March 9, 2013


Two books about revolutionary Iran by James Buchan and Michael Axworthy: review : Two accounts of revolutionary Iran, Days of God by James Buchan and Revolutionary Iran by Michael Axworthy, shed a subtle light on events, says Sameer Rahim. (Sameer Rahim, 04 Mar 2013. The Telegraph)

If there was no compelling economic or political reason for the revolution then how did it happen? The answer is Khomeini, the enigma at the heart of both books. Axworthy's description of his "simple, direct, charismatic leadership" is right but we should not underestimate his originality or cunning. In the absence of a divinely guided leader - the Prophet Mohammad or one of his saintly descendants called Imams - the Shia clergy have traditionally avoided politics. Khomeini's theory that a Grand Ayatollah, a kind of Shia Pope, could turn himself into a political leader was wholly new and not widely accepted by most Shia - let alone Sunnis. Returning from exile, Khomeini announced he was appointing the prime minister "through the guardianship that I have from the Holy Prophet". His statement verged on blasphemous. [...]

The new Islamic Republic had democratic elements: it elected a parliament and president - though religious authorities vetted the candidates, and the Supreme Leader had the final say. Khomeini's power was tested when Iraq invaded in 1980. The new republic, bolstered by the Shah's US F-14s, struck back swiftly and made gains. Saddam Hussein was keen on a face-saving peace but Khomeini was intoxicated by victory. A brutal eight-year war followed that cost 200,000 Iranian lives. Only when Saddam used gas was Khomeini forced, in his own words, to "drink the bitter poison" of defeat.

Shortly before his death in 1989, Khomeini made two decisions that still haunt Iran. The Leftists he had outmanoeuvred launched terrorist attacks from Iraq. A furious Khomeini ordered that all political prisoners in Tehran's Evin prison should be executed. "To show clemency to those who make war on God is simple-minded," he wrote. Even loyal supporters were shocked when 4,000 prisoners were shot dead. Ayatollah Montazeri, the designated successor as Supreme Leader, could not hide his disgust. He was stripped of his titles and put under house arrest. In 2009, he came to prominence as the spiritual leader of the pro-democracy Green movement. The other blunder was the death sentence on Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses, which needlessly damaged Iran's relationship with the West for years.

Governments built on charismatic personalities are tough to sustain once they are gone. Axworthy ends his book with an appeal to Western policymakers to extend the hand of friendship, even if it is slapped away. Buchan ends by hinting that the current Supreme Leader, the leaden and authoritarian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will compromise on the nuclear issue if the regime is under threat. The next test will be June's presidential election. If the new man is a reformer he will have to battle the Supreme Leader, whose duty is to impose Khomeini's will from beyond the grave.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at March 9, 2013 10:23 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus