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The Nationalist-Religious Movement | Part 1: Patriots and Mosaddeghists

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

28 Jun 2011 22:05Comments

Defending democracy, resisting the Shah.

taleghani sahabi bazargan.jpg[ series ] Since World War II, Iranian nationalists who also believe in an enlightened interpretation of Islamic teachings -- those referred to in this article and its sequels as the nationalist-religious groups -- have played a very important role in the political development of Iran. The recent deaths of three significant nationalist-religious figures -- Ezatollah Sahabi, who led the Nationalist-Religious Coalition (NRC); his daughter, Haleh Sahabi; and his disciple, journalist Reza Hoda Saber -- have brought to the fore the plight of the nationalist-religious activists.

May 15 marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Liberation Movement of Iran (LMI), also known as the Freedom Movement of Iran, which is an integral part of the NRC. In addition to being one of the nation's longest-lasting political groups, throughout its history the LMI has played a pivotal role in Iranian politics, from opposing Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, to leading the first government after the 1979 Revolution, and then joining the opposition to the Islamic Republic less than a year later. Even now that all the original founders of the LMI have passed away, and its current head, Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi, has been forced by the hardliners to announce his "resignation" from the leadership, the LMI is still under tremendous pressure simply because the hardliners are terrified by any thinking that mixes nationalism and an enlightened interpretation of Islam. It is therefore instructive to learn more about the NRC, particularly in view of the fact that some have attempted to distort the historical facts about the LMI, or present them in a completely different light.

Beginning with this article, I will describe the history of the nationalist-religious movement, its key figures, and the role that it has played in Iran's modern history. The present article describes the history of the nationalist-religious movement from its inception to the 1979 Revolution. Part 2 will review the work of the nationalist-religious groups since the Revolution. In Part 3, I will look at the lives, thinking, and accomplishments of major nationalist-religious figures.

Photo: Dr. Sahabi, Ayatollah Taleghani, Mehdi Bazargan, Badizadegan, Eid Fetr, Kamal Narmak High School, 1340 (1961).

Historical background

On August 25, 1941, Allied forces -- mostly British and Soviet -- invaded Iran in what was dubbed Operation Countenance. Reza Shah Pahlavi (1878-1944) had refused to allow Britain and the Soviet Union to deploy their troops on Iranian territory, even though Moscow had the right to station its forces there, if Soviet borders were threatened, under the 1921 Russo-Persian Treaty. Reza Shah had pro-Nazi sympathies, and there were a large number of German advisers stationed in Iran. At the same time, the Allies wanted to guarantee safe passage of supplies to the Red Army via Iran under the Lend-Lease Act, prevent Adolf Hitler's army from seizing Iranian oilfields, and forestall any possible alliance between Iran and the Axis powers, even though Iran had already declared its neutrality. The Allied forces removed Reza Shah from the throne, and put in power his 22-year-old son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. That ushered in a period of relative political freedom in Iran.

arani-3986-20100102-196.pngReza Shah had banned the Communist Party of Iran in 1929, but after he was deposed, the Tudeh (Masses) Party of Iran was founded, holding its first meeting on September 29, 1941. The Tudeh Party was a classical pro-Soviet Union communist party, but wrapped itself at the time in nationalism to be more attractive to Iranians. During that era, many intellectuals around the world saw socialism/communism as the only viable force against Fascism and Nazi ideology, and Iran was no different. Iranian communists had also played a leading role in resisting Reza Shah's dictatorship. For example, in 1936, his regime arrested Dr. Taghi Arani (pictured), the leading communist intellectual of the period, and his so-called Group of 53. They were imprisoned, but not put on trial until 1938. During the trial, Arani defended himself and his comrades for six hours. He died -- reportedly poisoned -- in prison in 1940 at the age of 37. In sum, secular leftist ideology was popular among the intellectuals, as well as the students of the University of Tehran, which had been founded seven years earlier.

By 1942, the Tudeh Party had succeeded in gaining wide recognition and launched its mouthpiece Siasat (Politics). After only one year, it had formed cells and extensive trade union organizations in many provinces, including Azerbaijan, Isfahan, Gilan, Mazandaran, and Khorasan. It convened its first conference in October 1942 in Tehran and decided to replace Siasat, which had been closed, with the daily Rahbar (Leader). The Tudeh Party also established Sazman-e Javanan-e Hezb-e Tudeh-e Iran (Youth Organization of the Tudeh Party of Iran), which was active at the University of Tehran and a few other institutions of higher education.

These developments worried many Islamic thinkers. They did not want to cede the campuses and the war of the ideas to the secular left, especially the communists. Inspired by these concerns, two leaders emerged.

