Mr. Hossein Khomeini, grandson of the Ayatollah Rohallah Khomeini who ushered in Iran’s current theocracy, will join us to discuss the situation in that country. Mr. Khomeini recently left Tehran for Baghdad, where he was outspoken in his criticism of the Iranian regime, and where he was the target of an assassination attempt. Mr. Khomeni will speak on the record and take questions after his prepared remarks.
Michael A. Ledeen, AEI
Adjournment and Reception
Unofficial, unedited transcript
MR. LEDEEN: Welcome to AEI. This is a singular personal pleasure, one which I never expected to have, but the opportunity to introduce a Khomeini to Washington is a personal delight and pleasure, that I really can’t find the right words to express. In any case, we are grateful that Mr. Khomeini is here with us today. As, no doubt, you all know, he recently left the Islamic Republic of Iran, went to Baghdad, where he expressed great pleasure at finding himself in a free country, and in sharing the excitement and the enthusiasm of people who had suddenly found themselves liberated from a terrible tyranny, and where he said something which I’m sure he will repeat today, but which is of enormous importance to all of us, which is that it’s not nationality or religion or boundaries that is the most important thing.
It is freedom that is the most important thing, and that all people share a belief in freedom and have a common need for freedom. This session is on the record. We have simultaneous translation. Mr. Khomeini will speak for as long as he desires, and when he is finished, he will take questions from anybody who has one. The only constraint is that we have to be out of here at 5:00 o’clock, which gives us an hour and 20 minutes, which should be plenty of time. So, please.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: I’d like to thank —
MR. : There is no translation. [Pause.]
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: [in progress] and Middle East. As you know, the history of Iran, the history of Iran in 19th century was the history of a country under dictatorship but the constitutional movement in Iran, which was a modern constitution, ushered in a new state of politics. But the revolution and Mr. Khomeini promised to change the Iranian situation, and bring democracy to Iran, but, unfortunately, as things turned out, Iran again became a different, an even worse dictatorship after the revolution.
Twenty-five years ago, Iranian people, in the hope for freedom, and the other issues were not really important for them, they were looking for freedom. Iranian of course during the shah had civil liberties and personal freedoms, there was religious freedom, and religion was a strong–and the religious leaders had legitimacy. The important goal for the Iranian people in the revolution was the creation of democracy and political freedom, but after the victory of the revolution, as we all know, this was not followed and the goals were not achieved, and there were no freedoms, more freedoms in Iran, and a greater and more ruthless dictatorship was prevalent in Iran, became prevalent in Iran and still goes on. Today, Iranian people again want democracy, they want freedom.
Furthermore, they have experienced everything and they have experienced theocracy, a theocratic regime in Iran, and they have come to understand that religion and government cannot be one and the same. In fact looking at the text, religious texts, especially in the Shiism Islam, religion cannot mix with government in the absence of the messiah. We believe that the religious government, after the Prophet Mohammed, was given to his immediate successors and those who have claimed to rule the country, to rule Islamic world, we believe that they are usurpers.
We think that only under the infallible, the followers of Prophet Mohammed, immediate followers, could have a Islamic government. No one understands Koranic verses and Koranic edicts except those who are truly capable of understanding it. There should be a government of rationality, of people who believe in reason. There should be reliance, of course, on the wishes of the people, at the same time on the edicts of Islamic text. There is no way to rule present communities in the Middle East, except the government of reason and rationality, and these forms of government which we call democratic regimes.
Democracy is compatible with all the basic values of Shiism and Islamic law, and faith is free, individuals can become, can follow a particular religion or not follow a particular religion, as they wish. A true Muslim is a Muslim that accepts religion freely. If everybody were supposed to become a Muslim, God himself would have turned every body into Muslims. At the present time, the question is how we can get to democracy and freedom in our communities in the Middle East. Our nation is ready but it cannot have any kind of activity because there is no leadership.
On the other hand, international politics, other countries, are basically following their own interest, pursuing their own interest, and they are not going to start campaigning for Iranian freedom and democracy in Iran unless their own interests are immediately in danger in those countries. I am surprised with this cold-hearted attitude towards the world, how the United States, with the cold, rational thinking, they have been able to go to Iraq and free that country. I don’t see any kind of material reason for the United States government to have gone to Iraq and free that country. Usually, I think that democracy in the United States, even less sanguine than democracy in Great Britain. In Second World War, neither Britain nor U.S. became involved in the war immediately. Only Pearl Harbor drove United States into the war.
