Iran’s Revolutions: Crash Course World History 226

Hi, I’m John Green and this is Crash Course
World History and today we’re talking about Iran. Oh, Mr. Green? Mr. Green? I know that country.
It’s in the Middle East. It’s with Egypt. No, Me from the Past, we’re going to talk
about Iran. Now, I used to be you so I remember when you would look at this part of the world
and you would be like, “oh yeah, that’s a thing.” And in your case that “thing” extended
more or less from I guess, like, western China to, like, uh, Poland. Then you’d make a bunch of broad generalizations
about that area and no doubt use the terms Arab and Muslim interchangeably. But as usual Me From the Past the truth resists
simplicity. So today we are going to talk about Iran and just Iran. Specifically, the
1979 Iranian Revolution. So the 1979 Iranian Revolution and its aftermath
are often seen by detractors as the first step in the creation of an isolated, fundamentalist
state that supports terrorism, and, you might be surprised to hear me say, that there is
some truth to that interpretation. That said, the way you think about the Iranian
Revolution depends a lot of which part of it you are looking at. And regardless, it’s very important because
it represents a different kind of revolution from the ones that we usually talk about. So the 1979 uprisings were aimed at getting
rid of the Pahlavi Dynasty, which sounds, like, impressive, but this dynasty had only had two
kings, Reza Shah and Mohammed Reza Shah. Before the Pahlavis, Iran was ruled by the
Qajar dynasty, and before that the Safavids. The Safavids and Qajars were responsible for
two of the most important aspects of Iran: The Safavids made Shia Islam the official
state religion in Iran, starting with Ismail I in 1501, and the Qajars gave the Muslim
clergy – the ulema – political power. So most of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis
but the Shia, or Shiites are an important sect that began very early on – around 680
CE and today form the majority of Muslims in Iran and Iraq. Now within both Sunni and Shia there are further
divisions and many sects, but we’re just going to talk about, like, the historical
difference between the two. Shia Muslims believe that Ali should’ve
been the first Caliph, Sunni Muslims think that Abu Bakr, who was the first Caliph, was
rightly chosen. Since that disagreement, there have been many
others, many doctrinal differences but what’s more important is that from the very beginning,
Shia Muslims saw themselves as the party of the oppressed standing up against the wealthy
and powerful and harkening back to the social justice standard that was set by the prophet. And this connection between religious faith
and social justice was extremely important to the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and also
to previous revolutions in Iran. This is really crucial to understand because
many historians argue that the Iranian revolution represents what the journalist Christian Caryl
called an “odd fusion of Islam and late-twentieth century revolutionary politics.” But actually, in the scheme of Iranian history,
its not so odd. Because 1979 was not Iran’s first revolution.
The first major one was in 1906. It forced the ruling Qajars to accept a constitution. It created a parliament and supposedly some
limits on the king, and made Shia Islam the official state religion, but it also protected
the rights of minorities in Iran. It ultimately failed partly because the clergy
withdrew their support, partly because the shah worked very actively against it, and
maybe most importantly, because the Russians and the British worked to keep Persia weak so they
could continue to try to dominate the region. Which reminds me that most people in Iran
are not Arabs, they are Persian. And most people in Iran don’t speak Arabic,
they speak Farsi, or as we often call it in English, Persian. So after WWI European rivalries really heated
up because of the discovery of oil in the Middle East. The British established the Anglo
Iranian Oil Company – which would later come to be known as BP. They also extracted a bunch of concessions
from the Iranian government in addition to extracting lots of oil. And they helped to engineer a change in dynasty
by supporting military commander Reza Khan in his coup in February 1921. Reza Khan became Reza Shah and then he attempted
to turn Persia, which he re-named Iran in 1935, into a modern, secular, western-style
state kind of like Turkey was under Ataturk. But Reza Shah is perhaps best remembered for
his over the top dictatorial repression, which turned the clergy against him. Okay, so during World War II Reza Shah abdicated
and his young son Mohammad Reza Shah became the leader of Iran. Which he remained, mostly,
until 1979 when he definitely stopped being the leader of Iran. So after World War II, the British allowed
greater popular participation in Iran’s government. The main party to benefit from this
openness was Tudeh, the Iranian communist party. Mohammed Mosaddegh was elected prime minister
