections,

which has all been, of course, fake.

But they claim they have all of that.

But the problem for them is that they try to superimpose

a certain ideology, like all other ideological autocracies

or autarchies, as in this case,

that tend to dominate all these institution buildings

that they have and they constantly claim

we have this, we have that.

And of course, it’s a generational thing.

The upper echelons of this regime

are mostly older people, turbaned, they are the clergy,

that are afraid of the fact that they may lose their control

over their whole system,

that it was a sophisticated, huge system of government.

And they rely on certain tools of control,

which is the Revolutionary Guards

and other institutions that are loyal to the state.

And they spend enormous amount of funds

that is available to them, at least before the sanctions.

But even during the sanctions,

they still have enough funds to do so.

And in order to remain in power.

And they’re extremely ruthless in that regard.

This is not a nice, Islamic, fatherly regime.

This is a regime that I would see easily in it,

clear signs of fascism, clear signs of the state

control and pay any price to stay in power.

So even violence?

Extreme violence.

To return to the massacre,

what were the uses of violence to suppress protests?

Well, yes, it was actually quite remarkable

to see that from the first or the second day of the protest,

you see out in the streets this riot police, okay?

Which comes out in large numbers,

fully geared up, their appearance are rather terrifying,

like any other riot police,

probably more than any other riot police.

They’re violent, and they stand in the streets

when the students are demonstrating,

even in smaller number.

Because before I go to that,

I should point this out to you as well,

that these demonstrations are not large ones in one place.

You don’t see 100,000 people in one place.

But you see in every neighborhood,

couple of thousand of kids are demonstrating.

All over Iran?

All over Iran.

Now all over the world in different parts?

Yes, yes, yes.

Actually, during the demonstrations three weeks ago,

as I said, they had people in Sydney, Australia,

New Zealand, Tokyo, all over the world.

All protesting high gas prices.

It’s funny.



To the extent that they could be ignored,

nothing but if they could not be ignored.

And it’s actually quite remarkable

that this is very embarrassing to them.

But somehow they think that this propaganda machine

of them is working.

I’ll say you think they don’t have a good even sense.

I mean, so there’s an incompetence

within the propaganda machine.

Yes, it is.

There’s an incompetence across the board.

I mean, despite all of this massive government

administration or whatever you would call it,

all these various components of it,

there is a sense of inefficiency and incompetence

that is associated with every action that you see.

Even in their suppression of this street movement.

But in answer to that question,

you would see that they’re,

this riot police,

very, it’s quite obvious

that they were trained for the purpose.

So this, their appearance, everything.

These are not just regular army forces

or soldiers, conscripts.

They are professional forces.

And they come not only on foot number,

but they come on motorbikes.

So there are, you would see in any of these demonstrations,

there are 10, 12, 15, 20 motorbikes

with two passengers.

One in front riding, one in the back,

fully equipped with a baton, with paint guns,

with pellet guns, and with bullets.

So they are very fully equipped.

And they are terrifying.

They go through the demonstrations

and hit and beat people.

And then they arrest.

And then you see behind the first line

of these riot police,

you would see all these latest models

of these special armored trucks

for moving to the demonstrations

and arresting people, throwing them into this.

And then behind that, water cannons, you see.

And I was looking at that, I was saying,

okay, this is Tehran probably.

They have this.

But then you look at the smaller cities,

they still have the same thing.

So all over the country,

one thing that they had managed to produce extensively,

irrespective of the fact that whether

they are effective or not, but you see them everywhere.

So this shows that how afraid this regime is.

But that also shows that there’s an infrastructure

that can implement violence at scale.

Yes, very much so.

And it’s probably part and parcel of this regime

from day one, the number of prisons that they have,

according to perhaps an exaggerated version,

they said that about 12,000 or so arrested

that are in jails today, since past six weeks.

They were 230 or 40 people were killed, including children.

I, under 18, they are,

they beat up women in the street,

which is extremely, actually, disturbing

when you see these scenes of.

So there’s a lot of this is on video, too, right?

Everything is on video.

Everybody has a camera.

And everybody sends to major news outlets outside Iran.

And they immediately showed every night,

if you look at BBC Persian or Iran International,

or if you are, I think it is six of them, actually.

All over, they’re in England,

they are in Deutsche Welle in Germany,

which has a particular interest in the Iranian,

BBC World Service and so forth in London,

and Voice of America Persian here in this country.

There is another one, Radio Fado,

which is also funded by the American government.

Also fully covers all of these events.

So there is no way that these people can,

that Iran can miss what’s going on in the streets

of these demonstrations and the scenes of beating up women,

which in Iranian culture,

as I presume in most cultures in the world,

there is a certain sanctity that you don’t attack women.

But they do, and this is an Islamic regime

that supposedly have to have a certain sense of concern

and protection.

Well, like a protection, like a deep respect for women

grounded in a tradition of protecting them,

but instead this kind of idea that was instilled in law

has turned into a deep disrespect of women.

Exactly, or fear that these women are not

any longer the girls that we thought we are bringing up

in this society.

The source of you losing your power will be these women.

That’s the fear.

Yeah, and you see, of course,

this government do have a support base.

I mean, it would be totally wrong to think

that the Islamic Republic has not created

its own power base.

It does.

But it’s probably, if there’s no way,

there are no statistics that we can,

or I’m not aware of any statistics

that I can give you in numbers,

what’s the percentage of support for the regime in Iran?

But quite frankly, I don’t think it’s more than

probably 10% of the population.

Be very generous.

I would be surprised if it’s that low.

I would say, so if my understanding,

because I’ve been very deeply paying attention

to the war in Ukraine, to Ukraine, to Russia,

and to support in Russia for Putin,

I think, without knowing the details,

without even considering the effects of propaganda

and stuff like that, is there’s probably a large number

of people in Iran that don’t see this

as a battle of human rights,

but see it as a battle of conservatism,

tradition versus modernization, and they value tradition.

That what they fear from the throwing away of the hijab

is not the loss of power and the women getting human rights.

What they fear is the same stuff you fear

when you’re sitting on a porch and saying,

“‘Kids these days have no respect.’”

Basically, there’s a large number of Iranians

that probably value tradition

and the beauty of the culture.

And they fear that kids with their internet

and their videos and their revolution

will throw away everything that made this country

hold together for millennia, right?

Yes, I know.

I agree with you in the sense that probably

like everywhere else in the world,

this is a generational thing.

Every generation thinks differently

about the younger generation, no doubt.

And in Iran, it’s the same.

But there is another factor here is involved.

Those that we would consider them as traditional

no longer seem to have their loyalties to this regime.

That’s powerful.

Meaning that they consider it as a brutal regime

that is prepared to kill children in the streets

and does a lot of things wrong.

Of course, it tries to take care of its own power base.

It is a very strong sense of, if we start here,

there’s a very strong sense in this regime

that there are people that is theirs

and there are others which are not theirs.

There’s a word for it, if you’re very impressed.

They call it khodi, one of us, okay?

Well, that’s very fascistic, it’s like.

Yes, yes, or for that matter, I suppose Soviet Union,

if you were a member of the party,

and your children would have received

a special kind of treatment yourself as well.

This sense of us versus them,

for a while worked because the younger people

coming from the countryside to the cities,

certain sector of them would have found protection

and support from the government.

They wanted to belong to something,

and the mosques and the morning associations

in the neighborhoods and so forth would have given them.

There’s actually a term for it, it’s called basiji.

Those have been recruited by the state,

and this is the youth kind of vigilante, if you like,

that you can see them also in these demonstrations.

Sometimes thugs, they’re called the civil cloth,

so the people that comes to these demonstrations

that start beating up these young people,

and they are not in security police uniforms,

but they are just regular clothes.

And these people, yes, they still support,

and they still benefit, because they get jobs,

they get privileges, and these are very important

for a state that basically monopolizes

most of the resources.

You see, even during the sanction,

let alone before the sanction,

the oil revenue of Iran, which is the major source

of the state government, was the monopoly of the state.

It was monopoly of the state during the Pahlavi era,

from the start, basically.

So what does that mean?

That means that the regime in power is not,

no longer is particularly accountable

to the majority population,

because it extracts wealth from underground,

and it uses it for its own purposes,

in order to make it more powerful,

in order to make it more repressive

than what it is, the regime today.

So it feeds a small, or I wouldn’t say,

but a fair number of its own supporters.

I mean, the revolutionary guard in Iran

is probably about 350,000, or something like that.

It’s a very big force.

And this is not the regular army.

The revolutionary guards are independent from the army.

Revolutionary guard is armed forces

controlled by the state.

Yes, the same as the army,

but these are more ideologically tied up with the state.

And they’re also in-facing, internal-facing?

What’s their stated, what’s the stated purpose

of the revolutionary guard?

From day one, when the revolution succeeded,

the regime in power, the Islamic regime in power,

was vulnerable to all kinds of forces of opposition

within Iran itself.

Prevent further revolution.

Yeah, that’s the revolutionary guards,

and their job was to try to make sure

that the regime stays in power.

And of course, over the course of 40 years,

they became more powerful, more organized,

better funded, better trained.

Well, at least we think they’re better trained,

but we don’t know, because the level of incompetence

perhaps can be seen through their rank and file as well.

But, you know, they developed their own military industry.

