40 years ago Shariat-Madari warned me of Khomeini’s intent

By Claude Salhani

Iranians will mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on February 11. Some will celebrate. Others will mourn, weeping for a country that has become the enfant terrible of the Middle East.

Forty years after the breaking of diplomatic links between Iran and the United States there is little hope of seeing positive change in relations. Indeed, quite the contrary is happening.

Speaking to foreign diplomats, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said negotiations with the United States would be possible if it “repents” and ends hostile policies towards his country.

Relations between Washington and Tehran, already at a thorny stage, have plunged further since US President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from a historic nuclear deal.

“If America repents and reverses its previous approach… apologises for its past interferences in Iran, recognises the greatness and dignity of the Iranian nation and the big Islamic Revolution and speaks to our people with respect, we will be ready to accept the repentance and return of the United States, even though it has oppressed us for many years,” Rohani said.

Requesting an apology from the United States is a nonstarter. While Iranians may feel the United States and others sinned during the shah years by backing the monarch, including support to the dreaded SAVAK secret police, the West harbours equal resentment towards the current regime for its support of terrorism, not least the car bomb attacks against US Marines and French paratroopers in Lebanon in 1983.

What is particularly perplexing about the mullah-ocracy is its two-faced approach to its politics and policies. They accuse the West of transgressions, yet Iran has the region’s record for violating human rights, from the use of torture to the detention of journalists.

In the first 40 years in power, 860 journalists have been arrested in Iran, leaked files published by Reporters Without Borders stated. At least four were executed.

Iranian authorities maintained secret files of some 1.7 million records of judicial procedures and, although people’s professions were not listed, Reporters Without Borders said researchers compiled and verified the names of 860 journalists or citizen-journalists who had been arrested or imprisoned.

“The very existence of this file and its millions of entries show not only the scale of the Iranian regime’s mendacity for years when claiming that its jails were holding no political prisoners or journalists but also the relentless machinations it used for 40 years to persecute men and women for their opinions or their reporting,” said Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire.

During the 8-year war with Iraq, the Iranians had young boys walk in front of the regular fighting force to clear landmines. In exchange for which the boys were promised a place in paradise.

These horrendous abominations really happened, they are not folklore stories made up to discredit the regime. On a visit to the front lines at the time, we were shown some of these young lads who had been fed the belief of a glorious afterlife.

From the start of the Islamic Revolution, it was clear to some — though not enough — that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had embarked on a path permeated by hatred and evil and that the revolution was becoming as villainous as the regime it had replaced.

There were warning signs that were overlooked by all, starting with the shah, who was lied to by his inner circle about the stability and the reliability of the army and the security forces.

A recent Netflix documentary on the inner workings of the Mossad, the Israeli secret service, revealed that even Mossad operatives stationed in Iran at the time failed to predict what was to come.

The chief Israeli resident spy in Tehran at the time said the main reason for their shortcoming and their inability to see the coming storm was because they were so tight with the shah’s intelligence services that they feared initiating contact with the opposition would jeopardise their situation.

French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing personally warned the shah that Khomeini, then living and pontificating in a villa outside Paris, was “becoming noisy” and that, if the shah chose to act, French security forces “would look the other way.” This is from a French politician who was close to then-Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. On both occasions the shah declined to act, saying Khomeini “does not worry us.”

Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariat-Madari disagreed with Khomeini but he needed to do so discretely. Caught between the shah’s security forces, which had surrounded the holy city of Qom, and the cunningness of Khomeini’s people, a rare moderate such as Shariat-Madari was an exception.

During the early days of the revolution, I entered Qom for a covert meeting with Shariat-Madari. We spent several hours conversing in Arabic, so there was no room for misunderstanding due to translation.

During the conversation, he outlined what Khomeini would do domestically as well as regionally and internationally. It sounded ominous and, at first, I couldn’t understand why he was sharing this information with me because I had assumed him to be on the Khomeini team. In fact, I believe he was sending out a warning, rather a plea.

True, the United States did support the shah but if anyone owes an apology it is the current regime in Iran that should apologise to the international community.


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