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Page history last edited by Adam 8 years, 8 months ago

Meanwhile, Back in Iran...


Supreme Leader the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 1980-89


- Khomeini’s period as Supreme Leader coincided almost exactly with Ronald Reagan’s presidency - the similarities between the two were eerie - they both led conservative revolutions, both stood up to evil empires (though the evil empire Khomeini stood up to was the US), and both were pro-family, as you can see from this picture of the Grand Ayatollah with his grandchildren (much cuter than Ron Reagan’s kids):

- so, what changes does the Supreme Leader have in store for Iran?  (1)  well, first of all, it’s time to scrap that crappy legal code, modeled on the Belgian Code, and with a French-trained judiciary - time to get back to good old-fashioned Sharia law - the Quran is the first place to turn for deciding any legal question; (2) Islamic dress code - women need to be veiled - but it effects men too: they’re not allowed to wear shorts or neckties; (3) the “Islamic Cultural Revolution” resulted in an Islamicization of the entire educational system, including higher education; (4) opposition to the influence of clerics on the new regime was fiercely punished - opposition newspapers were banned and freedom of speech eroded; (5) Jews and Christians were not openly harassed, though their position as second-class citizens in an Islamic state, with financial incentives to convert to Islam - this led to many non-Muslims leaving the country - e.g. the Jewish population goes from being 80,000 at the time of the Revolution to 30,000 today; (6) the 250,000 Iranian members of the Bahá’i faith were harassed, and several key leaders assassinated; (7) moderate Shiites also leave the country, with an estimated 2-4 million Shia Iranians leaving the country between 1980 and the present; (8) the economy, on its way to modernization under the Shah, goes into decline, and absolute poverty rises 45% during the 1980s; (8) last, but not least, there are giant pictures of Khomeini everywhere - e.g.:

- however, we should recall that, although Khomeini was “Supreme Leader”, he had more of a reserve power and didn’t personally manage Iran on a day to day basis - that was left to the secular politicians - initially at least, Khomeini did not want clerics to run for the Mijlas or for the presidency - so elections are held in early 1980 and in February 1980, this is the man who becomes President of Iran


Abdolhassan Banisadr, President of Iran 1980-81


- Banisadr’s background: involved in anti-Shah politics in his youth - goes into exile in France in 1960s where he joins Khomeini’s resistance group - returns to Iran with Khomeini in 1979

- he runs for president on a non-partisan ticket and wins

- following elections to the Majlis, Mohammad-Ali Rajai of the Islamic Republic Party becomes prime minister

- with Saddam’s invasion of Iran in September 1980, Khomeini and the clerics criticized Banisadr for his ineffectual leadership

- as such Khomeini exercised his constitutional right to assume control of the army as Commander in Chief on June 10, 1981

- on June 21, the Majlis voted to impeach Banisadr, citing moves that Banisadr had made against Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, seen here:

- Beheshti was a major player in the Islamic Republic Party, though, since he was a cleric, he was not eligible to run for office himself - however, note that under the system of sharia law, clerics function as the judges - Beheshti was the head of the newly-established Islamic legal system    i.e. the Chief Justice of Iran

- Khomeini signs Banisadr’s impeachment papers on June 22 and the Revolutionary Guard is despatched to the presidential palace - several of Banisadr’s close friends are killed - Banisadr is supposed to be killed also, but he manages to put on a disguise and escape - he returns to exile in France, where he lives to this day

- Beheshti was assassinated by the People’s Mujahedin of Iran on June 28, 1981


Mohammad-Ali Rajai, President of Iran August 1981


- with the departure of Banisadr, he was replaced as President by the darling of the Islamic Republic Party, Prime Minister Mohammad-Ali Rajai on August 2, 1981 - here's Rajai:

- Rajai chose as the new prime minister, the Secretary General of the Islamic Republic Party, Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, see here in a photo with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:

- two weeks later, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran set off an explosion during a cabinet meeting, thus killing President Rajai, Prime Minister Bahonar, and approximately 70 other high-ranking Iranian officials - this is a HUGE assassination

- (there had also previously been an assassination attempt on the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in June) - here we see President Rajai at Khamenei’s bedside during his convolescence - little did he know that he would soon be on the other side of the equation, assassinated a mere 2 weeks after becoming president:

