Mosaddegh and the legacy of Non-Aligned Movement

The Islamists and the monarchists might distort the image of Mosaddegh, but not his memory in the hearts of people.

NAM delegates in Tehran owe it to Iranian people to express not just their opposition to economic sanctions and the threat of war against Iran, but their unconditional support for the democratic aspirations of Iranian people [EPA]

As fate would have it, the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) will take place in Tehran from August 26 to 31, 2012 almost a week after the 59th anniversary of the notorious CIA (USA) and MI6 (UK)-engineered coup that on August 19, 1953, toppled the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh (1882-1967) – the champion of Iranian anti-colonial nationalism.  

NAM was founded in Belgrade in 1961, predicated on a geopolitical fact fully recognised particularly by the Yugoslavia’s President Josip Broz Tito, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghanian President Kwame Nkrumah and Indonesian President Sukarno. Had Mosaddegh been allowed to be in office, he would have been a natural ally of the Non-Aligned Movement, perhaps one of its founding figures. It is not even too far fetched to think that the treacherous coup against Mossadegh’s government was at least a factor behind the Non-Aligned Movement.  

The coup, however, quite typical of the US imperial hubris that callously and clumsily interferes in the internal affairs of any country it deems beneficial to its regional and global domination, preempted that possibility and dismantled a democratic process in Iran and brought back Mohammed Reza Pahlavi to power – who resumed a repressive authoritarian rule for another quarter of a century that was finally toppled by a massively popular and multifaceted revolution that was half way through hijacked by an even more repressive totalitarian Islamic Republic, which is now playing host to the NAM meeting in Tehran. 

There is a cruel irony in the event. Iranians as the spiritual children of Mohammad Mosaddegh richly deserve that honour, but the Islamic Republic categorically lacks legitimacy to represent them in that honour. But then again, the last NAM conference was in Sharm el-Sheikh from July 11 to 16, 2009, when, what was his name, Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak was the Egyptian President!   

A beacon of hope

The CIA-engineered coup of 1953 has been the single most debilitating trauma of Iran in the 20th century. It is incorrect to blame the US or the UK for every calamity that has befallen Iran ever since, as it is foolhardy to discount the calamitous consequences of that singularly perfidious act of the US-UK treachery.  

 Ban Ki-moon to attend Tehran summit

Both President Obama and the former Secretary of State Madeline Albright have had occasions to apologise to Iranians publically for the US role in toppling Mosaddegh. But what do these apologies exactly mean in the context of continued US-EU imperial designs for Iran and the region, in the time of incessant crippling economic sanctions on Iranians, constant military threat by both the US and the US client colonial settlement of Israel?  

To this day, the coup remains a gushing wound – a trauma that has benighted much of modern Iranian political culture and been widely abused by the Islamic Republic to justify its absolutist reign of terror.  

The only person more neurotically fixated on the word “the enemy” than George W Bush is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – by which they both mean an amorphous entity incessantly plotting against them. If for George W Bush “the enemy” became the mantra of his “war on terror”, for Ali Khamenei it amounts to an obsessive-compulsive disorder – a kind of Tourette Syndrome – abusing the memory of the coup of 1953 to sustain his totalitarian regime in power.  

American imperialism, picking up where the European imperialism left off, is a historical fact projected onto phantasmagorical proportions by the ruling regime for its own benefits. Among other things, the singular achievement of the most recent democratic uprising of Iranians known as the Green Movement put an effective end to that trauma and began to navigate a course of thinking beyond their postcolonial predicament.  

But against all these abuses, to this day the fragile democratic experience of Mohammad Mosaddegh remains a beacon of hope for Iranians at large. In the midst of a deeply divided a nation, scarce a political figure has been able to galvanise a widest possible spectrum of solidarity as Mohammad Mosaddegh, in part because almost 60 years after that treacherous act Iranians still face the same problem – that he tried to confront: domestic tyranny exacerbating globalised imperialism.  

By the passage of history, the visage and legacy of Mohammad Mosaddegh has only gained in stature and significance. No wonder that monarchist revisionists altogether deny the coup and accuse Mosaddegh of populism, while the Islamic republic, beginning with Ayatollah Khomeini himself has consistently downplayed or distorted the legacy of Mosaddegh in the nationalisation of Iranian oil, and exaggerated the role of the clergy, while new evidence are now surfacing implicating the clergy itself in the coup.  

What safeguards Mosaddegh from historical abuse and malicious distortion, whether by the ruling Islamists in Iran or by the exiled monarchists desperate to pose themselves as a legitimate alternative to the ruling regime, is the shining legacy of anti-colonial nationalism that links Mosaddegh to his contemporary heroes of the same cause – Nehru of India and Naser of Egypt in particular, the very engines behind the NAM. The Islamists and the monarchists might wish to distort the image of Mosaddegh, but what will they do to his memory in the hearts and minds of masses of millions of Indians and Arabs – in Cairo I have seen streets named after Mosaddegh. 

