Shortly after the shah underwent surgery here, I visited one of the female members of the Iranian royal family. Her talk turned to the events of the past two years, and apart from being full of unusual insights, much of what she said had a bearing on the case of the American hostages. She agreed to let me publish an account, provided -- for the view is not official -- I did not cite her by name. So here, as I recollect it, is the substance of what she said:
"We must face realities. The trouble in Iran had many causes -- political, cultural, economic, religious and international. It is a long, long story. Too long to tell now.
"But the essence of what happened is that we tried to make too much progress in too many ways too fast. We started something we did not know how to stop, or even slow down. It was a little like you inflation. People grow accustomed to making more and more money and living better and better year after year for many years. How do you tell them they have to stop? It is hard for you. For us it was much harder.
"We took poor people from the country. Illiterates. We sent them to school and then abroad to study. Soon everbody felt there was a right to study abroad. Those who couldn't go became disappointed. Bitter. Those who did go came under terrific strain, and turned against their country and the shah.
"Think, for a moment, of a poor child in rags with nothing to eat. You wash him, and clothe him, and feed him. Then you take him to a beautiful library with wonderful books -- the literature of the world. You feel you have done something noble. But is it noble for the child? I wonder."
She turned then to the Ayatollah Khomeini and those who deposed the shah. "They," she said, and laughed bitterly. "We kept calling them 'they,' because we didn't know who 'they' were. They organized a brilliant campaign to play upon the discontent of people and the uncertainties of those of us who ruled. They would make a demand. We would think about it, and make a concession. Then they would make another demand. We would think about it and make another concession. Then they would make another demand. Always there was the same pattern. They took strong actions. We reacted weakly, wondering what they would do next. It was a little like your government and the hostages. Always reacting. Always wondering."
I asked if, looking back, she could see any point at which decisive action by the shah -- a harsh crackdown for instance -- might have stopped the whole process. She said:
"Looking back and knowing what happened, it sometimes seems that way. But as we lived it, day after day, there was no such chance. Sometimes officials would come to the shah and urge strong action by the army. But he would think about the country he loved, and the people. He would think about the future of his own rule, and of his children, and then he would avoid harsh measures. He would say 'Don't shoot. Don't kill people.' You have to remember also that all the demands came in the guise of religion. You can't shoot bullets at religion."
I asked her how the events of the past few years had affected her beliefs as a Moslem, and her faither in Islam. She said:
"To me, Islam, especially our Shiite form, always meant 'Be humble.' It meant 'The middle way is the best way.' I think what you see now is an extreme, a false impression, the dark side of Islam."
I asked her about the roles of the great powers. She said:
"You're capitalists and they Russian are communists. To me it doesn't make all that much difference. You do what you want to do, and they do what they want to do. I am not for you because I am against communism, and I am not against them because I am for capitalism.
"Maybe this will sound sentimental to you, and foolish. But I love my country. I love every grain of sand in my country. I value my country, and my people. And I think when my country has fallen down, then there will be trouble for the Americans and the Russians. Trouble for the whole world."