The Wages of Sin

September 4, 1952 — Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Mossadegh Project | March 25, 2022                    

A long lead editorial on Iran in The Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper (Richmond, Virginia).

Vice, Poverty and Despair
Plague ‘Oil-Rich’ Iran

THE American press spells his name “MOSSADEGH”, the London Times “MOUSSADEK”, the Manchester (England) Guardian “MUSADDIQ”.

These orthographic variations reflect the prevailing confusion as to Dr. Mossadegh’s motives and plans not only as they affect the Iranian oil industry but the solid and economic life of Iran as a whole.

Lingering paralysis of the now nationalized Anglo-Iranian oil fields and the Abadan refinery threatens what is left of Iranian national solvency and intensifies the tension between Moscow, Teheran and London with Washington inevitably involved. Britain’s insistence on full reimbursement for the expropriated Anglo-Iranian oil properties rests on a sound basis. Not only can a fiscally failing Britain not afford to write off the monetary loss involved, but as the London Times Weekly Review put it, “to give in to Dr Moussadek’s exigencies and reward the Persian government for their breach of contract would encourage nationalist movements in other oil-bearing countries of the Moslem Middle East to intimidate their government to follow Dr. Moussadek’s example, perhaps with grave results for the oil-using countries, including the whole of Western Europe which depend for their oil supply of the Middle Eastern wells”.

But far more than “frozen” oil complicates the plight of Iran. The nation’s moral, economic and social decline has been ignored for centuries by the ruling classes who not only exploited their own people and exported their profits but encouraged Western nations to exploit Iran’s natural resources. As usual the consequences of starving the goose that laid the golden eggs has been recognized only after its demise. As a result, economic and political chaos prevail. Iran is in a state of incipient revolution with Islamic fanatics and the Communist Tudeh party fanning the flames of revolt.

As in Egypt where Wafd politicians placed all the blame on “British exploitation”, Iranian opportunists have made John Bull the whipping boy of all their troubles. In Cairo the fury of the mob wreaked its vengeance against Shepheard’s Hotel and the Jockey Club, reducing those symbols of British imperialism to ashes in Teheran.

Mossadegh and Parliament seized the multi-billion-dollar British oil properties with no provision for compensation and no means to operate them or market the product. [AIOC’s value was at most one billion. There was a provision for compensation] Once these drastic steps had been taken, dictatorship followed in a desperate attempt to restore some semblance of order, with General Naguib and Mossadegh respectively trying to emulate Attaturk, the post-World War I “strong man” of Turkey. [Mohammed Naguib of Egypt, Kemal Atatürk of Turkey] While the materialist doctrine of communism is diametrically opposed to idealistic Mohammedanism, Ayatollah Kashani, undisputed leader of the Iranian Islamic extremists, is reported to have openly announced his alliance with the Tudeh’s pro-Soviet conspirators. [Never happened]

It is difficult to see how Mossadegh, shrewd and clever as he is, can defy this powerful junta without provoking civil war. The fact to be faced by a West anxious to keep strategic and “oil rich” Iran at least neutral in the East-West tug-of-war is that neither nationalization, "industrialization” religious fanaticism nor “land reform” under military dictatorship can undo the economic harm done by centuries of Iran’s self-demoralization. Maurice Hindus in his book In Search of a Future noted that the decay of Iranian morality is “dramatically in evidence at every hand”. [In Search of a Future: Persia, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine (1949)]

“The first thing you want to remember about Persians”, he was told by an English-educated Persian, “is that they are monumental liars.”

“Are you a liar”, I asked laughing.

“I am a Persian”, he retorted but did not laugh.

When asked to explain, the Persian said:

“We have been kicked about so much by conquerors by foreign diplomats by our own shahs and our own police that the lie became the most natural and the most effective weapon of security—and self-preservation.”

An editorial in the September issue of the United Nations World (which has no official connection with United Nations) quotes the prophecy of an experienced diplomat: Mossadegh is about to become the Kerensky of the Iranian revolution. [Deposed Russian leader Alexander Kerensky] The masses have started to move but they have no program of their own. The middle class is politically inarticulate. The middle class (as in Egypt) is impotent also because it is only a tiny minority a thin line of demarcation between “fabulous wealth” and the kind of hopeless abject poverty which well-fed Americans cannot visualize. Under such conditions, corrosive vices flourish rankly.

Jean-Marie de Moureuil of Le Monde writing in the Manchester Guardian states that “75 per cent of-Iran’s population are opium addicts, girls of 12 or 13 practice prostitution amid the brothels and opium dens of Teheran. Many (Iranians) prefer to go without meals for the sake of their vice (opium smoking). The rich smoke because they like it and the poor because they wish to forget.”

These discouraging circumstances cannot be radically altered by revenue from restored operation of oil refineries or redistribution of land ownership. It is easy to see why the Soviets hope that “time is on their side”, that eventually conditions will deteriorate to the point where Islam’s hatred of “a hypocritical Christian civilization” may join hands with a Tudeh-inspired “revolt of the masses”.

While “strategic oil” appears to be a major factor to Western eyes, it is only one facet in this kaleidoscopic picture of a once great civilization’ in travail. Nor will such “Point 4” programs as we can afford redeem Iran from what an older generation would have summed up as its “wages of sin”.

70th Anniversary of TIME’s 1951 Man of the Year
Challenge of the East: TIME's 1951 Man of the Year Mohammad Mossadegh


Related links:

‘Thousand-and-One Nights’ Drama In Modern Dress | Richmond Times-Dispatch, Aug. 1953

Red Moves Watched In Revolt-Torn Iran | Daily Sentinel, August 21, 1953

Showdown In Persia | The Recorder, August 24, 1953

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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