Contrary to belief, dark clouds had overcast the skies of Iran when the Shia (or Shiite) Islamist leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from exile 44 years ago on 1 February 1979.
The so-called Islamic Revolution which is believed to have ousted the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, on 11 February 1979, is a myth – not an actual political history of Iran.
The charismatic leader of the Iranian revolution returned to Iran after 14 years in exile, indeed was an important turn point in the history of Iran.
Born around the turn of the century, Khomeini was the son of an Islamic religious scholar and in his youth memorised the Quran. He was a Shia — the branch of Islam practised by a majority of Iranians — and soon devoted himself to the formal study of Shia Islam in the city of Qom.
In 1941, British and Soviet troops occupied Iran and installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the second modern Shah of Iran.
Mohammad Reza in 1963 launched the “White Revolution,” a broad reforms programme that called for the reduction of religious estates in the name of land redistribution, and equal rights for women. These reforms irked anger among the Islamic clerics in Iran.
In fiery dispatches from his seminary in Qom, Khomeini called for the overthrow of the Shah and the establishment of an Islamic state. In 1963, the Shah imprisoned him, which led to anti-Shah riots, and on 4 November 1964, expelled from Iran.
Khomeini settled in An Najaf, a Shia holy city across the border in Iraq, and sent home audio recordings of his sermons that continued to incite his seminary student and disciples.
In the 1970s, the Shah of Iran further enraged Islamists in Iran when he replaced the Islamic calendar with a Persian calendar.
As discontent grew, the Shah became more repressive with critics and dissidents, while public support for Khomeini grew. In 1978, massive anti-Shah demonstrations broke out in Iran’s major cities. Disgruntled citizens of the lower and middle classes joined the radical students, and Khomeini called for Shah’s immediate overthrow.
The Shah and his family fled the country two weeks before the return of Khomeini, and the jubilant Iranian revolutionaries were eager to establish a fundamentalist Islamic government.
With religious fervour running high, Khomeini consolidated his authority and set out to transform Iran into a religious state – pushing once a modern Iran towards the 7th-century medieval era.
In December 1979, a new Iranian constitution was approved, naming Khomeini as Iran’s political and religious leader for life.
Under his strict Islamic law, Iranian women were denied equal rights and required to wear hijab (Muslim veil), Western culture was banned, and strict Islamic Sharia law and brutal punishments were imposed.
In suppressing opposition, Khomeini proved as ruthless as the Shah, and thousands of political dissidents, critics and opposition were executed during his decade of rule.
The dangerous political decision taken by the revolutionaries caused immense harm to the nation. The unlimited pain, agony and suffering endured by millions of Iranian who believe in life and freedom.
The Islamic Republic denied democracy, pluralism, secularism, inclusive elections, and criminalised freedom of expression. LGTBQ and other forms of pro-choice lifestyle were also criminalised.
Earlier, the anti-Shah revolutionaries were drawn from the Marxist Tudeh Party and leftist Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) which were banned by the Islamic Republic.
All progressive movements were brutally suppressed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, dubbed as ‘Khomeini’s children’.
The MEK was founded on 5 September 1965 by like-minded leftist students in Iran and affiliated with the freedom movement of Iran to oppose the American-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The MEK engaged in armed conflict with Shah’s regime in the 1970s and contributed to the collapse of Shah during the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Simultaneously the communist leadership of the Tudeh Party organised the working class, including the thousands of Taxi drivers to revolt against despot Shah’s regime.
The communist also organised the civil bureaucracy, police administration and military to show dissent against Shah’s regime.
After the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty, the MEK boycotted the December 1979 Iranian constitutional referendum and Khomeini prevented Massoud Rajavi and other MEK members from running for office.
By 1981, authorities had banned the MEK and begun a major crackdown on the group’s members and supporters, driving the organisation underground. Islamic Republic arrested and executed numerous MEK and Tudeh Party leaders, members and sympathisers.
From his home in exile outside Paris, the defiant leader (Khomeini) extended offers to United States President Jimmy Carter. “Iranian military leaders listen to you,” he said, “but the Iranian people follow my orders.” Khomeini feared the nervous military and believed the royalist top brass hated him.
He urged Carter that if he could use his influence on the military to clear the way for his takeover, Khomeini suggested, he would calm the nation and stability could be restored. Reiterating America’s interest and US citizens in Iran would be protected.
Khomeini wanted Shah’s chief benefactor (US) to understand that he had no quarrel with America.
“Khomeini explained he was not opposed to American interests in Iran,” according to a 1980 CIA analysis titled Islam in Iran, partially released to the public in 2008.
At that time, the Iranian street protests were chaotic. Protesters clashed with troops, shops were closed, and public services were suspended. Meanwhile, labour strikes had all but halted the flow of oil, jeopardising a vital Western interest.
Persuaded by Carter, Iran’s tyrannical ruler, Shah, finally fled the country – thus ending the so-called Pahlavi dynasty for 2,500 years.
The Americans had extensive contact with Ayatollah Khomeini before the Iran revolution, writes the Guardian newspaper, which had access to the secret documents.
Documents seen by BBC suggest Carter administration paved way for Khomeini to return to Iran by holding the army back from launching a military coup.
Despite assurance to the US establishment for normalisation of diplomatic ties, on 4 November 1979, the 15th anniversary of his exile, students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took the staff hostage.
With Khomeini’s approval, the radicals demanded the return of the Shah to Iran and held 52 Americans hostage, for 444 days. The Shah died in Egypt of cancer in July 1980.
After Ayatollah Khomeini died on 3 June 1989, Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader. He is still the lifelong supremo of Islamic Iran with an iron hand.
Presently Iran has plunged into a nationwide protest against tyrannical rule by Mullahs where freedom of speech and equal rights of gender has been criminalised.
Will have to wait for how the Islamic Republic manages damage control after the global outcry of the brutal suppression of #IranRevolution, which broke out after a teenage girl Masha Amini was tortured to death recently by moral police for the inappropriate wearing of the hijab.
First published in The News Times, February 7, 2023
Saleem Samad, is an award-winning independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Twitter @saleemsamad