Remembering the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis
by JBS President John F. McManus
The death a few weeks ago of former Congressman George Hansen (R-Idaho) brought back memories of Iran’s seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. It also stirred reminders of the power of large U.S. banks.
Early in 1979, the Ayatollah Khomeini seized control of Iran. Former Iranian leader Shah Reza Pahlevi had already fled the country and eventually made his way to the United States. Khomeini demanded that he be sent back to stand trial. The Carter administration refused and, on November 4th, Khomeini unleashed a mob that took control of the American embassy. The Iranians kept 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Washington’s customarily weak response to this kind of indignity included denying Iranian Americans a parade permit!
On November14th, fully ten days after the seizure of the embassy and the virtual imprisonment of the Americans, President Carter declared a “national emergency” and froze all Iranian assets within the U.S. Why wait ten days and not act immediately when an embassy is seized? What happened to trigger the kind of response that should have been forthcoming within hours of the raid on the embassy? The answer is that Khomeini had just announced his intention to withdraw $12 billion in Iranian assets from American banks. Sudden withdrawal of billions would have left 12 American mega-banks in a very shaky condition. Embassies can be overrun; American citizens who held diplomatic immunity can be made prisoners; and a pitifully weak protest can be issued. But when mega-banks face a threat, the U.S. government took meaningful action.
Sudden withdrawal of $12 billion would have left most of those 12 mega-banks in a very shaky position. Hence, the prompt declaration of a “national emergency.” Shouldn’t it have been labeled a “banking emergency?” In mid-1980, Congressman Hansen went to Iran seeking justice for the hostages. He got nowhere. I met him not long after his return to America and asked him if the Carter administration’s ten-days-after-the-fact decision to get tough, declare an emergency, and freeze Iranian assets might have had more to do with protecting the banks than obtaining freedom for the hostages. With no hesitation, he said, “That’s it exactly.”
After 444 days of being imprisoned in the U.S. embassy compound in Tehran, the 52 American diplomats and military personnel posted there by the U.S. government were granted permission to leave the country. It was now January 20, 1981. Jimmy Carter had been defeated for reelection the previous November and was about to leave for home in Georgia. But incoming President Ronald Reagan arranged for the outgoing President to greet the hostages. They, of course, thanked Carter for his efforts to obtain their release. Whether the bankers sent Carter their own thanks for what he did for them remains a mystery.
A Warning to the West From a Catholic Bishop Who Had To Flee Iraq
by JBS President John F. McManus
The Chaldean Catholic Church, one of the approved rites of Catholicism, traces its roots back to the Thomas the Apostle in the First Century A.D. It grew dramatically throughout the Middle East between the 9th and 14th centuries. Until very recently, one of its main churches was St. Paul’s Cathedral in the Iraq city of Mosul.
“Recently” is the key word in any current discussion of Mosul’s Chaldean Catholics. When the city was overrun by the militants known as ISIS only weeks ago, Catholics became their main target. Many who would not convert to Islam have been killed; many more have left everything and fled. Mosul’s Archbishop Amel Shimoun Nona took refuge with some of his flock in the Kurd-controlled city of Erbil in northeastern Iraq, an area not yet overrun by ISIS. From there, he sent a message to fellow Christians in Europe and the West pointing out that they should beware because all are targets of an “enemy you have welcomed into your home.”
Archbishop Nona’s stark warning stated, “I lost my diocese. The physical setting of my apostolate has been occupied by Islamic radicals who want us converted or dead. Please try to understand. Your liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here. You think that all men are equal, but Islam does not say that all men are equal. Your values are not their values. If you do not understand this soon enough, you will become victims.”
Christians in nearby Syria have already experienced this same type of attack. In Africa, the Islamist Boko Haram has kidnapped many hundreds of schoolgirls and killed hundreds more adults and children. Archbishop Nona hopes that no one would have to endure what he and his people have faced. Welcoming more Muslims, he contends, is suicidal. “Our sufferings today are the prelude of those you, European and Western Christians, will also suffer in the near future,” he claims and adds, “You must take strong and courageous decisions.”
What the Archbishop of Mosul has already experienced does not have to happen elsewhere. But, to avoid such a fate, realization of an actual threat that could be duplicated in other countries will have to take hold.