The Shah of Iran: An Interview with Mohammad Reza Pahlevi

by | December 1, 1973

Oriana Fallaci: You said in another interview: “If I could have my life over again, I’d be a violinist, a surgeon, an archaeologist or a polo player, anything except a king.”
Mohammed Reza Pahlevi: I don’t remember saying that, but if I did, I was referring to the fact that a king’s job is a big headache. But that doesn’t mean I’d be ready to give it up. I believe in what I am and in what I’m doing too much for that. Where there’s no monarchy, there’s anarchy, or an oligarchy or a dictatorship. Besides, a monarchy is the only possible means to govern Iran. If I have been able to do something, a lot, in fact, for Iran, it is owing to the detail, slight as it may seem, that I’m its king. To get things done, one needs power, and to hold onto power one mustn’t ask anyone’s permission or advice. One mustn’t discuss decisions with anyone. Of course, I may have made mistakes too. I too am human. However, I believe I have a task to carry out, a mission, and I intend to perform it to the end without renouncing my throne. One can’t foretell the future, obviously, but I’m persuaded the monarchy in Iran will last longer than your regimes. Or maybe I ought to say that your regimes won’t last and mine will.

Q: Your Majesty, how many times have they attempted to kill you?
A: Twice officially. Otherwise, God knows how many times. I’ll stay alive till such time as I’ll have finished what I set out to accomplish. And that day has been marked by God, not by those who wish to assassinate me.

Q: Then why do you look so sad, Your Majesty?

A: You may be right. At heart, maybe I’m a sad man. But it’s a mystic sadness, so I believe. A sadness that stems from my mystical side. I wouldn’t know how else to explain the circumstance, since I haven’t the slightest reason to be sad. I have now attained all I ever wished for, both as man and as king. I really have everything, and my life proceeds like a splendid dream. Nobody in the world should be happier than me and yet…

Q: It must be terribly lonely to be a king instead of a man.
A: A king who doesn’t need to account to anyone for what he says and does is unavoidably doomed to loneliness. However, I’m not entirely alone, because a force others can’t perceive accompanies me. My mystical force. Moreover, I receive messages. I have lived with God beside me since I was five years old. Since, that is, God sent me those visions.

Q: Visions?
A: Visions, yes. Apparitions.

Q: Of what? Of whom?
A: Of prophets. I’m really surprised you should ignore this. It is common knowledge that I’ve had visions. I’ve even put it down in my biography. As a child, I had two visions: one when I was five and one when I was six. The first time, I saw our Prophet Ali, he who, according to our religion, disappeared to return the day he would save the world. I had an accident: I fell against a rock. And he saved me: He placed himself between me and the rock. I know because I saw him. And not in a dream: in reality. Material reality, if you see what I mean. I alone saw him. The person who was with me didn’t see him at all. But nobody else was supposed to see him except me because… Oh, I fear you don’t understand me.

Q: No, Your Majesty. I don’t understand you at all.
A: That’s because you’re not a believer. You don’t believe in God and you don’t believe me. Lots of people don’t. Even my father didn’t believe me. He never did and always laughed about it. Besides, lots of people, albeit respectfully, ask me whether I have never thought it might be just a trick of the imagination. Childish imagination. My answer is: no. No, because I believe in God, and that I have been chosen by God to perform a task. My visions were miracles that saved the country. My reign has saved the country, and it has done so because God was on my side.

Q: Did you have these visions only when you were a child, or when you were an adult too?
A: Never as an adult: only dreams.

Q: What dreams, Your Majesty?
A: Religious dreams. Dreams in which I saw what would happen within two or three months… Some believe in reincarnation, I believe in premonitions. The day they shot me from a distance of six feet, it was my instinct that saved me. Because, instinctively, while the assassin was emptying his revolver at me, I performed what, in boxing, is known as shadow dancing. And, a fraction of an instant before he aimed at my heart, I moved aside, so that the bullet embedded itself in my shoulder. A miracle. I believe in miracles too. If you consider how I was hit by five bullets, one in the face, one in the shoulder, one in the head and two in the body, and that the last stuck in the barrel because the trigger jammed… You have to believe in miracles. I see you’re incredulous.

