J.D. Gurney

J.D. Gurney is a lecturer in Persian history and a fellow of Wadham College, Oxford.

Before the Revolution

J.D. Gurney, 2 July 1981

For the past two and a half years scarcely a week has gone by without some new event in Iran capturing the newspaper headlines. The quickening pace of the Revolution from the late summer of 1978, the massacre at Jaleh Square, the Shah’s departure (‘thrown out like a dead mouse’), the euphoria of that first spring which was then shattered by the early signs of deep internal division, the relentless retribution of the revolutionary courts, the seizure of the American Embassy and its protracted resolution, the sudden Iraqi aggression across the Shatt in September 1980 … And so, week by week, the catalogue of crises is extended, until once again the cries of ‘God is great’ resound from Tehran roof-tops, with crowds in the streets below baying for Bani-Sadr’s blood. As Elie Kedourie remarks, ‘the world has stood wide-eyed and open-mouthed in astonishment.’ Where do we look for elucidation? What attempts have there been to explain this extraordinary succession of events? Where should the search begin for the deeper and more permanent characteristics of Iranian society beneath the hysteria of recent events?

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