Mohammad Nakhshab and the Socialist Worshipers of God

vrdg173f62i09dtj0cl0.jpgThe first Islamic leftist thinker to take on the influence of the Tudeh Party, and more generally the secular left, was Mohammad Nakhshab (pictured). The nationalist-religious journalist Morteza Kazemian has published an excellent book on Nakhshab's life and work, Sosial Demokracy-ye Dini (Religious Democratic Socialism). Dr. Habibollah Peyman, leader of the Movement of Militant Muslims, a nationalist-religious group that is part of the NRC, has also written extensively on the thinking of Nakhshab. See also this article by Mahmoud Nekorooh.

Nakhshab, whose real name was Mohammad Mekanik, was born in 1923 in Tehran. He was active politically even in high school. He attended Dar ol-Fonun in central Tehran, where with his friends he founded a youth group called Anjoman-e Javanan-e Amir Kabir (Society of Amir Kabir Youth). After his high school graduation, Nakhshab was admitted to the law school of the University of Tehran. There, in 1924, he met Jalaleddin Ashtiani, a student at the Faculty of Engineering, where Mehdi Bazargan was a professor (see below). Ashtiani would later refer to Nakhshab as "a mountain of faith, sacrifice, and energy."

Ashtiani's father was Mirza Mehdi Ashtiani, a professor of philosophy and Islamic Gnosticism and a judiciary official in Reza Shah's regime. While at the University of Tehran, the young Ashtiani determined to develop a new way of thinking based on Islamic teachings and the latest scientific developments. Together, Nakhshab and Ashtiani founded a secret group, Nehzat-e Khoda-Parastan-e Sosialist (Movement of Socialist Worshipers of God). Almost all of its members were between the ages of 16 and 24. One prominent member was Hossein Razi (1928-2011), who passed away this January. The group was secret due not to political repression, but because the members wanted to study quietly and prepare themselves for bigger things to come. This was, to my knowledge, the first group in Iran with a nationalist-religious identity.

The two founders taught the group's members about the various important issues of the era. Ashtiani began talking about an "intermediary school of thought," between dialectical materialism and idealism. He condemned the religion that was being advocated by the traditional and reactionary clerics, and by the Shah and his supporters. He emphasized what he considered the authentic spirit of Islam and monotheism, advocated "practicable socialism" -- which he and Nakhshab considered the true Islam -- and called Marxism "imaginary socialism." Radio Moscow referred to the two as "imaginary socialists" in return.

In 1947, Nakhshab and his supporters demanded that the group go public, but they were voted down by the organization's central committee. Nakhshab and his camp thus decided to separate from the group. Ashtiani left the country, and many members went back to their hometowns. When Palestinians and Jews fought over the independence of Israel in 1948, Nakhshab and his comrades held public demonstrations and gatherings in support of the Palestinian people.

That same year, Nakhshab and his supporters joined Hezb-e Iran (Iran Party), led by Allahyar Saleh (1896-1981, born Saleh Arani), a major supporter of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh. The moderately leftist-nationalist party was the main group within Mosaddegh's National Front (NF) and relatively well organized around the country. Nakhshab and Razi were elected to its central committee. But due to major differences, including the fact that the party was secular, Nakhshab and comrades left it and in 1952 founded Jameiyat-e Azadi-ye Mardom-e Iran (Association for Freedom of Iranian People), which changed its name after the 1953 coup to Hezb-e Mardom-e Iran (Party of Iranian People). They opened many offices around the country and began publishing Mardom-e Iran (Iranian People). The group's office in the northeastern city of Mashhad was run by two young Islamic leftists, Ali Shariati and Kazem Sami, to whom we will return. The Nakhshab-Razi group was an ardent supporter of the oil nationalization movement of 1951-53 led by Mosaddegh. In particular, they confronted those reactionary clerics who were allies of the Shah or had remained silent during the movement's struggle.

After the 1953 coup, Nakhshab and a number of his comrades joined the Nehzat-e Moghavemat-e Melli (National Resistance Movement), described below. He was arrested and imprisoned for a short time. After his release, Nakhshab continued his studies and achieved his master's degree in public administration. He then received a United Nations scholarship and came to the United States in 1958, where he attained a doctorate from New York University. He was very active in the U.S. branch of the Second National Front (see below), wrote for the quarterly Andisheh-e Jebheh (The Front's Thinking), and was also involved with the Confederation of Iranian Students. He left the latter group in 1960 because it was controlled by communists and Maoists, but remained active against the Shah within the LMI in the diaspora (see below), while working for the United Nations. The author of five books, Nakhshab passed away on September 9, 1976, in New York.

In an article published in Mardom-e Iran on June 29, 1953, Nakhshab wrote,

Those who were at some point at the forefront of the people['s struggle] and wherever they went were greeted with excitement by the people, when they got high positions or became deputies [in the Majles], forgot about the goal of the Iranian people [for freedom] and their great strength. Those who were drunk with arrogance and the lust for power could not be deserving servants for the people and their aspirations, and spent all the power that they had gained through the sacrifices of the society's poor and the martyrs of 30 Tir [July 21, 1951] to amass wealth, secure their own power, and impose their cronies on the people.