I mean, those drones that you see now,

Putin’s regime are throwing on Ukrainians,

poor Ukrainians.

Those are all built by the revolutionary guards,

by the military industry under the control

of the revolutionary guards.

And like similar regimes in the Middle East, at least,

these are military-industrial complexes.

You can find them in Egypt, of course,

which is very powerful, very traditional,

has been in power and still is in power.

You find them in Pakistan, which is extremely powerful,

and they can change the prime ministers

as they did in the case of the last one.

You can find them probably in Myanmar,

is the same phenomenon.

And I can, if you look around,

you can find quite a number of them.

And the revolutionary guards is equivalent of that.

This is a powerful establishment force,

which militarily is powerful, industrially is powerful.

And since the start of the revolution,

they have been given projects.

So you want to build dams,

which they did a major disaster, environmental disaster.

They built 100 and something dams all across the country.

This is the revolutionary guard who does it.

So they have all kinds of tentacles

all around the country, controlling various things.

And because it’s their job,

and they have power, they have prestige,

there’s a huge incentive to-

Join them.

To join them and to stay.

So like they, you know,

when they’re having dinner at home with their families,

there’s not an incentive to join the protests, sort of.

Well, that is the point.

I think, the revolutionary guards may be an extreme,

but many of the people who depend on the state

for their support,

now the younger generation are telling their parents,

you are wrong.

You don’t provide for us, this society,

this state does not provide what we want.

So there is a dissent within the family, it seems to me.

I hope it’s not a wishful thinking.

You know, there is a kind of a joke going around.

You see these determined guys,

the clergy, bearded, traditional clerical appearance.

When you see them talking about women,

they are very, of course, politically incorrect.

They are very looking down towards women.

As I said, you know,

they have to be inside, they have to be protected,

they have not to be seen, and so forth.

But if they have a young person,

a young daughter in their family,

you see that their discourse changes.

They no longer seem to be referring to women

as second-class citizens.


So that’s very important.

That’s precisely that point,

that when you have this younger generation,

no matter how privileged they are,

and many of them are privileged, you know,

and there is also the regime has created

its own privilege class

that are not necessarily directly paid by the regime,

but they benefit from contractors,

certain professions that benefit

from what the state provides for them.

And Iran is a, I mean, the past 40 years,

you can see Iran has developed,

in terms of material culture, remarkably.

Iran has good communication, has roads all over the place.

It’s not like, it’s more like,

I don’t know whether you have ever visited Turkey,

for instance.

In certain respects, even more advanced than Turkey,

but it’s closer to that, rather than if you travel,

I don’t want to bring particular names,

in North Africa, or parts of the Middle East,

or other parts of the Islamic world.

It’s much, much different.

So in this respect, you would see

certain contrast or paradoxes here.

On the certain respect, there is the growth,

and there is urbanization, there is modern economy.

On the other hand, you see this superimposed,

ideological, doctrinal aspect

that has driven the regime over all these years.

And they cannot get rid of it.

They cannot, in this respect,

they cannot modernize themselves.

They think that they are already perfect,

in ideological sense, this is the best solution

for the world.

Not only for Iran, but for the Muslim world,

and for the world as a whole.

We are anti-imperialist.

We have managed to survive, either under sanctions,

this is all part of their rhetoric.

But of course, at the huge expense,

the huge expense for their own population.

And the point that you have raised

is the fact that we now witness

there is not only a generation gap

between the youth and their parents,

but there is a break, in a sense,

from the older generations.

And they are very distinctly the youth

that has a different view of the world.

And does not want to compromise.

Whether they would be able to succeed or not

remains to be seen.

Whether this regime is going to suppress it, maybe.

But it actually brought to surface

many of aspects of the weaknesses of this regime in power.

Well, I hear from a lot of people

that are in these protests now,

and so my love goes to them, and stay strong.

Because it’s inspiring to see people

fighting for those things,

the women, life, and freedom, especially freedom.

Because that can only lead to a good thing

in the long term, at least.

And if possible, to avoid a violent revolution.

Of course, that is something that we all want to see.

Before we return to the present,

let’s jump around, let’s go to the past.

We mentioned 1979.

What happened in 1979 in Iran?

Well, in 1979, there was a revolution

that eventually came to be known as the Islamic Revolution.

And even up to this day, many of the observers,

or those who have strong views,

that would not like to refer to it as an Islamic Revolution,

or even a revolution.

Because the nature of it, in the earlier stages of it,

started really probably around 1977, it took two years,

was much more all-embracing.

It was not Islamic in a particular fashion,

or at all, in a sense.

It started with a kind of a very liberal,

Democrat agenda, which required,

which demanded, mostly by people who were the veterans

of the older generations of Iranian liberal nationalists

that were left out in the Pahlavi period.

It’s a period of the Shah became increasingly authoritarian,

increasingly suppressive,

and therefore, basically,

leaving no space, no political space,

open for any kind of a give-and-take,

any kind of a conversation or participation.

That was in the 70s.

70s, 70s, particularly in the 70s.

Can we actually even just do a whirlwind review

from 1906 to 1979?

Okay, sure.

In 1906, there was a period, actually, as you might know,

the first decade or so of the 20th century

witnessed numerous, what we refer to

as constitutional revolutions,

including Russia in 1905, the first revolution,

including the Chinese Revolution in 19,

Constitutional Revolution in 1910,

the Young Turks Revolution in 1908,

and the Iranian Revolution in 1906.

Do I understand why the synchronicity of all of it,

why in so many different places, very different cultures,

very different governments?

Very different cultures, but all of them, in a sense,

were coming out of regimes

that became progressively powerful

without having any kind of a legal system

that would protect the individual vis-a-vis the state.

So the idea of law and the constitution,

according to which there should be a certain protection,

a certain civil society, became very common.

Yeah, but I wonder where that,

because that’s been that way for a very, very long time,

and so I wonder, you know, it’s funny,

certain ideas, just their time comes.

Exactly, it’s like 1848, when you would see

that there’s a whole range of revolutions across Europe,

or you would see, for instance, the Arab Spring.

You see all these revolutions in the Arab world,

which unfortunately, nearly all of them failed.

So yes, these are very contagious ideas

that moves across frontiers from one culture to another,

and I presume we can add to that there are two elements

which one can say there was a greater communication,

there is a greater sense of a world economy,

and the turn of the century witnessed,

the first decade of the century witnessed

a period of volatility, particularly in currency.

So many of the countries of the world,

particularly non-West, suffered in,

and particularly the businesses suffered,

and not surprisingly, the business class

were in the forefront of many

of these constitutional movements,

requiring the state to give the kind of a,

create the right kind of institutions

to listen to their voices, to their concerns,

and the creation of a democratic system,

parliamentary system in which there would be

a representation, popular representation,

proper elections and so forth, and constitutions.

And this very much is a kind of a French idea

of the constitution going back all the way,

perhaps to 1789 revolution, Montesquieu,

all this kind of philosophes were greatly appreciated,

particularly the French system.

So what were the ideas in the 1906 Iranian constitution?

They, precisely the same, they were demanding

a creation of a legal system with division of power

between the three, executive, legislative,

and the judiciary, not unlike the American system.

And they requested basically a certain public space

to be created between the two sources of power,

the state, which had this kind of a control

over the, if you like, the secular aspect of life

in the society, and the religious establishment

that had a full control over the religious aspects.

And both of them, from the perspective of the constitution,

this is considered as repressive,

and therefore there has to be a new space

open between these two.

And that was the idea of a constitutional revolution.

By its very nature, it was an idea of modernity.

They wanted a modern society.

They wanted a better material life.

They wanted more representation and so forth.

The constitutional revolution, as I always would say,

is much more of an innocent revolution.

It’s a revolution that did not particularly

have much violence in it, contrary to many other revolutions.

It did not have a centralized leadership, per se.

That’s why, actually, I’m getting,

I mean, besides the practices,

I’m getting a lot of requests for interviews

to compare what’s happening now

with the revolution of 1906, 1909.

Are there any echoes?

Yes, yes, there are, there are.

Because that was a movement that started

without a centralized leadership,

but actually various voices that emerged

in various, among the merchants,

or the businessmen in the economic community,

among the representatives who came to the first parliament,

the press, the new generation of the privileged aristocracy

who were educated and believed in the constitutional values.

All of these voices emerged at the same time.

And somehow, they managed to co-exist

in the first and the second parliaments

that were created between 1906 and 1910 or 1911.

But they all faced huge problems,

in the sense that Iran was in a dire economic situation.

This is before the days of the discovery of oil,

which actually coincides with the discovery.

There are two important coincidences.

One is that the oil was discovered in the South in 1909,

during the course of the Constitutional Revolution.

Second is that in 1907, the two great powers of the time,

the Russian Empire and the British Empire,

who always honored Iran as being a buffer state

between them, because they didn’t want

to get too close to one another,

basically came to an agreement facing the fear

of the rise of the German Empire.

So this is the period of Entente,

as you might know in European history,

whereby the French, the British, and the Russians

all create an alliance that ultimately leads

to the First World War against Germany.

And at the same time, the discovery of oil,

that the oil industry being a very powerful,

defining factor of the 20th century for Iran.


Source of a lot of money.

Lot of money, but not all of it in the hands

of the Iranians.

Only one-fifth of it, by way of royalties,

came to Iran.

