Irony in Iran: Ayatollah Khomeini censored by his own followers


It is a fanciful story that testifies to the irony of history. On 1 February 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini set foot in Iran for the first time after spending 14 years in exile. In his first public speech, which he gave on the same day in the Beheshte Zahra cemetery south of Tehran, Khomeini branded the government of the Shah and Prime Minister Shapour Bakhtiar “illegal”, since they had not been elected by the people.

The government and parliament are not democratic: there is no participation by the people. Did you vote for the present government? Did you elect the members of Parliament? Do you know who they are? Did you elect them? Are they your representatives? Or did they come to power by force? A parliament appointed without the assent of the people is not a legitimate parliament.

In a strange shift in perspective 30 years after Khomeini’s speech, the Iranian people appeared to put his advice into practice, calling for the removal of a government they regarded as illegitimate. On 13 June 2009, huge demonstrations took place in Tehran in protest against the results of the presidential election giving Mahmoud Ahmedinejad another term in office. Opponents said he was re-elected only thanks to large-scale electoral fraud. If it had not been for such vote-rigging, his main rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, would have won, they said. Demonstrations continued for several months in the face of the Iranian authorities’ refusal to review the results of the ballot. In response to the wave of protests, the government closed Tehran University, blocked access to several websites and banned demonstrations. Three years later, Ahmedinejad is still president and Mousavi is under house arrest.

The Iranian government has a selective memory. After the shah’s overthrow, Khomeini set up the present Islamic Republic and for 10 years occupied the post of Supreme Leader. His historic speech has now been censored in the Islamic republic that he created and led. Indeed, although the speech is easily accessible on the Internet, it is nonetheless strangely absent from Iran’s official archives. This is not surprising, since it asserted the sovereignty of the people, which had been treated with contempt at the time of the 2009 demonstrations whose main slogan was “Where is my vote?”

The people are sovereign and masters of their fate, so their choice must be respected. But by what right are those who cast their votes 50 years ago able to determine the fate and future of the present generation? The fate of each generation is in its own hands.

Below we present a new transcription of the first 40 minutes of Khomeini’s speech.

We have endured many misfortunes, the misfortune of women who have lost their husbands, the misfortune of men who have lost their children and the misfortune of children who have lost their fathers. When I see these children, my heart is heavy. I offer my condolences to their families and to the people. We have made so many sacrifices. And for what? What have the Iranian people done to deserve this? Since the start of his reign, the Shah has violated the law. Those who are the same age as I am have seen the constitutional parliament subjugated by bayonets. The people played no part in the constituent assembly. Members were forced to elect the Shah (Khomeini was referring to the 1925 coup by Reza Shah, his assumption of power and the creation of the Pahlavi dynasty). From the start, this monarchy has been without foundations. From the start, it has acted against the law and in the face of wisdom, and has always been contrary to human rights.

But let us admit that the people cast their votes for the Shah. The people are sovereign and masters of their fate, so their choice must be respected. But by what right are those who cast their votes 50 years ago able to determine the fate and future of the present generation? The fate of each generation is in its own hands.

We were not there in the days of Mohammad Shah Qajar (the first shah of the Qajar dynasty who ruled Iran from 1786 to 1797). Supposing Qajar’s rule to be legitimate and he was elected by the people, it would have been our great-great-grandparents who voted for the Qajar monarchy. What right would they have to choose a monarch for us? The destiny of each generation is in its own hands. One hundred years ago, it was a different people, a different generation with other preoccupations. These people had rights, of course, but our fate was not their responsibility, so they could not arrogate our rights for themselves. Let us suppose that the Pahlavi government was legitimate, that it was elected by the people. Let us suppose, too, that the assembly was elected by the people. Those people voted for Reza Shah as their monarch, but only in their time. The Iranian people of that time may have voted for Reza Shah as their ruler, but what right did that give them to decide that Mohamed Reza Pahlavi would be our ruler today? The Reza Shah monarchy was not legal and neither is that of his son. Even if it were legal, that would not give them the right at that time to decide our fate. Everyone has their fate in their own hands. Were the people one hundred years ago in a position to decide the fate of the people today? This is one of the reasons why the rule of Mohamed Reza Pahlavi is not legitimate. Today, the people say they do not want this man to rule them and would prefer to decide their own fate.

The government and parliament are not democratic: there is no participation by the people. Did you vote for the present government? Did you elect the members of Parliament? Do you know who they are? Did you elect them? Are they your representatives? Or did they come to power by force? A parliament appointed without the assent of the people is not a legitimate parliament. Those people, members of parliament, have no right to be paid since they are not there in the name of the people. A government appointed by the Shah, a Shah who is himself illegal as was his father before him, cannot be legitimate. Nor are the members of parliament. This government is illegal. We do not want this monarchy. It is the people who say these members of parliament are not legitimate. This government is unauthorized and unlawful. Can anything decreed by an unlawful monarch, or passed by an illegal parliament, be described as legal? No, it is illegal.

