By Shaurya Ganjoo
Iran has a lengthy and intricate past that transcends numerous civilizations and centuries. Some of the most powerful dynasties and empires in history have called it home, notably the Persian Empire and the Safavid Empire. One must comprehend Iran's history in order to have a better grasp of the present.
One of the biggest and most potent empires in ancient history, the Persian Empire, ruled from 550 BC until 330 BC. It was renowned for having a highly developed civilization, cutting-edge military technology, and a sizable territory that covered portions of Asia, Europe, and Africa. From 1501 to 1736, the Safavid Empire, a strong Shia Islamic monarchy, reigned over a large portion of what is now Iran and its neighbors. It was renowned for its brilliant literature, artwork, and architecture as well as for having a strong religious and political presence. Iran was controlled by the Qajar dynasty in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it suffered from internal strife and outside interference. Reza Khan, a military officer, overthrew the government in 1921 and ushered in the Pahlavi monarchy, which aimed to industrialize and modernize the nation.
Nevertheless, a wide range of political and religious organizations opposed the Pahlavi rule and decried its corruption and persecution. The Pahlavi monarchy was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution in 1979, ushering in an Islamic theocracy presided over by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The revolution was a popular uprising against the Shah of Iran, who was backed by the United States. Khomeini, who was a religious leader and a vocal critic of the Shah, was able to tap into the widespread discontent among Iranians and lead the revolution to victory. After the Shah was overthrown, Khomeini became the supreme leader of Iran, a position he held until his death in 1989. The Iranian Hostage crisis began on November 4, 1979, when a group of Iranian students, who were supporters of the Iranian Revolution, seized the American embassy in Tehran and took 52 American diplomats and citizens hostage. The students were angry about a variety of issues, including the United States' support for the Shah of Iran. The crisis lasted for 444 days
Iran has subsequently been governed by a number of individuals, most notably Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has served as the nation's Supreme Leader since 1989. Political dissidents and religious minorities have opposed the government's stringent enactment of Islamic laws and practices, such as how a “morality police” exists, or the hijab laws, which have all been implemented under Khamenei’s regime.
Many people have condemned the theocratic administration in Iran for its suppression of political dissidents and religious minorities as well as its lack of accountability and openness. It has also drawn criticism for its rigid adherence to Islamic rules and regulations, which many consider being out-of-date and unrepresentative of the opinions and values of the vast majority of people.
The theocratic regime in Iran has seen growing criticism from a number of political and social organizations in recent years. This has been made worse by foreign sanctions, poor administration, and the nation's ongoing economic problems. Iran's theocratic regime has come under fire for its suppression of political dissidents and religious minorities, making oppression a serious problem in the country. Iranian authorities have traditionally persecuted, imprisoned, and used various types of repression against political dissidents. Torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and other human rights breaches have been used in this. For expressing their opinions or taking part in nonviolent demonstrations, many political dissidents have been sent behind bars; some have even received death sentences. In reality, protesters were been given death sentences. Iranian authorities have persecuted and discriminated against religious minorities, including Baha'is and Christians. These organizations have been persecuted by the government because of their beliefs and have been denied fundamental rights like the freedom to exercise their faith. Iranian women experience a great deal of discrimination and injustice in addition to political and religious tyranny. They must adhere to rigid gender norms and frequently miss out on equal rights and opportunities in areas like work, education, and other facets of daily life.
The country is facing a number of challenges, including a deteriorating economy, rising tensions with the US and its allies, and ongoing political instability. In recent months, there have been large-scale protests in Iran over issues ranging from economic inequality to human rights abuses. The government has responded with a heavy-handed crackdown, arresting and detaining hundreds of protesters. In the midst of all this, Iran is also dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a devastating impact on the country's healthcare system. Additionally, a peaceful protestor was just hung, and there is an international uproar.