Therefore, I’m surprised that the United States, without really, without immediate threat, did go to Iraq and free that country, and that was really a blessing for the people of Iraq and I admire that. I don’t think in Iran, this would be, or the United States would recur [?] to the same truths [?]. The Iranians should themselves try to get to the ideas that they’re searching. Of course we should try ourselves but we should not ignore the power and help of the democracies in the world, but these countries, as I said, they are rational people, and until and unless they have immediate cause, they would not get involved. The America intervention in Iraq is a surprise and they have occupied Iraq. Iran is intervening in Iraqi affairs extensively, and maybe this would cause the United States to pay attention to Iran.
The other side of the situation is that, is Iranian people, and the Iranian people have become tired, fatigued, after 25 years of deprivation and suppression. They have been deprived of the basic means of life, of living. They are not very hopeful, they’re frustrated, they cannot come to the streets and fight the regime. In other words, the movement for freedom should start from somewhere. If there is a center for leading the Iranians, if people, that people can pin their hopes on, maybe then a movement will be started in Iran. What is real, we cannot remain silent and watch the destruction, further destruction of Iran and Iranian people. We cannot simply watch the young generation that is going, that is under tremendous pressure.
They are, they have lost hope, they’re all saddened, they are all melancholic, and in a sense, it’s a generation, depressed generation, and there is no dynamism in them, and these are the difficulties that we have, and these are–I believe we have not reached to a solution yet. What I have stressed in all my statements and talks is that I have asked all the free societies in the world to think and be concerned about those countries in the Middle East. If they want to be in peace and security here, they should have a say in developing countries, especially in Islamic countries and especially in the Middle Eastern countries. They should try to create hope in these people, in the Middle Eastern countries, and the disappearance of hope is the result of the present dictatorships in Iran.
Of course economically, some parts of the population in Iran are in good shape, but even in Indonesia, which is not really well-developed, they are not that well off but they have balanced, a psychological balance. and they are hopeful because they have gained freedom. Creation of, establishment of freedom and democracy in Islamic countries is the guarantee of the international peace. It is the guarantee of security of the world. It’s the guarantee that Americans and the Europeans, especially Americans, could live in peace and security in their own countries. But otherwise these countries where there is psychological imbalance, individuals would be, complex individuals would be, have complexes, and despite their mild appearances, inside there would be hatred in these countries, in these individuals.
In years before, there was ideological pressures on these societies and leanings [?], but now it’s religion, which is covering the hatred. I have experienced the fact that today’s radicalism, religious radicalism has nothing to do with the religion. OF course religion could be an important factor. It has to do with the psychological imbalance, the obsessions that they have, they don’t understand and have not been faced with anything except hatred. Of course Iranians, a bit different, but in other, most of other Islamic countries are–the situation is worse because the popular ethos is negative, and hatred is prevalent, and religion covers this kind of inner hatred, and especially since you can have different interpretations of religion, religion can always come to the aid of fanning these hatreds.
The basic is the lack of psychological balance, and radical emotionalism, and the reason is due to lack of freedom and democracy in these societies. Those who know, who have studied these societies, they know how the dictatorship and despotism stifles the psyche and the soul of individual, and it turns individual into a rebel because basically individual seeks freedom all the time, and under these kinds of conditions turns into hateful individual. The root is in that rebellious[ness] which is created by the establishment of these dictatorial regimes. One should really pay attention to this problem, and the Western democracies, especially the American democracy, which is more in danger than any other society, free society in the world, should take, be careful about this situation.
MR. LEDEEN: Okay. We’ll take your questions. Please identify yourself and then we’ll move on. Yes? Wait for the microphone.
QUESTION: I would like to ask Mr. Khomeini about the circumstances under which his father, the late Mr. Rohallah Khomeini, passed away. There are rumors about it, there have been talks about it, but we’ve never heard from a definite source, how Mr. Khomeini passed away, when, and the circumstances. We know that Mr. Khomeini himself went to Iraq and made some research about this. If he has found out anything, please let us know. Thank you.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: The question was about the circumstances under which his father passed away. He says that the appearance was okay, I believe was a heart attack or a stroke, but the coroner says that there is some reason to suspect that this was not a natural death. However, since in Islam, autopsy is not allowed, the question was set to rest and maybe one day we know exactly what happened.
QUESTION: At the beginning of the revolution, there were rumors about his being in the opposition to the regime of his grandfather, my question–as the brother of Mr. Khomeini himself was opposed to his brother. My question was, is that true? and what happened to him during the past 25 years? My second question is about his religious studies, and is he muchtahed [ph], high ranking, or what is the level of his religious knowledge and who was his professor?
