Alright, here we are, finally. The Iranian Revolution of 1979. There’s still some groundwork to be laid, but we’re getting there this episode, full stop. Let’s take a look at some of the folks coming to center stage.
Here we’ve got the two principal players from at least the first half of the episode, both of whom stumble through ’77 and ’78, leading, in a not at all inescapable way, to the events of 1979. Carter spent his campaign and early days in the White House putting out rhetoric right in line with the philosophy of SFD—stop those arms sales, cut off support for unsavory dictator-allies, re-evaluate policy with an eye to places like Cuba. But the Carter White House, for all its promise, largely maintained US commitments to our sinister friends abroad and kept up those arms sales, especially to Iran and even to places like Guatemala, where guns were demonstrably going towards the genocides we heard about way back in episodes four and five.
Despite that ongoing support and despite reciprocal state visits, Carter’s speeches, along with rising international awareness of the worst elements of Iranian repression, convinced the Shah that he needed to liberalize things at home. Those changes, most especially allowing some freedom into politics and the press, led directly, like one-to-one, connect-the-dots to the street protests that eventually brought down the regime.
Ali Shariati, the man in the foreground, passed away in 1977, probably from lingering injuries incurred at the hands of SAVAK. It was too soon to see the Revolution he had a hand in making, but large swathes of Iranian youth, especially religious and secular liberals, subscribed to his philosophical fusion of socialism and Iranian Shi’a Islam. We got into this last episode, but whereas both Shariati and Khomeini saw a role for religion in government, Shariati wanted the ulama, the clergy, on the outside. In a parallel to the thought of Liberation Theology, Shariati saw the role of the clergy and their congregations as a permanent opposition, holding the government to account and pushing it to fulfill what he saw as the truest values of Shi’ism—the defense and uplift of the weak and opposition to oppression and misused authority.