Reza Pahlavi hopes that during the turbulent days following Sept. 11, the West took notice of photos of Iranian men, women and children holding candlelit vigils to honor American lives lost on Sept. 11.
Those images, he tells Weekend All Things Considered host Lisa Simeone, reflect the true sentiment of modern Iranians — not past scenes of hostages or angry students burning the American flag.
Pahlavi, 41, is the son of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah of Iran. The younger Pahlavi was in America attending college in January 1979, when his father was sent into exile by a popular revolt that swept the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and hardline Muslim clerics into power.[photo]
In his new book, Winds of Change: The Future of Democracy in Iran, Pahlavi credits his grandfather and father with transforming Iran from a backwards, chaotic country to a unified and prosperous one. Yet he admits that the pace of modernization moved faster than the democratic process, angering many and triggering the political crisis of the 1970s. By that time, the Iranian public had become fed up with economic turbulence, increased Western influence and the monarchy’s poor track record regarding human rights and political opposition groups.
Pahlavi says he learned several important lessons from the fall of his father’s regime. Chief among them was the importance of seeking the truth, no matter how unflattering it might be. “The strength of a good leader,” he writes, “comes from being exposed to diverse ideologies and opinions; decisions cannot be based solely on the counsel of advisory groups, all cut from the same cloth.”
With such lessons never far from his mind, Pahlavi has spent the past 22 years pondering how to rebuild Iran, which he outlines in Winds of Change. The rejuvenation, he says, must begin with self determination and secular democracy.
“The merits of the institution that I represent can be weighed only after we have a political order based on self-determination and genuine democracy. At this moment, Iranians must not be distracted from placing the democratic process at the top of the list of national priorities.”
In addition to rebuilding diplomatic and economic ties with the West, Pahlavi’s plan includes a peaceful exit for the clerics who now rule. There should be a clear understanding that the rejection of Islamic rule does not equal rejection of Islam, Pahlavi says. Other components of his plan include a return to Iran’s heritage as a land of tolerance and a commitment to greater civic responsibility.
Pahlavi sees much potential in the country’s young people. “Our youth are, on a daily basis, pushing the envelope in their quest for self-empowerment,” he says. “My call for civic duty is embedded in my profound desire to ensure that the old [victim] psyche be forever abandoned and replaced by a new sense of national pride in self-determination and rule.”
Does Pahlavi envision a return to Iran to assume his late father’s leadership role? He says no. “This is not about me,” he tells Simeone. “The choice has to be left to the Iranian people. Let them assess what is the best system for them… The only preoccupation I have today is to reach the phase where the people will go to the polls and on the day of the referendum, decide the country’s future. That’s the end of the line for me. That’s my goal and on that day, I consider my mission in life done.”