Roger’s Rules

Then and Now, Or, remember Iran as you think about Egypt

As you ponder what the Obama administration means by “now” — the time for Hosni Mubarak to begin the transition of power, Obama said again yesterday, is “now” — close your eyes and think back, back, all the way back to 1979.

That was when our “friend” and “ally” the Shah of Iran was unceremoniously booted out of Teheran to make way for the Ayatollah Khomeni. Remember him? Scary guy, right?

Yes, right. But not everyone thought so at the time. Andrew Bostom just posted a little trip down memory lane called “The ‘Trusting Khomeni’ Syndrome, Redux?” It stars Professor (natch, he would be a professor) Richard Falk, “activist on world affairs,” emeritus professor at Princeton, etc., etc.

Bostom does us all the service of reprinting a good deal of  Falk’s surreal editorial about the “exotic” Ayatollah in — can you guess? — The New York Times. The date was February 16, 1979, just as the new Islamic regime was taking power in Teheran. What should we in the West think of this new government?

A few days ago, Bruce Riedel cheerfully advised us: “Don’t Fear Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.”  Back in 1979, Richard Falk  was telling us all about “Trusting Khomeni.”  He had just been to see the Ayatollah.  Conclusion? Nothing to worry about.  “Having created a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on non-violent tactics. Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed model of humane governance for a third-world country.”

Bostom quotes Khomeni from 1942, who puts a novel spin on Mr. Falk’s understanding of phrases like “non-violent tactics,” “humane governance,” etc. Here is Khomeni in 1942:

Those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under Allah’s law (Sharia). … Islam says: ‘Kill [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter their armies.’ Islam says: ‘Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors (jihadists)!’ There are hundreds of other Koranic psalms and hadiths (sayings of the prophet) urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim. …Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless.

I’ve always thought the same thing!

But let’s return to Professor Falk:

Part of the confusion in America about Iran’s social revolution involves Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. More than any third-world leader, he has been depicted in a manner calculated to frighten.

…In recent months, before his triumphant return to Tehran, the Ayatollah gave numerous reassurances to non-Moslem communities in Iran. He told Jewish community leaders that it would be a tragedy if many of the 80,000 Jews left the country. Of course this view is qualified by his hostility to Israel because of its support of the Shah and its failure to resolve the Palestinian question.

He also indicated that the non-religious left will be free to express its views in an Islamic republic and to participate in political life, provided only that it does not “commit treason against the country” by establishing foreign connections—a lightly-veiled reference to anxiety about Soviet interference.

To suppose that Ayatollah Khomeini is dissembling seems almost beyond belief. His political style is to express his real views defiantly and without apology, regardless of consequences. He has little incentive suddenly to become devious for the sake of American public opinion. Thus the depiction of him as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false. What is also encouraging is that his entourage of close advisers is uniformly composed of moderate progressive individuals…[T]hey are widely respected in Iran outside religious circles, share a notable record of concern for human rights and seem eager to achieve economic development that results in a modern society oriented on satisfying the whole population’s basic needs.

Ayatollah Khomeini said recently, in France, that in any well-governed society “the ruler does not live very differently from the ordinary person.” For him, to be religious is to struggle for these political goals, yet the religious leader’s role is to inspire politics, not to govern. Hence, it is widely expected that he will soon go to the holy city of Qum, at a remove from the daily exercise of power. There he will serve as a guide or, if necessary, as a critic of the republic.

In looking to the future, Ayatollah Khomeini has spoken of his hopes to show the world what a genuine Islamic government can do on behalf of its people. He has made clear frequently that he scorns what he considers to be the so-called Islamic Governments in Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Pakistan.

Despite the turbulence, many non-religious Iranians talk of this period as “Islam’s finest hour.”

Be sure to read Andrew Bostom’s original post: it interweaves a lot of illuminating commentary about Khomeni’s “humane” vision of government. It also links to this useful compendium of things Khomeni promised as compared to what he actually did.

Richard Falk: he is only one in a long line of Ivy League intellectuals who take to the pages of organs like The New York Times to dispense their “progressive” anti-American fantasies. Were Falk in his prime (he was born in 1930), he surely would be there next to Bruce Riedel on the roster of Obama’s foreign policy advisors.