This Day in History: Shah Abdicates, Iran Becomes a Theocracy

Forty years ago today, an Islamic revolution triumphed in Iran, and the secularist, Western-looking Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi resigned his throne.

The ayatollah Khomeini’s son had died in the hands of SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police, in October, 1977, and Islamic revolution had been brewing throughout 1978. The Shah imposed martial law in November, 1978, but the revolution could not be suppressed.

On December 29, 1978, in a last ditch effort to save Iran’s parliamentary system and stave off Islamic rule, the Shah made long-time opponent and opposition leader, Shapour Bakhtiar, prime minister. On January, 16, 1979, the Shah and his family Left Iran for Egypt, publicly to seek treatment for cancer, but privately because Bakhtiar had asked him to leave.

On February 1, the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran, to a tumultuous welcome. Three days later, he appointed an interim prime minister of his choosing.

On February 11, 1979, the government collapsed, the Shah abdicated, and Bakhtiar went into hiding, eventually fleeing to France. Iran became a Shia Muslim theocracy, a sharia law state, governed by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Since that day, Iran has been an outlaw regime.

On November 4, Iranians backed by the Ayatollah lawlessly stormed the United States embassy in Tehran, taking 90 hostages, including 66 Americans. Iran held the American hostages for 444 days; all attempts by the Carter Administration to free them were ineffectual. They were released the day Ronald Reagan took office (January 20, 1981), Reagan having promised extreme consequences if they were not released.

Khomeini did not trust the Shah’s army, so he established the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (the IRGC) under his direct command, and comprised of his most fervent followers. The Iranian army, air force, and navy were rebuilt along politically reliable lines.

The IRGC controls the Iranian economy. Anyone doing business with Iran is doing business with the IRGC and the ayatollahs’ regime.

A basic doctrine of Islam is that no one is truly free to accept or reject Islam the religion unless and until they are subject to Islam the jurisprudence, i.e., sharia law. This doctrine is common to both Shia and Sunni and is set out in Sayyid Qutb’s book “Milestones”:

“Islam is a declaration of the freedom of man from servitude to other men [because of man-made government]. Thus it strives from the beginning to abolish all those systems and governments which are based on the rule of man over men and the servitude of one human being to another. When Islam releases people from this political pressure and presents to them its spiritual message, appealing to their reason, it gives them complete freedom to accept or not to accept its beliefs.” Milestones, Ch. 4 “Jihad in the Cause of Allah,” p. 70.

The purpose of jihad or holy war is not to convert the infidel to Islam but to establish freedom from man-made law and systems of government by imposing sharia law, God’s law. Hence, the principal goal of a truly Islamic foreign policy is impose sharia law throughout the world. Only then can people be free to choose Islam.

Islam approves of terrorism as a means or method of jihad warfare; a saying of Muhammad, one considered reliable by Muslim believers, is, “I have been made victorious through terror.” (Bukhari 4.52.220) Since Muhammad is considered the perfect man, if terror was a legitimate tactic for him, it is a legitimate tactic for all Muslims down through history.

Iran has become the world’s most prolific state sponsor of terrorism. The IRGC’s “Al Quds” brigade is one of Iran’s terrorist arms. Another is Hizballah (“the army of God”) which Iran created to pursue its interests in Lebanon, but which is active worldwide.

Although they were forced to return the Embassy hostages, Iran has never been on anything but a war footing with the United States, and “death to America, death to the ‘Great Satan’” has been shouted at most Iranian public rallies for the past 40 years. One of Hizballah’s suicide bombers blew up the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, killing 241 Marines, soldiers, and sailors. Thirteen years later, another Hizballah bomber blew up the Khobar Towers apartments in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. airmen and wounding another 350.

Hizballah and the IRGC have expanded into South America. They bombed the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, killing 85.

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Iran began manufacturing and smuggling into Iraq “EFPs” — explosively-formed penetrators to use in roadside bombs against American troop carriers — which functioned with deadly effect. The explosion compressed a metal penetrator to an amazing density and propelled it penetrating the bottoms and sides of American trucks and HUMVEES. The EFP’s were used to kill hundreds of U.S. troops.

Despite Iran’s longstanding enmity toward the U.S. (or perhaps because of it), President Obama radically changed U.S. policy toward Iran, ending longstanding economic sanctions, and freeing up some $150 billions of dollars in previously frozen assets, in return for Iran’s promise to forego developing a nuclear weapon for at least 10 years.

President Trump has reversed this policy, opting out of the nuclear deal (it was not a treaty), re-imposing sanctions, and looking to Saudi Arabia to act as a regional counterbalance to Iran (the previous regional counterbalance, Baathist Iraq, having been eliminated by the younger President Bush, who apparently was using the United States military to prosecute a family vendetta against Saddam Hussein).

In the larger context, the Iranian Revolution was a milestone, so to speak, in the larger Islamic revival, which started with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1920s. When I speak of the Islamic revival, I am referring to the revival of interest in sharia law as a governing philosophy, in Islam as a totalitarian religio-political system in which the sharia law—the system of public Islamic law—is more significant than private religious beliefs—which is what Islam is according to its founding documents and what it has been throughout most of its 1,400 year history. The most recent chapter in the Islamic revival is the shocking transformation of secularist, Kemalist Turkey into an Islamic state under Erdogan.

The Islamic revival is a result of the West—also known as Christendom—no longer being seen in the Muslim world as “the strong horse,” i.e., the power to be feared. When the West was seen as the strong horse, Islamic nations copied our forms of government, and even some of our governing ideologies (e.g., the Baath Party, which not so long ago ruled in Iraq and Syria, was a secular social party). No longer. The West is seen as corrupt, decadent, sexually libertine and debauched, and generally weak and unhealthy. The Muslim world seems to have reached a consensus that the West’s institutions and forms of government should not be replicated in the Muslim world.