He held that

those who believe that the constitution and the present political systems are eternal and cannot be changed are limited by their own time and place and are not informed about history's rapid pace of progress.

Nakhshab was against communism, but also against imperialism. He believed that freedom and equality are two sides of the same coin, that one cannot separate socialism -- economic equality -- and democracy -- political and social freedom -- from each other, and that both must be accompanied by religiously based moral values. He declared, "Political democracy is the freedom to express any type of social and political views, and to use any legitimate means to advance such views." Nakhshab believed that freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to form political groups, and freedom of thought are all various aspects of the same thing, namely, political democracy. He also believed that truly free elections are those in which "people are not influenced by the wealth and greed of the wealthy, or the power, threats, and propaganda of the powerful, and can, on their own, elect those who will be strong defenders of the public interests, justice, and just causes."

Mehdi Bazargan

Another nationalist-religious figure who played a prominent role in modern Iran was Mehdi Bazargan. He was born into a prominent family in the northwestern city of Tabriz in 1907 -- the year after Iran's Constitutional Revolution had established the first constitutional government in Asia. He studied at the Sarvat and Soltani Elementary Schools, and received a diploma from Dar-olelmin High School. He placed near the top of the national examinations that determined which students would be sent to European universities. One day, while traveling to France by ship, he was saying his prayers on deck. Another passenger, Dr. Yadollah Sahabi, watched him. They met, beginning a close friendship and political alliance that would last for the rest of their lives. Bazargan studied for six years at the École Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris to obtain his mining engineering degree. He also spent a year in England, working for a textile company as his practical training. He returned to Iran in 1935 and served in the army to fulfill his mandatory military service. His degree was recognized as equivalent to a doctorate, and he began teaching at the Faculty of Engineering (FOE) of the University of Tehran. While teaching, he also worked for the national railroad organization as well as Bank Melli, Iran's largest bank. He was deputy dean of the FOE for three years, and then served as its dean from 1945 to 1951.

After the Allied invasion and Reza Shah's ouster in 1941, Bazargan became deeply involved in politics. As a professor at the University of Tehran, he helped found the Muslim Students Association (MSA) because, similar to Nakhshab, Ashtiani, and Razi, he was concerned that secular leftists and communists were taking control of the campuses. At the same time, having experienced life in France, he sought to demonstrate that an enlightened interpretation of Islamic teachings was fully compatible with modern science and social progress. In fact, Bazargan carried out in-depth research on the laws of thermodynamics, particularly the second law and its implications for creation. (As an undergraduate student, I studied his work in this area and was deeply influenced by its scientific rigor.) Bazargan also founded the Islamic Association of Engineers. Amazingly, 70 years after their establishment, the two organizations still exist, and the MSAs around the country that are not under the control of the hardliners are the most important university student organizations.

Bazargan, together with Allahyar Saleh, was also a founder of the Iran Party, but when it forged an alliance with the Tudeh Party in 1945, he resigned and joined the NF, Mosaddegh's political group. When Mosaddegh nationalized Iran's oil industry in 1951, he set up a commission to supervise the process. The Majles, as well as the then extant Iranian Senate, sent representatives to the commission, as did the prime minister's administration. Bazargan was one of those administration representatives. At the same time that he was a member of the commission, he was also appointed deputy minister of education (Mosaddegh did not appoint him minister because he thought that Bazargan was too religious). Mosaddegh subsequently appointed Bazargan as the first head of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). In his letter to the University of Tehran and the FOE, Mosaddegh wrote:

Because it is necessary that Mr. Eng. Bazargan [in Iran, "engineer" is used as a title, similar to "doctor"], Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, continue to serve on the temporary board of directors of the National Iranian Oil Company, and will not be able to continue his work at the university in the coming year, we would like to have your agreement to have him be the head of the NIOC for one year, at the same time that he keeps his position at the university.

Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, Prime Minister

Bazargan resigned after nine months, due to the many divisions within the NIOC and its board of directors.

The National Resistance Movement

In the aftermath of the CIA-sponsored coup of 1953 that toppled Mosaddegh's democratically elected government and put the Shah back in power, Iran experienced a dark period of dictatorship. Among Mosaddegh's prominent supporters who began to resist the dictatorship and lead the struggle for democracy was Bazargan.

