Khomeini and His Tormentors
by Abbas Zaidi
as long as he was alive, Ayatollah Rohallah Khomeini was the West’s perfect
Other. Even today he is remembered as a terror-inspiring, anti-West, semi-crazed
Islamist, a medieval anachronism somehow come to life at the end of the
twentieth century and then demonised just as his ideal, the Prophet Muhammad,
was in his own day. The Italians even made a pornographic movie portraying
the Ayatollah as a sex maniac, the same charge that has been traditionally
levelled against the Prophet of Islam and which has appeared even more
frequently after the 9/11 attacks. Popular Christian preachers like Jerry
Falwell, Pat Robertson and Jerry Vines even called the Prophet Muhammad
himself a “terrorist,” “paedophile,” “devil-possessed,” and more, not to
mention what right-wing organizations like the Army of God have had to
say about Islam and its Prophet.
Like Adolf Hitler, the Ayatollah belonged to the upheavals of the twentieth century, but no one can seriously argue that any crime of the Ayatollah even remotely compares with Hitler’s. Yet Hitler has been getting a better press than the Ayatollah. There is hardly a voice in the West that speaks for the Ayatollah. Even when Time in 1980 declared the Ayatollah “Man of the Year,” it had nothing good to say about him and blamed him for “brazenly defying the West.”
One thing that can be said
for the Ayatollah is that he stood up for what he believed in. The untold
miseries and countless deaths that the Shah’s regime brought upon the Iranian
people are well documented. And it was the Americans, preachers of democracy,
freedom and human rights, who had the Shah installed by overthrowing the
democratically elected Mossadaq government in the 1950s. The Ayatollah
wanted to wrest Iran back from American control, but the administration
in Washington and American public opinion (largely fashioned by the media)
could not accept that possibility. The pattern was not unlike today’s,
when mainstream America has closed ranks behind its president’s war against
“Islamic terrorism” without bothering to delve into the roots of support
for the terrorists’ actions.
Muhammad Raza Shah Pavlevi was the
first of Ayatollah Khomeini’s tormentors. The Shah hurt him personally
more than anyone else. Khomeini was opposed to the Shah’s tyranny, which
was installed by the CIA. The Shah tried to bring him to his knees by making
his life miserable. He had Khomeini’s son tortured and killed. Later the
Shah forced him into exile, thinking his absence from Iran would calm things
down. But Khomeini proved to be more than the Shah had bargained for, and
it was on account of the Ayatollah’s uncompromising, charismatic leadership
that the tables were eventually turned: now it was the Shah’s turn to go
into exile, and Khomeini’s to rule supreme.
Saddam invaded Khomeini’s Iran without
provocation, backed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the rest of the
Gulf sheikhdoms who feared Khomeini’s Islamic revolution could bring down
the American-supported Middle Eastern monarchies. The monarchies pumped
in billions of dollars to contain Iran, and Saddam used some of that money
on chemical weapons which he used against Iranian soldiers and civilians.
Now the US has destroyed Saddam’s
regime and occupied Iraq. The Americans killed Saddam’s sons last summer
while Saddam himself hid in a hole in the ground like a mouse. When the
Americans unearthed him, he reportedly surrendered without offering any
resistance, disgracing the Arab concept of honour according to which death
in combat is the highest virtue, and giving up without a fight is the ultimate
disgrace a man can bring on himself and his family name. As he awaits trial
by his captors, Saddam stands completely humiliated.
For Fahd, Khomeini was a danger because
the Ayatollah had called the Saudi monarchy “un-Islamic,” though Saudi
Arabia was one of Saddam’s chief financiers during his war on Iran. But
Saudi-Iranian relations were never good. Fahd’s police kept a close watch
on Iranian pilgrims, and in 1987 some of them raised placards criticizing
the USA and Israel just outside the House of Allah, the Ka’aba,
in Mukkah. It should be mentioned that according to Islamic tradition Allah
has absolutely forbidden bloodshed in any form or quantity (haram)
in and outside the Ka’aba. That’s why the Ka’aba is called
Masjid-e-Haram, the “Forbidden Place.” The Iranian pilgrims were
not protesting against Fahd or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi
police opened fire nonetheless, killing hundreds. King Fahd perpetrated
these murders in order to spite Khomeini and to show who was in charge.
