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After The Revolution, What Happens When Iran's 1979 Generation Fades Away

Iran's dismal conditions are not ultimately about sanctions or the lack of reforms, but for the criminal ignorance of the revolutionaries of 1979 who replaced a flawed but technocratic regime with medieval despotism. What happens when those responsible begin to fade away or die?

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the tombs of ''martyrs'' of the 1979 Revolution in Tehran on Jan. 31

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on Jan. 31

Yusef Mosaddeqi


February 11, the anniversary of the 1979 revolution in Iran, has become a recurring, and unrelenting, pain in the hearts and minds of Iranians the world over. While the number of veteran revolutionaries and participants in that calamity goes down by the year, and generations born since entering middle age, Iranians have become ever harsher in their judgment of those parents and grandparents who bequeathed them a catastrophe.

Besides the Islamic Republic's own, loutish nomenklatura and hirelings who — for the state salaries paid to them — cherish the date and heap abuse on dissenters, the former revolutionaries now close to senility or death react differently to the admonishments of generations that have seen their lives and hopes torn to shreds. Their response often depends on personal levels of realism or awareness of the costs of their revolution.

Many former revolutionaries are repentant and dismayed at the fruits of the revolution, and cannot bear the criticism of younger Iranians. Others are as angry as their critics. But a third category, while aware of the disasters of past decades, persists in praising the event. They are stubborn not just for having participated in it, but in their blinkered refusal to observe and comprehend.

Suffering from the choices of the past

The generations that have followed the revolution are entirely justified in their criticisms, given the lasting and continuing harm done to their homeland by the choices of a single generation in the late 20th century. The greatest injustice is perhaps in the cost one generation imposes on its successors.

The word revolution kills.

If every generation paid for its misdeeds without harming its descendants, we might not see quite the fury and frustration shown at the events that toppled the monarchy in 1979. The ire of Iranians is proportional to what they have paid for their parents' folly.

In our culture, power is closely related to paternalism. In many of Iran's epic poems, we see fathers who work, wittingly or not, to destroy their children before sinking into abject remorse. The same pattern recurs in our history, as monarchs have killed or blinded sons and heirs.

As recently as 150 years ago or late into the Qajar dynasty, Persian provinces typically hosted one or several princes whom their fathers had ordered blinded, out of mercy, instead of decapitating them as dynastic threats. Most had done nothing wrong nor had they shown any undue ambition, though history is oblivious to iniquities.

The need for serenity has always led people to believe that balance and fairness must govern the world's affairs. It is a comforting thought, though removed from events that reflect nature's often unfathomable laws. Where is the fairness or balance in suffering for generations the results of our forebears' actions?

Photo of two armed men demonstrating in Tehran in 1979. Behind of them is a banner written: "Long live anti-imperialism and democratic forces".

Pro-democracy demonstrators in Tehran in 1979

Wikimedia Commons

Ochlocracy to kleptocracy

We may judge the revolution more equitably by considering its results, instead of dissecting the revolutionary generation's motivations. How do they differ from the results of the 1906 constitutional revolution, which improved government and dragged Iran out of the pitiful, dependent state into which it had fallen in the late Qajar period? The constitutional revolution took the first, big steps toward turning Iran's feudal peasantry into citizens. Even the most ignorant of Iranians would not wish to return to the pre-constitutional period.

Did liberty's friends want a revolution?

The constitutionalists who rose against Qajar despotism, and especially their intellectual leaders, were progressive, educated and disinterested. They were familiar with both modern Western and Iranian cultures. They were concerned for the country and aware of their compatriots' historical backwardness, which placed them significantly ahead of the rulers of the time.

The opposite happened in 1978-9. That revolution produced an ochlocracy, or mob rule, that soon also became kleptocratic, as institutions wallowed in corruption.

Against the empty claims of certain, inveterate revolutionaries, the sin of that wretched generation was not in its idealism or desire for change, but its ignorance. Regardless of intentions, it caused a backward, criminal regime to replace a system that was modern, technocratic and forward-looking in spite of its shortcomings.

Accepting Khomeini

I would like to cite the novelist Mahshid Amirshahi, who chose in the midst of the collective frenzy to neither side with fools nor observe in detachment.

She asks in the preamble to her novel Dar hazar (At Home, 1987), "Where did the yelling mob come from? Where are they going? What do they want from this land? What are they saying to its inhabitants? They are saying: 'Revolution!' Revolution? A revolution is more effective than any bullet, it is the perfect shot and sharpest of blades. It is dirtier than any war, and the path that leads straight to despotism. No calamity will shed as much blood. The word revolution kills.

Millions have died of it. It can only stifle, as millions will know... Did liberty's friends want a revolution? Did they accept Khomeini? Did those who know freedom greet its enemies? Did they banish reformists? Dismal history! Impotent, helpless, useless history, which teaches nothing and has no pupils. All it does is gather dust on bookshelves."

Quite simply, Iran's current calamity is the fruit of that vast, collective ignorance. Unable to recognize freedom, the Iranians of 1979 imposed its enemies' despotic rule on generations — and in cases still insist they did us a service!

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For Seniors, Friendship May Be More Important Than Family

Even if the aging and elderly tend to wind up confined to family circles, Argentine academics Laura Belli and Danila Suárez explore the often untapped benefits of friendship in our later years.

Photograph of two elderly women and an elderly man walking arm in arm. Behind the, there are adverts for famous football players.

Two elderly women and a man walk arm in arm

Philippe Leone/Unsplash
Laura F. Belli and Danila Suárez Tomé

Updated Dec. 10, 2023 at 10:10 p.m.

BUENOS AIRES — What kind of friendship do people most talk about? Most often it is childhood or teenage friendships, while friendships between men and women are repeatedly analyzed. What about friendships among the elderly? How are they affected when friends disappear, at a stage when grieving is already more frequent?

Argentines Laura Belli and Danila Suárez Tomé, two friends with PhDs in philosophy, explore the challenges and benefits of friendship in their book Filosofía de la amistad (Friendship Philosophy).

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They consider how friendships can emerge later in life, in profoundly altered circumstances from those of our youth, with people living through events like retirement, widowhood, reduced autonomy or to a greater or lesser degree, personal deterioration. All these can affect older people's ability to form and keep friendships, even if changes happen at any stage in life.

Filosofía de la amistadexplores the place of friendships amid daunting changes. These are not just the result of ageing itself but also of how one is perceived, nor will they affect everyone exactly the same way. Aging has firstly become a far more diverse experience, with increasing lifespans and better healthcare everywhere, and despite an inevitable restriction in life opportunities, a good many seniors enjoy far greater freedom and life choices than before.

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