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Always seeking to secure his own power and autonomy by playing the world powers off of each other, Reza Shah befriended Germany and invited hundreds of businesspeople and political, military, and economic advisers into Iran. Iran is a valuable and oil-rich link to both the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. It is also an extremely strategic transit route to and from Asia, the Caucuses, the Middle East, and Africa. As such, Russia and Britain, now allied against Germany, could not tolerate this burgeoning friendship between Reza Shah and the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler.

Yet Persians were also preoccupied with “Persianness,” with a sense of their glorious history and divinely directed destiny as a nation and as a people. Related to this was their faith in the king of kings, a living representative of God on earth, who was just, all-powerful, and, as long as he fought for good, deserving of absolute loyalty and obedience. They were justly proud of their culture and all they had been able to achieve and felt somewhat superior to their Arab conquerors. Though Arabs were the chosen people of Allah, they were considered by “cultured” Persians to be mere desert-dwelling, animal-herding barbarians.

The effort to convert Persians to Islam began immediately but proved to be a long, drawn-out process. It is believed that it took until the ninth century for a majority of Iranians to be converted to Islam. In many respects, it was not a great leap for Persians to make between Zoroastrianism and Islam. Both religions saw a cosmic struggle between good and evil as central to human existence. Both religions demanded faith in only one “true” god. Both were preoccupied with notions of truth and justice, heaven and hell.

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