THE IRANIAN HERESY
By AMIR TAHERI
New York Post
June 1 2004
June 1, 2004 — RECENT actions by Tehran have led to questions about
whether Iran was trying to play the Shiite card in Iraq’s post-Saddam
Tehran’s state-controlled media have launched a campaign to incite
Shiites in Bahrain against the kingdom’s reform process. And Iran has
ordered its clients, notably the Iraqi branch of Hezbollah, to step
up disruptive activities to make the transition from occupation to
Iraqi sovereignty as difficult as possible.
All this has led to suspicions against Shiites in several Arab
countries. That is unfortunate.
The present Iranian regime is based on the ideology of Khomeinism –
which is as far removed from Shiism as it is from other mainstream
“ways” of Islam.
The first victims of that ideology have been Shiites. The Khomeinists
have executed over 100,000 Iranians, mostly Shiites. They also caused
the deaths of almost a million other Shiites in the eight-year long
Iran-Iraq war. Over 3.5 million Iranians, most of them Shiites,
have gone into exile.
That ideology has also divided Shiite communities everywhere.
When Khomeinism arrived in Lebanon for the first time in 1980, it
immediately set out to destroy Amal, the united political movement
of the Shiites. Having failed to do so, it created the Hezbollah as
a rival to Amal.
By the 1990s, the Lebanese Hezbollah was showing some independence.
Its religious leader, Sayyed Muhamad-Hussein Fadhlallah, refused to
recognize the Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei as “the leader of
all Muslims” as is claimed in the Khomeinist Constitution.
Tehran’s response came in the form of support for splinter groups
within Hezbollah. In a recent speech at the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said that Tehran did not
“limit its alliances in Lebanon” to the Hezbollah.
In Iraq, Tehran’s policy over the past decade has aimed at splitting
the Shiite community. Now Tehran is working hard to prevent a unified
Iraqi Shiite front backed by the seminary at Najaf. The three-way
split in the Dawa party was partly due to Iranian intrigues. And
right now Iranian elements are working hard to split the Supreme
Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
It’s no mystery that the shenanigans of Muqtada al-Sadr have been
largely financed and encouraged by Tehran.
The Khomeinists were also responsible for splitting the Shiite
community in Afghanistan. They backed the Shoeleh-Javid (Eternal Flame)
group, a Maoist outfit whose members were of Shiite birth, against the
Hazara Shiite establishment. During the communist rule in Kabul, the
Khomeinists prevented the Hazara from fighting the Soviet occupation.
And when the Taliban started massacring the Hazara Shiites, Tehran
did nothing but issue empty threats.
Nowhere has the divergence between Shiism and Khomeinism been more
clearly manifested than in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan is a majority Shiite country that won its independence
after the disintegration of the Soviet Empire a decade ago. Yet for
the past 10 years Tehran has backed Christian Armenia against Shiite
Azerbaijan in the conflict over the enclave of Karabach.
Iran provided logistical support for the Armenian force that invaded
and conquered Karabach and has been holding it since 1992. The trucks
that drove Karabach’s 80,000 Shiite Azeris out of their homes, in a
little reported instance of ethnic-cleansing, were provided by Iran.
Everywhere, the Khomeinist aim is that Shiites should not be able
to unite and act in their interests without receiving orders from
Tehran. They should always remain divided and dependent on Tehran.
Although Khomeinism uses part of the Shiite mythology, religious
vocabulary and iconography, it must be treated as a distinct doctrine
with specific characteristics.
The key slogans of Khomeinism make this clear.
Everywhere in Iran one sees giant slogans reading: God, Quran,
Or: Allah Akbar, Khomeini Rahbar (God is the Greatest, Khomeini is
Inspired by North Korean and Maoist models, images of Khomeini have
been carved in mountains or grown as mini-forests, visible even from
the skies – a cult of personality bordering on idolatry.
Under the new Iranian school curriculum, the study of Khomeini’s life
and thoughts receives as much time (two hours per week) as the study
of the Koran. The official Iranian calendar includes 26 days that
are associated with Khomeini while the Prophet Muhammad gets only
two days. Khomeini’s tomb has been turned into a shrine.
In Iranian Shiism, the title of Imam is exclusive to Ali Ibn Abi-Talib,
the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, and 11 of his male descendants. In
Khomeinism, however, the late ayatollah bears the title of Imam.
The Islamic Republic Constitution gives the “Supreme Guide” the power
to suspend even the basic rules of Islam if he so wishes. And that,
of course, is as abhorrent to Shiites as to other Muslims.
There are more Shiite clerics and students of theology in prison in
Iran than at any other time in history. Khomeinism has also driven
thousands of Iranian Shiite theologians into exile.
In short, Khomeinism is a cocktail in which Shiism is an accidental
ingredient. Similar ideologies have developed in non-Muslim cultures
in the developing countries. Its basic ingredient is a hatred of the
West, especially the United States. It is also influenced by Marxism,
especially with such ideas as thought control, single-party rule and
the command of the economy by the state.
Some Shiites have adopted Khomeinism as their ideology. Hundreds
have moved to Iran and taken up Iranian nationality. But there is no
evidence that Khomeinism is supported by the broader Shiite communities
in the Arab countries or elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Here is what Sabah Zangeneh, Iran’s former Ambassador to the
Organization of Islamic Conference had to say in Kuwait last week:
“As far as matters of religion are concerned, the ulema of Najaf,
especially Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, may have more
influence in Iran today than Iranian mara’je [religious leaders]
may have in Iraq.”
The Arab governments would be wrong to equate Khomeinism with Shiism.
Amir Taheri is reachable via