On Praising Khomeini

Khomeini Mural
Despite the fact that he is a friend of mine and was one of my inspirations to begin blogging, I cannot disagree more with Hossein Derakshan’s recent praise for Khomeini (the text is in Persian, with a small English excerpt). While the post might be sensationalist and most likely written for the purpose of getting attention, there some things called out by Hoder that I think he gets right. First, he touches on Iranians’ generally excessive admiration of ancient Persian emperors. I think it’s relevant to ask ourselves: if we were not Iranian but rather of another culture with no prior interaction with Iranians, how would we view the former Persian kings? Would we, for instance, praise Darius and Cyrus for slaughtering thousands of people in order to colonize surrounding territories? To the extent that Derakhshan writes that the praise we give the former Persian empire is ridiculous, closed-minded, and egocentric, I believe he is correct.

However, suggesting that we should praise Khomeini because he successfully pulled Iran away from Western quasi-colonialism is foolish. That type of analysis is reactive rather than affirmative. It looks at what evil exists in the world and falsely concludes that its polar opposite must be good. In other words, instead of determining the value of something based on abstract moral or even religious principles, we would be judging something based on how it contrasts with the thing we dislike the most. In this case, we would be looking to colonialism and the “Western” model, submit that it is evil, and therefore accept everything contrary to it. This is the same reactive impulse utilized by many advocates of “Islamic democracies.” Khaled Abou el-Fadl tackles this issue perfectly in his discussions on Islamism:

[Many Muslim scholars] challenge asserted moral values, including the norms of democracy, as false universals, but offer no moral alternatives. Their opposition conforms to the reactive state of modern Islamic discourse. Much of this discourse is formed by the experience of colonialism and imperialism, and is hostage to a traumatized condition in which obsessive concerns with autonomy are coupled with a disregard of the need for constructive self-definition.

Derakhshan’s commentary on Khomeini functions precisely the same way: it does nothing to create a sense of self-definition or value of the Iranian, but mimics a system of values based purely on the importance of autonomy and Iran’s reaction to colonialism. This is precisely the way that the killing of thousands of Iranians, the suppression of fundamental human rights, and the subversion and manipulation of popular support committed by Khomeini are (unjustly) justified. If we perceive this regime from the perspective of the “other,” the same way that an outsider would see Cyrus and Darius, then we reach something closer to this conclusion: Khomeini was nothing more than a megalomaniac who systematically utilized violence and repression to achieve his private dreams and ambitions. In other words, Hossein got it wrong.

[Photo: Sydney Morning Herald]