Overall, Iran's theocratic government's harsh policies have had a bad effect on the nation and its citizens. Reform and better adherence to human rights have been demanded by many, however, it is unclear how these problems will be handled going forward. Despite these difficulties, Iran has achieved notable advancements, including building a domestic nuclear program and rising to prominence in the region. Its people are many and diverse, its culture and history are rich, and it has abundant natural resources, like oil and natural gas. Iranians and the nation's economy have suffered as a result of the country's rising international isolation and economic sanctions in recent years. However, it continues to play a significant role in the Middle East and on the world stage, and its complicated past as well as the continuing political and socioeconomic issues it faces will have an impact on how it develops in the future.
By Mariam Khan
Created in 1650 BC by the Ancient Egyptians, the Book of the Dead intended to help the deceased navigate the afterlife. The book includes poetic references for the living as well, showing them how to prepare for the day they pass on: “In the Land of the Dark, the Ship of the Sun Is Driven By The Grateful Dead.” 5000 years later, this particular quote from the Egyptian funerary text would inspire the name of one of the most influential American rock bands in history known as The Grateful Dead. Rather than driving the “ship of the sun”, though, this band steered the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s. But unbeknownst to many, their involvement with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) inadvertently stems back to the CIA and their experimentation with mind control.
In 1965, the first ‘Acid Test’ took place in San Jose California. William Craddock’s personal memoir, Be Not Content: A Subterranean Journal, talks about growing up as a part of the psychedelic counterculture movement. The acid tests of the 60s were a series of parties that piloted the use of LSD—colloquially known as acid or battery acid—amongst the public. The people who attended these parties were “ecstatic, painted, long-haired, bearded, beaded, mad-eyed, strangely-dressed, obvious acid-eaters” who vowed “‘to witness the end of the straight-world’” (187). Bright lights, vociferous electric rock music performed by The Grateful Dead, and magic mushrooms made the parties especially appealing to young hippies looking for fulfillment. People like Craddock craved a bit of idiosyncrasy beyond the shackles of society; they objected to the materialistic post-war culture, the monotony of suburbs, and the nuclear family.
In an attempt to galvanize nonconformists, Ken Kesey, best known as author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, carefully crafted a rather successful campaign. His mission was to encourage the use of LSD to promote liberation of all socio-political kinds. He organized the acid test parties, which became milestones for psychedelic hippie subculture. Soon after, the drug began to proliferate amongst swaths of youth. The advances of several monumental cultural advances stemmed from LSD. Music genres such as psychedelic rock became hits for their unwillingness to align with the rigidity of live music. Ecstasy even seeped into the albums of The Beatles and Bob Dylan, and psychedelic-style art impacted art and vinyl covers across all genres.
But aside from the drug’s social impacts, acid-use created a new political awakening that encouraged young people to speak out against oppressive institutions. For example, Vietnam War protests were composed of thousands of hippies across the country who were political radicals, anarchists, and more. LSD encouraged a spiritual revival that went far beyond the confines of traditional societal structures and government. In short, the drug was a pivotal political and social instrument that shaped the mid-20th century. This begs the question: what was the CIA’s role in creating a movement that would go on to oppose their very existence?
April 13th, 1953 marked the beginning of a foreboding era of experimentation. The CIA and its compatriots were given the green light to begin “the use of biological and chemical materials in altering human behavior”, in a mission coined Operation Bluebird. Through extremely secretive operations, the CIA attempted to “enhance the ability of individuals to withstand privation, torture and coercion” in order to compete with the USSR, who allegedly possessed these capabilities. Once the goal was approved, the CIA created a continent-wide campaign named “MK-Ultra” to non-consensually test drugs such as LSD on subjects. By the end of the experiment, there were around 80 institutions and 185 researchers indirectly funded and used for data collection by the government. Colleges, hospitals, prisons, and mental hospitals were all acceptable contractors, according to the Supreme Court in Fitzgibbon v. CIA. In the words of Sidney Gottlieb, the head of the experiment, the subjects were “people who could not fight back”: marginalized communities such as prisoners and sex workers. At one point in the experiment, Gottlieb even tested out LSD on a MK-Ultra scientist himself, Frank Olson, eventually leading to his death.
