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In May 1977 a distinguished Islamic teacher from Mashad, Dr. Ali Shariati, died mysteriously in London. His students in Tehran assumed that Shariati had been murdered by SAVAK. Six months later Khomeini's son Mostafa, 49, died suddenly in Najaf a day after he had been visited by two "strangers." Khomeini has never claimed that his son was murdered, but throughout Iran it was widely assumed that SAVAK was responsible. On the occasion of his son's death, the Ayatullah wrote a letter to the Iranian people that is now regarded as the crucial document of the revolution. After denouncing the "absurdities of this incompetent agent [the Shah] and his family of looters," Khomeini declared, "it is the responsibility of the Iranian army and its heads to liberate their country from destruction." Khomeini thus established himself as leader of the revolution by calling upon the armed forces to overthrow the Shah. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the letter were distributed in Iran. As a Tehran University professor put it: "We were struggling against autocracy for democracy, by means of Xerocracy."
The Shah's government then made three mistakes, the effect of which was to give Khomeini even greater prominence First, it tried to discredit him with implausible charges, such as contending that Khomeini was an Iraqi spy. Secondly in mid-1977 it asked Iraq to expel Khomeini, and Baghdad complied. The U.S., among other countries, refused to take him in, lest such an act offend the Shah. Since he was permitted automatic entry if he had a valid passport, he decided to go to France, whose government took the precaution of asking the Shah whether he had any objections. The third mistake was the Shah's answer to France: he did not care what happened to Khomeini. For the first time, the world press had easy access to him, and he to it.
Events in Iran now moved even more quickly than the Ayatullah himself could have expected. Within four months of his arrival in France, Khomeini was able to make his triumphant return to Iran, where he quickly replaced the post-Shah government with a Cabinet of his own. A month later he was back in his old house in Qum, where he has been ever since, trying to guide his country's unfinished revolution.
When he is not meditating or receiving guests at the Madresseh Faizieh, Khomeini lives in his family home at 61 Kuche Yakhchal Ghazi. It is a soiled white, one-story house, perhaps 100 years old, on a narrow lane in the center of Qum. There is a courtyard out front and a pond, and the walls are covered with vines. The only notable piece of furniture inside is a wooden desk that Khomeini has owned for years. The Ayatullah relies heavily on his surviving son Seyyed Ahmed Khomeini, 35, who serves as a sort of chief vizier cum majordomo The Ayatullah walks with a kind of shuffling gait, but otherwise seems in fair health for a man of his years. Still, he is 79; he tires easily and rarely works more than five hours a day.