A popular Hindi media house today mixed up the identities and histories of the former supreme leader of Iran, the late Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, and the current occupant of the position Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei. While both can be referred to as an ayatollah, and they worked together indeed, the latter or his forefathers had had no relationship with the former or his ancestors.
Dainik Jagran has today published a story, a large part of which translates to the following.
“After the death of the Iranian commander Maj Gen Qasem Soleimani, even Iraq now wants the US army out of the country. According to experts, the US wants a government of its own choice in Iran, which works for its interests. However, this is not possible in the presence of Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. It may surprise many to know that this spiritual head of Iran who changed his nation from being a favourite of the US in the region to being the most despised one is a person of Indian origin.“
“Ayatollah Khamenei‘s grandfather Syed Ahmed Masuvi was a resident of Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh. In the 1830s, he migrated to Iraq and then Iran on a religious visit with the Nawab of Awadh (or Oudh). Once in Iran, he did not feel like returning from and he settled in the Khamneni village there.“
Wrong! They were Khomeini’s ancestors and not Khamenei’s who were Indian.
“According to Dyche Vale, Masuvi’s subsequent generations used Khamenei as his surname and today the name is associated with the most powerful person in Iran. Until the success of the Iranian Revolution, Khamenei was also called an Indian mullah and agent under the rule of the Shah of Iran.“
We halt quoting here again to point out a glaring error in the narrative. The subsequent passages of the story say Khamenei revolted against the shah. Clearly, it could not have been the same person who was considered an acolyte of the shah.
“The ayatollah was once fond of listening to ghazals. Radicals in the country did not approve of this hobby, of course. Shah’s bet proved misplaced when the public took to the streets against him.“
Actually, the person Dainik Jagran‘s Kamal Verma is referring to is Khomeini but he goes on and on, spelling the name as “Khamenei”.
Further, contrary to the popular myth in India that ghazals are a genre of music, they are a form of poetry. And Khomeini (whom Verma represents as Khamenei) found music as despicable as any orthodox Muslim, Shi’ah or Sunni. What Khomeini was indeed known for was his composition of ghazals, that is his composition of poetry in a certain style. A ghazal is a poem that has between five and 19 couplets containing a refrain, a constant meter and a fixed rhythm, with the nom de guerre of the poet optionally mentioned in the last couplet of the verse.
Back to the Dainik Jagran article, it reads, “The script of the changing Iran was written during the First and Second World Wars when large reserves of oil were discovered here by the UK Anglo-Persian Oil Company. When the Second World War came to an end with the defeat of Japan, Iran was ruled by the Pahlavi dynasty where its King Mohammad Raza Shah Pahlavi implemented the new constitution in Iran in 1949. There came seven prime ministers under this regime but their tenures were of very short periods. These prime ministers were Ali Mansur, Ali Rajamara, Khalil Fahimi, Hussain Ala, Mohammed Mosaddik and Ahmed Kawam.“
“When Mossadik nationalised oil companies in 1952, Britain opened a front against this decision. The UK, along with the US, overthrew that government. Even after this, the country saw a series of prime ministers, but their tenures remained of a few months or a year each. This gradually diminished the office of the prime minister in Iran. All control went to Mohammad Raza Shah Pahlavi.“
“The public resentment against the shah intensified. These people were upset that Shah was successively getting American puppets and the elected governments of the people were getting overthrown. They felt that Shah had become a puppet of the US.“
“The then public leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei took full advantage of the public wrath. He was also an outspoken opponent of Shah.“
The flaw becomes the most glaring in the paragraph above. “Ruhollah” used to be a part of the late Khomeini’s name, not the current Iranian supreme leader Khamenei’s.
“Shah announced the White Revolution in 1963 under a six-point programme. The policies framed for reforms were based on the lines of the West. Khamenei led the opposition to this move. Angered by this, the shah expelled him from the country in 1964. After the order, Khamenei left for France, but even from there he continued to give directions to his supporters.“
No, Khamenei did not lead the offensive against Shah. Khomeini did. However, Khamenei was indeed arrested six times before he was sent into exile for three years during Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s rule. It was probably Shah who tried to bump him off in June 1981. The attack left his right arm paralysed for life.