in 1951 and led the parliament to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, and that was the end
of the democratic experiment. Now most history books say that in 1953 the
British and the CIA engineered a coup to remove Mosaddegh from office. And that is quite possibly true. It is definitely
true that we tried to engineer a coup. It’s also true that Mosaddegh quit and fled
Iran following demonstrations against him. But we also know that the Shia clergy encouraged
those demonstrations. That’s a bit of a weird decision for the
Clergy, considering that Shia Islam traditionally takes a radical stance against oppression. But it’s important to remember that Mosaddegh
was supported by the Tudeh party and they were communists. Nationalization of the oil industry was one
thing, but a further shift toward communism might mean appropriation of the land that
supported the clergy, maybe even a rejection of religion altogether. So now we’ve seen two occasions where the
Shia clergy support helped facilitate change. Right, in 1906 and again in 1953. So, let’s flash ahead to 1979. The Shah
was definitely an autocrat, and he employed a ruthless secret police called the SAVAK
to stifle dissent. In 1975, the Shah abolished Iran’s two political
parties and replaced them with one party the Resurgence party. You’ll never guess who
was resurging – the Shah. There was a huge round of censorship and arrests
and torture of political prisoners signaling that autocracy was in Iran to stay. But before those events in 1975, say between
1962 and 1975, by most economic and social measures Iran saw huge improvements. In 1963, the Shah had tried to institute what
he called a White Revolution – top-down modernization led by the monarchy, and in
many ways he was successful, especially in improving industry and education. Oil revenues rose from $555 million in 1964
to $20 billion in 1976. And the Shah’s government invested a lot
of that money in infrastructure and education. The population grew and infant mortality fell.
A new professional middle class arose. But the White Revolution wasn’t universally
popular. For instance, it was opposed by one particular Shia cleric – the Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini. Khomeini spoke out against the White Revolution
from the religious center of Iran, Qom. One of his main complaints was that the reforms
would grant more rights to women, including the right to vote, but he also attacked the
government for, quote: “the rigging of elections and other constitutional
abuses, neglect of the poor and the sale of oil to Israel.” And in general, Khomeini felt that a king’s
power was inherently un-Islamic and that Shia tradition was to fight that power. That noted about Khomeini, the 1979 revolution
didn’t start out to create an Islamic state. At first it was a pretty typical uprising
by dissatisfied Iranians to overthrow a government that they perceived as corrupt and unresponsive
to their needs. In spite of, or arguably because of, oil-fueled
economic growth, many Iranians weren’t enjoying economic success. The universities were turning
out more graduates than there were jobs and the mechanization of agriculture had the predictable
result of displacing farmers who moved to cities. Especially the capital city of Tehran where
there weren’t nearly enough jobs for the number of people. So, I think it’s unfair to say that a majority
of the demonstrators who took to the streets in late 1978 were motivated by a fundamentalist
vision of Islam. They were dissatisfied with economic inequality and political repression
and a corrupt regime. So why do we generally remember the 1979 revolution
as having been motivated by Shia Islam. Well, Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. So the initial demonstrations did begin after
an Iranian newspaper on January 7, 1978 published an article that was critical of Khomeini.
By the way, at the time he was living in Paris. These initial demonstrations were pretty small,
but when the government police and army forces starting firing on demonstrators, killing
some of them, the protests grew. Each time marchers protested against the violent treatment
of demonstrators, the government would crack down, and their violent reaction would spur
more demonstrations. There was also a lot of criticism of the west tied up in the revolution.
According to one woman who participated: “American lifestyles had come to be imposed
as an ideal, the ultimate goal. Americanism was the model. American popular culture – books,
magazines, film – had swept over our country like a flood…We found ourselves wondering
‘Is there any room for our own culture?’” The Shah never understood why so many people
were protesting against him; he thought that they were communists, or being supported by
the British. He also thought that merely bringing prosperity would be enough to keep him in
power. It wasn’t. On January 16, 1979 he left Iran.