Q: Your Majesty, is if true you’ve taken another wife?
A: A stupid, vile, disgusting libel.

Q: But, Your Majesty, you’re a Moslem. Your religion allows you to take another wife without repudiating Empress Farah Diba.
A: Yes, certainly. According to my religion, I could, so long as my wife grants her consent. And, to be honest, one must admit there are cases where… When a wife is ill, for instance, or when she refuses to perform her wifely duties, thereby causing her husband unhappiness… Let’s face it! One has to be a hypocrite or an innocent to believe a husband will tolerate that kind of thing. In your society, when something like that occurs, doesn’t a man take a mistress, or even more than one? Well, in our society, instead, a man can take another wife. So long as his first wife agrees and the court approves. Without those two conditions on which I have based my law, however, the new marriage cannot take place. So can you believe that I, my very self, would break the law by marrying in secret?

Q: Good. Let’s say you deny everything Your Majesty, and…
A: I won’t even bother to deny anything. I don’t even want to be quoted in a denial.

Q: How strange, Your Majesty. If there is a monarch whose name has always been associated with women, it’s you. And now I’m beginning to suspect women have counted for nothing in your life.
A: I fear your suspicion is justified. Women, you know… Look, let’s put it this way. I don’t underestimate them, as shown by the fact that they have derived more advantages than anyone else from my White Revolution. I have fought strenuously to obtain equal rights and responsibilities for them. I have even incorporated them in the Army, where they get six months’ military training before being sent to the villages to fight the battle against illiteracy. Nor should one forget that I’m the son of the man who removed women’s veils in Iran. But I wouldn’t be sincere if I asserted I’d been influenced by a single one of them. Nobody can influence me, nobody at all. And a woman still less. In a man’s life, women count only if they’re beautiful and graceful and know how to stay feminine and… This Women’s Lib business, for instance. What do these feminists want? What do you want? Equality, you say? Indeed! I don’t want to seem rude, but… You may be equal in the eyes of the law, but not, I beg your pardon for saying so, in ability.

Q: Aren’t we?
A: No. You’ve never produced a Michelangelo or a Bach. You’ve never even produced a great cook. And don’t talk of opportunities. Are you joking? Have you lacked the opportunity to give history a great cook? You have produced nothing great, nothing! Tell me, how many women capable of governing have you met in the course of interviews such as this?

Q: At least two, Your Majesty. Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi.
A: Hm… All I can say is that women, when they are in power, are much harsher than men. Much more cruel. Much more bloodthirsty. I’m quoting facts, not opinions. You’re heartless when you’re rulers. Think of Caterina de’Medici, Catherine of Russia, Elizabeth I of England. Not to mention your Lucrezia Borgia, with her poisons and intrigues. You’re schemers, you’re evil. Every one of you.

Q: When I attempt to talk about you, here in Teheran, people withdraw into fearful silence. They don’t even dare to utter your name. Your Majesty, why is that?
A: From exaggerated respect, I should suppose. Because, in fact, they don’t behave that way at all with me. When I returned from America, I drove through the city in an open car and, from the airport to the palace, a crowd of at least half a million people, overcome with enthusiasm, applauded me wildly. They shouted patriotic slogans, cheered me lustily and showed no signs of a fearful silence such as you mention. Nothing has hanged from the day I became King and the people lifted my car on their shoulders and carried it for three miles. Yes: three miles or so separated the house where I lived from the building where I was to take the oath of loyalty to the Constitution. And I was riding in that car. I had covered but a few yards when the crowd hoisted the car and bore it, like a litter, for the whole three miles’ distance on their shoulders. What was your question intended to mean? That they’re all against me?