Unfortunately, anticipating public outrage, the CIA destroyed thousands of records relating to the experiment at the direction of Director Richard Helms. Thus, little testimonies are known from the victims themselves. One woman, Esther Schrier, recounts her experiences at the Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute where she was administered “four or five barbiturates and amphetamines at a time” coupled with electroshock therapy, in order to test the effect on her brain. Evidently, this was highly excessive treatment for someone struggling with postpartum depression. Schrier was never officially recognized as a victim of illicit governmental experimentation.
Aside from unwitting test subjects who made up the vast majority of research, certain individuals did volunteer to be a part of experiments, in search of monetary or spiritual benefits. The lyricist for The Grateful Dead, Robert Hunter, was a willing subject. In the case of author Ken Kesey, a research hospital near Stanford—where Kesey completed his undergraduate studies—was offering $75 for subjects willing to undergo experimentation. Of course, this hospital was also covertly funded by the CIA. The day that Kesey walked through the doors of this research hospital would prove momentous for the psychedelic revolution. The doctors summoned subjects into a spotless and airless observation room, fed them a white substance they didn’t know, and took notes. In the words of Kesey himself, the first acid trip he experienced alongside other subjects was surreal: “We were alive and life was us”.
Inspired by his first trip, Kesey got a job as a night-attendant in the hospital where he could steal the drug and bring it home for his peers at Stanford. It was during this time that he wrote the renowned novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a work which served as a magnet for rebels in and of itself. From there, the rest is history: the Acid Tests began, and with help from The Grateful Dead, the psychedelic movement officially emerged. Later, the Grateful Dead went on tour and left a trail of acid in their wake.
Simultaneously, the CIA began to fear that it was losing control of LSD as it seeped beyond the fences of psychiatric wards and into the walls of concert halls and parties. Fearful of legal concerns, in 1973, the agency conducted a purge of all materials relating to MK-Ultra and Operation Bluebird. But the damage had been done, with LSD use already prevalent in America, youth culture completely altered, and public outrage about the CIA’s unethical experimentation.
Despite the lack of documentation about the experiment, MK-Ultra’s legacy ought not be understated. After all, it was a multi-million dollar, systemic campaign that served to target the outcasts of society in order to achieve a far-off political goal: mind control. In the process, the CIA inadvertently reinvented the culture of the mid-20th century and led to rampant drug abuse.
Despite a 1975 Senate Intelligence hearing concluding that the CIA “demonstrate[d] a fundamental disregard for the value of human life”, little was done to combat future abuses within the agency. The CIA even failed to denounce the illegal actions of Sidney Gottlieb, who himself did not face any consequences until well into his retirement when he merely faced lawsuits. The minimal accountability stemming from the CIA’s mass psychiatric experiment underscores a greater governmental problem in which bureaucracy has the potential to grossly abuse power. When citizens' rights are impeded upon without their knowledge—or even the knowledge of the rest of the government—this paves the way for a plethora of problems.
In the last few decades, mistrust in the government has reached concerning highs. Americans feel that their government is corrupt, ineffective, or wasteful. From the Watergate Scandal to the CIA’s intelligence failure regarding WMDs in Iraq, citizens certainly feel weary, exploited and under informed.
At the same time, an excessive amount of problems still await solutions: climate change, poverty, racism. But a prerequisite to solving these problems is governmental transparency and accountability to regain public trust. Why did so many Americans refuse to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic? Systemic distrust in the government is certainly one of the causes. If people don’t trust the system, it’s reasonable to expect that they will try to circumvent it. The CIA can continue to unleash Operation Bluebird, Hummingbird, and Mockingbird, but these birds have the potential to become vultures if left unchecked. If the foundations of American government were not decomposed by mistrust and lack of accountability, the plight of these issues would be far more resolvable.