He eventually ended up in the U.S., which had unfortunate consequences for diplomatic
relations between the U.S. and Iran. But the point here is that the first part
of the Iranian revolution was relatively peaceful protests followed by a government crackdown,
more protests that eventually led to the collapse of the monarchy, and that looks kind of familiar,
especially if you’ve studied, like, the French or Russian or even the American Revolutions. And most historians argue these protests weren’t
about Islam, but rather, “The discontent over living conditions, pay cuts, and the
threat of unemployment fused with the general disillusionment and anger with the regime.” The government that eventually replaced the
monarchy was the second, and in many ways much more revolutionary revolution. Thanks Thought Bubble. So the new Islamic
Republic of Iran was based on Khomeini’s idea about what an Islamic government should
be, a principle he called velayat-e faqih. Mainly it was that a sharia law scholar, would
have ultimate authority, because he was more knowledgeable than anyone about law and justice. There would be a legislature and a president
and a prime minister, but any of their decisions could be overturned by the supreme ruler who
from 1979 until his death was Khomeini. Now, if democracy is only about holding elections,
then the new Iran was a democracy. I mean, Iran has elections, both for president and
for the parliament. And for the record, despite what Khomeini
might have thought in the ‘60s, women can vote in Iran and they do. They also serve
in the parliament and the president’s cabinet. And in the referendum on whether to create
an Islamic Republic of Iran, the vast majority of Iranians in a free and open vote, voted
“yes.” Now governance in Iran is extremely complicated,
too complicated for one Crash Course video. But in once sense at least, Iran is definitely
not a democracy. The ultimate authority, written into the constitution,
is not the will of the people but god, who is represented by the supreme religious leader.
And the actions of the Islamic Republic, especially in the early chaotic days of 1979 but also
many times since, don’t conform to most ideas of effective democracy. Like one of the first things that Khomeini
did to shore up his support was to create the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah
to defend the revolution against coup attempts. Although initially there were opposition parties,
their activities were curtailed by the new “revolutionary courts” that applied sharia
law in a particularly harsh fashion. Like it’s estimated that by October 1979,
several hundred people had been executed. And under the new constitution, Khomeini was
given extensive power. I mean, he could appoint the heads of the armed services, and the Revolutionary
Guard and the national TV and radio stations. He also approved the candidates for presidential
elections and appointed six of the twelve members of the Guardian Council that approved
legislation from the parliament before it became law. So structurally Iran’s government looked
kind of like other governments, but as Michael Axworthy points out it was different because,
quote, “above and beyond stood the faqih, with the power and the responsibility to intervene
directly in the name of Islam; indeed with powers greater than those given to most monarchs
in constitutional monarchies.” By 1979, Iran already had a long history of
clerical involvement in protest and dynamic change, but it also had a long history of
pushing for constitutions and liberty. The current end result is the Islamic Republic
of Iran, but it’s worth remembering that both those threads of history are still part
of Iranian life. Like we saw that in 2009 and 2010 with the
so-called Green Revolution where there were huge protests after an Iranian election. Those
protests involved young people arguing for more rights and liberties.. But they were also led
by, and encouraged by, reformist Shia clerics. In the U.S. we mostly remember the 1979 Iranian
Revolution for its burning of American flags and taking of hostages in the American Embassy. That belonged more to the second phase of
the revolution, the chaotic period when the Islamic republic was being born. Life in the Islamic Republic of Iran remains
highly repressive. I mean, for instance, Iran still executes a very high percentage of criminals. But it’s inaccurate to say that Iran is
merely a dictatorship, or that it’s merely repressive. And one of the challenges for
people in the West trying to understand Iran is that we have to disentangle the various
aspects of the revolution rather than simply relying on the images that have defined it
for us. I hope this episode can help a little. You
can find more resources in the links below. Thanks for watching. Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad and
Stacey Emigholz studio in Indianapolis and it’s made possible because of the hard worth
of all of these people. Thank you for watching and as we say in my
hometown, “don’t forget to be awesome.”