We say you are not legitimate and you must go. To this government which claims to be legitimate we say: no, you are not legitimate. Mr. Bakhtiar, who said five years ago that the Shah’s government was illegal (Shahpour Bakhtiar belonged to those who opposed the Shah before he was appointed by the monarch to try to calm the popular uprising), what is he doing now? The member of parliament who is asked “are you legitimate?” and replies yes, I have been elected by the people, let us take him to his village and ask its residents whether they voted for him. The reply would be “no”. This parliament is not legal. Ask its members: are you legitimate?

Land reform was launched -- people were serfs and the intention was to turn them into farmers (Khomeini is referring to land reform begun by the Shah in 1962). All they managed to achieve was the destruction of agriculture in Iran. Now you, the people, are entirely dependent on foreign imports. The Shah did this so that Iran became dependent on the United States, so that the United States would have new markets for its economy. That is why we import wheat, rice, everything, even eggs, from the United States or Israel, which is under the protection of the United States. What the Shah did under the pretext of reform was in reality corrupt. Land reform was a huge failure for the country. In 20 years’ time we will still be suffering the consequences of what he did.

They held us back culturally. The education of our young people was lacking and they were forced to go abroad to study because of the hardships here. It is 50 years since university education was established in Iran but it has not been developed properly. This gentleman (Mohammed Reza Shah) stunted the country’s driving forces by making himself a lackey of others (the Americans and the West). He created centres of perversion, and television is at the heart of this perversion. Most radio programs are perverted. All cultural activities that were authorized during his reign violated morality. In Tehran these days, there are more drinking places than bookshops. There are other centres of perversion, such as the cinema. We are not against the cinema as such, but 3 we are against pornography. We are not against radio. We are against immorality. We are not against television. We are against perversion. We are against all that foreigners do to hold us back and to manipulate our young people. We are not against modernity.

When have we ever said anything against modernity? When it arrives in the east, in Iran in particular, it leads us into savagery instead of bringing modernisation. The cinema is a characteristic of modernity but it should be used to serve the people. But the cinema has fostered immorality and perversion among the young, and that is what we object to. The government has let the people down. Mr. Bakhtiar, his government and his parliament are not legitimate. If they carry on in this manner, we shall judge them and find them guilty, and I shall appoint a government with the support of the people.

I shall get rid of this government. With the support of the people I shall appoint a new government. The people have accepted me, whereas this gentlemen (the prime minister), does not accept himself, nor is he accepted by his friends, the people or the armed forces. Only the United States accepts and supports him.

The people do not accept him. There are thugs in the streets, but the people are here (there had been demonstrations in support of Bakhtiar shortly before Khomeini’s arrival). We cannot have two governments in the country (a reference to a speech by Bakhtiar in which he chastised Khomeini: “You can return to Iran but not as head of the government since there cannot be two governments”). It is the illegal government that must go. You are the one who is illegal. Our government is based on the people’s vote and is supported by God. If you want to maintain your government, you must deny both God and the people. You are not in a good position, you act on the orders of the United States.

Mr Bakhtiar has rallied thugs to massacre the people. We shall not allow the Shah to return and carry on with his crimes and injustices. We shall not allow Mohamed Reza Pahlavi back into the country this time (a reference to the 1953 coup and the week the Shah was forced to spend in exile). Those people want him back. Beware, they are up to something. This little man wants a return to the old tyranny. He is giving our soul and our wealth to the United States. We shall not let him. That is our duty. I ask God to grant you health and prosperity, for it is our duty to carry on this movement until the government is overthrown. Afterwards we shall form a constituent assembly, the people will vote and the provisional government will give way to a legitimate government.

I wish to give some advice to the armed forces, and to thank a section of the military. My advice is: stay independent. We have given our blood, we have given all that we had. Many people, colleagues (mullahs), have been imprisoned and tortured. We want our army to be independent. Army generals, don’t you want to be independent? Or do 4 you prefer to be a lackey? Listen to me and join the people. We want independence. We say the armed forces should be independent and what is your response? You attack our young people in the streets and spill their blood (a reference to the crackdown by the Bakhtiar government). We want you to be your own masters. I thank the sections of the military that have joined the people. Those who have joined the people have upheld their honour and that of their country. I thank the officers of the air force, and the pilots and lower ranks, who have joined the people. I thank those in several cities, such as Hamadan and Isfahan (where there were many defections from the armed forces to the Khomeini camp) among others, who have joined the people. We thank those who have supported the Islamic movement. To those who have not joined the people, we say: “Come and join us.” It is better to choose Islam than apostasy. It is better to choose your own people than foreigners. We tell you this for you own good. Do not fear that if you join us you will be arrested and executed. That is propaganda. All the air force pilots who have joined the people have been welcomed with open arms and kindness. We want the country to be strong. We want it to have real military. We do not wish to change the government but we want a government that has the support of the people. And the armed forces must be in the service of the people. We do not want a government that is subservient to the United States and directed from abroad.

This is a freely translated transcription of Khomeini’s speech. Any assistance in improving it will be welcome.

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