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: At the beginning, the first few years of the revolution, I was involved in that process. However, about two years after the revolution, I started questioning and doubting the practices and behavior of the Islamic republic, especially in terms of the executions and pressures on the public. However, at that time I still believed in the legitimacy of a theocratic regime, yet my criticism was reflected in the papers, in the newspapers of the time, and I was somehow forced to retire from politics and devoted all my time to religious studies in Qom, in Najaf, with famous theological leaders of, personalities of the time, especially in Qom.
At the same time, I also studied philosophy, Western philosophy, and I believe that I can be characterized as a religious leader, in the sense, “muchtahed,” or source of emulation, as much as anybody else in Iran. However, these, the last few years, I’ve come to the belief that a theocratic regime, a religious government is not compatible with Islamic tenets, because that should be established only after the reappearance of the absent [?] imam.
QUESTION: As I said, I’m Dr. [Arabic]. I can speak Farsi. First question for the honorable guest is that–
MR. LEDEEN: Please. I’d like to ask that everyone just limit themselves to one question ,and then later on, if all the questions are exhausted, we can take second and third questions.
QUESTION: I asked the speaker, that these days, there is a lot of talk about Iranian attempts to make atomic bombs in Iran, and I would like to know what is his view on this issue. Should we or shouldn’t we have atomic bomb. Thank you.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: I have no specific information about the nuclear development activities of the Iranian regime, but since it is a trouble-making regime, I wouldn’t put pass, anything behind them. Even if they are not doing this now, I’m sure that in the future they’ll begin to get involved in this kind of activity.
QUESTION: I’ll ask my question is Farsi first and then I’ll translate it into English. My name is Mondan Ozand [ph] and my question has been what is your opinion about the treatment of Iranian women and children during the past 25 years?
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: I lost the beginning of the– [Laughter.]
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: He says certainly the injustice towards women in Iran is beyond either explanation or justification and all of us have been quite aware of it. However, this injustice has not been limited to women alone in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the point is that in all totalitarian regime, be they of religious or non-religious kind, they usually use abstract concepts like country, nation, society, community of Muslims, in order to cover the injustice toward single individuals. If you’re not shocked by the treatment, the mistreatment of a individual, you will not be shocked by mistreatment of the whole nation. They usually justify their actions by saying that we all–everyone, everyone should suffer for others. That women should have chadour [ph], or Hejabislami [ph], or Islamic covers, that because for the sake, for the interests of the whole society–all women. Who are these all women? Every individual is important and we should think and care about the right of that individual and if there is injustice toward that single individual, we should be worried about the whole society.
QUESTION: My name is Mohamed Ali from WVTV [ph], and I asked about the Islamic regime and the supreme leader, and if they are compatible, and if one could exist without the other, and we have been seeing it from the early Islamic revolution, 1400 years ago, that this tradition has been going on, and if he is saying anything against the world of his grandfather.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: In the present theocratic regime, you cannot separate the Islamic government from the supreme religious jurists or [Arabic word]. There can in fact be, there can be an Islamic government without this institution, without supreme religious leader or jurist. But, however, you cannot have a supreme religious leader without an Islamic government. However, I believe that according to Islamic tradition and law, the establishment of an Islamic government, with or without a supreme religious jurist, or supreme leader, is not allowed, is not compatible with the Islamic tradition.
My difference with my grandfather, he believed in supreme religious leader only later in his years, in the 1950’s. Before that, he did not support this thesis. However, he became a believer in that; he was converted to it. However, I have my differences with him. I have no war or fights with those who believe in this. I’m simply against it.
Also, he says that there is no reliable, serious and authoritative basis in Islamic tradition for this notion of a Islamic government with a supreme religious leader. There are only two minor traditions that have relied on, you know, to support this government; but I don’t believe that an important question like this, which is dealing, which is really affecting the life of a generation, of a whole community, should be based on two minor traditions.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Barbara Slaven [ph]. I’m a reporter for USA Today. I wanted to ask you if there is anyone in Iran that people are looking to as some sort of a substitute for Khatami? Are there any figures outside the country that are appealing to people, and specifically what do people think of the son of the shah? Thank you.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: I think that anyone who is willing to step into the field, who has the will-power and the dynamism to lead Iranians into freedom should be there, and this is the only condition that they should have.