Much of it went to the Anglo-Persian oil company,

which they actually discovered the oil in the province,

Khuzestan province in the southwest of Iran,

where the major oil industry is today, right now.

And this was an extremely profitable enterprise

for that company and for the British government.

It was actually purchased by the British government.

Churchill purchased Anglo-Iranian oil company

for the British government.

So it was not anymore a private company.

It was a British interest, as a matter of fact.

And in the course of the 20th century,

although it helped the modernization in Iran,

but it also helped the creation of a more authoritarian,

more strong state, if you like to call it,

that 19th century Iran never had that kind of a power,

never had that kind of resources.

Is it 20th century?

Even that one-fifth of the income

that reached the Iranian state gave it a greater power.

That’s another coincidence.

So yes, you could say the oil was one of the catalysts

for absolute power, but the 20th century

saw quite a few countries have dictators with power

unlike anything else in human history.


That’s weird, too.


And you can name them from the beginning of the century

with people like, I don’t know, Lenin, Stalin,

of course, Hitler, even Mao, of course.

You can name them, and probably, as I would say,

it’s the last of them is Khomeini in that century

that you would see this strong man

with a sense of either artificial or real,

or a sense of so-called charisma,

and with this total power over the regime that they create.

Some of them do, Nasser, he didn’t have much

of an oil resources in Egypt,

but he was also one of these strong men, okay,

in the 20th century, loved by some, hated by others.

So it necessarily does not tie up

to economic resources on the ground,

but in the Iranian case, unfortunately, it did.

And it was a, it was more than,

it created more than one issue for Iran.

It’s created a strong state, which is the Pahlavi state,

from 1921 onward.

Because in 1921, at the end of the First World War,

Iran was in almost a state of total bankruptcy.

And the British had a desire to try to bring Iran

to the system that they created in the Middle East

in the post-war era, the mandate system.

Palestine, Iraq, and then, of course,

French mandate of Lebanon and Syria, all of this.

And Iran was separate

because Iran was an independent country.

It wasn’t part of the Ottoman Empire that collapsed.

So they had to somehow handle it.

And what they tried to do didn’t work.

As a result, partly domestic, partly international issues,

wrote about a regime which is headed

by the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty, Reza Shah.

Okay, a first military officer called Reza Khan,

actually a military officer of the Cossack forces.

And the Cossack forces was the force

that was created in the 19th century

model of the Russian Cossacks.

When the ruler in the 19th century visited Russia

as in a royal tour, and the desire showed

the great Cossack forces, he said, I like this.

And he created one for himself

with Russian officers, actually.

So Russian officers served in Iran from around 1880s

up to the revolution of 1917,

the collapse of the Cossack regime.

So many revolutions.

So many revolutions.

And Reza Shah was an officer in that, Reza Khan

was an officer in that force.

And he created a new monarchy for reasons

that we need not to go to.

And this called the Pahlavi regime.

Pahlavi regime was a modernizing regime, okay?

That brought, in effect, fulfilled many of the ambitions

of the Constitution, many of the aspirations

of the Constitutional Revolution.

Better communication, secular education,

centralized state, centralized army,

better contact with the outside world,

greater urbanization.

That’s what a modern state is all about.

And in that regard, in a sense, for the first 20 years

up to the Second World War, was successful.

Despite, and more significant of all,

it managed to keep the European powers,

which was always interfering in the local affairs of Iran,

in an arm’s length.

So they were there in an arm’s length,

but they were also respecting the power of the state,

power of the Pahlavi state.

During the Second World War,

the same phenomenon as earlier interference

led to the occupation of Iran by the Allied forces.

The British from the south, the Russians from the north.

The Red Army, they took over Iran.

And of course, they said-

The Second World War.

Yes, from 1941 up to 1945.

And of course, when the Red Army refused to withdraw

from Iranian Azerbaijan, and with some thought

of possible annexation of that province,

there was a big issue in the post-war Iran.

So after 1945-

Yes, 1945 to 1946, there was a big-

Soviet Union getting greedy.

Yes, but eventually they agreed.

Eventually, Stalin agreed to leave the Azerbaijan province

in the hope that it would get some concessions from Iran,

which in the oil of the Caspian area,

which didn’t work, and it’s a different story altogether.

But what happened is that in the post-war era,

between 1944, 45, and 1953,

is a period of greater democratization,

was that Reza Shah’s dictatorship basically disappeared.

And this is where you would see political parties,

free press, a lot of chaotic, really,

as democracies often are.

So something like, was it officially a democracy?

Yes, it was a democracy.

Was there elections?

There were elections, yes, of course, yes, of course.

And there were very diverse political tendencies

came to the picture, including the Tudeh Party of Iran,

which is Communist Party of Iran.

This Communist Party of Iran is probably

the biggest Communist Party of the whole of the Middle East,

and one of the biggest in the world, actually, at that time.

Did the Soviet Union have a significant influence on the-

Of course, they were basically following orders

from the Soviets, although they denied it,

but in reality, that’s the case.

But what happened, they were seen by the Americans

during the Cold War as a threat,

and Iran was going through a period

of demanding nationalization of its oil resources.

That’s a very important episode, with Mossadegh,

whom you might have heard about his name.

Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, who was the prime minister

and the national charismatic leader from 1951 to 1953.

Prior to that, he was a famous parliamentarian,

but this period, he was the prime minister of Iran,

and he nationalized the Iranian oil industry,

and the British didn’t like it at all,

and eventually resulted in a famous coup,

which at least partly was supported by the funding

and by the moral support of the British and the Americans,

particularly by the Americans.

It was always seen as one of the earliest

and the most successful CIA operations during the Cold War.

So CIA had something to do with it?

Yes, of course, that’s one of the earliest operations

of the CIA.

Wait a minute, what was, yes, of course,

what was the CIA doing?

CIA, this is the time at the post-war era.

In the 50s.

In the 50s, 40s and the 50s.

The British Empire, which was really the major superpower

of the region after the collapse of the Tzarist Empire,

gradually took the second seat to the Americans,

who were the newcomers and the great powers

and the victors of the Second World War,

and the Americans viewed Iran as an important,

as an important country,

since it has the largest common borders

with the Soviet Union,

and it was, indeed, the South was the Persian Gulf,

which at the time was the greatest

supplier of oil to the outside world,

and therefore the Americans

had a particular interest in Iran.

And in the earlier stages, their interest

was in the interest of the Iranian government,

because they wanted to get rid of both the Soviet Union,

which made a return in the post-war era,

and, of course, the British

that were gradually withdrawing from Iran.

But they had a full control

over the Anglo-Iranian oil company.

They changed the name to Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

When the name of the country officially changed

from Persia to Iran, in the West,

the name of the company changed.

And they got into a huge dispute

with the other government

that eventually led to the coup of 1953,

which eventually created a very,

a very distressful memory

in the minds of many of the Iranian nationalists,

that this was the betrayal of the great powers,

the British and Americans.

Yes, CIA played a part,

because CIA feared, contrary to the British,

that they were afraid of their own oil in Iran,

the CIA was afraid of the Soviet penetration

in the South, and particularly

because there was a very powerful Communist Party

in Iran, the Tudeh Party of Iran.

So they gradually shifted

between the Truman administration

and our Eisenhower administration.

These are early days of the CIA.

And then they actually did participate

to send their agents.

There’s a long story to that.

And it eventually resulted in a successful coup

that removed Mossadegh from power.

What’s the United States’ interest here?

Why are they using CIA?

Are they trying to make sure

there’s not too much centralization of power

in this region?

They were afraid of the fact that the,

that of the Soviet Union,

and during the Cold War, that was their concern.

Only concern.

They actually almost want to protect Iran

and its own sovereign processes

from the influence of the Soviets.

Because they were afraid of the fact

if Iran, or at least this is part of the,

I’m simplifying a very complex picture,

but the Americans basically were thinking

that if Iran is going to be lost

to Soviet influence,

then eventually, basically, all the oil resources

in the Persian Gulf are going to be threatened.

And this would basically is the national security

of the United States and all of the Western allies,

European allies.

So in a sense, this was the long arm of the CIA

to try to make sure that that’s not going to happen.

And then, of course, they were persuaded by the British.

British were the old hand,

which were in Iran since the beginning of the 19th century.

They always had relations with Iran and so forth.

So they gradually replaced.

And of course, I don’t want to give them

this kind of a satanic view

that the Americans was a bad influence,

because they had also some very good influences in Iran.

But this particular episode somehow shed a dark light

on the American presence and was used

that abused time and again,

particularly the revolution in 1979,

which was this great Satan idea that Khomeini created,

basically was based on the fact is,

1953, you were responsible for the downfall

of a national government in Iran,

which as a matter of fact, he had no respect for it.

Khomeini had no respect for the secular,

nationally liberals, including Mohammad Mossadegh.

But he was using it as a rhetorical tool

for his own purposes.

But what happened is that after 1953,

we see again the rise of authoritarian

Mohammad Reza Shah’s power.

And that he is, that’s the Shah?

That’s the Shah that we know as Shah.

This is son of Reza Shah.

And technically, what is Shah?

Shah is an old term in Persian

that comes from a pre-Islamic Persian of ancient times.

So in the context of democracy,

should it be seen as like a supreme leader, king?

Is the head of the executive power,

according to the Constitution of 1906.

