Britain and Iran in 1979-1980
The general election of 1979 was to prove a political watershed. Most historians and commentators agree that the election of Margaret Thatcher marked a break in post-war British history. The era from 1945 – 1979 had been characterised by a ‘consensus’ style of politics, in which the main parties mostly agreed on certain fundamental political issues and concepts such as the mixed economy, the role of the trades unions, the need for an incomes policy and the nature of the provision of public services such as health and education. This was now to change. Most of all, Mrs Thatcher’s election heralded a change in the politics of unemployment.
The campaign itself was conducted mostly for television, with Margaret Thatcher proving skilled in managing photo-opportunities – although no agreement was reached on holding a televised debate between the party leaders, despite Callaghan’s enthusiasm. TV was a medium that Thatcher had been tutored in skilfully, complete with an image makeover from Gordon Reece. As usual the Conservatives way outspent Labour, with much of the money paying for the services of the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi.
The Premiership of Margaret Thatcher began on 4 May 1979, with a mandate to reverse the UK’s economic decline and to reduce the role of the state in the economy. Thatcher was incensed by one contemporary view within the Civil Service, that its job was to manage the UK’s decline from the days of Empire, and she wanted the country to assert a higher level of influence and leadership in international affairs. She was a philosophic soul-mate of Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 in the United States, and to a lesser extent Brian Mulroney, who was elected in 1984 in Canada. Conservatism now became the new dominant political philosophy in many Western Nations dubbed neo-conservatism. Indeed after years of socialist political dominance, Thatcher would go on to radically transform Britain more so than leader of Britain since Clement Attlee, rejuvenating a stagnant world power but socially dividing much of the population.
The Islamic Revolution (also known as the Iranian Revolution or 1979 Revolution [...]) refers to events involving the overthrow of Iran’s monarchy (Pahlavi dynasty) under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and its replacement with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution.
The first major mother in the world demonstrations against the Shah began in January 1968. Between August and December 1978 strikes and demonstrations paralyzed the country. The Shah left Iran for exile in mid-January 1979, and in the resulting power vacuum two weeks later Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran to a greeting by several million Iranians. The royal regime collapsed shortly after on February 11 when guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting. Iran voted by national referendum to become an Islamic Republic on April 1, 1979, and to approve…
After the overthrow of the Shah, an American ally became one of its biggest adversaries.
Tehran, Iran’s capital, was in a state of revolt on Jan. 19, 1979. The Shah, Iran’s ruler for nearly four decades, had fled the country. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shiite Muslim cleric who had worked for years to overthrow the Shah, was still in exile in Paris, but vowing to return and form an Islamic government. A million people took to the streets to cheer on Khomeini and denounce the Shah.
“A great river of humanity flowed down Tehran’s main street today,” wrote New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple. “Although Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi left the country three days ago, probably forever, the demonstrators again sounded their familiar battle cry ‘Marg bar Shah’—’Death to the Shah!’ “
The third, temporal paradox of the Islamic revolution and the ultimate creation of clerical absolutism instead of a democratic polity relates to the fact that it took place in the 1970s, when the third and fourth waves of democracy around the world had begun.
The late 19th century witnessed the first democratic wave, and the years after the second world war and the collapse of the British empire ushered in the second wave. The gradual decline of authoritarian regimes like those of Spain and Portugal, and the dissolution of Soviet totalitarianism embodied the third and fourth waves.
Some of these large trends promised the “end of history”, or at least the end of ideology, while others celebrated the claim that the age of liberal democracy was inevitably and irrevocably at hand. But Ayatollah Khomeini fought against this tide of history and erected a pseudo-totalitarian state founded on the divine edicts of God and the absolute wisdom of the faqih.
In 1979 the mullahs in Iran overthrew the Persian monarchy, one of the oldest in the world, while at the height of its power, replacing it with an Islamic republic dedicated to the implementation of the Sharia, a law of private and public conduct prescribed in the Koran.
Since then no day has passed without news involving Islam: an ongoing revolution in Afghanistan, troubles in several Soviet republics with Islamic majorities or minorities, endless conflict in Kashmir, terrorism all over Europe traced to Islamic sources in Algeria, to name a few.
Reza Khan (see Reza Shah Pahlavi) seized power in a coup (1921). His son Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi alienated religious leaders with a program of modernization and Westernization and was overthrown in 1979; Shīʿite cleric Ruhollah Khomeini then set up an Islamic republic, and Western influence was suppressed. The destructive Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s ended in a stalemate.
Thatcher’s determination to face down political violence was first demonstrated during the 1980 siege of the Iranian embassy in Princes Gate, London, when for the first time in 70 years the armed forces were authorised to use lethal force on the British mainland. 26 hostages were held by six gunmen for six days in May, until the siege came to a dramatic end with a successful raid by SAS commandos. Later that day, ‘Thatcher went to congratulate the SAS men involved and sat among them watching a re-run of the attack’. The breaking of the siege by the SAS was later celebrated by the public as one of television‘s greatest moments.
The appearance of decisiveness—christened the ‘resolute approach’ by the prime minister herself—became Thatcher’s trademark, and a source of her popularity. In the words of one historian: ‘The mood reflected Mrs Thatcher’s Iron Lady stance, her proclaimed intention of laying the “Suez Syndrome” to rest and again projecting Britain as a great power. Celebration of the SAS was a key component in the popular militarism of the 1980s, fuelled by the continuing “war” against international terrorism and by the Falklands conflict and Gulf War. The storming of the Iranian Embassy had shown that Britain could meet terror with counter-terror: Mrs Thatcher’s black-clad “terminators” would protect us.’
The Iranian Embassy Siege of 1980 was a siege of the Iranian embassy in London after it had been taken over by Iranian Arab separatists. The siege was ended when British special forces, the Special Air Service (SAS), stormed the building in Operation Nimrod. The incident brought the SAS to the world’s attention as the whole episode was played out in front of the media.
Fast forward to 21 October 2010:
Rupert Murdoch is a libertarian – against too much state control, and in favour of individuals taking responsibility. Hence the high praise for Margaret Thatcher. The media boss’s alliance with her stretches back to the 1980s. Mr Murdoch may not have firm party political leanings (remember he backed Labour under Tony Blair) but, as we see in this speech, he does have some strong views on the economy. No great shock then, that he is supporting the coalition’s efforts to tackle the deficit. But, the debate over these cuts is hugely charged politically. News Corporation – via the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun, the News of the World and Sky News – has a big stake in the UK’s media. So the timing of this intervention is interesting.