Monday, November 07, 2005

Consequences of the 1979 Hostage Taking

I heard from a reliable member of Iran’s Revolutionary Council that when students had climbed over the wall of the American embassy in November of 1979and took the embassy staff as hostage, that Dr Beheshti and other members of the Revolutionary Council opposed the act. Ezattolah Sahabi was the only person who was in touch with people during the saga said that this is what the people wanted. But Beheshti who opposed the occupation of a foreign embassy, whose premises in international relations amount to the land of the foreign state, added that the issue must be consulted with ayatollah Khomeini. That first Revolutionary Council meeting after the occupation ended without a decision. Days later when ayatollah Khomeini approved of the students’ act, the Revolutionary Council approved it as well. Last Friday was the 26th year since that event.

The first immediate consequence of the event was that fall of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan’s government, which had previously submitted its resignation several times, was now certain. This time he saw no reason for patience or compromise. In those days, the revolutionary religious groups and those on the left as well, had attacked his government for the meeting that had taken place between his cabinet ministers Chamran and Yazdi with the then US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

The difference between experienced and seasoned Bazargan on one hand and the revolutionary zealots on the other was that he saw what they could not, and so they wanted to take on the whole world with their revolutionary fervor.

Today, when we look back and review the events that followed since the climbing of the US embassy walls, we acknowledge the heavy price the country has had to pay, even though there are those who still continue to defend the event. Facts, figures, witnesses and calculations do not support any benefits to the act. Those in defense argue that the act disgraced the world superpower, brought about the collapse of its president and remained the most important event in that country’s history since the fall of South Vietnam. The response to these assertions is that even if we accept them to be true, what about calculating and acknowledging the price that the Iranian nation had to pay for the event?

One of the consequences for the nation was the bloody Iraq-Iran war that was pursued by the US. Today it is customary to condemn the US and its allies for their support of Saddam in his war against Iran. The question in this regard is that did the war begin with no apparent reason between the two neighbors to make the current condemnation valid?

All the evidence points out that when Saddam heard the voice of Iran’s revolution, he tore up the 1975 Algerian agreement that had provided Iran with its rightful place on the Arvand river separating the two neighbors. But he remained in his seat. Ten months after the hostage taking, when all the peaceful mediations to resolve the issue did not bear fruit, he saw an orange, if not green, light from the US to move on. So he changed his coat to become a legendary Arab commander who had defeated the Persian armies when the Arabs invaded Iran a few centuries earlier. But even during those ten months there were those revolutionaries who called on the Iraqi nation to rise up and liberate themselves and mimic the Iranian events, model, and form of government. The hostage event was followed by the domino effect with multiple events that eventually produced the Iraq-Iran war. Saddam’s war-mongering lead the events. That the US had a role in this is also acknowledged. The Europeans who followed the dual-containment policy provided support to the smaller country, ie Iraq, who told them that if Iran won the war, their (ie European) interests in the region would all be lost, by France selling Saddam weapons while the Saudi’s and other oil rich states provided the petro-dollars for the war machine.

Everybody was after their own interests. Saddam wanted to have full access to Arvand river as its only outlet to the Persian Gulf, Syria supported Iran for its own purpose, and Turkey benefited from billion US dollars of trade provided through transit fees from its country because the Persian Gulf was a dangerous waterway. So everybody benefited. But what about Iran? Did we invade a foreign embassy with some calculations that would bring us real benefits too? It is claimed that we benefited from the war in the sense that we learned how to stand on our own feet. Even if that be true, but the benefit was a consequence and not a goal we wanted to achieve, as the war was fought for a different reason and purpose that to achieve some form of self-reliance. If we return to those days prior to the embassy take over and use our current knowledge and experience, there would be no embassy taking. Our students would not climb those walls again. Even cleric Khoeniha, who supported the event then, said so recently. The elders will not support it. Someone would have been appointed from the Revolutionary Council to go and advise the students to step aside.

In the “Liabilities” column of the statement on the hostage taking, one should add the hundreds of thousand people who died in the war, the millions who became disabled, the tens of thousand who continue to suffer, and the damage and ruin that the war left behind, some of which till today has not been rebuilt.

The “Indirect Liabilities” column of the statement is even longer than the Liabilities one. One of the biggest loses in the event was freedom, which was the key call during the revolutionary events to oust the monarchy. Yes, during the war years, any event that fomented domestic discord or weakened the morale of the fighters was not tolerated, and in that name any criticism was silenced. Blind obedience became the norm of the day. And this is exactly how the machinery of oppression and suppression was strengthened and began its move, leading to imprisonment, executions, terror etc.

The war divided the nation into two camps: debtors and the claimants. When the war ended the claimants who had given themselves or risked their life expected the debtors to accept their wishes. On the other side were the managers and technocrats who did not want the country to slip into uncontrolled revolutionary fervor. A battle began that continues till this day. Ahmadinejad and his allies belong to those who still dream of the war days. The days when there were no hassling and menacing rules and regulations. The days when the fronts were filled with ideology, and the cities with young volunteers. But are things the same today?

So on the anniversary of the day when a foreign embassy was occupied and its occupants taken hostage, one apt to ask those who still support the deed, what did the nation gain from that event and the war that followed.