Khomeini Power

When the chartered Air France 747 jetliner appeared in the pink haze of Teheran's morning sky, the rhythmic chant of "Allahu akbar"-"God is great"- spread from the airport throughout the city. The plane landed, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 78, set foot on Iranian soil for the first time in fourteen years. Thanksgiving instantly yielded to frenzy. Zealous young men swamped Khomeini's motorcade, while women sang: "May every drop of martyr's blood turn into a tulip." The tumult reached its climax at Teheran's Behesht-Zahra cemetery. "This Parliament and government are illegal,"
Khomeini told a wildly surging crowd. "If they continue, we will arrest them. I will shut their mouths. And I will appoint a government with the support of the Iranian people." Khomeini stopped short last week of proclaiming his Islamic republic, a move that almost certainly would have triggered a coup by the Iranian Army. Instead, he said at a press conference that he wanted to settle Iran's crisis "through nonviolent means." But Khomeini's fierce rhetoric served notice on the hard-pressed generals (page 10) and on Prime Minister Shahpur Bakhtiar that he was in no mood for compromise-yet. "We're now in the era of street politics; it's the jungle-and Khomeini rules it," said a political-science professor at Teheran University. And a member of the opposition National Front, Khomeini's nominal ally, said dolefully: "Whether we like it or not, we now have all the conditions for a civil war."
Would Khomeini go that far? No one knew. The ayatollah is Iran's senior religious leader (his title means "reflection of Allah"), and for more than a decade he has been the Shah's most prominent foe. But Khomeini is a mystery man. Although he is served by a diverse group of aides and political allies (page 12), no one speaks for Khomeini-and Khomeini speaks in riddles. He does not explain how he will set up his Islamic republic, or just how the fundamentalist teachings of the Koran can be used to rule a modern and powerful nation. Khomeini represents the pure force of righteousness; the details, it is suggested, will be filled in later, in God's good time. "He is cashing in on the people's hatred of the Shah," says Raji Samovodi, political editor of the Teheran newspaper Kayhan Farsi. "The people believe that you can never compromise with the Shah, and Khomeini is the one man who has never compromised."
The enigma of Khomeini leads to extremes of hope and fear. Skeptics at home and abroad see him as an anti-American, anti-Semitic xenophobe who will seal his country off, deprive the world of its oil and take Iran down the path to anarchy-or to Communism. Khomeini is denounced as a fanatic who will rule through fear, tyrannizing religious minorities and ordering that adulterers be stoned' to death or that thieves have their hands cut off.
His admirers think Khomeini will purge Iran of corruption and pernicious foreign influence, restoring Islamic morality. Khomeini may yet turn out to be capable of compromise. "He's a stubborn old man," says a resentful Bakhtiar aide. "But when he was exiled in France, he could afford the luxury of stubbornness." Now, his enemies and many of his friends hope that Khomeini can be persuaded to deal realistically with the immense problems that confront Iran. "Khomeini is not a mad mujtahid," insists Prof. James A. Bill of the University of Texas at Austin, a leading U.S. authority on Iran. "He is enormously popular, and he is a man of impeccable integrity and honesty."

Khomeini's rendezvous with history began last week at his home-in-exile outside Paris. Journalists lined up for hours to wait for tickets on the ayatollah's 747. NEWSWEEK'S Elaine Sciolino was among those who made it aboard. Her report:
Until the last minute, there was doubt that the flight would ever get off the ground. Finally, Air France decided to allow 189 people -well below capacity- to ride the 747, which would carry enough fuel to take it back to Paris in case of emergency. The ayatollah would not allow Iranian women and children on board. "They may shoot at the plane," explained aide Sadegh Ghotbzadeh.
For religious reasons, no liquor was carried on the flight, and Air France substituted mushrooms for pork sausages on the breakfast menu. Only male stewards were allowed to serve in the first-class cabin occupied by Khomeini and his aides. Shortly after take-off, the ayatollah climbed the circular stairs to the first-class lounge, knelt on a plaid blanket provided by the airline, said his prayers and slept.
We cautiously circled Teheran's airport for 25 minutes before landing. As Khomeini headed for the terminal building, he was jostled by his own aides and Iranian troops, who were vying to protect him from the delirious crowd. Inside, the ayatollah delivered his first message, Raying the Shah and his foreign friends. "This is only the first step," he said. "Final success will come when all the foreigners leave. … I beg God to cut off the hands of foreigners and their helpers in Iran." Then Khomeini climbed into a blue Chevrolet Blazer for the tumultuous procession to the cemetery.
Massed in hundreds of thousands, Khomeini's ardent followers made the route impassable. They swarmed over the motorcade, scrambling atop Khomeini's own vehicle. Finally, he had to climb into a U.S.-made Iranian Air Force helicopter to reach his objective.
The helicopter descended in a swirling cloud of dust on Behesht-Zahra's Plot 17, symbolizing last fall's Black Friday massacre which occurred on the seventeenth day of the Iranian month of Sharivar. Again, scuffles broke out between the "Islamic police" -the private army of security guards in green armbands- and Khomeini's followers, thousands of whom had been waiting since before dawn. Khomeini was hoisted onto a platform, where he raised his right arm high in a salute to the crowd. "I feel very sad," he said in a voice that boomed out over the suddenly hushed throng. "We have had so many troubles. For those of you who have given up so much for god, then god must soon give you the prize."