  1. the reality is whatever negativity u show about Iran in this video they have sucessufully overthrown a monarchy supported by then the super power American and Europe

    the whole revolution was started by Khomeini

    u have purposely ignore the fact that he was exiled by the king and then by saddam to paris

    may i ask if the revolutuon as u said was not due to islam then why was khomeini repeatedly being exiled from country to country

    keep ur lies to urself people are more aware

    white supremisist have no place in this world any more

  2. Hey you scrolling down you are amazing no matter what you going through all is possible faith in u
    Lots of love from IRAN

  3. Iran in a nutshell: it´s a shithole because of islam. Women arre beaten and stoned to death on a regular basis because of a filthy book called the koran. Gays get hanged in a show of force, when in reality there are more active homosexuals than all the u.s. states combined. They separate men and women and when iranian men get horny, anything is game. When I lived there I suffered more passes at me than in all the places I´ve lived in the world combined. It caused me serious emotional distress to be around so many queers. That is the Iran know. Your views are shallow and without foundation. Iran is a queer country full of sexaholic degenerates just like Muhammad himself.

  4. You Westerners will never be happy until you screw with countries that have nothing to do with you and you'll NEVER EVER get the culture, history and political struggles of those places but GOD forbid you should shut up and listen to the natives.

  5. I see this man Khomeini and if he was alive I should want to rip his face apart.
    How dare he ruin a country that had so much to offer to the world ?!

  6. 12:46 Yes we execute rapists, murderers, spies and so on, recently national TV said they want to execute some people who defalcated too much money from banks…
    The green revolution began when someone said they cheated. No one actually wanted to do anything.
    About democracy, we have it here! Selected people in Majles even can change the president if they all vote. People chose people in Majles, People chose the president…

  7. U.S overthrew a democratically elected government to control Persia's oil. People got pissed off and overthrew the dictator.

  8. Well there are enough official documents published under the freedom information act to show that Mossadegh was overthrown by a coalition of the CIA, MI6 and the Shah, so why be so vague about it? Mossadegh had no intentions of eradicating the clergy, the nationalization of Irans oil just meant that the UK and the US couldn't exploit it anymore, hence operation Ajax to overthrow Mossadegh. This coup paved the way for the Shah and every consecutive fundamentalist movement.

  9. Really love how you completely glazed over the consequences of the 1979 revolution on female sovereignty. It essentially sent women back to the stone ages. In no way is a country a democracy when women couldn't vote and have virtually no rights.

  10. thanks for your effort to describe Iran situation but as an Iranian i would like correct it a bit. in Iran even supreme leader choose by public election and usually leader dont interference the government and president and Parliament activities so much but yet there is some defect in my mind in democratic structure of our country but its isnt deniable we have democracy in Iran if deny it with your reasons we can say usa also dont have democracy.(that i think dont:)) anyway iran after revolution became better place to have more reform on future but not that ideal we all expect and not that radical Muslim country you think but there is national interest to be independent country in politics and dont be under command of any western or eastern countries but in domestic politics and economic we have some problem need to fix asap.

  11. Hi,
    One quick correction. Mossaddegh did not resign and leave Iran after the coup. He was arrested, charged in the court, spent some years in jail and spent the left of his life under house arrest.

  12. What is claimed at 10.33 is factually inaccurate and historically plain wrong. The referrendum vote of 1979 on whether to have an Islamic Dictatorship (aka Republic) of Iran or not, was NEITHER free NOR fair. Iranians were NOT given a range of choices plus , they were NOT casting a vote via a secret ballot, the Khomeini's Islamic zealots /goons were allowed to supervise and manipulate and "interpret' the result. A declaration of 98.00% or so in favour of abolishing the monarchy, should raise flags in your mind, concerning authenticity of results remember how in Communist countries they also laughably claimed 99% of people supported their leader in unfree / rigged votes lol An religious / conservatitve (uneducated) farmer told his 2 sons from a small village NOT to vote, because he saw thw writing on the wall and warned Khomeini was the devil incarnate and Iran was far better off with their Shah ( in spite of his flaws / mistakes etc) than a religious dictator.

  13. Great video as always guys. Just one small thing: There is a high pitched noise in this particular video. Like an old television. Quite distracting.

  14. I think IRAN being the epicentre of regional politics in the past 200 years, there is a fathom of the history not covered or misunderstood… the first that affects your understanding of the contemporary history is "the nature" of events and how they interacted and also the nature of the elements involved. ) If this is taken into depth .. well yes

  15. The thing is if the shah was not as nice as he was then he would of hanged Khomeini but even then the us would of supported another group to overthrow the shah because he raised oil prices.

  16. So,Basically USA is a Shithole of a Country who can do anything for Oil. Take Ex of Iraq US Said They Had Nuclear Weapon and They Invaded them and to the surprise they found Nothing. But Still stay there coz they got Oil Baby. UN wont say a Word coz they are Basically owned by them.

  17. This guy is f**king annoying. Was looking forward to actually learning something and I couldn't bear to listen for another 5 seconds.

  18. Thanks for making this video! one small note though; the picture of the guy with the purple finger at 10:18 is an Iraqi Shia Religious leader figure name "Moktada Alsader" not an Iranian, thought to point it out. We fought his militia in Karbala in 2006.

  19. THANK YOU for explaining things to everyone with respect and without racism:) and there was another war one year after the revolution that Iraq attacked Iran with the support of all countries and it took 8 YEARS BUT OF COURSE IRAN WON 🙂 and also we are 100% ok with Americans it’s just the politic

  20. Turkey still İS a secular country. I am a Turkish woman. I can assure. I wote against Recep Tayyip but he was elected 2 times. But there ia no dictatorship i hope my people wont elect such medieval people again.

  21. Hi John. I like your videos. Thank you for them. It would be interesting, if you made video about Ukraine. Thank you in advance.

