People who follow the news in a superficial way may have read about the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran and said “There they go again, those wild-eyed Islamic radicals. Something should be done about them.”
So it was a nice surprise to see a smidgeon of actual history in a newspaper — an explanation in the NYT for Iran’s deep hostility toward Britain, providing context for the news story:
Britain first cast its imperial eye on Iran in the 19th century. Its appeal was location; it straddled the land route to India. Once established in Iran, the British quickly began investing — or looting, as some Iranians would say. British companies bought exclusive rights to establish banks, print currency, explore for minerals, run transit lines and even grow tobacco.
In 1913, the British government maneuvered its way to a contract under which all Iranian oil became its property. Six years later it imposed an “agreement” that gave it control of Iran’s army and treasury. These actions set off a wave of anti-British outrage that has barely subsided.
Britain’s occupation of Iran during World War II, when it was a critical source of oil and a transit route for supplies to keep Soviet Russia fighting, was harsh. Famine and disease spread as the British requisitioned food for their troops…
Once the war ended, Iran resumed its efforts to install democracy, under the leadership of Mohammed Mossadegh… After he was elected prime minister in 1951, Mr. Mossadegh asked Parliament to take the unimaginable step of nationalizing Iran’s oil industry. It agreed unanimously. That sparked a historic confrontation…