Oh, that’s in the Constitution, the actual term Shah.

Of course, he has a place in the Constitution.

But the actual term Shah, okay, interesting.

But the Shah is a very old term.

Yeah, it’s almost like a monarchic term, like a king.

Yeah, it is, actually is a term peculiar to Iran.

I’ve written about it somewhere.

But because the term, the Western word in the ancient times

has been Rex for royalty and the king.

In the Eastern world, in India, is Raj,

is the same origin, the same root.

Iran never shared that.

They had the idea of, because Rex and Raj,

I don’t want to get into too much of etymology,

but this is an interesting one.

Rex and Raj both means the one that opens the road

for basically enforcer of religion, okay?

Enforcer of the right religion.

Because Rex and Raj both have the,

of the etymological origin of right, you see?

And right means the right religion, basically.

By the way, there’s so much beautiful language here.

I’m just looking at the Persian Constitution in 1906,

and it says it’s the constitution

of the sublime state of Persia, Qajar Iran.

I mean, just the extra adjectives

on top of this stuff is beautiful.

Yeah, because that was actually the change that came about.

I don’t want to go too much into it.

But it was called, as I pointed out before,

the guarded domains of Iran.


They changed that to the sublime state of Iran

during the constitutional revolution.

Because they wanted to give a greater sense

of centrality of this state.


And sublime was the term we used.

But also, what permeates all of this is a poetic,

I mean, there is a history of poetry.

Of course, very strong.

To the culture, which is fascinating.

So I mean, it’s, of course I don’t speak the language,

but even in Russian, there’s also a music

to the soul of the people that represents itself,

that presents itself in the form of poetry and literature

in the way that it doesn’t in the English-speaking world.

I don’t know what that is.

There’s a…

Yes, there’s a romantic side.

Romantic side.

Romantic side, that’s right.

Yeah, I agree with you.

In Iran, of course, you know,

there’s a time of the constitutional revolution,

is a time of great poetry.

This kind of a patriotic sentiment that comes

through poetry plays a very important part.

Of course, these days, poetry has kind of declined.

And instead, you see the visual image

that is at the center.

That’s why cinema is so important.

Kids these days with their TikTok.

Yeah, let me finish this about the period

of Muhammad Reza Shah.

He built up, because he received a greater income

from the oil revenue, and he built up a very strong state

with a strong security force, a strong security apparatus,

which is the SAVAK, which is an acronym

for the security force in security organization.

And he, of course, unfortunately,

in the 1960s and 70s, particularly in 1970s,

basically suppressed the voices of, or possibility

of any kind of a mass participation

in the political process.

It became very much an authoritarian regime

with its own technocrats, very much a modernist vision

of Iran’s future, and almost kind of messianic

that he was hoping that Iran in a decade

would become the fifth most powerful state in the world.

And the riches, as he would have said,

the gates of the great civilization,

very much in the mind had this image of ancient Iran

of the Achaemenid Empire.

And we want to go back to that greatness

of the Achaemenid Empire.

Somewhat rather naive and very nationalistic

in a crude fashion.

And what happened is that, as a result,

there was built up some kind of a resistance

from the intellectuals, from the left,

eventually resulting in a kind of a protest movement,

as I said, by 1977, 1978.

Then, of course, the question that comes to mind,

and that probably you would like to know about,

is the fact that why it becomes religious?

Why it become Islamic?

If it’s the popular nationalist, liberal tendency

of opening up the political space

and allowing greater participation,

going back to the constitution of 1906, 1907,

why it’s all of a sudden it becomes Khomeini,

where does he come from?

The reason for that, at least in a concise fashion,

is the fact that on one area

that, after the greater suppression

of all the other voices, remained open was religion.

Mosques, the mullahs on the pulpit,

and the message that gradually shifted

from all the traditional message of the sharia of Islam,

I mean, all the rules and regulations

of how one has to live, into something very political.

And not only political, but also radical political.

So, in the whole period from the constitutional revolution

to the revolution of 1979,

basically the religious establishment

gradually was pushed to the opposition.

They were not originally very conservative supporters

of the state, as the Catholic Church, for instance,

was a supporter of the majority

of the authoritarian governments around the world.

But the politicization was the result of isolation,

because they were left out of the system.

And while in isolation, they did not,

they were not successful in trying to reform themselves,

to try to become, to try to find answers

to many of the questions of modern times.

What happens to women?

What happens to civil rights?

What happens to a civil society?

How modern law and individual freedoms

have to be defined in Islamic terms?

How to separate religion and state?

Or how to separate the religion and state?

These issues were never addressed.

What happened is that there was this bypass

through political Islam, and revolutionary Islam,

as it gradually, they learned, you know,

that this is the bypass, bypass to power, basically.

To become, again, a voice in the society,

and eventually a prominent voice,

and eventually a monolithic voice in the society.

That’s the process that led into the revolution of 1979,


This period, greater attention was paid to religion,

even among the secular middle classes,

who were alienated for a very long time

because of this extensive modernization

of the Pahlavi period.

They had, they didn’t have a sense

of that old mullahs with their turbans.

But they became, they had a kind of aura in this period.

Yes, they are those who remained not corrupted.

They are the people who basically went against

the suppression of the Pahlavi regime.

And Khomeini became a leader, a symbol of that.

Nobody ever thought in the earlier stages,

among these very excited multitudes

that came to the streets of the Iranian cities

in 1979, or 1978, actually,

thought that this old mullah in the 70s,

that all of a sudden has appeared from the Najaf

through Paris to Tehran, is going to take over

and create a autocracy, a religious autocracy.

We have to back up for just a second.

Who is Khomeini?

You just mentioned a few disparate facts about the man.


He was the person that took power in 1979,

the supreme leader of Iran.


You mentioned something about Paris,

something about being in the 70s.


What should we know about the guy?

Ayatollah Khomeini, who eventually was known

as Imam Khomeini, he was kind of promoted

to an even more sublime position.

Okay, can we, just a million tangents.

Ayatollah, Imam, what do these terms mean?

Well, Ayatollah means the sign of God.

In the course of the 19th century, or early 20th century,

as the religious establishment gradually lost

its greater presence in the society

and its prominent places in society,

they had some kind of an inflation in titles.

So they gave themselves more grand titles.

Yeah, more adjectives.

More adjectives, more grand titles, such as Ayatollah,

that became a kind of a highest rank

of the religious hierarchy.

But it’s not-

It really was in an unofficial hierarchy.

It was not, it’s not like the Catholic Church

that you have, you know, bishops and, you know,

further off.

It was very unofficial model.

And he was an Ayatollah, was eventually recognized

as an Ayatollah.

He wasn’t the first Ayatollah?

No, no, no, not at all.

The Ayatollahs were before him,

ever since the beginning of the century.

But he was eventually recognized as an Ayatollah.

And if I want to start it this way,

Ayatollah Khomeini was born in 1900.

And in a sense, all this tremendous change

that Iran witnessed in the course of the 20th century,

was in a sense, materializing this person.

He become a mullah of a lower rank,

went to the traditional madrasas,

to the traditional centers for the education

of the seminarians, never had a secular education,

had a very complex Islamic education

on this one hand jurisprudence, on the other hand,

probably a little bit of Islamic philosophy

and mysticism, which is unusual for the jurists,

for the faqih, as they call them,

these religious scholars or legal scholars of Islam.

And then he, in the 1960s,

when he was residing in Tehran

and gradually becoming more important,

he became a voice of opposition against the Shah.

And the reason for opposition in the early 1960s

was the fact that the Shah carried through a series

of extensive modernization policies,

of which the most important was the land reform.

So in effect, the land distribution that took place

in the early 60s removed or weakened greatly

that class of landowners from the 19th century.

And he, Khomeini, saw himself as a voice

of that old class that felt,

that actually declared that this land redistribution

is un-Islamic according to the Islamic law,

property is honored,

and you cannot just, no matter how much

and how large are these estates

that the landowning class has,

the government has no right to redistribute it,

even among the peasants, among the people

who are tilling the land.

So that was a major issue.

Shah also gave the right of vote to women,

and that also, he objected.

He said, women should not have a right.

Can we just linger on the Islamic law?

How firm and clear is the Islamic law

that he was representing and embodying?

Is this-


Codified, yes, that’s a good term.

That’s another issue.

Not only the hierarchy was unofficial and informal,

but also Islamic law, particularly Shi’i law,

did not have any codified system,

because these religious authorities always resisted

becoming under an umbrella of a more codified system

of Islamic law, because they were outside the state,

in a sense.

Civil law was in the hand of the religious establishment.

They had their own courts, independent of the state.

But other matters, legal matters,

was in the hand of the government.

There was a kind of de facto division

between these two institutions,

state versus the religious establishment.

Therefore, it was not codified.

So he could declare that this is unofficial,

or sorry, illegal, according to the Islamic law,

that you would distribute land to the peasants.

And another mujtahid, or another religious authority,

would say, no, no, it is perfectly fine,

because he has a different reading of the law.

So that being in mind,

that adds to the complexity of the picture.

In 1963, there was a period of uprising

of the supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini.

That was a turning point, in a sense,

to try to politicize the religious supporters

of Ayatollah, who were loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini.

And in a sense, all the community

of more religiously orientated,

against the secular policies of the Shah,

and against, of course, the dictatorship of the Shah.

So that’s where the religious movement

became a political party.

Became, in 1963 is the first moment.

It’s a huge uprising, and the government suppressed it.

But then, suppression would start to build.

Of course.

And he was sent to exile.

He went to Najaf, which is this great center in southern.

So became a martyr on top of this.

That martyr, he was probably even forgotten to some extent.

But not, he was forgotten for the secular middle class.

But not to those supporters of his

who were paying him their dues.

Because in Islam, you would pay dues to religious leaders.

You know, there’s religious dues and alms

that you would pay to the clerical authorities.

And they redistribute them

among their own students, and so forth.

So they built, actually, a network of loyalty

based on these donations.

And these donations that’s received by Ayatollah Khomeini

was very effectively, through his network,

was distributed, even if he was in exile at Sa’diran.

So, in 1977, 1978, when the situation changed,

and there was a little bit of opening

in the political climate,

then you saw that Ayatollah Khomeini

started sending cassette messages.

That was his mean of communication.

Was sending cassettes, and cassettes were sent

through the country by his network.

So, or declarations, and saying first

that we would like to see a greater democratization,

and the Shah has to abide by the constitution of 1907.

This is a constitution.

This is a democratic system, and so forth.

Was he charismatic?

Well, it depends who would call,

what you call charismatic.

He had a long beard.

He was kind of a man in turban and the gown,

which was a very unusual leadership

for people who were much more accustomed

to the civilian clothing, or to the equipments

of the Shah’s military uniforms that he used to wear.

But I also mean, he is a man that was able to take power,

to become popular, sufficiently popular.

So, I would like, is it the ideas, is it an accident,

or is it the man himself, the charisma,

or something about the man that led

to this particular person basically changing the tide

of history in this part of the world,

in a way that was unexpected?

All the above that you mentioned.

Or was it just the beard?

No, I think, no, it’s beyond the appearance.

The appearance greatly helps, as you know, you know.

In the 20th century, appearance is helpful, yeah.

Pictures for propaganda, for messaging.

That’s an important factor.

And he was a kind of a adamant

and very severe

in his own positions.

He could appear very uncompromising.

And he had a sense of confidence, self-confidence,

that virtually everybody else lacked.

And he was a man of opportunity.

As soon as he would see that a chance,

an opportunity would open up, he would jump on it.

And that’s what he did, basically.

As more the political space opened,

the weaknesses of the Shah’s government became more evident.

His indecision became more evident.

His lack of confidence became more evident.

Khomeini managed to move further

into the center of the movement

because he was the only authority

that had this network of support through the mosques,

through the people who paid homage to him,

who followed him, because there’s a sense of following

of the religious leader in Shi’ism.

You are a follower of this authority,

you’re a follower of that authority.

And he’s basically created

an environment in which people looked upon him

as a kind of a messianic figure

that came to save Iran from what they considered

at the time the problems of dictatorship under the Shah.

So there’s not a suspicion about Islamic law

being the primary law of the land?

Not at all.

People had very little sense

that what Islamic law is all about,

because the secular education has left that

into the old religious schools.

This is not something that ordinary educated Iranian

who goes to the universities is going to learn.

Therefore, there is a sense of idealization

that there is something great there that is good.

And there were quite a number of intellectuals

who also viewed this kind of an idea

of they would refer to as West’s toxication,

that is this civilization of the West

that has brought with it all the modernity

that we see around ourselves,

has enormous sinister features into it.

And it has taken away from us our authenticity.

That was the thing, that there is something authentic

that should be protected.

And therefore, a man in that kind of a garb and appearance

seemed as a source for return to this originality

of their own culture, authenticity of their own culture.

And he perfectly took advantage of that, that is Khomeini,

took advantage of it and the circle around him

at the expense of everybody else,

which he managed in the course of 1979 to 1989,

which he died in the 10 years during this period,

managed to basically transform the Iranian society

to create institutions of the Islamic Republic

and to acquire himself the position

of the guardian jurist.

That was something completely new.

It didn’t ever exist before.

As a matter of fact, as you might know,

the model of government that a religious establishment

takes over the states is unprecedented.

Throughout the course of Iranian history,

throughout the course of the Islamic history, I would say.

This is the first example and probably the only example

of a regime that the religious establishment

that has always, in the course of Iranian history,

ever since I would say probably at this 16th century,

if not earlier, has been always separate from the state

and always kind of collaborating with the state

with certain tensions in between the two of them.

There were two, basically as they would call themselves,

the two pillars of stability in the society.

That situation changed.

For the first time, the religious establishment

took over the power of the state.

And that’s at the core of what we see today

as a major issue for Iranian society.

Because these are basically that old balance

between the religion and the state,

which was kind of a de facto separation

of the authorities of the two, has been violated.

And now you have in power a theocracy in effect,

which of course only in its appearance is theocracy.

Deep down, it’s a, in my opinion,

it’s a brutal fascist regime that stays in power.

But it has the appearance of religion into it.

So this is really the story of the revolution.

And as a result of that,

the Iranian middle class has greatly suffered.

It’s not without a reason

that you see four million Iranians abroad.

Because basically the emergence of this new power

gradually isolated or marginalized

the secular middle class,

who could not survive under that regime.

And gradually moved out

in the course of perhaps 30, 40 years.

Up to now, Iran has the largest,

I think I’m right to say so,

has the largest brain drain in any country in the world,

proportion to its population.

So fascinating that,

how much of a weird quirk of history is it

that religion would take hold in a country?

Like, does it have to do with the individual?

It seems like if we re-ran the 20th century

a thousand times,

would we get the 79 revolution resulting in Islamic law

like less than 1% of the time, it feels like.

Or no, which percentage would you put on it?

Well, I think it has something to do

with the very complex nature

of how Iran evolved over a long period of time.

Since the 16th century.

That’s why, if I would for a moment

talk about what I have written.

I’ve written a book that’s called Iran, A Modern History.

And it does not start in the 20th century.

It starts in the 16th century.

Because that’s what I’ve argued,

that this complex process,

that at the end of the day resulted

in what we see around us today,

is something that was in making for a very long time.

Religion was a big part of it.

She and the messiah complex.

The longing for this great vision of a great nation

that somehow is the sublime nation

that can only be fully sublime through religion.

Or at the time it was thought that it’s through religion.

Ever since then, it’s disillusionment with that image.

Or at least a process of disillusionment.

The outcome of it is what we see today.

Basically, that process of 40 years

is a process of readjusting to the realities of the world.

That great moment of romantic success of a revolution,

like most revolutions, of course,

that is going to change Iran

and bring this kind of a moment of greatness,

led into this great disappointment.

So it’s a movement of the great disappointment in a sense.

Like most messianic movements, by the way.

Messianic movements in general

are always leading into great disappointments.

But what I have here that perhaps should be added to it,

that yes, it was a peculiarity of Iran as a society

that had to experience this eventual encounter

between religion and state.

That’s something to do with the nature of Shi’ism.

That’s just one point that should be pointed out.

Most of Sunni Islam don’t have that kind of,

I say most because there is something there.

But Sunni Islam in general

does not have that kind of an aspiration

for the coming of a messianic leader.

Shi’ism does.

Shi’ism in its very shaping,

particularly the way that it was set up in Iran,

was a religion that has always this element

of expectation to it

for the coming of this messianic leader.

Of course, I mean, between parenthesis,

all societies look for messianic leaders.

I mean, just look around us.

But some societies more than others.

There’s certain culture,

it might have to do with the romantic poetry

that we mentioned earlier.

I mean, surely, I mean, not to draw too many parallels,

but with the Soviet Union, there was romanticism too.

I mean, I don’t know, it does, maybe idealism.

A sense of a savior.


Who would bring you out of the misery that you’re in.

And always looking for a third party

to solve your issues.

That’s why probably this movement

has a particular significance

because it probably doesn’t look for a messiah.

Although, I was talking to my brother,

who is a historian also,

and he was saying perhaps the messiah of this movement

is that Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old girl that was killed.

It’s a martyred messiah who is now leading a movement

which no longer has that charismatic leadership

with it.

But yes, I would say that Iran has been the birthplace,

if I might say that, of messianic aspirations.

Going back to ancient Zoroastrianism,

which is really the whole system

that you see in major religions,

at least so-called Western religions,

so Abrahamic religions,

is parallel or perhaps influenced by Zoroastrianism

in which there is an idea of this world

and the other world, there is a hereafter.

There is an idea of a judgment at the end of the time.

And there is a concept that there is a moment of justice

that is going to come with the rise of a religious

or a charismatic figure.

So it’s a very old phenomenon in Iran, very old.

And it’s time and again repeated itself

in the course of its history,

but never as powerfully as it happened in 1979,

and never in the form of authority

from within the religious establishment.

It was always the dissent movements

that were kind of antinomian.

They were against the authority

of the religious establishment.

That changed in the 20th century.

But the revolution in 1979,

that change is still with us today.

Can we just linger on,

are there some practical

games of power that occurred

in the way that Stalin took power

and held power in the early days?

Was there something like this

in terms of the establishment of the Revolutionary Guard

and all those kinds of stuff?

Yes, yes.

So the messianic figure has some support from the people,

but does he have to crush his enemies in competition?

It certainly did.

