Reflections of a Century in Two Diaries

The article is a comparative review of the diaries of E'temad al-Saltaneh, one of Naser al-Din Shah's close confidants, which were written toward the end of 19th century, and those of Asadollah 'Alam, Minister of the Pahlavi court for almost a decade prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution. 'Alam was perhaps influenced, according to the author, by his extensive reading of the daily journals of E'temad al-Saltaneh which were published in 1966, the year 'Alam was appointed minister of the Court.

Thus, 'Alam, not only in his style of writing but in his focus, emphasis and choice of subjects and events, has often emulated those of the Qajar notable and statesman.

Nearly a century apart, each of these diaries describe, at times in graphic detail, the way western culture, civilization and technology were first hesitatingly and then passionately introduced to, and influenced, Iranian society. The entries in the first diary, at times in tones of disbelief and sarcasm draw a picture of the first fledgling steps toward modernization and westernization: the first vaccinations against small pox; the failed attempt to construct a railroad; the dispatch of a score of students to European schools and; the first sit-in by aggrieved residents of Tehran in a foreign consulate.

In 'Alam diaries one is faced with the Shah's earnest desire for full-fledged modernization of the Iranian society. This desire is reflected in 'Alam's, occasionally incredulous references to Shah's determination to make the Iranian armed forces as formidable a force in the Middle East as possible, to speed up the implementation of Iran's economic development plan by increasing the country's control over the export, sale and marketing of its oil, and to expand Iran's industrial base and invest in its human resources.

Sadroddin Elahi
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