Only ten days after the coup, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) was founded by associates and supporters of Mosaddegh's. They included Bazargan, Ayatollahs Seyyed Mahmoud Alaei Taleghani and Seyyed Reza Zanjani, Yadollah Sahabi, and many young National Front activists, later joined by the representatives of several other political groups that existed before the coup, including the Iran Party, Hezb-e Mellat-e Iran (Party of the Iranian Nation), and Hezb-e Zahmat Keshan-e Mellat-e Iran (Party of the Iranian Nation's Workers), along with representatives of Tehran's bazaar and the University of Tehran. About a year later, the Iran Party and leaders of the Party of the Iranian Nation's Workers left the NRM, but it continued its secret and semisecret activities until July 19, 1960.

The NRM issued its first statement explaining its goals on August 29, 1953. They included continuation of the national movement to defend Iran's independence and Mosaddegh's government; efforts against any foreign colonialism, whether "red" (communist) or "black" (Western); and confronting the foreign-supported coup government and its corrupt agents. The first article opposing the coup was published by the NRM in early October; its title, "The Iranian Nation Does Not Need Christian Advisers," was a reference to the Shah's many American and British counselors.

When on October 8, 1953, the trial of Mosaddegh and others began in the Shah's military court, there was a general strike and fighting with the police. The protests continued on and off until Richard M. Nixon, then vice president of the United States, visited Iran in early December. There were demonstrations against the visit and three FOE students, Mehdi (Azar) Shariat Razavi, Ahmad Ghandchi, and Mostafa Bozorgnia, were murdered on December 9 -- the date, 16 Azar in the Iranian calendar, has been observed as University Student Day ever since. The Shah decided to expel a number of professors from the University of Tehran, Bazargan among them. When the university's chancellor resisted the order to expel the professors, the regime decided to arrest several of them, including Bazargan, Yadollah Sahabi, and his son, Ezatollah Sahabi. Bazargan was imprisoned for five months. When he returned to the University of Tehran, he received a hero's welcome from the students, according to a friend and former professor who was studying there at the time. After the SAVAK, the Shah's internal security organization, was founded in 1956, the pressure on the NRM increased further. Bazargan explains here what was going on.

During that era, Bazargan was also active on the cultural front. He founded a publishing house, Sherkat-e Enteshar (Publishing Company), which he used to publicize his own views and those of his comrades regarding Islam, science, and modernity. This helped the young people to become familiar with a new face of Islam, an enlightened interpretation of its teachings not provided by the traditional clerics, and the attempts by Bazargan, Yadollah Sahabi, and others to show that such interpretations were compatible with modern science.

The Second National Front and the 15 Khordad Movement

Beginning in 1960, the Shah began to loosen the repression and allow some opposition political groups to form -- he was wary of John F. Kennedy, who was running for president and favored a certain degree of political reform in Iran. The revolutions in Latin America and elsewhere had taught Kennedy and his team that unless some reforms were carried out, Iran could experience the same fate. The Shah promised free elections for the 20th Majles and, thus, on July 19, 1960, on the eighth anniversary of the day when he first removed Mosaddegh from the premiership and appointed Ahmad Ghavam in his stead (Mosaddegh was restored to the post just a few days later due to a popular uprising), the Second National Front was founded by Bazargan, Dr. Shapour Bakhtiar (deputy minister of labor in Mosaddegh's government), Dr. Karim Sanjabi (Mosaddegh's minister of education), Dariush Forouhar (a victim of the Chain Murders in 1998), Dr. Gholam Hossein Sadighi (deputy prime minister and minister of the interior in the last Mosaddegh administration), and others. But the elections for the Majles were fraudulent and only Allahyar Saleh was elected from the opposition. Saleh demanded the results be overturned and new elections held.

Under pressure from the Kennedy administration, the Shah appointed Kennedy's friend Dr. Ali Amini as prime minister in April 1961. Amini had played a key role in the agreement forged between Iran and a consortium of oil companies in 1954. He remained in the post until July 1962.

Founding of the Liberation Movement of Iran

The Second National Front proved ineffective in opposing the Shah. Even Mosaddegh himself criticized the NF. Moreover, the NF was opposed to Amini and considered him a puppet of the United States, whereas Bazargan and his inner circle believed that they should take advantage of the friction between Amini and the Shah.

In early 1961, Bazargan, Yadollah Sahabi -- then a professor of geology at the University of Tehran -- and Ayatollah Taleghani -- a popular progressive cleric and later a key figure in the 1979 Revolution -- split from the Second National Front. With five others -- Mansoor Ataei, Mohammad Rahim Ataei, Hasan Nazih, Abbas Radnia, and Abbas Samiei, all of whom have passed away -- they founded their own political group, the Liberation Movement of Iran, on May 15. Other notable figures closely associated with the LMI since its inception include Ahmad Sadr-e Haj Seyyed Javadi (born 1917) and Ezatollah Sahabi. Bazargan had consulted with Mosaddegh through his son Dr. Gholam Hossein Mosaddegh. Bazargan sent a letter to the former prime minister, to which Mosaddegh responded in part, "I send my most sincere congratulations [for founding the LMI]. I have no doubt that under your leadership it will serve the nation." The first meeting of the LMI, held in a club on Tehran's Kakh Street (now Palestine Street), was attended by 500 people. The letter from Mosaddegh and a letter of support from Ayatollah Zanjani were read at the session.