Probably not, certainly not as brutal

in terms of the victims

as you would see in Soviet Union under Stalin,

who the bloodshed

or the destruction of the population

was far greater than what you would find

in Iran of the Islamic Republic.

It’s uncomparable.

Perhaps I would find a greater parallel with Mao Zedong,

and particularly because China

has a very strong messianic tradition

since the ancient times.

So they have something,

and Mao appeared as a kind of a messianic figure.

There I can see there is a parallel,

but also you can see with any other authoritarian regime

with a messianic figure at the head of it

that it destroys all the other forces.

So during the course of the first 10 years

of the Islamic Revolution,

it destroyed the liberal nationalist secular,

it destroyed the guerrilla movements,

some of them Islamic, some of them Marxist,

who turned into political parties or tendencies

in the course of the post-revolution 1979.

They were completely destroyed

and in a very brutal fashion.

And their opposition,

even within the religious establishment,

because it wasn’t a uniform,

there were many different tendencies,

those that were opposed to the authority of Ayatollah Khomeini

or now Imam Khomeini,

meaning almost a sacred religious figure

above the level of a religious authority.

He’s a saint kind of a figure.

Since Shi’ism has this idea of imams,

there were 11 of them, the 12th is hidden

and would come back at the end of the time.

This is a messianic figure.

So the title that was always used for them only in Shi’ism,

never used for any other person.

He is the first person in the revolution of 1979,

first referred to as deputy of imam,

but the term deputy gradually disappeared

and he became Imam Khomeini.

That’s his official title.

I love human beings so much.

It’s so beautiful.

These titles that we give each other,

it’s marvelous to observe.

You love it because you haven’t been under that system.

No, I love it in a very dark human kind of way.

It caricatures itself.

It’s almost funny in its absurdity,

if not for the evil that it has led to in human history.

But also the fact that it’s in fact fulfillment

in a kind of completely unintended fashion.

It’s a fulfillment of that idea of a messiah

that they’ve been fighting for.

This imam which is in a hidden for a thousand years

is here and not here.

Therefore, Khomeini would have, in a sense,

fulfilled those anticipations.

But beyond that, I’ll just give you one example.

I know that you may have other concerns.

But when I say elimination,

at the end of the Iran-Iraq War,

by the direct order of Ayatollah Khomeini,

a fatwa that he wrote,

a group of prisoners

who belonged to a variety of political parties,

the left, religious left, majority of them,

the Marxist left and the religious left.

In a matter of a few weeks, or perhaps a few months,

I’m not actually quite sure about the time span,

in a series of, these were people who have already been tried

and they were given sentences.

They were brought back before the summary trials

of three judges, or more, three, four of them.

One of them is now the new president

of the Islamic Republic, Raisi.

And they were given quick summary sentences

which meant execution.

So something between probably six to 8,000

were executed in a matter of a month or two months,

something like that.

Mostly in Tehran, but also in provinces.

And that remained an extraordinary trauma

for the families, for those who had these kids.

They’re all young, all young.

So this remains very much a kind of original sin

of the Islamic Republic that cannot get rid of.

And it’s in people’s memories,

they didn’t allow them, even the families,

to go and mourn their dead in an official cemetery

which they created for them.

Now the latest thing is that they put

a huge concrete wall around it

so nobody would be able to get into it.

So these all part of this extraordinary level

of level of atrocity, brutality,

that you see that the regime who claimed

that it comes with the morality of religion

and Islam to bring back the justice

and be more, in a sense, kind to people,

ended up with what it is in the memory

of many of the people in Iran.

So developing these fascistic tendencies.

Very much so.

Destroying minorities, Baha’i is one of them.

Hundreds of Baha’is were, without any reason,

without any involvement, were picked up

and executed.

Their properties were taken over.

Their rights were taken away from them,

even up to this day.

It’s the largest, by the way, religious minority in Iran.

So you would see that in many areas

this acts very much as a beyond authoritarian.

It’s kind of really a fascistic regime.

So Khamenei held power for 10 years

and then took power the next supreme leader

who is still the leader today for over 30 years.

Who is he?

Well, he was one of the, this is Ali Khamenei.


Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Imam one day, perhaps?

No, well, they hesitated to use the term Imam for him.

But in any other respect, he was given

all of that adulation that they did to Khamenei.

He is the guardian jurist.

That’s what’s important.

Because the guardian jurist in the Constitution

of the Islamic Republic is an authority

that is above the state.

He is not elected, quote unquote,

because this is a divine authority.

Although he’s been designated by the group

of determined mullahs like himself.

And he has the full power over all institutions

of the state, the army, the media, the economy.

Every aspect of, he acts like a shah.

He acts like this authoritarian authority.

Did that gradually develop, or was that very early on?

Well, that’s part of the Constitution

of the Islamic Republic.

The first Constitution, the first draft of the Constitution

did not have the authority of the guardian jurist.

But then it was added by Khamenei and his supporters.

Are there actually in the Constitution

any limits to his power?

Yes, there is a council of the experts, so to say,

that would remove him from power, I think theoretically.

But there’s so much restrictions to that

that I don’t think it would have ever happened in reality.

In his case, at least.

But in terms of executive, to make decisions

and all that kind of stuff,

does he need to check with anybody?


He does check with his own advisors,

but he doesn’t have any constitutional obligation

to check on the decisions that he’s making.

So that’s the supreme leader, but there’s been presidents.

And what’s the role of the president?

The president, in a sense, is the executive power

under the Islamic Republic.

There are three heads of powers.

There is the president

that presumably has the executive power,

there is the head of the judiciary,

and there is the head of the speaker of the parliament,

majlis, Islamic majlis, which is the legislative.

So there’s the legislative, judiciary, and executive.

Raisi, who is not a president, is the head of the executive.

Above them is the supreme leader,

or the guardian jurist.

Can you give me some insight?

Because I, especially, I’m not exactly sure why,

but President Ahmadinejad is somebody

I’m, as an American, really familiar with.

Why is that exactly?

But why was the president the public-facing person

to the world versus the supreme leader?

Is that just an accident of particular humans involved,

or is this by design?

No, because the supreme leader tries to keep himself

out of issues of everyday politics, supposedly.

But therefore, he is not coming to the United Nations

to give a speech during the session.

But Mr. Ahmadinejad, who at the time was the president,

would come and make outrageous statements.

That’s why you probably know something about him.

So all of them make public statements,

but he had a proclivity for outrageous statements.

He does all kinds of things.

He makes all kinds of statements.

But he is somewhat above the everyday politics, in theory.

But of course, he’s pulling all the strings,

without doubt, in every respect.

And it seems that you were asking,

I thought you were going to ask me this question,

almost without an exception,

since the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979,

up to the last of the presidents of the Islamic Republic,

Rouhani, before the guy that is last year,

or a year and a half ago, was in a phony election,

got into the position of the president,

all of them, there’s a long list,

all of them eventually fell out with the regime.

So there is no president,

except perhaps to some extent Rouhani,

but we’ll wait and see what’s going to happen to him.

But prior to him, all of them,

including Ahmadinejad, fell out with the regime,

with the current regime in Iran.

Who’s Rouhani?

He was officially president for eight years.

Yeah, prior to Raisi.

Ibrahim Raisi, the 221,

what you’re saying is a phony election.

Yes, it’s a phony election.

What happened?

What’s interesting?

Because the process of actually candidacy for presidency

is completely controlled by a council

that is under the control of the supreme leader.

So they have to approve who is going to be the candidate.

So not everybody can enter and say,

I would like to be a candidate.

So did Rouhani fall out of favor?

You’re saying there’s some break?

Well, he is kind of out of favor now

because he was more moderate than this most recent regime.

But the point is that if you look,

this is something almost constitutional to the regime.

This is a regime that rejects all of the executive powers

because the division between the supreme authority

as a place of a supreme authority

versus the presidency has problematic.

It is as if there would be a supreme leader

in the United States above all the three sources of power.

I mean, that’s the kind of view

that you can see in today’s Iran.

And of course, he’s at the focus of all the criticism

that he receives from the demonstrators in today’s Iran.

So on top of all this, recently

and throughout the last several years,

US and Iran are in the midst of nuclear deal negotiations.

This is another part of the story of Iran

is the development of nuclear weapons, the nuclear program.

They’re looking to restore the nuclear deal

known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA.

What is the history, the present,

and the future of these negotiations over nuclear weapons?

What is interesting to you in this full context

from the 16th century of the messianic journey?

What’s interesting to you here?

You can argue that for a long time, even under the Shah,

but much more expressively and decisively

under the Islamic Republic,

there was a determination to have a nuclear power

or nuclear weapon, in a sense.

I think the bottom line of all the negotiations,

everything else, is that Iran of the Islamic Republic

had the tendency of having its own nuclear weapon.

The reason for that is that Iran was subject

of nearly nine years, eight and a half years

of Iran-Iraq war, when not only Iran faced an aggressor,

not only Iran faced an aggressor, Iraq,

that actually attacked Iran at a very critical time

at the very beginning of the Iranian Revolution,

but the fact that Iran felt kind of helpless

in the course of this war

and has to make great sacrifices, actually,

which supported the Islamic regime

and consolidated the Islamic regime

because of this war.

And most of the time,

their support of the United States

was behind Iraq vis-a-vis Iran.

And Iran felt that it’s been isolated

and has to protect itself.