Q: God forbid, Your Majesty, but would you deny that you’re a very authoritarian king?
A: No, I wouldn’t, because, in a sense, I am. But look: To go through with reform, one can’t help but be authoritarian. Especially when reform takes place in a country like Iran, where only 25 percent of the inhabitants can read and write. Believe me, when you have three-quarters of a nation afflicted with illiteracy, only the most strict authoritarianism can ensure reform; otherwise nothing can be achieved. If I hadn’t been strict, I couldn’t have carried through even agricultural reform, and my whole program would have been at a standstill. If that had happened, the extreme left would have liquidated the extreme right within a few hours, and more would have been lost than the White Revolution. I had to act as I did. For instance, to order the troops to fire at those opposing land redistribution. So that to assert there is no democracy in Iran…

Q: But IS there any democracy?
A: In many senses, Iran is more democratic than your countries in Europe. Apart from the fact that the peasants own their land, that the workmen participate in the management of their factories, that the great industrial complexes are owned by the State instead of being in private hands, you must know that elections here begin in the villages and take place at local, municipal and provincial levels. In Parliament, true, there are only two parties. But they are the ones that accept the 12 points of my White Revolution, and how many parties ought to represent the ideology of my White Revolution? Besides, those two are the only ones able to collect enough votes. The minority groups are so unimportant, so ridiculous, that they couldn’t manage to get a single member elected. And, however that may be, I don’t wish certain minority groups to elect a member to Parliament. Just as I don’t wish the Communist Party to be legal. The Communists are outlawed in Iran. All they want is to destroy and destroy and destroy, and they reserve their loyalty for others than their country and king. They’re traitors and I’d be crazy to allow them to exist.

Q: Maybe I explained myself badly, Your Majesty. The democracy I was referring to is the kind we consider such in the West, a regime that allows everyone to think as they wish and is based on a Parliament where even minorities are represented.
A: But I don’t want that kind of democracy! Haven’t you understood that? I don’t know what to do with that kind of democracy! I don’t want any part of it, it’s all yours, you can keep it, don’t you see? Your wonderful democracy. You’ll see, in a few years, what your wonderful democracy leads to.

Q: Well, at that, maybe it is a bit chaotic. But it’s the only possible choice if one is to respect Man and his freedom of thought.
A: Freedom of thought, freedom of thought! Democracy, democracy! With five-year-olds going on strike and parading the street. Is that what you call democracy? Freedom?

Q: Yes, Your Majesty.
A: Well, I don’t… Democracy, freedom, democracy! But what do these words mean?

Q: To my mind, they mean, for instance, not removing certain books from shop windows when Nixon visits Teheran. I know my book on Vietnam was removed from the bookshops when Nixon came here and only put back after he left.
A: What?

Q: Yes, indeed.
A: But you’re not on the black list by any chance, are you?

Q: Here in Teheran? I don’t know. Possibly. I’m on everyone’s black list, more or less.
A: Well, because, you know, I’m receiving you here at the palace, and you’re seated beside me at this minute…

Q: That shows great kindness on your part.
A: It certainly shows we have democracy and freedom here.

Q: How many political prisoners are there today in Iran?
A: I don’t know the exact figure. It depends on what you mean by political prisoners. If it’s Communists you mean, for instance, I don’t consider them political prisoners because communism is against the law. It follows that a Communist is not a political prisoner but a common criminal. If you mean the terrorists whose actions cause the death of innocents, women, children and old people, I obviously consider them even less in the light of political prisoners. To these, I show no mercy. I’ve always granted a pardon to those who attempted to assassinate me, but I’ve never shown the slightest mercy to the criminals you call guerrilla fighters or to traitors to the country. They’re a kind of people capable of killing my son only with the aim of plotting against public safety. They’re people we must eliminate.

Q: In fact, you do have them executed, don’t you?
A: Those guilty of homicide, certainly. They are shot. But not because they’re Communists, because they’re terrorists.