The founders of the LMI were progressive Muslims. Until his death, Yadollah Sahabi was always considered one of Iran's true democrats. Taleghani was an Islamic leftist, an ardent supporter of Mosaddegh, and widely admired, particularly by the university students. In his popular book Eslam va Malekiyat (Islam and Private Ownership), Taleghani argued that while Islam respects private ownership, it opposes capitalism and its advocacy of unbridled greed. In another popular book, Hokoomat az Nazar-e Eslam (Islam's View of Government), he opposed governance by the clerics, though he himself was one. As Bazargan put it, "Taleghani was convinced that the two worst forms of despotism were kings and clerics." Zanjani was also opposed to clerical involvement in governance. Taleghani's public prayers, sermons, and lectures in Hedayat Mosque in central Tehran (near the author's childhood home) always attracted large crowds.

Like all the leading nationalist-religious figures, in addition to being devout Muslims, the founders of the LMI were fierce nationalists. At the group's inaugural meeting, Bazargan spoke in detail about why he and his comrades felt that there was a need for a new political organization. He described the four fundamental pillars on which the LMI stood:

We are Muslim, Iranian, Constitutionalist, and Mosaddeghist.

Bazargan then explained what he meant: The LMI founders considered being active in political and social affairs a national and religious duty. He declared that, even before the French Revolution and the United Nations Charter, Muslims like he had always believed in respect for human rights. The founders were proud of their Iranian heritage; they believed in the entire constitution, the part that recognized monarchy and the parts that guaranteed the people their rights. Moreover, the LMI was not interested in toppling the Shah; rather, it wanted him to be a constitutional monarch, as the constitution stipulated, rather than the absolute dictator that he had become. Finally, the LMI regarded Mosaddegh as the only Iranian leader in the nation's entire history who was elected by a large majority of the people, was able to truly connect the nation and its government, and defeated colonialism.

The first time the LMI invited people to peacefully demonstrate against the Shah's regime was on July 21, 1961, the ninth anniversary of Mosaddegh's reinstatement after his first removal from the premiership. But the Shah's regime prevented the demonstrations and arrested a large number of people. The LMI issued a statement mocking Amini, followed by another strong statement on the eighth anniversary of the 1953 CIA coup.

For about 19 months, the LMI was very active. For example, it published a letter to the Shah in August 1962, referring to him as "Your Majesty," that warned him about the lack of freedom and the terrible state of the nation's economy. In November 1962, the LMI criticized plans to change the constitution to grant the Shah more power (the constitution was not altered).

Under pressure by the Kennedy administration, on January 26, 1963, the Shah declared the so-called White Revolution, a program of reforms consisting of (1) land reform, whereby large agricultural lands were to be distributed among the peasants working on them (the landowners were to be compensated); (2) nationalization of the forests; (3) privatization of state-owned industries; (4) granting women the right to vote; (5) sharing of industrial profits with workers; and (6) a nationwide campaign against illiteracy. Amini had already initiated land reform, but the Shah claimed the reforms as his own after Amini was forced to resign.

Five days before the official announcement of the White Revolution, the military arrested all the leaders of the LMI and the NF, because the Shah did not want to be bothered by their protests. As the National Front leaders were opposed to Amini, they were released by the Shah after a few months. But he considered the LMI a major threat to his rule and, thus, kept its leaders in detention. The LMI had made it clear that it opposed the White Revolution as blatantly unconstitutional; see here, here, and here.

The traditional clerics objected to women's suffrage and, especially, land reform. They thought that land would be taken away from the landowners without consent, which is forbidden in Islam. In addition, some clerics saw land reform as an attempt by the Shah to reduce their influence among the landlords. The most militant cleric of the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a harsh denunciation of the Shah and his plans. In retaliation, the Shah moved tanks to the holy city Qom and delivered a speech in which he said the ayatollahs were like a caste. (Years later, after Khomeini came to power, the conservative clerics wanted to eliminate women's right to vote, but he prevented it. He also formed the Heyat haa-ye Haft Nafareh [Seven-Member Groups] to carry out land reform.)

For centuries, Shiites have mourned the murder of Hossein, their Third Imam, the quintessential martyr, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and a most revered figure since his death in the battle of Karbala on October 10, 680, which falls on Ashura, the tenth day of the Arabic month of Moharram. The death of Imam Hossein, his friends, followers, and family members by a Sunni caliph, Yazid, has always motivated the Shiites, a minority sect within Islam, to rebel against the ruling elite. They invoke Imam Hossein's famous quote, "Every day is Ashura, and every land is Karbala."

