by Amit Roy
IF THERE is a country other than Britain or India that has shaped my life, it has been Iran, where I was sent as a young reporter on my first foreign assignment by The Daily Telegraph.
My tin trunk with press releases, newspaper clippings, maps, telex messages, posters and pages from my dawn Farsi lessons is probably still in the basement of the Intercontinental
Hotel in Tehran, which was my home for many years.
I thought the hostages crisis at the US embassy would be over in two hours. I was there for the 444 days that the siege lasted. I never did a personal interview with Ayatollah
Khomeini, but on a few occasions, I was ushered into his presence.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution which toppled Reza Shah Pahlavi in favour of an Islamic republic, with global consequences.
My contacts book, with most of the names crossed off, tells the story of the Iran tragedy. Ayatollah Beheshti, a senior cleric, for example, died with countless others when the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party was destroyed by a bomb. Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, the foreign minister who had flown in with Khomeini on the plane from Paris,
was executed in prison by his enemies. Abbas Lavasani, a young press officer who had given me my Iran visa, was killed by gunmen in the Iranian embassy siege in London
before the mission was stormed by the SAS.
In Iran, I spent several years covering its long war with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who was then backed by the West.
February 14 also marks the 30th anniversary of Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie, by which time I was on Andrew Neil’s Sunday Times (where one of my colleagues on the foreign desk was Marie Colvin, the heroine of the film, A Private War). When I tipped off Tony Bambridge, the managing editor, of the gathering storm about The Satanic Verses – initiated from India – he put me in my place: “Look, this is just a little immigrant story – and we are a national newspaper.”
The editor instructed me to write a four-page special when the BBC TV news led with the fatwa. Bambridge, displeased at being countermanded, sent my copy to another reporter in
the office so “he can knock it into shape”. The fatwa, of course, shaped the politics of Muslim Britain.
Away from the blood-soaked, day-to-day news coverage in Tehran, I enjoyed learning about Persia’s rich and ancient culture, with many links to India, not least through the
In trying to deal with the complexities of Iran today, one needs to understand that the ayatollahs are pragmatic folk with a strong instinct for self-preservation. Also, Iran has
been through a political and theological revolution, not a cultural one.
India is now caught in the conflict, trying to buy oil and trade with Iran, while simultaneously maintaining its strategic relationship with Donald Trump’s America.
The revolution has not been good for ordinary Iranians, but the problem with trying to overthrow the ayatollahs is that most young people have not known any other way of life.