- now, just a minute, so in the space of three months, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran has now assassinated the Chief Justice of Iran, the President, the Prime Minister, and 70 other high-ranking officials to boot (and tried to kill Khamenei)- I know we mentioned them briefly above, but we need to go into more depth about who these people are:


Backgrounder: The People’s Mujahedin of Iran


- the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) - in Persian, Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK) - is referred to by the Iranian government as Monafiqeen-e-Khalq (meaning “hypocrites of the people”)

- let’s look at their logo again:

- organized by a group of middle class students at Tehran University in 1965

- ideologically, combines a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam with Marxist ideology

- initially organized in opposition to the Shah, who was seen as corrupt and oppressive

- the Shah’s Secret Police, SAVAK, moved in and arrested the entire leadership of the party and 90% of its members - the group, however, conducts anti-western terrorist activities

- this is Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam:

- Rajavi was part of the original group in 1965, and was imprisoned by the Shah’s regime until 1979, shortly before the return of Khomeini to Iran

- observers agree that the People’s Mujahedin of Iran has a strong personality cult centred around Massoud and Maryam Rajavi

- the People’s Mujahedin of Iran played a major role in bringing about the 1979 revolution, using its Muslim identity to mobilize students, workers, and, most importantly, young army officers, behind the Revolution - the party’s daily newspaper, Mojahed, had a daily circulation of 600,000

- however, this did not stop Khomeini from seeing the People’s Mujahedin as a threat and moving to suppress them - between 1979 and 1981, 3,000 supporters of the People’s Mujahedin were arrested

- the People’s Mujahedin arranged a massive protest against Khomeini on June 20, ten days after Khomeini assumed the responsibilities of Commander-in-Chief, and the day before the Majlis voted to impeach Banisadr - Khomeini ordered the police to shoot into the crowd, and hundreds of protesters were killed and later that night, hundreds more were summarily executed in Evin Prison

- so, that’s the background to them being all mad and moving against Beheshti, Rajai, and Bahonar

- Rajavi flees to France with Banisadr and remains there until 1986, when he relocates to Iraq


Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President 1981-1989


- the Islamic Republic Party now had three martyrs - the man who was most closely associated with those three in the public mind was Ali Khamenei, who himself narrowly escaped from an assassination attempt in June 1981, making him a “living martyr” in the eyes of many

- Khomeini now changed his mind and agreed to let Khamenei run for president even though he was a cleric - Khamenei went on to win 95% of the popular vote in the election in October 1981

- background on Khamenei: Khamenei is an Azeri, an ethnic minority in Iran (most Azeris live in Azerbaijan) - from a religious family, Khamenei attended the Shi’a academy at Najaf, Iraq in 1957, before moving on to the academy at Qom in 1958 - we’ve mentioned Qom a couple of times now - here’s a big shrine in Qom:

- at Qom, Khamenei studied with Khomeini and another prominent Shi’a cleric, Grand Ayatollah Seyyid Hossein Borujerdi, seen here:

- Khamenei was briefly imprisoned during the 1963 anti-Shah activities, but released soon thereafter and took up a life as a religious teacher

- Khamenei was generally a low-key player throughout the Islamic Revolution, although he maintained his contacts with Khomeini, his old teacher

- in autumn 1979, Khomeini appointed Khamenei to the prestigious post of Tehran’s Friday Prayer Leader - he inserted the “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” chants at the end of the Prayers

- in late 1980 / early 1981, Khamenei made a series of well-publicized trips to visit troops at the battlefront, a habit he would keep up as president, see, e.g.:

- with the election of Khamenei to the presidency in 1981, Khomeini now had a figure who was closely associated with himself in a key role - Khomeini and Khamenei would remain close allies, tightly linked in the public’s mind, for the rest of Khomeini’s life - Khamenei loved appearing in public alongside the Supreme Leader:

- Khamenei appointed as his prime minister another ethnic Azeri, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, seen here in 2005:

- major events of Khamenei’s term as president: (1) continuation of the futile war with Iraq long after anyone reasonable would have ended it - Khomeini says it’s the principle and it doesn’t matter how many people die - terrible; (2) the continuation of the Islamic Cultural Revolution, outlined above; (3) the eventual expulsion of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran in 1986 - they go to Iraq, then try to mount an invasion, for which see above, but that doesn’t work out


