IRAN: The Unknown Ayatullah Khomeini

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Despite his Credentials as an opponent of the Shah, Khomeini's curious blend of mysticism and activism still made him slightly suspect in the eyes of the Islamic Establishment— as a holy man who tried to run around with the Mob, one might say —but his following was growing steadily. In the late 1950s he became an Ayatullah, a title that is earned, more or less, by developing a following and gradually gaining the recognition of one's superiors. Khomeini's first significant political victory came in November 1962, after the Shah's government decided that a witness in court could henceforth swear by the "divine book" rather than the Koran. The new Ayatullah led the clergy in a general strike, and the government backed down.

Khomeini confronted the government again a few months later after it had confiscated the property of a family that contributed much of its income to the religious institutions of Qum. The Shah's police attacked the Madresseh Faizieh, killing as many as 18 young mullahs, and Khomeini fired off angry telegrams of protest to the Shah. At this point, for the first time since the days of Mossadegh, university students in Tehran came to the support of the clergy against the Shah. Khomeini wrote to then Premier Asadollah Alam: "My heart is ready for the bayonet of your troops. I shall never keep quiet " By the spring of 1963, Khomeini was preaching to crowds of 100,000 in Qum, telling them that only "a flick of the finger" was necessary to sweep the Shah away.

The Shah was greatly annoyed. Khomeini's home was raided, and he was placed under house arrest. After his release a few months later, Khomeini protested even more loudly as the Iranian parliament considered a bill that would allow members of the U.S. armed forces in Iran to be tried in their own military courts. Khomeini was arrested again: this time he was held for a half a year. upon his second release, he was brought before Premier Hassan Mansur, who tried to convince Khomeini that he should apologize and drop his opposition to the government. Khomeini refused. In fury, Mansur slapped Khomeini's face. The Ayatullah did not blink. Two weeks later, Hassan Mansur was assassinated on his way to parliament. Four members of the Fedayan Islam were later executed for the murder.

In the spring of 1964, Khomeini was exiled to Turkey, from where he soon moved to the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, in Iraq. He remained there for nearly 15 years, lecturing in a Muslim academy and writing a treatise on his concept of the Islamic republic. His supporters in Iran and Pakistan sent him more than $100,000 a year, most of which he distributed quietly to students and the needy. He regularly sent back to colleagues in Iran taped messages that were reproduced and distributed to mosques throughout the country. One particularly fiery sermon attacked the Shah's October 1971 grandiose celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy. (The estimated cost: $11 million.) Khomeini denounced the "imperial feast" and urged the clergy to rise up against this "counterpart of Attila the bloody."

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