In 1963, Ashura fell on June 3. (Because the Islamic calendar is lunar-based, Ashura falls on a different day each year in the solar calendar.) That afternoon, Khomeini delivered an impassioned sermon at the Feyzieh Seminary, in which he drew parallels between Yazid and the Shah, calling him a "wretched, miserable man." Two days later, on June 5 (15 Khordad in the Iranian calendar), the ayatollah was arrested, which sparked three days of large demonstrations throughout the country. Hundreds were killed, but the events gave birth to the 15 Khordad Movement that laid the foundation for the 1979 Revolution. Khomeini was put under house arrest and not released until April 1964.

In concert with its criticism of the White Revolution, the LMI supported the 15 Khordad Movement. It issued a statement which observed that granting voting rights to women was meaningless, because the Shah's regime had taken away the same right from men, namely, the right to vote in a democratic election. Referring to the Shah and his family, the LMI declared, "When revolution and reform are supposed to be implemented by the symbols of corruption, the state of affairs cannot be better than what exists."

In 1964, the Shah and his prime minister, Hassan Ali Mansur, signed an agreement that granted U.S. military advisers and their families immunity from prosecution in Iran, which was ratified by the Majles. In a fiery speech, Khomeini said of the Iranian parliament and what became known as the Capitulation Law,

They passed it without any shame, and the government shamelessly defended this scandalous measure. They have reduced the Iranian people to a level lower than that of an American dog. If someone runs over a dog belonging to an American, he will be prosecuted. Even if the Shah himself were to run over a dog belonging to an American, he would be prosecuted. But if an American cook runs over the Shah, or the Marja [source of emulation for Shia masses] of Iran, or the highest officials, no one will have the right to object.

The Shah forced Khomeini into exile, first to Turkey, on November 4, 1964, and later to Iraq. Mansur was assassinated on January 27, 1965, by Mohammad Bokharaei, a 17-year-old member of the Fadayan-e Islam (Devotees of Islam), a fundamentalist Islamic group.

Trial of the LMI leaders

Even before he exiled the ayatollah, the Shah had banned the Second National Front, the LMI, and other opposition groups. Bazargan, Taleghani, Yadollah Sahabi, and several other LMI members were arrested and tried in military courts. Unlike today, when civilian courts lack all independence and are used by the security forces to impose harsh sentences on democracy advocates, the civilian courts under the Shah refused to put the political activists on trial, forcing him to turn to the military tribunals.

The trial of the LMI leaders began on October 22, 1963, at Tehran's Eshratabad military base. It was perhaps the second most important political trial of the era after Mosaddegh's. All those who were politically interested followed the trial, including my late father, who greatly admired Bazargan. Colonel Gholamreza Nejati, a nationalist Air Force officer, and retired Brigadier General Ali Asghar Masoudi defended two of the LMI members, Taleghani and Abolfazl Hakimi. Retired Brigadier General Ali Naghi Shayanfar represented Bazargan, while Colonel Dr. Esmail Elmiyeh and retired Colonel Ali Akbar Ghaffari represented Yadollah Sahabi. Others were also represented by military-appointed attorneys.

Even though the arrested LMI members had been charged with treason, endangering the nation's national security, and membership in the Tudeh Party -- an absurd accusation, given that the LMI had always been an Islamic organization -- the Shah's regime did not dare to publicize the complete indictment of the prosecutor, Brigadier General Fakhr Modarresi, against the accused. Thus it was clear at the outset that the trial would not be fair.

At the beginning of the trial, the accused declared that the proceeding was illegal, because their "offenses" were political and thus a jury had to be present, but the court rejected the argument. The presiding judge, Brigadier General Hossein Zamani, asked Bazargan whether he had any education. Bazargan responded, "Just a little," provoking loud laughter from those present. Taleghani declared, "Because I do not recognize the legitimacy of the court, I will not say a word, but my attorneys are allowed to explain why this court and trial are illegal." On December 8, the court affirmed its own qualification to put the LMI members on trial. It was only during the last session of the trial that Taleghani broke his silence -- he recited a verse from the Qur'an in which God warns against unjust rulers.

On January 6, 1964, the court issued its verdicts. It sentenced Bazargan and Taleghani to ten years of imprisonment; Yadollah Sahabi, Dr. Abbas Sheibani, and Ahmad Ali Babaei to six years; Mostafa Mofidi to five years; Ezatollah Sahabi, Abolfazl Hakimi, Mohammad Basteh Negar, and Mohammad Mehdi Jafari to four years; and Parviz Edalat Manesh, Taleghani's nephew, to one year.

All but Taleghani protested their conviction and sentences, and filed appeals. The appeals courts held hearings in March 1964. The presiding judge was Brigadier General Abbas Gharabaghi (later military chief of staff when the Revolution erupted). In the appeals court, Bazargan warned,

We are the last group that talks to you [the regime] peacefully and through legal means. The next group will take up arms.

His prediction was prophetic. The Shah's dictatorial rule, exemplified by his elimination of all the secular opposition groups (including the Third National Front, founded in 1965) and the moderate nationalist-religious LMI, gave rise to guerrilla groups dedicated to overthrowing his regime through armed struggle: two nationalist-religious figures founded the group known as JAMA in 1963 (see below); three young LMI members started the Organization of People's Mojahedin of Iran in 1965 (again, see below); and the Organization of Iranian People's Fedaei Guerrillas was founded by young secular leftists.

After about 80 sessions, the appeals court reduced only Yadollah Sahabi's sentence -- from six to four years -- due to his long service to the nation as an educator, but upheld the rest. Khomeini protested the sentences, saying, "Up to now, I did not say anything because I was afraid that if I wrote even a word about Hojatoleslam Taleghani, Mr. Bazargan, and others, they would receive more severe sentences, which are against Islam and violations of the constitution." He later declared, "Do not be sad about the imprisonment of Mr. Taleghani and Mohandes [engineer, meaning Bazargan], because there will be no victory unless we are jailed first." All those sentenced to jail terms of five years or less served their full sentences. Those with longer sentences served five years and were then released. The LMI had been declared illegal and all of its public activities stopped. The ban continued until the Revolution began gathering steam in 1978. The Shah's repressive rule was so bad that even the attorneys who defended members of the LMI were later put on trial, just like in the Islamic Republic. Dictatorships are all alike, whether secular or religious.

Although the LMI was tolerated by the Shah's regime for only 19 months, they were fruitful. The group organized many speeches and gatherings. The speeches and many of the related colloquies were published in periodical collections called Goftar-e Mah (The Month's Discussions). The LMI was also active socially, recruiting young people and organizing aid to the victims of a large earthquake in the southern city of Lar.

JAMA, Kazem Sami, and Habibollah Peyman

After the June 1963 uprising, another nationalist-religious group was founded. Two nationalist-religious figures, Dr. Habibollah Peyman and Dr. Kazem Sami, both members of the central committee of the aforementioned Hezb-e Mardom-e Iran (Party of the Iranian People), proposed to take up arms against the Shah's regime. After much debate, the proposal was rejected by the party's central committee. Peyman and Sami thus decided to form an independent group, Jonbesh-e Azadibakhsh-e Mardom-e Iran (Liberation Movement of the Iranian People), known by its Persian acronym, JAMA. JAMA is the first group that intended to topple the Shah's regime through armed struggle. Many young members of the party, as well as young members of the Second National Front, joined JAMA.

Sami was born in 1934 in Mashhad. He was a friend of Dr. Ali Shariati, and began his political activities while still in high school. He participated in the classes that Shariati's father, Mohammad Taghi Shariati, taught in Mashhad. As already mentioned, Sami joined Nakhshab's group, Socialist Worshipers of God, and supported Mosaddegh and the oil nationalization movement. Admitted to the medical school of the University of Mashhad, he later transferred to the University of Tehran, where he received a doctoral degree in psychiatry. After the 1953 coup, Sami joined the National Resistance Movement, described above, and then Hezb-e Mardom-e Iran.

Peyman was born in 1935 in Shiraz. He too began his political career when he was still in high school. When the aforementioned Jameiyat-e Azadi-ye Mardom-e Iran (Association for Freedom of the Iranian People) formed, Peyman joined the group's Shiraz branch and its youth division, and also worked for the weekly Kar va Azadi (Work and Freedom). He was arrested, imprisoned, and arrested again after the 1953 coup. After his release, he was admitted to the dental school of the University of Tehran in 1954 and took charge of the National Resistance Movement's high school branch. He was arrested for a third time in 1955. He later resumed his university activities until, with Shariati and his father, he was arrested yet again in 1957. Peyman was instrumental in organizing the nationwide demonstrations by university students in 1959, which led to his fifth arrest and his conviction in a military court.

Peyman was elected to Hezb-e Mardom-e Iran's central committee in 1961 and published two theses in the same year: The Iranian People on the Verge of Social Transformation and Two Principles of Iranian People's Socialism. He then received, in addition to his dental degree, a master's in social science. After the 15 Khordad uprising, he delivered many perorations against the Shah, leading, naturally, to his arrest. After he founded JAMA with Sami, Peyman also became a member of the Third National Front. In 1965, he was not only arrested, but also expelled from his teaching position at the University of Tehran. Together with Mir Hossein Mousavi and others, he founded Jonbesh-e Mosalmanan-e Mobarez (Movement of Militant Muslims) in 1976 with the aim of toppling the Shah's regime. That year, he was arrested after delivering a speech in the southeastern city of Zahedan. In early 1978, he was kidnapped by the SAVAK, beaten, and then released in the desert south of Tehran. In September 1978, he was detained again.