Excursus on US-Iranian Relations During the Latter Part of the Iran-Iraq War


- as noted earlier, during the Tanker War phase of the Iran-Iraq War, both nations attacked each other’s oil tankers, and often went ahead and attacked the oil tankers of neutral countries in the Persian Gulf

- as a result, from July 24, 1987 to September 26, 1988, the US Navy began Operation Earnest Will, whereby US Navy ships accompanied Kuwaiti tankers to ensure they were not attacked

- now, of course, as we noted earlier, Iran had been mining the Persian Gulf - here we see an American sailor scanning for mines as part of Operation Earnest Will:

- however, for whatever reason, the binoculars weren’t good enough on April 14, 1988, and the USS Samuel B.  Roberts ran into a mine - here’s the USS Samuel B.  Roberts on the cover of Newsweek:

- Navy divers then discovered more mines in the area - and, since the US had previously captured the Iranian minelayer Iran Ajr (see above), they were able to identify the mines as Iranian

- as a result, the US launched Operation Praying Mantis - in the largest US naval engagement since World War II, the US destroyed 2 Iranian warships and 3 speedboats - in this photo we see the destruction of the Iranian Frigate IS Sahand:

- shortly after Operation Praying Mantis, on July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes shot down a commercial Iranian air flight, Iran Air Flight 655, killing 290 civilian passengers, including 66 children

- most Iranians assumed that this was a deliberate targeting of Iranian civilians as part of the US’s ongoing operations against Iran

- the US has never provided a totally plausible explanation as to why Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down

- this is the USS Vincennes:

- this is an Iran Air airplane:

- a US government spokesman claimed that the Vincennes believed it was under attack from an F-14 Tomcat, one of which is seen here:

- Iranians were outraged, saying that Iran Air Flight 655 looked nothing like an F-14A Tomcat

- the Iranian government condemned the downing of Iran Air Flight 655 as a “barbaric act”

- despatched to explain the American position at the United Nations, Vice President George Bush commented at an August 2, 1988 news conference “I will never apologize for the United States - I don’t care what the facts are” - this further outraged Iranians

- Iranians’ outrage grew when the US Navy awarded the personnel of the USS Vincennes combat action ribbons, and the officer responsible for the attack won the Navy’s Commendation Medal for “heroic achievement” for his “poise and confidence under fire” (though they obviously weren’t under fire)

- the Iranians went on to express their outrage in postage stamp form:


One More Excursus Before the Death of Khomeini: The Rushdie Fatwa


- this is Salman Rushdie:

- Rushdie’s background: born in 1947 to a Muslim family in Bombay, India (his father was a Cambridge-educated lawyer); educated in England at Rugby and Cambridge, where he majors in History; goes and works in advertising (including at the prestigious advertising firm of Ogilvy & Mather) before deciding to dedicate himself to writing full time; married four times, currently being married to the host of Top Chef, Padma Lakshmi, seen here with her hubby (correction: they divorced in October 2007):

- but anyhow, Padma was not yet on the scene when Rushdie started to write - his second novel, Midnight’s Children, a magical realist novel about the fate of India and Pakistan in the wake of the Partition was received to critical acclaim, and Rushdie won the 1981 Booker Prize; continues to focus on Pakistan with his 1983 novel Shame (close runner-up for the 1983 Booker Prize); in 1987 travels to Nicaragua (though not accompanied by Ollie North) and writes a nonfiction account of the Nicaraguan Civil War, The Jaguar Smile; then in 1988, comes his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses:

- so basically, every book Rushdie writes really ticks off someone: Midnight’s Children angered Indira Ghandi because she was portrayed as causing her husband’s death; Shame angered the Bhutto family for its harsh portrayal of their role in Pakistani politics; and The Jaguar Smile angered the Americans because it was harshly critical of US involvement in Nicaragua; now, it was time for Rushdie to make the Supreme Leader angry

- background on “the Satanic Verses”: the term “Satanic Verses” was coined by British-Indian administrator and famed Orientalist Sir William Muir to refer to several verses which the Prophet Muhammad initially included in the Koran, but then removed from future editions of the Koran (the story is found in the works of some Muslim historians starting in the 8th century) - the Satanic Verses read:

            Have you thought of Allat and al-Uzza and Manat, the third, the

            other?  These are the exalted Gharaniq, whose intercession is

            hoped for.

