Winter 2004
Ayatollah Khomeini and His Tormentors

by Abbas Zaidi

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For 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. 
The Ayatollah began to face persecution the moment he declared that Iran was in the grip of an oppressive regime headed by the American-backed Shah. His struggle began in the early 1960s and lasted till his death in 1988. But who were his tormentors, and what did they do to him? What eventually became of them? It might be interesting to take a look at the Ayatollah’s life and find out. 

The Shah

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. 
But the Shah’s exile was no peaceful retirement. He was kicked out of one country after another. Even the Americans whose interests he had served so impeccably begged off from hosting him. He finally bought an island in the Bahamas to find some peace, but peace eluded him. At last he found refuge in Egypt, where his son married Anwar Sadat’s insane daughter. The Shah died a few months later. His son migrated to the US and divorced his new wife.

Saddam Hussein

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.   
Khomeini repeatedly warned the Arabs that Saddam was a Frankenstein’s monster that would ultimately turn on his own benefactors. But the Arabs did not heed his warning. Eventually, Khomeini had to accept a ceasefire that he described as a “cup of poison.” But his prediction about Saddam proved right.  A few years later he turned his guns on Kuwait and threatened to invade Saudi Arabia, causing the Americans to intervene in 1991. 

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.
Kind Fahd

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. 
To Khomeini, Fahd’s massacre was the greatest and most painful blow of his life, even worse than the killing of his own son and hundreds of thousands of Iranians during the Iraq war. Khomeini used to say that he could forgive Saddam, but not King Fahd for the the sin he had committed in Mukkah. A theologian-jurist par excellence, he knew that a sin is worse than a crime: humans legislate what is criminal, but sins belong to the divine realm. 

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. 

General Zia

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.

Ronald Reagan

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 <manoo@brunet.bn> 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.)