“Due to the massive fall in the prices of crude oil in the global market in 1973, Shah’s desire to fulfil the White Revolution could not be fulfilled. Thousands of people gathered in September 1978 against the Shah of Iran at Shahayad Chowk in Tehran. A trepid shah imposed martial law in Iran.“
“After he betrayed this dictatorial attitude, the situation went out of Shah’s control. The public came out on the streets demanding the return of Khamenei. The demonstrations turned on so much of heat that martial law proved inadequate before it. The Iranian people were thumbing their noses not only at the ruler but also the administration and the army. Shah became apprehensive something untoward would happen to him. He handed over Iran’s power to Shapore Bakhtiar and fled to the US on 16 January 1979.“
“The new prime minister Shapore came under public pressure and allowed Khamenei to return. On 12 February 1979, Khamenei returned home from France. The people of the country accorded him a warm welcome. The public had great hopes from Khamenei. He developed an attitude, seeing the public support to his return. Apart from Bakhtiyar, he declared Mehdi Bazargan as an additional prime minister.“
Both the highlighted words above should have been spelt as K-h-o-m-e-i-n-i.
“Following the arbitrary decision, Iran reached a strange state. There were two prime ministers. The army was unsure who they owed their allegiance to. A power struggle broke out between the faction that supported the ousted shah and the prime minister-backed Imperial Guards and the Khamenei-backed Air Force. The pro-Shah faction of the army suffered a crushing defeat.“
“After a referendum in 1979, Iran was declared an Islamic republic. With this, Khamenei was elected the supreme leader of the country. He abolished the prime minister’s post and with that of a president. With the final ascension of Khamenei, the American influence on Iran had ended. In response, the US severed all ties with Iran. In retaliation, Iran held 52 American citizens hostage in the US Embassy. They were released 444 days later in 1981 when Ronald Reagan became the US president. Khamenei‘s stature continued to grow in Iran.“
“When Iraq attacked Iran in 1980, the USSR, the US and the UK supported it. But the US could not achieve anything in this war that lasted eight years. Eventually, the US was forced to compromise.“
“This enmity increased when the US shot down an Iranian passenger plane in 1988. There were a total of 290 passengers, including ten Indians, on board. Iran went to the International Court of Justice against the attack.“
“Khamenei then launched a nuclear programme to add teeth to his country’s military might. During his tenure, the current supreme leader of the country, Ali Khamenei, was the president. After Khamenei‘s death in 1989, Ali was made the country’s supreme leader. He was the president of the country from 1981 to 1989.“
The place where it ought to be Khamenei indeed has not been highlighted in the paragraph above.
Let us now deal with the current ayatollah of Iran. As said earlier, he was an associate of Khomeini, of course, but never related to him. Their family trees nowhere meet.
Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei is the second and current supreme leader of Iran, in office since 1989, succeeding Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini. He was the president of Iran, 1981-89.
While Khomeini was the tallest leader in the 1980s, Khamenei was one of the leaders during the Iran–Iraq War. It was in that period that he developed ties with the Revolutionary Guards which he now controls and virtually commands by way of appointing his favourites as the military wing’s heads.
It was again in this period of war that Khamenei served as the third president of Iran and thus became an aide of the then supreme leader, Ruhollah Khomeini.
Khomeini announced via Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani that Khamenei would be the next ayatollah after a tiff between the then supreme leader of Iran with his initial favourite Hussein Ali Montazeri. For the sake of formality, the Assembly of Experts elected whom the Shi’ah spiritual head wanted to be the next supreme leader of Iran after Khomeini’s death on 4 June 1989. The current ruler was 49-years-old then.
But the current ruler did occupy religious positions earlier. Since 14 April 1979, Khamenei has been head of the servants of Astan Quds Razavi.
That never made Khamenei an unquestionable ruler in the eyes of modernists and other activists in Iran, though. Since 1994, he has faced the Qazvin Protests, student protests five years later, protests against the Iranian presidential election in 2009, the 2011–12 uprising, the 2017–18 rebellion, and last year’s general strikes.
The regime of his predecessor Khomeini was known for upholding the modernity of women on the one hand and punishing homosexuals with death on the other. The country became poorer, with poverty rising by 45% in Iran during its war with Iraq. He dealt with the opposition as ruthlessly, but the opposition then meant mostly loyalists of the shah. Khomeini had a tolerant attitude towards Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians.
The current supreme leader Khamenei’s regime has put journalists, bloggers and other antagonists behind the bar for “insulting” him. Many of them have been charged with blasphemy or apostasy. The intellectual leaders of the resistance have been lashed publicly and jailed. Some of them died in custody.