NAM in Tehran 

The shining legacy of Mohammad Mosaddegh casts a long and illuminating gaze on the NAM gathering in Tehran – as his nation faces yet another fateful moment in its history. The fact that Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, is joining high ranking officials from 120 countries this week in Tehran for the convening of the NAM meeting is a clear indication that the US-Israel propaganda machinery to mark Iran as having been isolated because of its putative nuclear project has miserably failed. 

 Inside Story – The Non-Aligned Movement

Even the New York Times considers the Tehran event a “setback” for the US and Israel.  Ban Ki-moon is going to Iran against the specific request of the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who had appealed to the UN General Secretary, according to Ha’aretz and the New York Times, “not to travel to Tehran for the meeting, saying it would lend legitimacy to ‘a regime that represents the greatest danger to world peace'”. The Prime Minister protests too much – and his Freudian projection is proverbial.  

The NAM meeting in Tehran is a good news for those who oppose crippling sanctions and the threat of war on Iran – for it shows at least a tacit show of solidarity with a country much maligned by the US/Israel warmongering postures. Organisations such as Veterans for Peace are already calling on the NAM delegates to Tehran to use their forum to avert a war against Iran. Irrespective of the propaganda abuses of the Islamic Republic of this event, one must support a semi-global gathering in Tehran that may help prevent a dearly costly war on a nation of some 75 million human beings. 

But there are other lessons to be learned from this meeting, particularly by the habitual doomsayers on the Left who have already given up on the Arab Spring and sarcastically place it inside two damning quotation marks and attribute it to US machination. These folks are in fact the very replica in reverse of the US imperial hubris that they evidently oppose but in effect reiterate. 

This imaginatively challenged segment of the Left, trusting nothing in the indomitable spirit of a people, and caring very little for the evolving revolutionary facts on the ground are quick to give up the entirety of the Arab revolt as an American machination and at the service of US imperialism – or even when they are generous they say it has been “kidnaped” by the US and its allies – just like a child, an infant, an indigent human being who cannot defend herself. This is what these professional revolutionaries who have had absolutely nothing to do with these revolutions think of their own people. 

Instead they think the world of the US and its allies, giving them the almighty omnipotence of “kidnapping” just about any noble cause. The spectacular gathering in Tehran is a clear indication that in fact US is not as omnipotent as these defeatist corner of the Left seems professionally committed to make it out to be. They are paradoxically the best propaganda for the omnipotent power that the US and its regional allies actually lack on the global scene.  

Good side effect

During the proceedings of the 16th summit meeting of NAM, the Islamic Republic will thumb its nose at the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and whatever other country you may be adamant to portray as running the show in the region. The event has another good side effect. It will teach US and its regional allies that should they opt militarily to strike Iran they will have a major component of the global humanity against their yet another military adventurism.  

“If the US had its way, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi and Ali Abdullah Saleh would still be in power – as the US has had its way and Al Khalifa family is still in power in Bahrain.”

This is not to downplay or disregard the steadfast determination of Israel, Saudi Arabia, or above all, the US, to continue to try to create a smoke screen over the Arab Spring. Today, not much has changed from the time of Mosaddegh and identical remains the political DNA of the US imperialism that seeks to take advantage of domestic and regional uprising for democracy to twist and turn them to its own benefits – and the benefits of its regional allies. If the US had its way, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Gaddafi and Ali Abdullah Saleh would still be in power – as the US has had its way and Al Khalifa family is still in power in Bahrain.  

But the anti-colonial legacy of Mosaddegh has now entered a new register, where their descendants are far more weary of the US designs to keep a categorically illegitimate coterie of colonial and postcolonial regimes in power at a time that transcontinental revolutionary uprisings – not pathetic terrorists attacks – have reached the coasts of the US itself – and the Zuccotti Park was modelling itself on Tahrir Square.  

In honour of a potentially founding figure who was with them in spirit if he could not be in person when the NAM was founded, the Non-Aligned delegates in Tehran owe it to Iranian people to express not just their opposition to economic sanctions and the threat of war against Iran, but their unconditional support for the democratic aspirations of Iranian people. 

The delegates will go to Iran in circumstances that scores of democracy activists are suffering in the dungeons of the Islamic republic, at a time that even social workers who wish to help victims of an earthquake are summarily arrested (source in Persian) and at the time when the man who millions of Iranians believe is their rightful president, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is taken to hospital for a heart ailment straight from being under house arrest. 

It is entirely befitting the spirit of the Non-Aligned movement if the delegates, led by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, were to demand from their hosts to meet with these political prisoners. It is particularly befitting if the delegates from India and Egypt, in honour of Nehru and Naser, were to pay Mir Hossein Mousavi a public visit. That would be the grandest gesture of solidarity they could demonstrate with the democratic aspirations of Iranian people as the real inheritors of Mosaddegh’s legacy, which as is at the very same time, the most effective demonstration of a collective will to oppose military strike against Iran.  

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. Among his most recent Books are Iran: A People Interrupted (2007) and Iran, the US, and the Green Movement: The Fox Paradox (2010).