Q: I was wondering what you think of Allende’s death.
A: I believe his death teaches us a lesson: One has to be one thing or the other, be on one side or the other, if one wants to achieve anything and win. Halfway measures, compromises, are unfeasible. In other words, either one is a revolutionary or one demands law and order. One can’t be a revolutionary with law and order. And even less with tolerance. If Allende wanted to rule according to his Marxist ideas, why didn’t he organize himself better? When Castro came to power, he killed at least 10,000 people while you commended him for being capable. Well, in a sense, he really was capable, because he’s still in power. So am I, however. And I intend to stay there and to demonstrate that one can achieve a great many things by the use of force, show even that your old socialism is finished. Old, obsolete, finished. They talked of socialism 100 years ago, wrote about it 100 years ago. Nowadays, it no longer agrees with modem technology. I achieve more than the Swedes and, if you notice, even in Sweden the Socialists are losing ground. Huh. Swedish socialism! It didn’t even nationalize forests and water. But I have.

Q: Are you telling me that, in a sense, you’re a Socialist and that your socialism is more advanced and modem than the Scandinavians’?
A: Certainly. Because that socialism means security for those who don’t work and yet receive a salary at the end of the month like those who work, whereas my White Revolution is an incentive to work. It is a new, original kind of socialism and… believe me, in Iran we’re far more advanced than you and really have’ nothing to learn from you. But that’s a thing you Europeans will never write; the international press is infiltrated to such a degree by left-wingers, by so-called progressives. That left! It’s even corrupted the clergy. Even the priesthood! Even priests are turning into elements aiming merely at destruction, destruction and more destruction. And in Latin American countries, if you please, in Spain of all places! It seems incredible. They abuse their own church. Their own church! They talk of injustice, of equality… That left! You’ll see, you’ll see where it takes you.

Q: Let’s come back to you, Your Majesty. Which is your worst neighbor today?
A: One never knows which neighbor is worst. I’d say, however, that at present it’s Iraq. Iraq is ruled by a group of crazy, bloodthirsty savages and… do you know they force our people to cross the minefields along the frontier on foot? That’s right. Iranians wishing to come home because they’re persecuted in Iraq have to cross our minefields on foot. Dozens of armless and legless people are in the hospital.

Q: I’m surprised that you should mention Iraq as your worst neighbor. I was expecting you to mention the Soviet Union.
A: We’ve good diplomatic and trade relations with the Soviet Union. There’s a gas pipeline between our two countries. We sell our gas to the Soviet Union. We have Soviet technicians here. And the Cold War is over. But the question with Soviet Russia will always be the same and, when negotiating With the Russians, Iran must always remember the chief dilemma: to become Communist or not? There’s nobody so crazy or naive as to deny the existence of Russian imperialism. And, although an imperialist policy has always existed in Russia, there’s no denying it’s far more dangerous nowadays, linked as it is with Communist dogma. What I mean is, it’s easier to face countries that are merely imperialist than countries that are imperialist and Communist at once. There exists what I call the USSR’s pincer movement. There exists their dream of reaching the Indian Ocean through the Persian Gulf. And Iran is the last bastion defending our civilization, what we consider decent. Should they decide to attack this bastion, our survival would depend only on our ability and will to resist. So the problem of resistance already looms today.

Q: And Iran is strong today, as regards military preparation, isn’t it?
A: Yes, but still not strong enough to be able to resist a Russian attack. That’s obvious. For instance, I haven’t the atom bomb. However, I feel strong enough to resist should a Third World War break out. Yes, I did say a Third World War. Lots of people believe a Third World War can only break out on account of the Mediterranean, whereas I maintain it could break out much more easily over Iran. Much more easily! It’s we who control the world’s resources of energy. To reach the rest of the world, oil doesn’t pass through the Mediterranean: it passes through the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. So, should the Soviet Union attack us, we’d resist. And we’d probably be overcome, after which the non-Communist countries would not just stand there looking on. They would intervene. Which would mean the Third World War. Have I made myself clear?

