He was the first tormentor of Ayatollah Khomeini. He 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. But Khomeini remained firm.
Later, the Shah forced him to go into exile, thinking his absence from Iran would calm things down. But Khomeini proved lethal, and it was entirely on account of his uncompromising, charismatic leadership that the tables were turned on the Shah: now it was his turn to go into exile, and Khomeini’s to rule supreme. But the Shah’s exile was no vacation. He was kicked out from one country to another. Even the Americans whose interests he had served impeccably well begged off from hosting him. He bought an island in the Bahamas, but peace he never knew. At last he found refuge in Egypt. His son married Anwar Sadat’s daughter. The Shah died a few months after landing in Egypt. Later his son migrated to the US and divorced Sadat’s daughter.
Saddam invaded Khomeini’s Iran without provocation. He was backed by the USA, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the rest of the Gulf sheikhdoms, who feared that Khomeini’s Islamic revolution might bring down the American-backed Middle Eastern monarchies. These monarchies pumped in billions to contain the Iranian Revolution. Saddam used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and civilians. The eight-year long war undermined both Iran and Iraq in every possible way. Khomeini repeatedly warned the Arabs that Saddam was evil, a kind of Frankenstein’s monster that would ultimately turn on his own benefactors. But the Arabs did not heed his warning. Later, Khomeini had to accept a ceasefire that he described as being like drinking a “cup of poison”. Khomeini’s prediction about Saddam proved right, and later he turned his guns on Kuwait and threatened to invade Saudi Arabia. Afterwards Iraq was attacked by the USA on behalf of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1991. Now the USA has destroyed Saddam’s regime and occupied Iraq. The Americans have also killed Saddam’s sons. He himself is hiding like a mouse. He stands humiliated in most unimaginable terms.
For Fahd, Khomeini was a danger because he had called the Saudi monarchical system un-Islamic. Saudi Arabia was one of Saddam’s chief financiers during his war on Iran. Hence, Saudi-Iranian relations were never good. Fahd’s police kept a close watch on Iranian pilgrims. In 1987 some raised slogans against the USA and Israel just outside the Baitullah. They did not say a thing against Fahd or Saudi Arabia. But the Saudi police opened fire, killing hundreds. Fahad did so to spite Khomeini.
To Khomeini, that was the greatest and most painful blow of his life, more tormenting than the killing of his own son and of hundreds of thousands of Iranians in the war. Khomeini said that he could forgive Saddam for his crimes, but not Fahd for the sin he had committed in Makkah. A theologian-jurisconsult par excellence, he knew that sinning is worse than committing a crime: humans can legislate on crimes, but sins belong in the realm of God. Khomeini did not survive long the trauma caused by the killing of the pilgrims. Years after Khomeini’s death, King Fahad is not a shadow of what he used to be. He is worn out physically and mentally, unable to rule. So his brother has taken over. Hovering between life and death, he is a sorry spectacle.
Soon after returning to Iran from exile in 1979, one of the statements Khomeini made was on Zia’s rule in Pakistan. He called his government despotic. Whenever he met delegations from Pakistan, Khomeini would express his shock at Zia’s American connections and the nature of his rule. Zia responded by creating sectarian outfits in Pakistan that killed many Shias. The Ayatollah was deeply tortured by that and condemned Zia and the killing of Pakistani Shias. Many Pakistani Shias and the Iranians believe Zia was behind the murder of Allama Arif Hussaini, Khomeini’s closest and most trusted Pakistani disciple. The Allama was assassinated weeks after Khomeini’s death. About two months later, Zia was incinerated in a mysterious a plane crash.
It was America’s matchless military might and political clout that truly undermined Khomeini’s ideological ambitions. And the man leading the USA during Khomeini’s rule (1979-88) was Ronald Reagan (1980-88). Reagan was the chief inspiration behind Fahd, Saddam, and Zia in their anti-Khomeini stance. Reagan surrounded Khomeini’s Iran by enemies. That was not unfair, because Iran posed a threat to American interests in the Gulf. Moreover, Khomeini had called the USA “the Great Satan”. But Reagan violated all decent, human norms. He turned a blind eye when Saddam was using chemical weapons. As the leader of the human rights-respecting “Free” World it was his moral obligation to abide by the rules of war. But he did not. Under Reagan, the USA opposed every UN action to condemn Iraq for invading Iran.
The US removed Iraq from its list of terror-sponsoring countries, established diplomatic relations with it, and gave it a lot of aid. Reagan sent the US navy into the Persian Gulf, taking Iraq’s side. American warships destroyed a number of Iranian boats, killing Iranians who were not at war with the Americans. When Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, Reagan used every means to supply arms to Saddam. Khomeini was totally helpless before Reagan. He died on 3 June 1988. Reagan celebrated Khomeini’s death by decorating a criminal: Less than a month after Khomeini’s death, the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian Airbus carrying 290 passengers. The ship was an Aegis cruiser with state-of-the-art computerized radar surveillance and missile weapons systems. Despite eyewitness accounts by other navy officers in nearby ships that the plane was ascending and not diving to attack, the captain of the Vincennes shot it down. Over 150 planes per day used the airspace in question, and the Iranian airliner was on a regularly scheduled daily flight path, well known to military intelligence. It was deliberate. Soon Reagan awarded a medal to the Vincennes captain. Now in his old age Reagan has been reduced to a vegetable state due to Alzheimer’s. He is a self-reflexive existential alterity incarnate.
Khomeini died a besieged, defeated and heart-broken man. But unlike his tormentors, his end was very peaceful. He was admitted to a hospital where he died after ten days. The news of his death caused unfathomable sorrow in Iran and beyond. His memory is deeply cherished, and he is revered. He has been dubbed a fundamentalist and killer of his opponents. But even his avowed enemies have not questioned his honesty, integrity and incorruptibility. On the contrary, his tormentors are referred to in terms of crookedness, duplicity, immorality, foul play, and larceny. They evoke hatred, horror, pity, and even ridicule. Shall we say that despite a life of incessant crises and torments the Ayatollah is having the last laugh in his grave?
Abbas Zaidi writes for The Nation, Lahore (Pakistan). His writings have appeared, amongst others, in Exquisite Corpse, The Salisbury Review, and Southern Oceanic Review. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Pakistan.