- umm - ok - so what the heck does that mean??  well, Allat, al-Uzza and Manat were three local Meccan deities, and Gharaniq are high-flying cranes

- basically the verses seem to involve Muhammad backing away from his staunch monotheism, acknowledging that these other deities exist, and claiming that these other deities can be used to intercede with Allah - and the fact that in the story Muhammad (who normally wrote at the inspiration of the Angel Gabriel) wrote the verses under the inspiration of Satan - although he later realized this and withdrew them - would seem to call into question all of the Prophet’s revelation - the story of the Satanic Verses has therefore been a major issue that Muslim scholars need to get around

- the story of the Satanic Verses forms a subplot of The Satanic Verses

- there was also a whole ton of other things in the book that were (deliberately) offensive to Muslims

- The Satanic Verses was published by Viking in September 1988 - by the end of October, the book had been banned in India; in November, it was banned in Bangladesh, Sudan, and South Africa; in December in Sri Lanka; and in March 1989 in Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, and Singapore

- the furore that the book unleashed was fueled by often inaccurate or exaggerated reports about the book’s contents

- in February 1989, there was a 10,000-man strong anti-Rushdie demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan, in front of the American Cultural Center - 6 people were killed in the course of the demonstration

- following the Islamabad demonstration, Khomeini decided to get in on the action that was sweeping the Muslim world - as such, on February 14, 1989, he issued his infamous fatwa:

        In the name of God the Almighty. We belong to God and to Him we shall return.

        I would like to inform all intrepid Muslims in the world that the author of the book

        Satanic Verses, which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to

        Islam, the Prophet, and the Qor'an, and those publishers who were aware of its

        contents, are sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them

        quickly, where they find them, so that no one will dare to insult the Islamic

        sanctities. Whoever is killed on this path will be regarded as a martyr, God willing.

        In addition, if anyone has access to the author of the book but does not possess the

        power to execute him, he should point him out to the people so that he may be

         punished for his actions. May God's blessing be on you all.

                                Rullah Musavi al-Khomeini

- wow!

- well, Rushdie was always a bit of a provocateur, but he certainly never meant to stir up this much trouble - hearing reports that President Ali Khamenei had said that the Supreme Leader might lift the fatwa if Rushdie apologized, Rushdie issued a formal apology on February 19, 1989, five days after Khomeini’s fatwa - Khomeini, however, refused the apology, saying “Even if Salman Rushdie repents and become the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to Hell.” - wow!

- so, what the heck was Khomeini thinking?  there are a number of plausible explanations: 1) he took advantage of disaffection in the Muslim world at Rushdie’s book to draw the boundary lines between Islam and the West in starker terms than ever; 2) Khomeini’s attempt to invade Iraq had failed and the war ended in stalemate in July-August 1988 - thus in early 1989, Khomeini was looking for a cause to channel his country’s discontent; 3) the Iran-Iraq War had highlighted Sunni-Shia tensions more than ever before - Khomeini was now searching for an issue that could unite Muslims of all denominations against a common enemy; 4) the fatwa occurred the day before the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, a major triumph for Khomeini’s enemies, Saudi Arabia and the US - Khomeini wanted to distract from the Saudi-American triumph, but also to emphasize to the Muslim world that, though the Soviets were retreating, they still faced a western imperialist enemy; 5) part of a struggle against Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Muslim world, which contrasts Iran’s anti-Western Islamic credentials with Saudi Arabia’s pro-American regime; 6) the book contains 11 pages which contain an unflattering sketch of Khomeini’s stay in Paris

- as a result of the fatwa, Great Britain broke diplomatic ties with Iran

- March 1989 saw a wave of violence in the west, directed against booksellers in the UK and the US, and particularly targeting anyone involved in translating the book into foreign languages - Muslim groups in the west also organized public burnings of the book

- Khomeini’s fatwa is still in effect and the Iranian government reaffirms its commitment to the fatwa each February 14, an action that Rushdie refers to as his “annual Valentine from the Iranian government”

- here’s a picture of a younger Rushdie at the time, holding up his controversial book:





go to http://iranianhistory.pbwiki.com/iranianhistory5

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