“Once you understand what people want, you can’t hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can’t hate them, because you can find the same desires in your own heart” – concluded Andrew Wiggins in the novel Speaker for the Dead. When Americans hear the word Iran, many have a sort of knee-jerk visceral reaction. The very mention of the word conjures up frightful images of be-turbaned bearded imams leading mobs of Kalashnikov-carrying Muslim men and women whose faces are grotesquely contorted by intense anger as they enthusiastically wave banners bearing squiggly lines, no doubt saying, “Death to America”.
Such specters are no frightful flights of fantasy, but reflect a real time and place in Iranian history. The year was 1979 and the place was Tehran. But the Islamic Revolution and subsequent American embassy hostage crisis which shocked the world, catching the West completely off guard, did not materialize in a vacuum. The chaotic domino effect which would lead modern Iran into the hands of the Ayatollahs was set off from the moment the CIA intervened with its 1953 coup d’état in Tehran, which became known as ‘Operation Ajax’.
The opening sequence from the 2012 movie ‘Argo’ features a brief history of aggressive Western intervention which shaped modern Iran.
But Western intervention in Iran’s affairs actually started many decades prior even to the CIA’s well-known covert operation with the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, or today’s British Petroleum (BP). After this, the 20th century witnessed a series of external interventions in Iran – a pattern which could potentially be continued now at the beginning of the 21st century as officials in the US and Israeli governments are now calling for action in support of protesters.
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