Khomeini did not long survive the trauma he suffered as a result of by the slaughter of the pilgrims. Now, many years after Khomeini’s death, King Fahd is scarcely a shadow of what he once was, worn out physically and mentally, hovering between life and death, unable any longer to rule. His brother has in effect replaced him.
Soon after returning to Iran from exile in 1979, one of the first statements Khomeini made was concerning General Zia’s Haq’s rule in Pakistan. He called that government despotic, un-Islamic and an American stooge. Whenever he met delegations from Pakistan, Khomeini expressed shock at Zia’s captitulation to the Americans and the nature of his administration. Zia responded by creating cadres in Pakistan that killed many Shia Muslims, those most sympathetic to Khomeini, causing the Ayatollah untold grief. Many Pakistani Shias, as well as the Iranians themselves, believe Zia was behind the murder of Allama Arif Hussaini, Khomeini’s closest and most trusted Pakistani disciple. The Allama was assassinated just weeks after Khomeini’s own death.
A couple months later, Zia was incinerated in a mysterious a plane crash.
It was America’s military might and political clout that undermined Khomeini’s ideological ambitions. And the man leading the USA assault during Khomeini’s rule (1979-88) was Ronald Reagan (1980-88). Reagan was the moving force behind Fahd, Saddam and Zia in their anti-Khomeini policies. Reagan surrounded Iran with enemies, even though Iran posed no threat to American interests in the Gulf. But Khomeini had called America “the Great Satan,” and that was enough for Reagan turn a blind eye when Saddam used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and civilians. As the leader of the democratic “Free World,” it was the American president’s moral obligation to see to it that his clients abided by the rules of war. But Reagan chose not to, and under his regime the US opposed every UN action to condemn Iraq for invading Iran.
Reagan also removed Iraq from its list of terror-sponsoring countries, established diplomatic relations and gave it considerable military and other aid. The US sent its navy into the Persian Gulf to protect Iran’s interests. American warships destroyed a number of Iranian vessels, killing Iranians who were not technically at war with America. Khomeini could do nothing in response. He died on June 3rd, 1988.
Less than a month later, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian Airbus carrying 290 passengers. The Vincennes was an Aegis-type cruiser with state-of-the-art computerized radar surveillance and missile-weapons systems. Despite eyewitness accounts by naval officers in nearby ships that the plane was ascending and not diving to attack, the captain of the Vincennes ordered it destroyed. More than 150 planes had been using the same air space. The Iranian airliner was a regularly scheduled flight using a recognized path recognized by military intelligence. Reagan awarded a medal to the captain of the Vincennes.
Today, Ronald Reagan is reduced to a near-vegetative state by advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
Anwar Sadat, who gave sanctuary to the Shah and called the Ayatollah “insane,” was killed by his own army.
Khomeini died a besieged, defeated and heart-broken man. But, unlike his tormentors, his end was peaceful. News of his death caused widespread grief in Iran and beyond. His memory is cherished and revered by millions. Even his enemies have not questioned his honesty, integrity or incorruptibility. On the contrary, they refer to his tormentors in terms of their crookedness, duplicity and larceny.
After a life marked by incessant crisis and torment, the Ayatollah may be having the last laugh.
(Abbas Zaidi <email@example.com> was editor of The Ravi (1985), Pakistan's premier and oldest academic magazine published by Government College, Lahore. He also edited Interface (1990-91) for the Program in Literary Linguistics, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Zaidi has taught English Literature in Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, and worked as assistant editor for The Nation, Lahore.)