As for Bakhtiar, Khomeini said he was "a person who has neither friends nor supporters-no one accepts him." And warning that the U.S. intended to bring the Shah back to Iran, Khomeini shouted: "Wake up! Watch out! As long as we are devoted, they will not be able to do it." As Khomeini left Plot 17, the closing mob knocked his turban askew and prevented him from reaching the helicopter, despite the efforts of his belt-swinging guards. Finally the ayatollah was bundled into an ambulance and whisked away to safety.

The adulation was Khomeini's reward for a lifetime of piety and unbending opposition to tyranny. When he was a few months old, his father -himself an ayatollah- was killed for opposing the feudal barons who dominated Iran at the time. Later, Khomeini joined the movement against Iran's British overlords and against Reza Shah, the current Shah's father. "Orders coming from Reza Shah's dictatorial state have no value," Khomeini was writing as early as 1941. "They should all be burned."
During World War II, when the British and Russians occupied Iran in response to Reza Shah's Fascist sympathies, Khomeini developed the "three points" that were to form the basis of his teaching: liberty, independence and resistance to foreign domination. In 1962, he emerged as one of Iran's most prominent spiritual leaders and stepped up attacks on the monarchy. The present Shah had him arrested in the spring of 1963, but not before sending an emissary to tell Khomeini that he could talk about anything he wanted, except the three points. Khomeini's reply: "What's left to talk about?"
During the years of imprisonment and exile that followed-most of them in Iraq close by the tomb of the Imam Ali, the founder of Iran's dominant Shiite sect- Khomeini elaborated his vision of an Islamic republic. It yearns back to the dawn of the Muslim epoch, an era, so clouded in historical distance that no one, including the ayatollah, can claim to know exactly what it was like.
The main outlines of his proposed Islamic republic are clear. The basis of the state will be the twin pillars of Koranic teaching: social justice and the central role of the clergy. Khomeini wants to revive a social system in which "the rich man had obligations to the poor," and "each of us is called on to show concern for his neighbor."

Much as it has for the last few months, religion will structure Iranian life at every level. The mullahs, or clerics, will guide and counsel local leaders. Khomeini plans to appoint a lay government, and then retire to the holy city of Qom and "guide" the government from there. "He will be influential," Professor Bill said, "especially in the early stages, but he has denied again and again that he will hold office."
Many people still aren't at all sure what a Khomeini-style government would actually do. A West European official who has had access to all of his country's diplomatic reports on Khomeini in the last three months told NEWSWEEK: "We've asked him specific questions again and again. He answers very vigorously. But when you analyze it, everything dissolves in an Islamic mist."
Yet in the scores of interviews Khomeini has given recently, his broad aims have been described in some detail. Among them:

• The first priority would be to correct the Shah's most flagrant abuses by releasing all political prisoners, rooting out corrupt officials and rehabilitating those persecuted by the old regime.
• Foreign commerce would be reassessed. Khomeini has tirelessly repeated that "all contracts and agreements that are not in the interest of the Iranian people will be null and void." He includes all of the Shah's major arms deals, as well as industries engaged in assembling goods manufactured elsewhere-one of his pet hates.
• Iran would continue to pump relatively little oil. Khomeini says he wants the Iranian people to "enjoy the profit from our oil, gas and minerals." But he does not agree to "producing more gas and oil than the people need to fulfill their own needs." Aides suggest that oil production might be cut to about half the levels reached under the Shah. They add that Iran's disadvantageous gas contract with the Soviet Union will be renegotiated. Oil would not be sold to Israel or South Africa.
• Agriculture would expand. Khomeini plans to revive farming by extending the land reforms the Shah began. He vows to make Iran self-sufficient in food-as, he points out, it was 25 years ago.
• Political and religious freedom would be promised to all-"unless they undermine the Islamic republic," All political parties except the Communist Tudeh could operate legally, Khomeini says.
• For Muslims, sexual and family matters would be ruled by Islamic Jaw as administered by the mullahs. Khomeini has never denied that the law calls for stoning an adulterous woman to death or cutting off a thief’s hand. Associates argue that in the case of adultery, "clear and recognized" penetration would have to be proved. "Admit it, that's difficult," says Ayatollah Mehdi Rouhani, leader of the Shiite community in Europe. As for thieves, he says, "you don't cut off the whole hand-just the fingertips."
• Iran would establish what Khomeini calls "normal relations" with both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The ayatollah has said that he would refuse to play the role the Shah accepted as the policeman of the Persian Gulf, and he intends to cut the size of the Iranian Army radically.
Even before Khomeini's return, Bakhtiar had advocated more than one of the policies in that program. Late last week, the Prime Minister offered to accept Khomeini supporters into a government of "national unity." The ayatollah responded by issuing yet another order for his followers to destroy the "terrible monarchy and its illegal government."

Some of Khomeini's most important allies were dismayed by his seeming intransigence. Ayatollah Shariat Madari, the urbane scholar who had been the leading religious figure inside Iran during Khomeini's exile, said recently that he wished to "return to my native Tabriz, because I am tired." On the day Khomeini returned, Karim Sanjabi, the leader of the opposition National Front, told NEWSWEEK warily: "Up until now it is a victory. And we hope that the victory will continue."
As the war of wills between Khomeini and Bakhtiar went on, the Iranian military waited restlessly. Early in the week, a mob intent on revenge for the slaughter of 45 demonstrators by the elite "Immortals" of the Imperial Guard spotted Maj. Gen. Taghi Latifi in his Mercedes near the site of the carnage, They dragged him from the car and set' upon him-scratching at his eyes, beating him with rocks and jabbing him with pocket knives. Latifi was rescued by a passing mullah. Many analysts believed that the high command's doubts about the loyalties of their own troops made them reluctant to strike back. But as one Western diplomat said of the Latifi incident: "There isjust so much of this sort of thing the army will take."
The tension increased last week when three attacks on American diplomatic or military officials-none of them fatal-led to an order for the evacuation of "nonessential" U.S. Government personnel in the country. And in the week's most bizarre turn, opponents of the Shah in the U.S. offered the news media a tape recording in which the Shah allegedly ordered his generals to foment a civil war so that he could return to power. Private voiceprint analysts disagreed on the authenticity of the tape, but U.S. Government experts branded it a fake. In any case, sources who have talked to the downcast Shah since he left Iran last month said he seemed incapable of planning any major action, much less a civil war. "His spring is broken," said one confidant.
U.S. diplomatic analysts claimed to see hope for peace in the standoff between Khomeini and Bakhtiar. The ayatollah had returned, they said, under a "tentative agreement" that allowed him to receive the adulation of the crowds but required him to refrain from naming his provisional government while negotiations on a compromise proceeded. But a U.S. official warned: "The situation is so delicately poised that if anyone makes a false move, there's going to be shooting."
Khomeini's young allies were ready. A Teheran University engineering student said he and his friends were arming themselves with rifles and machine guns acquired from a small black market in the Behesht-Zahra cemetery. "I think that a war with the army will come," he said, "We have to be brave and ready to fight." If anything was clear as the excitement of Khomeini's return began to drain away, it was that Behesht-Zahra almost certainly had yet to receive the final victim of Iran's long struggle to create itself anew.


Newswwek, February 12, 1979
Pages: 8, 9, 11, 13

Number of Visits: 10616


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