In the Cause of Liberty
Two Men of Principle 
by Joseph De Matteo

In the Cause of Liberty
Two Men of Principle

 

Fight for Democracy and Self Determination

In the early twentieth century in a far off land, men on horses with guns set out to force a monarch to institute a constitution, which would give birth to a parliament.

This was a strange revolution by American standards.  Not only were they not looking to over throw the monarch, they were actually asking him for a modicum of self-determination.

             As an American who has had a hard time understanding the political thinking of Old World people, I quickly saw this historical event as an opportunity to broaden my comprehension. 

However, in my research I found more than I bargained for.  I found a new hero.

To look at photographs of Mohammad Mossadegh is to see a scholar, an academic, an accountant, a lawyer, a bureaucrat or a diplomat.  In reality, Mossadegh, who was all of the above, was also a passionate, highly principled man of monumental character and an unrelenting tenacity.  Without question these are traits that are hard to find in a modern American Politico, but were common in America’s founding fathers.  In fact, Mossadegh had many of the characteristics that Americans believe to be embodied in our heroes alone.

The Iranian Constitution was accepted in 1906; Dr. Mossadegh became Prime Minister in 1951 and was removed from office in a coup d’etat in 1953. 

For more than fifty years, as both an appointed official and an elected one, he tenaciously worked to bring democracy and self-determination to Iran; though never at the expense of the fulfillment of his duties in the service of the Iranian people. 

Armed with truth and demanding justice, Prime Minister Mossadegh stood up to powerful men, and to domineering countries.  At The Hague and the United Nations he presented his case against the unlawful control that foreign governments had over his country, illustrated how these governments bought off Iran’s ruling elite and took Iran’s natural wealth, leaving the nation and her people poorer for it.  

A gentleman born to the ruling class himself, Mossadegh lived a selfless and unpretentious life, in stark contrast to many of the people to whom he presented his case.  This passionate man believed that reason and truth would lead to justice.  And he used his many skills and his training in law and finance to intellectually fight these battles.

But justice was not to be had.

Never one to give up on principle, Dr. Mossadegh was later to fight another legal battle against the powers who unseated him within Iran.  He fought to prove illegal his removal as Prime Minister, his arrest, and the abrogation of the laws regarding control of Iran’s oil, which had been passed in the Majles (the Parliament).   But again, justice was not to be had.

           Although Mohammad Mossadegh lived out his life in internal exile, time has been proved him bigger than life: fifty years after his fall from power his likeness is seen on posters held in the hands of rebellious students who demand democracy.  People all over the world revere his name and profess to follow Mossadegh’s Path.

A Fight for Liberty

           George Washington had a similar background to Dr. Mossadegh.  He was born in 1732 (150 years before Dr. Mossadegh) into a Virginia Planter family.  Like Mossadegh, Washington’s father died when he was young.  One important difference is that while Dr. Mossadegh spent his working life in government service, both before and after the completion of

 

his studies in law and in finance, George Washington followed his two intertwining interests, Western Expansion and Military Arts.  Washington helped in the survey of the Shenandoah lands at age sixteen, then at age 22, with a commission of lieutenant colonel, Washington started his military career by fighting in the small battles which would grow into the French and Indian War.

Both men had the responsibilities of a landowner, and Washington was not without experience in government, having served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. 

Both men felt the sting of foreign exploitation. 

When it came time for revolution, the Americans took a different course than the one the Iranians would take 130 years later.  Neither George Washington nor Mohammad Mossadegh could sit out the quest for self-determination.  The former, in his middle forties, was a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1775, then elected by that body to Commander in Chief of the Continental Army; the latter, a young man in his twenties, was a member of the Humanitarian Society (Majma Ensaniat), one of the regional organizations organized to promote the constitutional revolution during the initial 1906 campaign (which was destined to fail).  Mossadegh was also a member of the National Soldiers, an armed group prepared to physically defend the Majles, the seat of the Constitution.  

The Iranians were eventually successful in gaining acceptance for their constitution.  They formed their government as had been done in England, Belgium and Turkey before them, under their Monarch.  However, it was not to be what they hoped it would.   The power of two foreign governments was strong in Iran’s internal affairs, for internal politics could effect their exploitation of Iran’s huge wealth in petroleum and caviar. 

One could ask if the success in getting the constitution in place under a monarch was actually a misfortune. 

The fact is that a strong Parliament working in the best interest of the Iranian people was a rare occurrence.  And such were the powers against “good” government, that when a group of men dedicated to the interests of the Iranian people gained control of the Majles, the tenure of their control was short-lived. 

Not until 1951, when Mossadegh became Prime Minister, did the Iranians have an unwavering advocate in the Parliament.  Unfortunately, Mossadegh and the National Movement did not form a majority of the coalition that got him elected Prime Minister; however, the country was teeming with Mossadegh supporters, and Mossadegh embodied National Movement.

At one point, because of enormous pressure being put on every member of Parliament, a group of Ministers resorted to a filibuster in order to stop the progress of Mossadegh’s agenda, which was, as Mossadegh summed up in a statement that sounded very American “governments are made for the people.” 

