(The IRANIAN REVOLUTION – continued)
Two men had been prominent in the rising against the Shah. One was Khomeini, whose education was parochial, in other words he was Madrasa-trained. The other, Ali Shariati, had both a traditional education in religion and he was also a sociologist with a Ph.D. from France's Sorbonne University. The portraits of both Shariati and Khomeini were carried on placards in demonstrations and the portraits of both were displayed side by side in people's homes. Shariati had been popular with students and Iran's religious communities, with thousands of students and non-students having flocked to his lectures, fascinated by his point-of-view. He had been imprisoned under harsh conditions by the Shah's regime and in 1975 released following popular and international pressure. Shariati favored a reinterpretation of the Islamic faith in order to take it back, he believed, to its true meaning, including its commitment to social justice. He was hostile to "Westernization." He has been described as a utopian. His mentor, the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, said that if he were to choose a religion "it would be that of Shariati's." Shariati disliked U.S. influence in Iran. He was driven into exile as Khomeini had been. In June 1977, three weeks after having arrived in England, he was found dead in his apartment. His followers suspected the Shah's security agency, SAVAK.
Many Iranians shared Khomeini's lack of regard for pluralism. The liberalism of a few intellectuals was not about to sway them. Some anti-Shah intellectuals believed that they were using the popular Khomeini and that he could be shunted aside as democracy was established. It was believed that with the success of the revolution the ulama (official community of scholars of Islam) and Khomeini would return to their mosques and schools and perhaps advise the government on Islamic matters. Some intellectuals believed that religious traditionalism was something of the past and that Khomeini's view was contrary to the more modern outlook of Iran's Shia leaders, a dozen or so of whom outranked Khomeini and regarded him as their intellectual inferior.
From France, Khomeini denounced Prime Minister Bakhtiar for having accepted the Shah's appointment as head of the new government, and Khomeini called upon his followers to disobey the Bakhtiar government. Bakhtiar allowed Khomeini's return anyway – a part of the liberal spirit of the day. On February 1, 1979, after nearly fifteen years in exile, Khomeini returned in triumph from France.
On February 4, Mahdi Bazargan became the revolution's first prime minister. His revolutionary credentials included having been imprisoned several times during the 1960s and 1970s for non-violent opposition to the Shah's regime. As prime minister his power hardly existed. Governors and millitary commanders were inclined to reject the authority of officials appointed by the prime minister. Hundreds of revolutionary committees were performing a variety of functions in major cities and towns across the country. Factory workers, civil servants, white-collar employees, and students were demanding their say. A range of political groups were pushing rival agendas and demanding immediate action from the prime minister.
Clerics led by Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti established the Islamic Republican Party (IRP) and with Khomeini this became the country's leading political organization.
On February 11, government buildings and radio station were seized by bands of youthful revolutionaries. Huge quantities of arms had been seized, and armed militias roamed the streets and looted. Various factions tried to exercise power. The 40,000 or so Americans, who had been serving in various technical capacities in Iran, were returned home, fearing for their safety. The followers of Khomeini were more numerous and dominated. Khomeini was allied with a largely anonymous committee of clerics and civilians and in contact with local supporters, and he established what many recognized as legitimate authority.
Khomeini and his ulama allies wanted a judiciary government – rule by Islamic law: sharia. Something unprecedented was happening in the history of Islam. Scholars were the backbone of sharia, but the scholars had not ruled. Noah Feldman of Harvard University writes that "scholars had traditionally functioned as a balance against the executive authority of the ruler, now the scholars for the first time actually were the ruling class." Feldman writes of a Platonic structure called the Council of Guardians, scholars who would "review all legislation for its Islamic content" and eventually "play a key role in vetting candidates for office and even selecting a new supreme leader after Khomeini's death." [note]
On March 3, Khomeini announced that no judge was to be female. On March 6, he announced that women were to wear the hejab head covering. Khomeini declared that all non-Islamic forces were to be removed from the government, the military, judiciary, public and private enterprises and educational institutions. Corrupt behavior and customs were to be ended. Alcohol and gambling were to be banned and so too were nightclubs and mixed bathing. Friday noon prayer and sermons were to be the focal point of the week, and all Friday prayer leaders were to be appointed by Khomeini. Men and women were to be publicly segregated, women to enter busses through one door, men through another, each with a separate seating section. In school classrooms prayers were to become mandatory. Khomeini spoke of music corrupting youth, and he banned all music on radio and television and closed twenty-two opposition newspapers.
