How did Iran become a theocratic Islamic republic, governed by their version of Sharia, and the world’s largest exporter of terrorism? Iran for most of the 20th century was a peaceful, yet backwards nation. Persia/Iran was a nation that was ignored by the world’s powers (Britain, France, the U.S., Germany, Russia) until oil was discovered there.
Great Britain quickly moved in and through their oil companies exerted great influence over the Persian/Iranian people. Because Russia (and later the Soviet Union) has a long border with Iran, the Russians also became a major player in this oil-rich nation neighbor of theirs.
In 1951 the Iranian people freely elected a secular nationalist leader to be their Prime Minister: Mohammed Mossadegh. He told Great Britain that he was going to nationalize the oil industry (thus taking over the U.K.’s assets). The Brits did not take that very well, and to make a long story short, conspired with President Eisenhower’s CIA to overthrow a duly elected Prime Minister who was no terrorist. In 1953, the CIA/MI6-led coup imprisoned Mossadegh, and brought back Shah Reza Pahlavi (the Iranian king in exile) to rule over their nation. All would be well for the US and the UK so long as the Shah did what they wanted (guarantee the free flow of oil to the West).
The Shah lived in luxury, but Iran prospered somewhat also. His secret police was brutal, and his support for Israel and the West was extremely unpopular in his Islamic country. However, he did side with OPEC in increasing the price of crude oil in the early 1970s, and America was not so sure if it had such an “island of stability” in Iran (as President Jimmy Carter called it) as they once thought.
The exiled Shiite Islamic leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had been stoking his followers in Iran for years with speeches on cassette tape and printed articles. His followers believed that if they just threw out the West-leaning Shah, and brought in a government ruled directly by Islamic law…then peace and prosperity would reign supreme.
In 1979 President Jimmy Carter of the US told the Shah that the US no longer supported his regime, and he had to go. Interestingly enough, this was one of the few times (if ever) in which the US and the USSR agreed on a regime change!
In a relatively bloodless regime change, the Shah packed his bags and left. The Ayatollah Khomeini then traveled from his home in exile in France to Tehran, and promptly proclaimed to his adoring throngs “Death to America!”, “Death to Israel!”, and the establishment of a nation that would be ruled directly by Islamic law (according to his interpretation).
And that is where Iran has been for the last 41 years. The people of Iran have seen the naked brutal face of what they thought would liberate them, and now they may just be having another change of mind.