Civil Reactions to Shuster's Forced Departure

  October 24, 2021   Read time 4 min
Civil Reactions to Shuster's Forced Departure
Shuster’s was not the only voice outside Iran that supported the Constitutional Revolution. The most courageous and consistent, perhaps, was that of the celebrated English scholar of Iran Edward Granville Browne (1862–1926).

On the eve of his forced departure, demonstrations were held in the Baharestan Square in front of the Majles, and schoolchildren shouted, “Independence or death!” Witnessing this scene, the great bard of the Constitutional Revolution, Abol-Qasem ‘Aref Qazvini (1882–1934), composed a song for which only the lyrics have survived:

Shame on the house that let the guest leave the table, Renounce life and let not the guest depart! If Shuster leaves the country, Iran will be lost, O youth of the country, let not Iran be lost! . . . The cup of our patience brimmed, For the thief wishes to rub our house with impunity. Our story will be the shame of the world history, If we allow Shuster to leave Iran.

In his heart-wrenching account of the suspension of the mashruteh, Shuster himself called the destruction of the democratic experience in Iran “a sordid ending to a gallant struggle for liberty and enlightenment.” Reflecting on his short experience he further wrote: That the Persians were unskillful in the practical politics and in the technique of representative constitutional government no one could deny; but that they had the full right to develop along particular lines of their customs, character, temperament and tendencies, is equally obvious. Five years is nothing in the life of a nation; it is not even long as a period for individual reform; yet after a bare five years of effort, during which the Persian people, with all their difficulties and harassed by the so-called friendly powers, succeeded in thwarting a despot’s well-planned effort to wrest from them their hard-earned liberties, the world is told by two European nations that these men were unfit, dangerous and incapable of producing a stable and orderly form of government.

This was the judgment of an American in 1912, just before the disasters that befell Iran during World War I—before the British attempt to turn Iran into a semi-protectorate in 1919, and years before the Allied occupation of Iran during World War II, before the brazen Soviet attempt to snatch away Iran’s territory and subvert its government, and before Shuster’s own country conspired in 1953 with Britain to deprive Iran of economic sovereignty over its natural resources and its democratic aspirations. It sounds almost prophetic that he concluded that Iran “was the hapless victim of the wretched game of cards which a few European powers, with the skill of centuries of practice, still play with weaker nations as the stake, and the lives, honor and progress of whole races as the forfeit.”

Shuster’s was not the only voice outside Iran that supported the Constitutional Revolution. The most courageous and consistent, perhaps, was that of the celebrated English scholar of Iran Edward Granville Browne (1862–1926). From the outset of the movement, Browne lent his moral support through correspondence with major constitutionalist players and sympathetic British diplomats in Iran. He also organized the Iran Committee in the United Kingdom in support of the revolution, sought out other voices of support in the West, responded to vicious attacks on the constitutionalists in the British press, and provided an updated narrative of the revolution in Iran as it unfolded. Browne’s The Persian Revolution of 1905–1909, published in 1910 was a remarkable work of contemporary history based on his published pamphlets and tracts, his correspondence, and his investigative scholarship. It offered the English reader an inside view of the revolution, distinct for its direct conveyance of the ideas and feelings of the Iranians, the dilemmas and obstacles they were facing, and the prospects of their revolution, as was visible by the middle of 1909.

Almost an instantaneous classic, Browne’s account questioned not only the imperialist biases of his own time but also the validity of the allembracing critiques of Orientalism and the common assumption that Orientalists invariably were pioneers of imperial hegemony. Though Browne, like most scholars of his generation, was enamored of a romantic vision of the East, his Persian Revolution was an anti-imperialist project that helped define the mashruteh as an authentic voice of protest against domestic oppression and foreign intrusion. That on the cover of his book was embossed the Persian phrase “Long live the Iranian Constitutional Revolution” (payandeh-bad mashruteh-e Iran) displayed the author’s sympathies for the Iranian cause. It also denoted his role in “representing,” free of a nefarious motive, the Iranian voice against crimes committed by the great powers in Iran, even though he, and a small group of like-minded liberals, failed to change the course of British foreign policy. Yet his Persian Revolution was an enduring narrative for the Iranian revolution, one that for decades defined its forerunners, heroes, and villains.