The Shah fled his country and ended up coming to the United States for cancer treatment. The US refused to return the Shah to Iran to stand trial. On November 22nd, 1979, the people of Iran overran the US Embassy and took 52 hostages.
In 1979, I was a freshman in high school, taking a brutally intensive World Cultures class that almost required spending 3-4 nights a week at the local college library, researching. In late November, 1979, a group of brown-skinned exchange students were attacked on the campus and ended up in the hospital. Ironically, they were actually neither Iranian nor Muslims. I believe that they were Lebanese Christians, if I remember correctly. Regardless, a large number of brown-skinned exchange students (including Indians, who were also being targeted) did not stick around long enough to take their finals, and very few returned after Christmas break.
What we saw in 1979 was a shift in the type of prejudice seen against those of Middle-Eastern backgrounds, due to a shift in the relationship between the countries/cultures. In 1978, the Middle-East in general and Iran in particular was part of the loose and fractured remnants of the European colonial Empires. They were a lesser people. Simple folk, with quaint and antiquated ways, who needed a bit of guidance – a bit of carrot, and a bit of stick – to keep them on course. Also, they lived on top of our oil. This is a prejudice of condescension, evident in old cartoons like Johnny Quest. They are not demonized. They are not less-than-human (though as humans they are generally a lesser variant). They are not hated, though they are looked down upon.
In 1979, they became The Enemy. The 'towelheads' replaced the 'gooks' and 'chinks,' who had, in turn, replaced the 'krauts' and 'nips.' The media, even in Reagan's America, had learned to shy away from the sorts of overt exhibitions of hate-based racism and prejudice that one had been able to find so readily in Superman and Captain America comics of the 1940s. The demonization and dehumanizing occurred more subtly.
This change in prejudice is not just quantitative but qualitative, and it occurs when nature of the relationship between two groups changes from one of domination to one of resistance against domination, or one of conflict. White men don't hate their 'niggers' until they get uppity. Sexism takes a different turn when 'girls' stop being happy housewives and start competing for the same jobs and trying to escape a culture-enforced dependency role.
Like a bad feedback loop, this reactive hatred serves only to intensify the conflict until the only imaginable solution is the utter, crushing defeat and subjugation (or destruction) of one of the sides.
Nuke Iran, the bumper stickers said in 1979. “I was pleased to see that you didn't engage in the typical error of trying to make this evil bastard sympathetic, or give him human qualities,” said the editor referred to in my last post. Why? Because they aren't people; they are monsters, and need to be destroyed.
That, in itself, is a monstrous thought. But it is a thought that to some degree is cultivated by a fairly sophisticated propaganda machine. Prejudice is a tool used in the manipulation of Identity politics.
When examining prejudice – especially when examining one's own prejudices – the most worthwhile question to ask is: who benefits from this?
Which centers of power are bolstered by the spread of this belief? Who gains by anti-Islamic sentiment? Who gains by anti-American sentiment?
Follow the money, both the 'real' money, and the political capital, and you'll find your culprits.