Q: Perfectly and painfully. Because you speak of the Third World War as of something likely to happen quite soon.
A: I speak of it as of something possible with the hope it doesn’t occur. As an occurrence in the not-so-distant future, I see the possibility of a small war with some neighbor or other. After all, we have nothing but enemies on our frontiers.

Q: While your best friend, the United States, is geographically distant.
A: If you’re asking me whom I consider our best friends, the answer is: the United States amongst others. The United States understands us best for the simple reason they have many interests here. Economic, therefore direct interests, arid political, therefore indirect interests… Iran is the key, or one of the keys, of the world. I only have to add that the United States cannot withdraw within the frontiers of their country, they cannot revert to the Monroe Doctrine. They are compelled to respect their responsibilities to the world and, consequently to attend to us. This detracts nothing from our independence, because everyone knows our friendship with the United States doesn’t make us their slaves.

Q: The United States is also a good friend of Israel and, lately, you have addressed Jerusalem in very harsh terms.
A: Our policy is founded on fundamental principles and we can’t countenance one country, Israel in this case, annexing territory by force of arms. We can’t because, if this principle is applied to the Arabs, it may one day be applied to us. You’ll retort that it’s always been like that, that frontiers have always shifted following the use of arms and war. I agree, but that’s not a good reason for recognizing this fact as a valid principle. Moreover, as you know, Iran has accepted the United Nations resolution, and if the Arabs lose faith in the United Nations, how are they to be convinced they’ve been defeated? How are they to be prevented from seeking revenge? Using their oil as a weapon, probably, too? Their oil will go to their heads. In fact, it already has.

Q: You side with the Arabs yet sell oil to Israel.
A: Oil is sold by the companies, therefore to anyone. Our oil goes everywhere: why not Israel too? And why should I care if it goes to Israel? Wherever it goes, it goes.

Q: Does such a policy forecast the day when normal diplomatic relations will be established between Iran and Israel?
A: No. Or, better, not until the question of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from occupied territory has been solved. And as regards the possibility of this question being solved, all I can say is that the Israelis have no choice if they want to live in peace with the Arabs.

Q: We all know it’s thanks to oil you have computers, that it’s thanks to oil you can turn out machine-made carpets and that it’s oil you’ll have to thank for your future wealth. May we discuss the policy you’ve adopted as regards oil, and concerning the West?
A: It’s quite simple. I’ve got this oil and I can’t drink it. However, I know I can exploit it to the full without blackmailing the rest of the world and even attempting to prevent its being used to blackmail the rest of the world. I’ve therefore chosen the policy of ensuring its sale to everyone, indiscriminately. It wasn’t a difficult choice. I’ve never thought of siding with the Arab countries who threatened to blackmail the West. I’ve already said my country is independent, and everyone knows my country is Moslem but not Arab, and consequently, I don’t act according to the convenience of the Arabs but according to the interests of Iran. Moreover, Iran needs money, and one can make a lot of money with oil. That’s the whole difference between me and the Arabs. Because countries that say “we-won’t-sell-the-West-any-more-oil” are countries that don’t know what to do with their money. In many cases they have a population of no more than 6- or 700,000 souls and so much money in the bank that they could subsist for three or four years without pumping a drop of oil, without selling a single barrel. I can’t.

Q: Meanwhile, Kaddafi of Libya calls you a traitor.
A: Traitor? Me, a traitor, when I’ve taken the whole business into my hands and already own 51 percent of the production formerly the exclusive property of foreign oil companies? I wasn’t aware Mr. Kaddafi had addressed such an insult to me and . . . Look, I can’t take that Mr. Kaddafi seriously at all. I can only wish him the ability to serve his country as I’m serving mine, I can only remind him that he shouldn’t be so vociferous. The Libyan oil reserves will be exhausted 10 years from now. My oil, on the other hand, will last at least 30 or 40 years. Maybe 50 or 60, even. It depends on whether new fields are discovered or not, and it is very probable they will be. But even if that doesn’t materialize, we’ll still manage very well indeed. Our production is increasing daily. In 1976 we’ll be extracting as much as eight million barrels a day. Eight million barrels are a lot.