Mossadegh’s only support in the Majles was slightly more than a handful of Ministers, therefore in order to prevent the dissolution of the Majles and a new election, Prime Minister Mossadegh put the matter in the hands of the people by putting it to a referendum.  The people’s support was overwhelmingly, and won the day.  It had been a hard battle, but by no means was it the end of the war. 

The forces of the Shah redoubled their efforts to thwart the National Movement.  What followed was a dramatic move by Mossadegh.

Mossadegh convened Parliament outside the Majles building.

 

             In the open air of Tehran, Mossadegh spoke amidst countless citizens who’d gathered in support of democracy.  With the taste of liberty on their lips, the people raised Mossadegh to their shoulders to have his message heard by all. 

Understanding what they were up against, the Shah and his supporters decided to back off until the people’s emotional support of this troublesome leader waned.

            Unfortunately there was a monarch and a ruling class in place; to make matters worse, both were supported by foreign governments; all of which found the goals of Mossadegh and the National Movement antithetical to their own goals.  Furthermore, none of these parties saw Iranian law, or justice, as obstacles.

            Time would prove to be on their side.

In the mid 1770s, King George had refused the plea for justice by the Americans, so the United States embarked on a war of independence, which it eventually won.  But as we’ve seen, the Iranians, on the other hand, were not only under the thumb of their own monarch, but the more powerful thumbs of Russia/USSR and the British.  An out-and-out revolution may have eventually won them true autonomy, as it had the United States.  Or they could have lost complete control of their nation for the first time in their history. 

            It is true that the American revolutionary leaders did not have a country to lose; however, they did enjoy self-government for local issues in their colonies, and like the Iranian patriots, they were gambling their property, their lives and the welfare of their families.

The Men

These two great men were both principled and selfless men.  Neither could be tempted into actions incongruous with his principles.  Washington even refused a crown and the title King.  Nothing took Mossadegh off his path, not even his personal safety.

 

Washington’s troops were outnumbered, out trained and out gunned.  The scales were so tipped against him that he told Congress, “we should on all Occasions avoid a general Action, or put anything to the Risque, unless compelled by a necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn."

It was only tenacity and the strength of Washington’s character that brought victory to him.  He avoided major battles, exploited every situation and turn of events.  You can find many times when fate in the form of a fog or politics in Europe or some other, unrelated or uncontrollable event saved the day, and say it was not Washington, but luck.  But it was Washington, for it was his vigilance, self-control and his decisions that allowed him to take advantage of every opportunity and to avoid every risk.

Mossadegh had the same characteristics.  He was vigilant and patient, he never wavered and, also like Washington, he saw his goal clearly, and just as clearly saw the path to it. 

Washington was locked in the war, only taking time to give direction to Congress.  He had other men to practice diplomacy abroad, and take care of the political problems at home.  Mossadegh, though not alone in his struggles, waged his war only through diplomacy and politics, only to lose his government to the gun.

              One glaring difference is that once the decision for revolution was made, America chose not to have a ruling class.  Thomas Jefferson declared that with these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…” Declaring also a new type of government that recognized that one’s rights derive from one’s humanness, and further, that the government gets its power from the consent of the

people. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

              The nail in the ruling class coffin is in the next group of words: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

            Quite the opposite was true in Iran; the fact that the people asked the Shah’s permission and agreement for 1906 Constitution illustrates that ultimate power was vested in the government, in the person of the Shah, and that the rights of the people were granted by the government.

In the end, it was that very ruling class that had been kept in place, a ruling class that allowed for the constitution and the parliament in the first place, that sent in the soldiers and stopped the progress toward liberty. 

They took a great man and did their best to discredit and humiliate him in a trumped up trial.  Then put him under house arrest, and even banned his name from being uttered in public speech. 

Aristotle’s Legacy

In Philadelphia in the last quarter of the 18th century, the Americans went beyond democracy and parliamentary government taking the full step to individual liberty, which demanded the abolition of a ruling class.  This flew in the face of classical teaching.

             Aristotle taught that there are people who are born to lead.  As this might be true in some cases, two facts have caused mankind a great deal of trouble over the ages.  Firstly, many children of the great leaders in history have proven to be anything but great leaders.  Secondly, the growing list of ruling-elite aspirants continually broaden the entry-level requirements to include themselves. 

 

             Aristotle’s teachings were not lost to the masses, it would seem, for many in the general public acquiesce to live under the rule of despotic regimes, and thereby shoulder responsibility for the success of tyranny.

The Flame of Government

Mossadegh and his compatriots were using a completely different standard than their counterparts in the American Colonies.  They had an ancient history and great traditions that they were proud of and didn’t want to lose.  These were people who wanted only to fine-tune their government with a little self-determination.  Washington and the Americans, on the other hand, were spoiled with Liberty.  They were used to being in total control of their own destinies. 

And, in the final analysis, this is the great divide between Mohammad Mossadegh and George Washington.  Dr. Mossadegh saw government in a way that I cannot; to Mossadegh government was an acceptable tool to be wheeled for the good of the masses.  To traditionally thinking Americans, government is a necessary evil that must never be taken casually.  “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master,” so said George Washington.

Ultimately, the fire Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh sought to use for the progress of his people and nation burned him, and his people, and his nation.
   

© Copyright Joseph De Matteo. September, 2002, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

 

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