QUESTION: Karsen Jindermet [?], Turkish Daily Hurriyet [ph]. After all that has happened in Iran, is there a future for Islam in your country, and what do you think of Turkish style of secularism?
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: In Turkey, Ataturk was instrument in separating government from religion. However, the Turkish people basically remained Muslim. So we have the same problem in Iran. I do not really care whether they remain Muslims or not but the question is, the point is that they should be free to choose what religion they want, and there should be a separation of government and religion in my country too.
QUESTION: My name is Yusef Abudullah Zaday [ph]. I’m follower of the Iranian and all, all leader, Dr. [Arabic]. My question is that Khomeini was in Paris [inaudible] always they talking about the–one of the regime in Iran–democratic and for people. But when he came back Iran, he changed his mind . What was the reason? What was the purpose of the change of mind? Thank you so much.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: The tendency towards authoritarianism and dictatorship has been present in many societies, especially in ours, during history. The reason my father tended to change his attitudes about freedom, individual freedoms, probably was–one reason was this tendency and the second one was his preoccupation with Islam and preserving Islamic values. One should not forget that in Turkey, in Ottoman empire time, the dictatorship was a kind of religious dictatorship and it was very cruel, a very severe dictatorship.
In fact, if you compare that dictatorship and the conditions prevailing at the Ottoman Empire with those prevailing in Nasaf’s [ph] time, Nasaf’s dictatorship was much milder than what was going on during the Ottoman Empire.
But anyhow, my hope is that the roots of dictatorship and tendency towards authoritarianism would be eradicated in our society.
QUESTION: Ariel Cohen, the Heritage Foundation. Welcome to Washington, Mr. Khomeini.
One of the concerns about the current Iranian policy, in addition to lack of liberty inside Iran, that you so eloquently covered in your presentation, is the support of the groups that the U.S. State Department and others view as terrorist groups, be it Shiia or Sunni, be it Hezbollah or Islamic Jihad, or others.
What do you think the Iranian policy should be and what do you think the Islamic attitude should be towards groups that target civilians, men, women and children in the cause that they pursue? Thank you.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: No Muslim, no individual can condone terrorist activities of the kind that we have been witnessing in recent years. Clearly, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been involved in terroristic activities, has been as well a huge supporter of these acts. However, we have noticed, one must notice that in the last few years no Iranian individual has been directly involved in terrorist activities.
Mostly you see, you find citizens of other countries, of Islamic countries, Arab countries especially, that have been involved, but no single individuals. However, I emphasize that the regime is one of the most active supporters of terrorism around the world. In fact the involvement of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, in trying to create insecurity and then create–and decrease the security of the population, and create problems for the countries that are involved is quite clear, especially in Iraq. Iran has been intervening in various acts, and committing various acts, and people who are in the know have told me that the murder of Ayatollah Hakim was at the behest of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its hands are very involved.
MS. : [inaudible] Saudi Arabia?
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: I’m sorry; yes. And with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia which is involved in these activities now.
MR. LEDEEN: I’m going to ask a question at this point.
What do you think is the best way for the government of the United States to behave in order to encourage the liberation and the freedom of the people of Iran?
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: The best way is for the United States to help the movement towards democracy, democracy in Iran. They should look at this issue very seriously and not as dispassionately as they have been, waiting for something to happen and then get involved. They should look at this issue very seriously, indeed.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Nasser Rahimi [ph]. I’d like to ask: Are you for a referendum in Iran? That’s all my–[Arabic].
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: Yes, I have repeatedly stated and asked for a referendum, the necessity of a referendum in Iran. In fact I’ve written a letter, a formal letter to the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the only way that both the government and the Iranian people can get out of this impasse. If the Iranians vote in favor of the continuation of the present regime, so much the better for the regime. They can breathe a sign of relief and continue their governance.
And if not, the people vote against them, they can retire in honor, in fact probably as heroes because they allowed this referendum.
I have recently heard that [Arabic name] has also opted for this option and has asked for a referendum and the separation of government, religion from the government.
QUESTION: Jim Hoagland, Washington Post. I wonder if you could tell us what assessments you formed from your contacts with the different currents of the Shiite community in Iraq, about their attitudes toward the future government of Iraq, and whether or not you have any insight into what the Iranian regime’s attitudes toward the different currents in the Shiite movement, community in Iraq are?
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: After the fall of the old regime and the freedom of the Iraqi people, there has been talk about a kind of Islamic government in that country, but this talk doesn’t go beyond individuals. No political group, in fact no religious group that I know of has come up and called for the establishment of an Islamic regime in that country.
