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May 08, 2008

Impressions of a strange man ....

My hosts wanted to show me the home of Ayatollah Khomeini, to Westerners something of a demonic figure, but to the poorer classes in Iran, a saviour. There can be no doubt that this man had an austere vision, but he also lived it. His "home" here is next door to a hospital - essential because he suffered from a severe heart problem - and is pretty spartan. In fact it is just two small rooms with a kitchen attached. The toilet is actually outside, something not even the poorest in Tehran still have. The mosque is adjacent and is remarkable for it's austerity.

The house and the mosque are approached via a steep passageway, down the centre of which runs a swift flowing stream, its flow interrupted by bricks placed by the soldiers who guard this place to make a splashing sound in the stream. It also moistens the air in the passage rather pleasantly. For a man with a heart condition, this approach must have been difficult to say the least.

Khomenei museum1.JPG
My host, Parvis Yarahmedhi, explains the manner in which the temporary shrine was built for the Ayatollah.

So what was my overall impression of the Ayatollah? Difficult to answer simply since there is no doubt that he was an extremely intelligent man, one of huge compassion for the poor of Iran, but equally one of little sympathy for the Shah and his courtiers. I was compelled to recognise that the Ayatollah - or Imam as he is known in Iran (Imam means Leader in Farsee) - displayed many of the same characteristics of some of the Christian Saints. A man of rigorous and unshakeable faith, a man unafraid to speak out against what he saw as injustice and a man of very definite and very strong principles. On balance I think the nearest Western equivalent to him would be Oliver Cromwell, another man whose faith led him to revolution and the beheading of a King. I think that history will judge Khomeini in the same way eventually. The museum is, obviously, sympathetic to his memory, but it does show a man who rose from a middle class background, through education and hardship when he ran foul of the Shah's secret police, who went into exile for his faith and his politics and then returned to become, against his own better judgement, the leader of a nation about to be plunged into a war of others making.

Like Cromwell he liked music, he was a poet of some note and he was a great family man, adored by his children and grandchildren. But like Cromwell his religious beliefs were absolutes. Holy man or monster? In the end it depends on whether you benefitted from the revolution or, like the West, felt threatened by the overthrow of a "friendly" regime, whose corruption we could conveniently overlook, by one the Soviets were actively wooing.

It says something about the man that he dismissed the Soviet overtures on the grounds that Communism was un-Islamic and destined to collapse very soon. Unfortunately we compounded our support for the Shah by giving Saddam the weapons we took back from Iran and encouraging Saddam to launch the war to seize Iran's western provinces. The repercussions of that will be with us for at least another generation.

Khomenei mosque.JPG
Taken inside the mosque Imam Khomeini made his own, the rail behind us surrounds the platform on which the Imam sat to address the worshippers. I found it a very peaceful and restful place.

A very thought provoking visit - and too me proof, yet again, that a monster to some, may yet be a saviour to others.

Posted by The Gray Monk at May 8, 2008 08:02 PM

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