So there is some argument

for having a nuclear capabilities.

But in reality, this has resulted

in a completely mindless, crazy,

wasteful attempt on the side of the Iranian regime

to try to develop a nuclear power.

And therefore, the rest of the world,

particularly in this region, were very worried

that if Iran would get access to a nuclear weapon,

then the entire region of the Persian Gulf

might, particularly Saudi Arabia, possibly Turkey,

possibly Egypt, all of them may require,

may demand to have also nuclear weapon,

given the fact that Pakistan and India has already have it.

So there was a determined attempt, as you might know,

on the side of the Western communities

or now gradually world communities

to try to, as much as possible,

to control Iran from getting access

to a nuclear capability,

or actually limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities

to what was defined usually in a euphemism

as a peaceful fashion, okay?

That being said, there was also Israel,

which viewed the Islamic Republic as a arch enemy.

And some of it might be due to the Israelis’ own exaggeration

of Iran’s threat, and some of it is because Iran

has developed a fairly strong military, as we see today.

And as such, this attempt to try to prevent Iran

from ever getting access to a nuclear weapon,

which resulted, as you might know,

in these massive sanctions that were imposed upon Iran

ever since the beginning of the revolution in 1979,

and, of course, more intensively since 2015, 2016,

even prior to that, probably a little bit earlier.

This agreement, the nuclear agreement,

was supposed to control or monitor

Iranian nuclear industry or nuclear setup

in exchange for removing the sanctions.

But this never worked, as a matter of fact,

in a very successful, satisfactory way

for the Iranians or for the Americans,

particularly under Trump administration,

which I think foolishly decided to scrap the agreement

that was reached under President Obama.

Like many other policies that was implemented

under Trump administration, this created a major problem.

That is how to, under Biden, how to try to come up

with a new nuclear agreement with Iran.

In this process, since 2016,

where the United States withdrew from the agreement,

Iran felt comfortable to try to go

and do whatever they want without any kind of monitor,

being monitored by the international community.

And that’s the situation now.

We don’t know whether Iran is really sincere

under the present regime to negotiate a deal.

We don’t know that the United States is willing to do so.

And it seems that now what is happening

in terms of the protests in the Iranian streets

makes it even harder in public eye

to try to negotiate a deal with Iran.

Because that means, in the minds of many,

and with some justification,

that if the nuclear agreement would result

in the removal of many of these sanctions,

millions, billions, as the result of the removal

of the sanctions and Iran’s ability to sell its oil

in the international market without any restrictions,

means that the Iranian government

is going to become even more powerful,

more financially secure in order to suppress its own people.

So that’s the agreement that goes against

coming to terms with Iran.

But the problem is that there is no clear alternative,

even I’m not particularly personally favorable

for this agreement to be ratified.

But the alternative is very difficult.

There’s no way to try to see what can be done.

Geopolitics where every alternative is terrible.

Let me ask you about one of the most complex

geopolitical situations in history.

One aspect of it is the Cold War between Iran and Israel.

The bigger picture of it is sometimes referred to

as Israel-Palestine conflict.

What are all the parties, nations involved?

What are the interests that are involved?

What’s the rhetoric?

Can you understand, make the case

for each side of this conflict?

You’re opening a new can of worms

that it takes another three hours of conversation.

Just three hours?

At least.

What I can tell you is this.

Iran, prior to 1979, viewed itself under the Shah

as a kind of a, if not supporter of Israel,

was in very good terms with Israel.

They had an embassy in Iran, or unofficial embassy in Iran.

They had certain projects that’s helping

with the agriculture and so forth in Iran.

But since 1979, that completely reversed.

Part of it is that the issue of the Palestinian plight

remained very much at the heart

of the revolutionary Iranians who would see

that part of the United States is to support,

part of the United States’ guilt, sin,

is to support Israel vis-a-vis its very suppressive,

very oppressive treatment of the Palestinians,

completely illegal taking over of the territories

which is not theirs since 1967.

And therefore, it is upon the Iranian regime,

Iranian Islamic Republic, to support

the cause of the Palestinians.

This came about at a time when the rest

of the support for the Palestinians,

including Arab nationalism, basically reached

the stage of bankruptcy.

I mean, much of the regimes of the Arab world

either are now coming to terms with Israel,

or in one way or another, because of their own contingencies,

because of their own concerns and interests,

are willy-nilly accepting Israel in the region.

Now, that old task of rhetorically supporting

the Palestinians falls upon the Islamic Republic

that sees itself as a champion of the Palestinians now.

Without, as a matter of fact, having either the support

of the Iranian people behind him, if you ask,

if tomorrow there would be a poll or a referendum,

I would doubt that 80% of the Iranian people

would approve of the policies of the Islamic Republic

vis-a-vis the issue of Palestine.

Nor the Palestinians themselves,

because the Islamic Republic’s only supporting

those factions within the Palestinian movement

which are Islamic, quote-unquote.

And even within that, there is problems

with Hamas, for instance.

But nevertheless, it’s for the Islamic Republic

some kind of a propaganda tool to be able to use it

for its own sake, and claim that we are the champions

of the Palestinian people.

Whether they have a solution, if you look at their rhetoric,

if you listen to their rhetoric,

it’s the destruction of the state of Israel.

And that, it seems to me, creates a certain anxiety

in the minds of the Israelis, Israeli population,

and Israeli government.

Particularly those who are now in power.

Netanyahu, the Likud, and more kind of a right-wing politics

of, polity of today’s Israel.

That being said, I think also the Israelis

try to get an extra mileage out of

a threat of Iran, quote-unquote.

In order to present themselves

as a rightful to, for terms of security and whatever else.

The way that they’re treating the Palestinians,

which I think is extremely unjust.

I think it’s extremely unwise for Israel

to carry on with these policies, as they did since 1967,

at least, and not to try to come to terms with it.

Of course, there are huge amount of,

I’m not denying that at all,

but there’s a huge amount of failures, mistakes,

and stupidity on the side of the Palestinian leadership

in various stages.

Not to try to make a deal,

or try to come to terms in some fashion.

But it’s a very complex picture,

and it’s rather unfair to the Palestinians

to accuse them for not coming to terms with Israel

under a very uneven circumstances.

When they are not in a position to try to make a fair deal,

in terms of the territories,

or in terms of their security in future vis-a-vis Israel.

So I think there’s, as you probably know,

quite a lot of people that would have

a different perspective than you just stated,

in terms of taking the perspective of Israel

and characterizing the situation.

Can you steelman their side?

Can you steelman Israel’s side,

that they’re trying to be a sovereign nation,

trying to protect themselves against threats,

ultimately wanting to create a place of safety,

a place where people can pursue all the things

that you want to pursue in life,

including foremost, happiness?

I tend to agree with you,

and I have all the respect for the fact that

Israel would like to create security

and happiness for its own people.

But there are two arguments.

One is a moral argument.

To my mind as a historian,

Jews across, around the world,

for all through their history, suffered.

And this is a history of suffering.

This is a memory of suffering.

And I find it enormously difficult to believe

that a nation that’s the product of so much

sacrifice, suffering, loss of life,

and variety of Holocaust above all,

would find itself in a position

not to give the proper justice

to a people who could be their neighbors.

And that is a moral argument which I cannot believe

under any circumstances can be accepted.

Second, in real terms,

what do you want to, you want to commit a genocide?

Do you have a population there

that you have to come to terms with it?

And you cannot just postpone as they did.

Since 67 they are postponing

and hoping that it goes away somehow.

I don’t think it’s going to go away.

And it’s going to get worse rather than better.

It’s a long nuanced discussion

and I look forward to having it.

So we’ll just leave it

there for the moment.

But it is

a stressful place in the world

where the rhetoric is existential,

where Iran makes claims

that it wants to wipe a country off the face of the earth.

It’s just the level of intensity of rhetoric

is unlike anywhere else in the world.

And extremely dangerous.

And in both directions.

So one, the real danger of the rhetoric

actually being acted upon

and then the extreme political parties

using the rhetoric to justify

even a greater escalation.

So if Iran is saying that this is

saying that they want to wipe Israel

off the face of the earth,

that justifies any response.

On the other side.

On the other side.

Of course, I tend to agree with you fully.

And unfortunately, this is a very critical situation

that this region is facing, Iran in particular.

I would say that

I hope that in the minds of the people of Israel,

there is enough or common sense

to realize that probably escalation on the Israeli side

is not in the favor of anybody.

And try to let the Iranians to go on

with their empty rhetoric as they do so far.

But at the same time,

I cannot deny the fact that, you know,

there is a danger on the side of this regime

and what it says.

It cannot be denied.

Nobody can justify that.

Particularly because the Iranian population

is not behind this regime.

Certainly in the case of the Palestinians.

Or for that matter, it’s not Palestine.

It’s the Islamic Republic’s involvement

in Lebanon with Hezbollah.

It’s the Islamic Republic’s involvement

in Syria with Bashar Assad.

It’s involvement in other parts of the world,

perhaps even Yemen.

That all of them creates extraterritorial

responsibilities or interventions,

unnecessary interventions that ultimately

is not in favor of best interest of the Iranian people

or Iran as a country.

Iran has never been involved in this kind of politics

before of the Islamic Republic.

