Swooning Swami of Tehran

October 7, 1951 — The Los Angeles Times

The Mossadegh Project | June 4, 2023                   

Journalist and radio broadcaster William Mellors Henry (1890–1970), aka Bill Henry, wrote this entry on Mossadegh and Iran for his long-running Los Angeles Times column By the Way.

The Los Angeles Times


WASHINGTON — The comic possibilities of the television debut of Mohammed Mossadegh, the swooning swami of Teheran, are so wonderfully great that it is altogether too bad that the Iranian Premier’s nuisance value forces everybody to take him seriously. His histrionics are, unfortunately, no laughing matter.

CHARACTER— It is altogether likely that Mossadegh will be seen coast to coast as he appears to plead his country’s case before the Security Council and all the advance billing pictures him as a Middle East caricature of Willie Howard giving the French lesson which made him a fortune in vaudeville. A rabble rouser and a demagogue of formidable quality, Mohammed is the direct antithesis of the western type. Where Mussolini flexed his muscles for effect, Mossadegh wails and faints dead away. It is a difference only in technique, however. Mossadegh, posing as the savior of his country, the poor man’s friend, the feeble but tenacious patriot defending Iran against the foreign imperialist — that’s Mohammed just as it was Mussolini and, for that matter, a lot of gentlemen in other countries who somehow managed to survive in history as hero-patriots.

SUCCESS— It would be an awful mistake to take Mossadegh lightly. Even his worst enemies agree that he is, at the moment, the voice of Iran. His dramatics, his swooning — they’re something to see but not to be laughed at. It makes no difference that doctors who have rushed to his side and felt his pulse while he lay prone on the podium have found his pulse normal. There’s no use in quoting witnesses who have seen this seventyish semiparalytic scuttling upstairs with the agility of a cat. He may be as phony as a $7 bill, but the fact is that he voices the hopes, aspirations and beliefs of a nation which the west cannot afford to see fall into the Soviet orbit.

OPINION— Those who have had a chance to talk to Mossadegh and who are reasonably good judges of character say that he knows as well as anybody that his suicidal course can bring about the complete collapse of his country. They agree also that he is fully aware that he is fully aware of the strategic position Iran occupies and that he relies on his ability to make a quick deal. They agree that he knows very well that he is in the position of a drowning man with two muscular lifeguards nearby who will, if necessary, fight each other for the privilege of saving him. If he can just keep screaming loudly enough, and still keep treading water, he can make a pretty good deal for himself. That, they say, is what Mossadegh is about to do.

TRAGIC— One of the things which will keep us Westerners from laughing at Mossadegh is the realization that we haven’t much to be proud of in the Iranian situation. It is perfectly true that the Iranians, by and large, are a miserable people few talents, widespread poverty and ignorance and an overwhelming landlordism of the very worst type. But there is no question that the British contract was a niggardly piece of business and that the Socialist government of Britain stubbornly refused to do anything about it until too late. It is quite true that the Iranians were unreasonable but the stakes were high and, quite aside from the morals of the situation, just plain common ordinary business sense would have dictated a more intelligent recognition of the dangerous possibilities in the situation.

PROBLEM— There seems little reason to doubt that our own country contributed somewhat to the mess. We reneged and got pretty stuffy about some help which, rightly or wrongly, the Iranians thought we promised them. We didn’t pressure the British into doing the right thing and there is some reason to believe that in the last analysis we did pressure them into abdicating — the results of which throughout the Middle East may be expensive. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that, at best, we will try to rig up a deal with Iran without letting the thing come to a head in the United Nations, and that the deal will not only, in itself, be very costly to us but will set a pattern for further — oh, let’s not call it blackmail — negotiations with other neighboring countries.

Hear Bill Henry, Monday through Friday, KHJ, 6:55 p.m.

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Related links:

Last Call for Britain? | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 13, 1951

Latest Turn of the Whirling Dervish | Calgary Herald, Oct. 17, 1952

Thumbnail Editorials | The Palm Beach Post on Iran (1950’s)

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

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