Q: Be that as it may, you’ve made a number of enemies.
A: It’s possible my decision not to blackmail the West may induce the Arabs to follow my example. If not all the Arabs, some of them at least. If not at once, within a short time. Some countries are not independent like Iran, they haven’t the experts Iran has, and they haven’t the popular backing I have. I can dictate my own conditions. They can’t yet. It isn’t easy to reach a point where you can sell your oil directly, without interference from the companies that have held a monopoly for years arid years. And even if the Arab countries could bring themselves to follow my example… Indeed, it would’ be so much simpler, and safer too, if the countries of the West were mere purchasers and we direct purveyors. It would put an end to resentment, blackmail, grudges and enmity… Yes, it is quite possible that I may set a good example and, however that may be, I’m going my own way, forging straight ahead. Our doors are wide open to whoever wants to sign a contract with us, and many have already offered. British, Americans, Japanese, Dutch, Germans . . . They were so scared at the beginning. But now they get ever more daring.

Q: Meanwhile the price of oil will keep on rising?
A: Of course it’s going to rise. Certainly! And how! You can spread the bad news and add that it comes from someone who knows what he’s talking about. I know everything there is to know about oil, everything. I’m a real specialist and it’s as a specialist that I tell you: the price of oil must rise. There’s no other solution. However, it’s a solution you of the West have wished on yourselves. Or, if you prefer, a solution wished on you by your ultra-civilized industrial society. You’ve increased the price of the wheat you sell us by 300 percent, and the same for sugar and cement. You’ve sent petrochemical prices rocketing. You buy our crude oil and sell it back to us, refined as petrochemicals, at a hundred times the price you’ve paid us. You make us pay more, scandalously more, for everything, and it’s only fair that, from now on, you should pay more for oil. Let’s say… 10 times more.

Q: Ten times more?
A: But it’s you, I repeat, who force me to raise prices! You’ll have your reasons, certainly. But I too, begging your pardon, have mine. Besides, we won’t go on squabbling forever. In less than 100 years, this oil business will be finished. The need for oil increases daily, existing fields are becoming exhausted, and you’ll soon have to seek some other source of energy. Atomic, solar or what not. You’ll have to resort to several solutions, one won’t be enough. For instance, you’ll have to exploit the power of the ocean tides with turbines. Or else you’ll have to dig deeper, seek oil 10,000 meters below the seabed or at the North Pole… I don’t know. All I know is that the time has already arrived to take measures, not to waste oil as we always have. It’s a crime to use it as we do nowadays.

Q: This curse we call oil.
A: I sometimes wonder whether that isn’t indeed the case. So much has been written on the curse called oil and believe me: when one has it, on one hand it’s an advantage but on the other it’s a great inconvenience. Because it represents such a danger. The world could blow up on account of that cursed oil. And even if, like me, one fights the threat… You’re smiling…

Q: I see you are smiling too now. You aren’t looking so sad. What a pity we can’t agree on the matter of the black lists.
A: But can you really be on the black list?

Q: If you don’t know, the King of Kings, he who knows all… As I’ve told you, it’s possible. I’m on everybody’s black list.
A: What a pity. Or rather, it doesn’t matter. Even if you’re on my authorities’ black list, I’ll put you on my heart’s white one.

Q: You frighten me, Your Majesty.

Oriana Fallaci, the Italian journalist, interviewed Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, the Shah of Iran, in his office in Teheran early in October of 1973. This was the fourth Fallaci interview to appear in The New Republic. The others were: Willy Brandt (October 6, 1973), Nguyen Van Thieu (January 20, 1973) and Henry Kissinger (December 16, 1972). This article originally ran in the December 1, 1973 issue of the magazine.

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