So in a sense, the Iranian regime,

it seems to me, by going to the extreme,

try to create for itself a space

that it did not have or did not deserve to have

within the politics of the region.

It’s a, in other words, that has become part

of the tool, kind of an instrument for,

if you like to call it, some kind of an expansionism

of the regime.

In parts of the world where it can see

there is a possibility for its presence,

for its expansion.

Of course, historically speaking,

Iran, ever since 15th century,

I think that’s the earliest example I can see,

in early modern times, has always a tendency

of moving in the direction of not only what is today

the state of Iraq, but further into the eastern coast

of Mediterranean.

So that’s a long-term ambition that has been in the cards

as far as Iran as a strategic unit is concerned.

But by no means justified, and by no means could be

a reasonable, could be a sane policy of a nation, state,

as today’s Iran.

But the second point is that also,

regimes are always victims of their own rhetoric.

So it’s, once you keep repeating something,

then you become more and more committed to it.

And it cannot remain anymore in the level of a rhetoric.

You have to do something about it.

So it’s a compelling pressure to try to materialize

what you’ve been saying in your rhetoric.

And that is even extremely more dangerous,

as far as Iran is concerned.

And it brings it to some unholy alliances

that today we are witnessing Iran is getting involved.

Even more dangerous than this rhetoric

in terms of the, vis-a-vis Israel,

is its involvement with Russia,

and to some extent with China, which we can talk about.

What do you think about the meeting

between Khamenei and Vladimir Putin in July?

What’s that alliance?

What’s that partnership?

Is it surface-level geopolitics,

or is there a deep, growing connection?

I cannot see the difference between geopolitics

and these deep connections.

I see this one and the same.


Because I think the experience of 40 years

of distancing from the West,

in terms of the Islamic Republic,

and the fact that there is a shelf life

to imperial presence for any empire anywhere in the world.

So after the terrible experience of the United States

in Iraq and in Afghanistan,

pretty much like the British Empire,

that after the Suez experience in 56,

decided to withdraw from east of Suez,

maybe there is a moment here that we are witnessing,

or it may come, that a great power

like the United States sees in its benefit

not to get too much involved into nitty-gritty things

in other parts of the world,

that it’s not its immediate concern.


And I think that is part of the reason,

not the entire reason,

part of the reason why we see the emergence

of a new geopolitical environment

in this part of the world,

of which China, Russia, possibly Iran,

possibly Turkey, possibly both of them,

are going to be part.


Perhaps Saudis also,

but I doubt that the Saudis,

under the present circumstances,

although we’ve witnessed some remarkable issue

in the course of the past few weeks,

where the Saudis giving assurances

to American administration,

and then shifting and getting along with Putin,

in terms of the oil production,

I think it’s more than that, even.

And it’s not only them,

but also the Emirates are doing the same thing.

So what does that tell us?

And that’s another many-hour conversation

about the oil industry in Iran and the whole region.

In emerging this kind of a world,

which was perhaps even 10 years ago unimaginable,

that you see now a great power, China,

that it’s going to remain,

from what we see around us, as a great power.

And Russia, adventurous, foolish,

but nevertheless would remain criminal,

I would say, as far as its behavior in Ukraine.

But actually, it’s a rogue nation

that attracts another rogue nation.

So Iran finds itself now in a greater place of security

in alliance with Russia,

in the hope that this would give Iran

a greater security in this part of the world.

Whether this is realistic or an illusion,

I think remains to be seen.

I think Iran-China relation makes more sense.

Although, if you ask ordinary Iranians,

they don’t like it.

They would tell, why should we be tied up

with China as the only trade party with America

because of the foolish isolations

that you have created for us,

because of all the sanctions that you have created for us,

the Islamic Republic.

So in a sense, it’s a very difficult question to answer.

Probably Iranians also like to be more on the other camp.

But what happens is that in real term,

what surprises me most is not this alliance with China,

but it’s kind of becoming a lackey or subservient

to Putin’s regime in Russia.

Since if you look at it,

Iran ever since at least the 19th century,

not going further back,

the beginning of the 19th century,

always viewed Russia as the greatest threat strategically

because it was sitting right at the top of Iran.

It was infinitely more powerful than Iran has ever been.

And Iran fought two rounds of war

at the beginning of the century,

lost the entire Caucasus to Russia and learned its lesson

that you have to be mindful of Russia

and you have to keep it as an arm’s length.

And that’s what was Iran’s policy

throughout the course of the 20th century,

19th and 20th century,

up to what we see now around us,

which is a very strange situation.

Whether the balance has changed in terms of

if Russia is purchasing weapons from Iran,

which was unheard of,

it means that there is a new balance is emerging,

a new relationship is emerging.

Perhaps remains to be seen.

But if you look at the historical precedence,

it would have been enormously unwise

to be an ally of Russia,

given its long history of aggression in Iran.

See, Russians, part of the reason

why it’s actually Iran allied itself with British Empire

was the fact that it was so much afraid

of the Russian expansion.

And as such, I don’t know what’s going to be the future

of this relationship.

There is a big disconnect

between governments and the people.

And I think ultimately, I have faith

that there’s a love across the different cultures,

across the different religions amongst the people.

And the governments are the source of the division

and the conflict and the wars and all the geopolitics

that is in part grounded in the battle for resources

and all that kind of stuff.

Nevertheless, this is the world we live in.

So you looked at the modern history of Iran

the past few centuries.

If you look into the future of this region,

now you kind of implied that historian

has a bit of a cynical view

of protests and things like this

that are fueled, at least in the minds of young people,

with hope.

If you were to, just for a while,

have a bit of hope in your heart and your mind,

what is a hopeful future for the next 10, 20, 30 years

of Iran?

I’m not cynical.


I try to be realistic.

And I actually may be critical,

but I have great hopes in Iran’s future

for a variety of reasons.

I actually did write an article,

only the last version of it is going to go out today,

in which the title of it is

The Time of Fear and Women of Hope,

which in a sense is this whole coverage

about what this movement means that we see today.

It may fizzle in a few weeks’ time,

or it may just go on and create new dynamics

in Iranian society that would hopefully result

in a peaceful process of greater accommodation

and a greater tolerance within the Iranian society

and with the outside world.

And I think majority of the Iranian people

don’t want tension.

Don’t want confrontation.

Don’t want crisis.

They, if 40 years they have suffered

from a regime that have dictated an ideology

that it’s regressive and impractical,

they want to go back to a life

in which they don’t really create trouble

for their neighbors or for the world.

And therefore, I would see a better future for Iran.

That’s for one reason.

Strategically or geopolitically,

maybe in Iran’s advantage in a peaceful fashion

to negotiate as it’s the fate of all the nations,

rather than commit itself or sworn

to a particular course of policy.

So there’s a give and take,

as the nature of politics is art of possible,

as it’s been said.

So probably Iran is going to be hopefully

moving in that direction.

I think there is a generational thing.

That’s the third reason.

No matter how much the Islamic Republic

tried to Islamicize the Iranian society

in its own image of kind of radical,

ideological indoctrination, it has failed.

It has failed up to what we see today

in the Iranian streets.

And the Iranian population said no to it.

And I think if there would have been,

and I very much hope there will be,

a possibility for a more open environment,

more open space where they would be able

to speak their views out,

Iranians are not on the side of moving

in the extreme directions.

They are in the side of greater accommodation

and the greater interest in the outside world.

And if you look at every aspect of today’s,

beside the government, every aspect of life

in today’s Iran, you can see that.

From the way that people dress,

to the way that they try to live their lives,

to the way that they’re educating themselves

or being educated in the institutions,

do you see a desire, an intention to move forward?

And I’m optimistic.

Well, in that struggle for freedom,

like I told you offline,

one of my close childhood friends is Iranian.

Just a beautiful person, his family is a wonderful family.

On a personal level, is one of the deeper windows

into the Iranian spirit and soul

that I’ve gotten a chance to witness,

so I really appreciate it.

But in the recent times, I’ve gotten to hear

from a lot of people that are currently living in Iran,

that are currently have that burning hope

for the future of the country.

And so, my love goes out to them

in the struggle for freedom.

I have to say.

That’s so nice of you to say so.

And I very much hope so.

There are moments of despair,

and there are moments that you would think

that there is no hope.

But then again, something triggers,

and you see 100,000 people in the streets of Berlin

that are hoping for a better future for Iran.

And I very much hope it eventually emerges,

even I’m hoping at the same time

there’s not going to be a very strong leadership,

as it was the case in the past.

We started with hope, we ended with hope.

This was a real honor.

This is an incredible conversation.

Thank you for giving such a deep

and wide story of this great nation,

one of the great nations in history.

Well, that’s very kind of you to say so.

And thank you for sitting down today.

This was amazing.

Well, a history that’s,

as I’ve said in the start of my book,

I say it’s the history of a nation

which has learned a huge amount from the outside world

by force of its geography.

It was always located somewhere that people would invade

or come for trade or something happened to it

that this diffused culture continued to,

and they were not afraid of learning or adopting,

as they do right now today.

This is a very different society.

Never a boring moment in its history, as you write about.

Thank you so much.

This was awesome.

Thank you.

Thanks for listening to this conversation with Abba Samana.

To support this podcast,

please check out our sponsors in the description.

And now let me leave you with a few words

from Martin Luther King, Jr.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

Thank you for listening.

I hope to see you next time.


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