The SAVAK had become aware of JAMA early on and arrested several leading members, including Sami, in 1965. They also arrested members of the Party of Iranian People, who were released when it became clear that they had no knowledge of JAMA. The arrest of the leading members of JAMA essentially ended the newly formed group. It was dormant until a few months after the Revolution in 1979, when it resumed its activities. I will return to JAMA and the work of Sami and Peyman in Part 2 of this series.

Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization

Another group that grew out of the LMI was the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO). After the arrest and imprisonment of the LMI's leaders, three young members of the group -- Mohammad Hanifnejad (1938-72), Saeed Mohsen (1939-72), and Ali Asghar Badizadegan (1940-72) -- founded a new organization in 1965, which adopted the MKO name a few years later. Hanifnejad had received his degree in agricultural engineering, Mohsen had a degree in civil engineering, and Badizadegan was a chemical engineer. They took similar paths, studying at the University of Tehran, joining the Muslim Student Association there, and receiving their degrees in 1963 -- Badizadegan and Mohsen from the FOE (the author's 1977 alma mater). All three joined the National Front and eventually the LMI. Those interested in a comprehensive account of the history of MKO up to the mid-1980s can consult Ervand Abrahamian's outstanding book, Radical Islam, the Iranian Mojahedin. I recently posted a two-part article examining the MKO from its founding to the present, here and here.

The LMI in the diaspora

After LMI was outlawed by the Shah in Iran, a diaspora branch was founded by Shariati; Ebrahim Yazdi; Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, a key aide to Khomeini during the Revolution, who was executed in 1982; and Dr. Mostafa Chamran, minister of defense after the Revolution, who was killed in the war with Iraq in 1981. The original idea for a diaspora branch of the LMI was suggested by Shariati in a letter to the group's supporters in September 1962. In February 1963, the organization was founded in Paris. Its central committee consisted of Shariati, Yazdi, Ghotbzadeh, Chamran, Fereydoun Sahabi (a son of Yadollah Sahabi), Mohammad Tavasoli, and Abolfazl Bazargan. Sadr-e Haj Seyyed Javadi and Rahim Ataei were the links between the LMI inside and outside Iran.

Then Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Shah's leading antagonist in the region, agreed to have several members of the LMI receive guerrilla warfare training in Egypt. Yazdi and others had formed Saazman-e Makhsoos-e Ettehad va Amal (Special Organization for Unity and Action), known by its Persian acronym Samaa, whose goal was the armed overthrow of the Shah's regime. Thus several LMI members, including Yazdi, Chamran, Ghotbzadeh, Bahram Rastin, and Parviz Amin went to Egypt in January 1964. Eventually, a total of 31 LMI members went there to receive military training. This relationship with Egypt ended in 1966, and Lebanon was used for a while. After the Arab-Israeli war of October 1967, that ended as well. Chamran went to Lebanon in 1970 and helped establish a Lebanese Shia guerrilla organization, the Amal Movement. Yazdi and Ghotbzadeh established contact with Khomeini in Najaf, Iraq.

A point that is often lost on critics of the LMI is that the contacts with Khomeini in the 1970s distinguished the LMI leaders inside Iran from its diaspora branch. Yazdi and Ghotbzadeh had practically accepted the political leadership of the ayatollah, whereas the LMI leaders inside Iran did not like his revolutionary path. Bazargan complained on many occasions, "We are being used by a bunch of [revolutionary] youth who use our organization's name, but do not believe in what we believe." Although he and his group formed the government immediately after the Revolution, they were also critics of the ayatollah, which is why the Bazargan government did not last long. Even the LMI's diaspora leaders quickly joined the opposition a short time after the Revolution.

Two monthlies were published by the LMI outside Iran, Iran-e Azad (Free Iran) and Rah-e Mojahed (Mojahed's Path), which were very effective in spreading the group's beliefs among Iranian students abroad. The LMI in the diaspora, and in particular Yazdi, also played key roles in founding the Muslim Student Association of United States and Canada in 1969, the Islamic Association of Physicians in the United States and Canada, and the Islamic Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists in the United States and Canada. In Europe, active members of the organization included Hassan Habibi, first vice president during the first term of the Khatami administration; Sadegh Tabatabaei, spokesman for Bazargan's government after the Revolution, and brother-in-law of Khomeini's son Ahmad (see Part 2); and Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the first postrevolutionary president of the Islamic Republic. But after the Revolution, the LMI declared that it had no diaspora branch.

End of Part 1 | Part 2 describes the nationalist-religious movement since the 1979 Revolution

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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