It was announced that any spreading of corruption would be punished by death. A variety of the Shah's former friends, colleagues and generals were seized, and after trials of a few minutes they were executed – to prevent news spreading to the others who were detained. The bodies of the prisoners were loaded into meat containers and dumped into mass graves. Khomeini dismissed international protests, saying that criminals did not need to be tried, just killed.
On March 30-31 a national referendum was offered for choosing a political system, but the only form of government to appear on the ballot was an Islamic republic, and the voting was not by secret ballot. It was reported that over 98 percent voted in favor, and on April 1, Khomeini proclaimed the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Bazargan government did not have security forces with which he could control the streets, and such control had been passing gradually to the clerics. They ran the revolutionary courts and had influence with the Pasdaran, the revolutionary committees, and the club-wielding "partisans of the party of God." The clerics are described as having deployed these forces to curb rival political organizations.
Newspapers were banned. Protests by a left-of-center political movement, the National Democratic Front, led to the group being banned. The Khomeini regime weakened Iran's bourgeoisie by nationalizing banks, insurance companies, major industries, expropriating some urban land and expropriating the wealth of some families and by appointing managers to various companies.
Students seized the U.S. embassy on November 4, 1979. Khomeini wavered at first but then gave the students his support. Khomeini called the United States the "Great Satan" and the U.S. embassy a "den of spies." Prime Minister Bazargan and his cabinet resigned on the 6th following the hostage taking. Bazargan compained about the " atmosphere of terror, fear, revenge and national disintegration." Those occupying the U.S. embassy held fifty-three Americans hostage and demaded that the U.S. deliver to Iran the Shah as an exchange. The Carter Administration refused, and Americans were to remain as hostages until November 1980.
Carter's attempt to rescue the hostages in April, 1980, failed. The Shah died of cancer in July. The Khomeini regime began new negotiations to free the hostages, fearing perhaps the tougher man, Reagan, more than they had Carter. In January 1981, on the day that Reagan was inaugurated president, Iran agreed to free the hostages in exchange for $8 billion in frozen assets and a promise by the United States to lift trade sanctions.
Meanwhile Iran had held a referendum. The results indicated support for Khomeini's rule. There was a new constitution for Iran, a new prime minister and president and a Consultative Assembly. The judiciary was to consist of experts on Islamic jurisprudence – government by faqih.
Abu'l-Hasan Bani Sadr was elected first president of Islamic Republic, having received 75 percent of the vote and the blessing of Khomeini. He took office on February 4, 1980. In June, 1981, he was impeached by clerics wishing to exercise political authority. Bani Sadr went into hiding and in late July was flown into exile by sympathetic persons in Iran's air force.
Other former supporters of Khomeini suffered ostracism. Former Khomeini aide and foreign minister, Qotbzadeh, was arrested with seventy military officers, some clerics and others charged with plotting a coup and the assassination of Khomeini. The respected religious leader Shariatmadari was arrested and executed. And a campaign to discredit Ayatollah Ahari'at-madari ended with his being "defrocked."
Tens of thousands of Iran's middle class had found it best to flee Iran. Stoning to death for adultery was in the offing, and death for homosexuality. Many films, Iranian and foreign, were banned or heavily censored. Movie theaters were denounced as channels for Western propaganda, and hundreds of theaters were burned to the ground. Patrols were formed to confront violations such as women showing their hair or wearing lipstick.
Khomeini and the Shia clerics around him relished the success of their return to what they saw as Islam's fundamentals, and they wished it to be an influence outside Iran. Many in the Middle East were enthusiastic about the creation of Khomeini's Islamic Republic – much as the Bolshevik capture of state power had encouraged socialists in the West. Half of the people of the region was under twenty-five years of age, and many tried shaming their parents into adopting Islamic dress. Sermons at Mosques increased the demand for militant action in behalf of advancing Islam.
PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, had been the first foreign dignitary to visit Khomeini, back in 1979, greeted warmly by Khomeini. In Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was inspired and supportive of the success of Iran's Islamic revolution. In Afghanistan, beginning in 1980, Islamic militants, the Mujahadeen, were fighting Russian atheist forces. In Iraq, which had many Shia, the Sunni ruler, Saddam Hussein was maintaining a secular but strictly Sunni rule and afraid of Iranian influence. In 1980 he started a war with Iran. International politics was changing. U.S. foreign policy experts were hostile toward Iran – as were most Americans. These experts were supportive of what they saw as Saddam Hussein's resistance to Iranian influence, and material support and friendly relations with Saddam Hussein followed.
"How Oil Money Polluted Iran,"
a book review in Business Week magazine.
Defying the Iranian Revolution, by Manoucherhr Ganji, 2002
The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, by Noah Feldman, 2010
Reader comment by AR Oveissi.
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