In fact what Iraqi people want is basic amenities of life–electricity, water, and so forth, and, in fact, these days, even if God asked them to create an Islamic republic they would not listen to him. In fact they are kind of gypsy-like. They like life and they want to conduct their business in freedom.
QUESTION: My name is Baran Farizenfir [ph] and the question is if he would support the military movement against Iranian government, and the second question is if he has any followers in Iraq. Thank you.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: One should think how deep the problem and the pressures are in Iran on the Iranian people, that there are so many of them who in fact crave for some sort of foreign intervention to get rid of this calamity. No one can support military action, or bloodshed, but at the same time, if this issue becomes a propaganda issue, the antagonism or opposition to any kind of military intervention, this would be, play in the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran, claiming that if anything happens to us, the America government is going to attack Iran.
As to my followers, what I know is that my words and my statements have been echoed, have been received by the, a lot of members of the Revolutionary Guards and members of the Ministry of Information, in fact those institutions that belong to the regime, to the Islamic Republic of Iran. What–my words, and the things that have I have said has found a receptive ear among these groups. that IU know.
QUESTION: Mat Alfaree [ph] from Voice of America. Considering the fact that more than 65 percent of the population in Iran are between the ages of 18 and 24, what should they think considering the fact that, you know, you said they’re under an oppressive regime? And my second question is if you would please share some of your personal experiences with your grandfather, because he was a very private person and we don’t know how he was in his private life.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: The only remedy for this psychological imbalance that I talked about, and the oppressive mood in Iran, especially among the young people, is democracy and freedom. That’s it. As far as my father’s private life, he led a–grandfather’s private life–he had maybe a father too–had a very normal life, ordinary life, there was nothing very extraordinary that I can relate to you now.
QUESTION: Do you believe in freedom or religion or do you think that in a government in the future of Iran, Shiism should be the prevalent, the dominant religion or religion of the state as was the case centuries ago?
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: Yes, of course there should be freedom of religion. However, I’m not quite sure that religions recognize freedom for others, for other, followers of other religions.
In a secular government, the government should follow the public will, and not become a preacher of morality. The government has specific functions, regular functions everywhere in the world, and so should they have, perform these functions in Iran. Respect for–they should–government, at the same time, should have respect for the practices and traditions of all religious groups in the country.
MR. LEDEEN: I’m going to take two more questions, one from the woman in the back and one from the gentleman in the front, okay? and I’m sorry to those who aren’t going to have a chance, but it’s been an extraordinary session.
QUESTION: My name is Motawasher Rani [ph] with Kurdish Service of Voice of America.
Mr. Khomeini, in any future democracy for Iran, any government, how do you address the issue of minorities? and I know the previous question was about the religious minorities. How do you address the issue of minorities such as Azaris, Kurdish, Baluchis, and the others, and what kind, what form of government do you have in mind for any future of Iran? Thank you.
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: I personally believe in the appropriateness of a federalist, federal form of government in Iran. However, this obviously depends on the will of the Iranian people and how they decide. This experience in the world, this federal experience in the world has been quite successful, and in this form of government these minorities, these various communities have their own rights, and if the life, their life is desirable, if their life is according to what they wish, not only they don’t want to get separated from Iran but maybe even, at that time, other communities outside Iranian borders would like to join them inside.
MR. LEDEEN: Okay. This will be the last question. Rob.
QUESTION: Rob Sabani [ph]. We don’t have a tradition of 4:00 o’clock tea in the U.S. but if you were to be invited to the White House and you had a half-hour chat with the President of the United States, what, specifically, would you ask the President of the United States to do to free your country?
MR. KHOMEINI [through interpreter]: As I indicated in my other, parts of my statements, I think United States, I ask the President to take the question of democracy, not only in the Middle East but especially in Iran, very seriously. As Churchill mobilized the laid-back British population against Hitler, the United States also could mobilize American public opinion for the freedom of Iranians.
MR. LEDEEN: Well, even those of us who are blessed to work at the American Enterprise Institute do not always have experiences like this. I have to say, for my part, that this has been one of the most fascinating, illuminating, educational, provocative, stimulating and enjoyable afternoons we’ve had in a very long time, and on our behalf and on your behalf as well, I’d like to thank Mr. Khomeini for being with us here today. I’d like to Dr. Hepmat [ph] for his wonderful job of translation which is exhausting and terrible, and those of us who have done it all know what he’s been suffering through, and to all of you, thank you so much for coming and a very happy new year to you all.
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