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Infighting over Iran

In response to:

Fall and Decline from the December 3, 1981 issue

To the Editors:

Discussing a culture from different perspectives is bound to lead to misunderstandings. This is particularly true regarding an event as emotionally charged as the Iranian revolution. Therefore, I was particularly sorry to see Shaul Bakhash, in his review of my book Inside the Iranian Revolution [NYR, December 3], claim that the intramural infighting which took place between various members of the victorious revolutionary coalition between February 14 and 18, 1979 was a nonexistent happening. With all the action in those revolutionary days there was no dearth of events to write about, and hence no reason for me to invent history. A number of foreign diplomats were caught in the crossfires of these small-unit struggles, as I was. This fighting was also mentioned in the United States press, as I noted in footnote nine of Chapter Nine. It is important to understand that dozens of these mini-brouhahas occurred in order to fully comprehend the burgeoning confusion and suspicion within the coalition which marred the revolutionaries’ efforts to form a stable, effective government in the weeks immediately following Khomeini’s takeover.

Bakhash also raises the question of who was “Mujahedin” and what groups fought/fight under what flag. I and others had ample opportunity to personally observe the turmoil caused by various factions jockeying for positions and even changing sides. At first, all the revolutionary fighters were called “Mujahedin.” Only after the revolution succeeded did the separate factions take distinct identities—some becoming Revolutionary Guards and others calling themselves “Mujahedin-e-Khalq,” eventually committing themselves to Khomeini’s ouster. In Tehran today it is still very difficult to positively identify the members of each revolutionary group.

Bakhash treats another important issue—getting accurate information about highly controversial events—from an unusual perspective. Although acknowledging that I was protecting my sources, he claims that I got only one version of the negotiations between Ali Amini and the Shah to create a Regional Council. In fact, I was getting at least three separate accounts of this ongoing minuet from the different factions involved, and I tried to highlight the confusion among the parties.

One final comment: Bakhash suggests that I did not view events in Iran “from any particular historical or social perspective,” and he appears unhappy with my suggestion that the revolution could have taken a radically different turn. If he means I did not attempt to report on the events in Iran from his own perspective, he is correct. If he means I was not concerned about the systematic evolution of the Iranian political system, he is clearly wrong. I suspect that Bakhash…who himself was an honored member of the prerevolutionary journalistic establishment until the very eve of the overthrow of the Shah, resists my conclusion that Khomeini need not necessarily have come to power. To admit this possibility suggests that a successful revolution was not inevitable and that the Iranian middle and upper classes bear their share of responsibility for the dramatic collapse of modern Iran. Many of those now in exile reject this analysis outright. They cannot accept the responsibility—and the attendant guilt—such a conclusion implies.

John D. Stempel

Bethesda, Maryland

Shaul Bakhash replies:

Rather than repeat my earlier observations, as Mr. Stempel does his, I will leave it to readers to judge the accuracy of his account of the Mujahedin and the events of February 14-18. My review did not take the author to task for a paucity of sources. I argued, rather, that authors who wish to make a fresh contribution to the history of the negotiations that preceded the revolution need to be more specific about their sources. Mr. Stempel’s foray into psychoanalysis notwithstanding, I took no position in the review regarding the inevitability or avoidability of the Iranian revolution. That is a complex problem; and dealing with it would require far more careful and thorough sifting of the historical evidence than is at present feasible.

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