Bernard Lewis remembers — Ted Kennedy visits Iran

I have previously recommended Bernard Lewis’s memoir, Notes on a Century, for its wonderful combination of insight and anecdote regarding life, the study of history, and the Middle East. The following anecdote is among my favorites:

Sometime in the early 1970s at a time when I was in Tehran, Senator Kennedy suddenly arrived, unannounced and unexpected. The Shah was angry. He felt that a visit by a U.S. Senator, particularly one with the dynastic name of Kennedy, was a state occasion and that he should therefore have been notified in advance so that appropriate arrangements could be made.

Despite his annoyance, however, the Shah felt that he had to go ahead and do something to honor so distinguished a visitor. He dealt with this problem by finding a subtle Iranian way of honoring and rebuking Senator Kennedy at the same time.

The Palace gave a formal dinner at which the Senator was the guest of honor. However, the Shah himself did not participate in this dinner, but instead left the task of presiding to his teenage granddaughter. From an Iranian point of view this sent a clear message.

The Senator, however, was delighted . . . I was invited to this dinner . . . and I have no doubt that he enjoyed this dinner with the teenage girl much more than he would have enjoyed it with His Imperial Majesty . . .

The Senator was, I am told, quite unaware of the fact that he was being subtly rebuked.