IRAN: The Unknown Ayatullah Khomeini

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Even to the few Iranians who have spent time in his company, Khomeini remains an enigma. He is known as a "practicing mystic." His detachment, some feel, may explain how he is able to order or tolerate the abrupt trials and swift executions of so many people who have, in his words, "done Satan's work." One longtime acquaintance of the Ayatullah speaks of the "rage and anger he feels toward men in authority," possibly stemming from the efforts of the Pahlavi dynasty to curtail the power and prerogatives of the clergy for the past 40 years. Friends insist that in private the Ayatullah has a keen sense of humor and is a highly emotional man. But an American academic who is an expert on Iran observes, "He is absolutely determined to be serene. He doesn't allow himself even the appearance of rage. Detachment is his predominant characteristic."

Khomeini is a philosopher-theologian, and a brilliant one. He is also a populist who writes political tracts, has an earthy sense of justice and strong opinions about private property, reasonable food prices and the availability of water and electricity. He detests the Pahlavi dynasty and everything the Shahs stood for. He hates foreign influence, especially from the Americans. He is anti-Soviet. He has always advised the Iranian masses to shun Communism. He said earlier this year that he would never collaborate with the Marxists. His view: "We know they would stab us in the back."

He is anti-Israel. He appears to believe the thousands of Iranians killed by the Shah's troops and secret police were in fact victims of the Israelis. He has declared: "The Shah imported the Israelis and dressed them up in Iranian clothes." He is, foremost of all, an Islamic rather than an Iranian nationalist. Says a former politician in Tehran: "In the Islam that Khomeini thinks about, there are no borders. Geography has no role in Islamic nationality."

Many of the details of Khomeini's life are shrouded in mystery or folklore. In large part, this is because he does not seem to know or care very much about his antecedents. His family is believed to have come from Khorasan, which lies in the windswept northeastern part of the country and is the home of Iranian Sufiism, a mystical and somewhat unorthodox strain of Shi'ite Islam. His grandfather, Seyyed Ahmad Moussavi, who may have been a Sufi, is known to have lived for a time in India. Eventually, Moussavi returned to Iran and settled in Khomein, a village 180 miles south of Tehran.

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