  22. As an atheist, I don't agree with religious countries. Iran could be better without religious government. However the revolution was necessary for the country's independence indeed.

  23. Greetings You, I liked this issue, and despite awareness of the fact that You probably have a strategy on account of your program, I would be interested to know your opinion on the revolution in Chile(1973).

  24. You’re so awesome, this is the only thing I’m subscribed to (yeah, it’s a special honor). Thanks for sharing actual intelligent discourse…. like a vacay for the mind.

  25. I hope people who observes the Hong Kong protest can learn something about that too. The protest is not about democracy or self-determination. It's simply about the grim economic future of the young in Hong Kong. Hong Kong government has not done enough to curb the real estate price, driving the young people of Hong Kong to a future where they cannot afford a place of their own, living in tiny apartments share with their parents and rising cost of living. Their unemployment rate is low but increasingly good positions are being occupied by mainland Chinese who they also see as a factor in eroding their culture. The upper class in Hong Kong live next door to the lower and middle class. It's not comfortable struggling for a living while others live in big, new, shiny apartments that they could never afford. This is why most of the protesters are young students while the protest to support the police are manned by older people who owns properties and shops, want peace and stability to continue. The extradition bill is merely the trigger, it is not the cause.

  26. Correct Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    the secend elections photo is not about iranian elections. it was in iraq during 2010s .
    Correct Ergent !!!!

  27. I would like to emphasize the difference between Farsi and Arabic: although usually written using Arabic script, Farsi is much more closely related to English or Spanish (they're all Indoeuropean languages) than to Arabic (an Afroasiatic language).

    BTW, I'd love a Crash Course Linguistics.

  28. "The discontent over living conditions, pay cuts, and the threat of unemployment fused with the general disillusionment and anger with the regime" Ah, so the US in 2019.

  29. People were toyed with because they thought it was intellectual and fashionable to be against shah. People did not know what they were getting themselves into.

  30. Iran is considered so evil by Americans when Saudi Arabia, their best friend, is worse in almost every single way.

  31. شما باور نمیکنید ایران بهترین زندگی را داشت ملا و دمکرات سوسیالیست ۱۷۰۰۰۰ را اعدام کردند ۱۹۰۶ تا۱۹۷۹ ایران زندگی خوبی داشت……

  32. ما از ۱۹۷۹ تا۲۰۱۹ انتخابات نداشتیم ما ازادی نداشتیم ولی کشتار داشتیم۲۰۰۰۰۰۰ کشته اعدام ۱۹۵۳ ما قیام داشتیم ولی کودتا نداشتیم شاه یکی از بهترین دمکرات بوذ ولی خمینی هیتلر بود راج به شاه سوسیالیست دروغ گفتند شاه اجازهداد که زنها مساوی باشند با مردها شاه از زنها خواست که به دانشگاه برند رای بدهند ما ۱۸۴۰ تساوی حقق زن مرد را خاستار شدیم

  33. کشور عقب افتاده شد ما در ایران معتاد نداشتیم ۲۰۱۹ پهداری گفت ۱۰۰۰۰۰۰۰ معتاد ۵۰۰۰۰۰۰ روسپی اعضای دولت کشتنو اعدام کردند۱۷۰۰۰۰۰ و دزدیدن ۱۰۰۰۰۰۰۰ بلیون دلار و مجلس و شهرداریاختلاس کردند۱۰۰۰ بلیون دلار انتخابات ۰٪ دانشگاه باپول دکترا می دهند روحانی وبقیه دیپلم ندارند و همگی دزد هستند……

  34. Reza shah was forcedfully resigned, by the clercs who recieved funding and scripts from UKthe only country with islam universities. Khomeini didnt live in paris, was twice exiled… you do history or pot?

  35. hi ,
    Could you please make a video about Iran's ancient history? not Islamic history? to be honest Iran's has beautiful history in the world (more than 2500 years kingdom and civilization ) but cause of shared media and weird things that is happening for Iran cause of Islam people may not have any idea about real IRAN with great history and freedom and With out hiding behind Islamic thoughts .honestly cause of political issues that happened after revolution and cause of Mollas that are governing Iran I am embarrassed to say I am Persian 😢 Iran was very beautiful before revolution

  36. also in my reasearch i have found the royalists were definitely in it for themselves. when exiled the shah and other nobility left with large sums of gold and money. the shahs family still live large in rhe west. they collapsed the economy. iran is making a comeback and is powerful as ever. the iranian currency lost most of its value at the time.

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