Life Under The Shah

It was indeed a strange episode when the Shah of Iran, former head of one of the world's most brutal and repressive states, managed to land in the U.S. as a "private citizen." For several days leading newspapers published first page stories detailing the treatment of the Shah's cancer, creating a mood conducive to accepting him on humanitarian grounds. Only a few months earlier the press and the U.S. Senate were raising hell about the execution of the Shah's military chiefs and ex-cronies in Iran. They complained bitterly about the violation of due process of law. But they conveniently forgot that the Shah's own military courts (which were unconstitutional) tried as terrorists anyone brave enough to protest his regime. The verdict was often decided beforehand. Where were the passionate defenders of law then?

The Shah systematically dismantled the judicial system of Iran and the country's guarantees of personal and social liberties. His regime consistently violated the codes of law and justice, destroying the dignity of our people by treating them like backward savages to be pulled with an iron hand out of the middle ages into the light of the modern era. Nearly every source of creative, artistic and intellectual endeavor in our culture was suppressed.

The media said little about the 80 percent of peasant families remaining landless, about the growing shanty towns holding the displaced peasants, the misery and alienation of these people ripped from their traditional way of life and subject to new economic and cultural pressures.

The media had less to say about the 60 per cent of adults left illiterate, and the increasing income gap which made Iran one of the world's most unequal societies. Little was heard about the royal family's financial scandals and their heroin smuggling on a global scale.

SAVAK conducted most of the torture, under the friendly guidance of the CIA. which set up SAVAK in 1957 and taught them how to interrogate suspects. Amnesty International reports methods of torture that included "whipping and beating, electric shocks, extraction of teeth and nails, boiling water pumped into the rectum, heavy weights hung on the testicles, tying the prisoner to a metal table heated to a white heat, inserting a broken bottle into the anus, and rape."

The Shah greatly expanded the military and turned it against his own people. With newfound oil wealth the Shah bought $2C million of U.S. arms. The U.S. military trained Iranian officers. Despite claims that a strong army was needed to prevent external agression, its real purpose became clear last year when the army murdered more than 50,000 Iranians fighting the Shah (the number is based on estimates of dead quickly buried after street massacres and compiled throughout the year).

Under the Shah education was a means of pacification. Our history books were full of lies about the glories of the Iranian dynasties, and they encouraged racism towards non-Persian-speaking minorities in Iran as well as nearby nations. A special military guard was stationed on most large university campuses to mute student opposition. The number of students tortured, lost or murdered is unkown. Yet the universities remained a bulwark of opposition to the Shah and his cultural agression.

The national minorities in Iran have fared even worse. Millions of Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Baloochis and Turkamans were deprived of the right to learn in their mother tongues, and no cultural expression or publication was allowed in their languages.

Our people have experienced enormous physical and spiritual suffering under the Shah. Today he and his top generals, the worst murderers of all, are in this country, protected by its laws. Meanwhile innocent Iranian students are harassed and singled out for deportation. If existing laws can be amended overnight to intimidate Iranian students, why cannot the same laws be changed to require the extradition of criminals like the Shah?

The Shah's presence in the U.S. is a disgrace and an insult to the integrity of the American people, regardless of their view on the hostage issue. The conflict is not between our nations. Our anger is not directed at Americans because they are Americans. We have no genes for anti-Americanism in us. Our anger is directed at those in power who installed and maintained the Shah for 25 years, as they still do for dictators in Chile, Guatemala, Paraguay, the Philippines and around the world.

Sentiments for war are running high on both sides. We must resist these tendencies because the costs to everyone are too high. We appeal to your integrity and intelligence to raise your voices against the presence of a criminal of monstrous proportions in this country, if not for sympathy for the Iranian people for the values you aspire to yourselves.