“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” This is how English writer L.P. Hartley, in his novel The Go-Between, comments on the ambiguity of our relations with a past that fascinates and confuses us. I was reminded of Hartley’s enigmatic phrase last week as I skimmed through a series of news stories indicating the discovery by the Khomeinist establishment in Tehran of Iran’s past.
There was Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani advising US President Donald Trump not to ignore Iran’s “7,000-year old civilization” in stark contradiction to Ayatollah Khomeini’s claim that the whole of Iranian history before his seizure of power should be classified as “jahiliyah” (darkness).
Then there were the so-called “reformist Khomeinists” who took US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to task for expressing support for what is reported as a national uprising in Iran. They invited Pompeo to remember Mohammad Mosaddeq, the man who served as Prime Minister of Iran in the early 1950s and, so his supporters believe, was overthrown in a putsch backed by the United States. “Mussadeq was the hero of Iranian national uprising,” one Khomeinist apologist commented. He forgot that according to the propaganda of the regime he has served for almost four decades, Mussadeq was “a traitor and enemy of Islam” and that he had become a non-person in the Islamic Republic.