A Stained History
by SOHRAB AHMARI
19 Jul 2010 17:28
[ opinion ] Since 2000, BP has run a marketing campaign with the slogan "Beyond Petroleum." One arm of the campaign was composed of ads featuring average Americans ruminating about the need for a diverse national energy portfolio: biofeuls, wind, solar, and...offshore drilling right here in America. The ads were quickly pulled after it became apparent that BP's offshore drilling was responsible for the biggest manmade environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States. Viewed in hindsight, they reveal a company desperate to dissociate itself from its core business, which evidently involved pursuing profits despite significant public risks.
This is nothing new. Decades before the current disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP -- then known as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) -- was closely involved in a different kind of disaster, one that stifled the Iranian people's aspirations to national self-determination for a generation.
In 1951, outraged by a raw deal that gave the British company cheap access to Iran's vast oil reserves, the Majles (parliament) elected Mohammad Mosaddegh as prime minister. Mosaddegh swiftly moved to nationalize Iran's oil. AIOC was not amused. And the rest is history. The Western powers mounted a crushing oil embargo against Tehran. Two years later, at AIOC's behest, British and American intelligence services sponsored a coup that ousted Mosaddegh and restored the Shah to the Peacock Throne.
Historians have begun to cast doubt on aspects of this tragedy. Nationalization of Iran's oil, some contend, was impossible and unwise to begin with. Even if the West had not prevented nationalization, Iran at the time did not have the capacity to refine, market, or distribute its own oil. Moreover, it was alleged that Mosaddegh was erratic, autocratic, and on the verge of senility. Even if this were true, there is no denying that the coup was a significant blow to Iran's fledgling democratic consciousness and political self-confidence.
Since seizing power more than 30 years ago, Iran's Islamic regime has wielded the coup as a permanent grievance against the United States. What better way to make the case against the "Global Arrogance" than to highlight its collaboration in a dirty coup to prevent the oppressed Iranian nation from taking full benefit of its God-given natural resources. Today, some regime apologists in the West even draw parallels between Mosaddegh and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as leaders seeking to protect Iranian sovereignty against Western encroachment.
Both the Clinton and Obama administrations have responded by actually apologizing to the clerics. They shouldn't have. The predecessors of today's theocrats were materially complicit in the coup. Mosaddegh's secular nationalism, with its calls for gender equity and modernization, was anathema to the clerical establishment that yearned to go "back to fundamentals." They whipped up hysteria against the prime minister, even insinuating that Mosaddegh was a homosexual. Even today, the regime refuses to name a major street after Mosaddegh or memorialize the home where he spent his last days under house arrest.
Apologizing to the Islamic Republic for an incident that occurred six decades ago allows Iranian leaders to avoid taking responsibility for their mischief abroad and brutality at home. It can also feed the worst aspect of the Iranian national psyche: the tendency to seek out the dark machinations of ominously powerful foreign conspirators to explain away Iran's failure to realize its potential. For Iran and the Middle East as a whole to move forward, that tendency needs to be overcome.
Still, just as the oily mess BP's incompetence unleashed has stained our precious Gulf states, so the coup carried out at AIOC's behest continues to stain Iranians' collective memory. The best way to clean up the latter stain is not for Western leaders to apologize to the dictators of Tehran. Rather, they should take seriously the main lesson of the Mosaddegh affair: it doesn't pay to ignore or, worse, undermine Iranians' democratic aspirations in pursuit of short-sighted strategic aims. And they should give moral support to Mosaddegh's contemporary heirs, the brave young men and women in green who daily risk their lives to secure a free and prosperous Iran.
Sohrab Ahmari, a member of the American Islamic Congress's New England Council, is a law student at Northeastern University. His commentary on Iran and democratic reform in the Middle East has also appeared in The Boston Globe, Courrier International, and Harry's Place.
Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau