(Ramin Parham's note: Just recently, Hussein Khomeini, a respected Shi’a cleric and grandson of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, deconstructed his notorious grandfather’s life achievement -- at no other place than the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C., the heart of the “Great Satan’s” capital.
Khomeini stressed that, at the moment, together with Saudis, Iranians are heavily involved, as in Afghanistan, in sabotaging the reconstruction of Iraq, whose “liberation” he defined as a “gift of God.” Khomeini asserted the necessity of democracy comming to not only Iran, but to the entire Middle East.
When I met him two days after his AEI speech, we focused on the changing values in the younger Iranian generation and the present-day influences that hold potential for the possibility of real change in Iran)
Interview with Hussein Khomeini
“All states, if they wish to remain incorrupt, must ‘above every other thing keep the ceremonies of their religion incorrupt…because one can have no greater indicator of the wreck of a land than to see the divine cult scorned…if that religion had been maintained by the [secular] princes…the states…would be more united, happier by far than they are’…” (1)
Ramin Parham (RP): How should I be calling you sir, Mister Khomeini, Hodjat-ol-eslam Khomeini, or Ayatollah Khomeini?
Hussein Khomeini (HK): The way you want.
RP: All right, Mr. Khomeini. Could you please tell us your age?
HK: I was born in 1958, so I am about 45 of age now.
RP: I am very pleased to be speaking to a person of my generation, being 40 year old myself. We understand the problems facing our generation which have brought us together.
How do you make the heavy burden of your paternal heritage and name coexist with what defines your selfness, the individuality of Hussein Khomeini. What responsibility befalls upon you from this heritage, in preserving Iran’s spiritual and moral spheres and how do you approach it?
HK: What is fundamental is the individual himself. The rest is a byproduct of the time and space environment. Each person is defined by his or her own individuality. It will be the individual who will be held accountable to God, not of the deeds of others, but of his own. In grave, each person will lay down alone with his own individuality. In life, credibility and legitimacy will come to you emanating from your own deeds not from that of others. In dealing with principles and fundamental problems, God refers Man to himself. God willing, we have been pursuing justice –haq- based on our own individuality and responsibility towards God. Therefore, if we have been opposing our society or our governments, it has been on the basis of this individual legitimacy arising not from our pedigree but from our own deeds.
RP: Over the past years, toward which of the eastern and western schools of thought and philosophers have you turned your intellectual and philosophical interest?
HK: In the philosophical arena, we have first followed what is known as the Islamic philosophy, i.e., that of Bu Ali, Mulla Sadra, and Mulla Hadi Sadri. But, as you know, the so called Islamic philosophy is the philosophy of the era of Islam, not that of Islam itself. “Islamic philosophy” is nothing but the Greek philosophy of Aristotle and Plato. Following the advent of doubt in the foundation of our religious believes, we turned our attention to non-Aristotelian and non-Platonian Greek philosophy, in particular that of Plotinus (204-270 AD). Plotinus played a major role in the formation of our thought and in bringing us to the knowledge of ourselves, and, God helping, out of that period [of doubt] and back into the belief of the righteousness of Prophets and Imams –Anbiâ va Oliâ-. Following that period, we pursued western philosophy, that of Kant and Popper, although the latter is more a methodology than a philosophy. Thereafter, the Koran and the Hâdith, which make the foundation of our knowledge and thought and the right methodology, came into our main focus.
RP: Egalitarianism has been, since the advent of Mirza Kuchek Khan and the penetration of Bolshevik ideas in Iran, a central argument in our country’s political upheavals. Could you explain what your understanding is on this particular subject?
HK: There has always been a contradiction between egalitarianism and the aspiration to freedom and wrong understanding has been made of egalitarianism. Fascism and dictatorships have instrumentalized egalitarianism, given it priority over freedom and produced dictatorial systems devoid of any egalitarian aspect. The spirit of egalitarianism, inasmuch as human beings are equal before the law, is right. But one should not overlook the differences between human beings who are responsible for their deeds and the degree to which their merit is developed. If a coercive force tend to equalize people with one another, this is wrong and against humanity.
RP: So, what’s your opinion on what came to be known as the classless “proletarian” or “monistic” –tôhidi- society?
HK: These are instances of those wrongful endeavors to subject human beings.
RP: Without “choice” would it possible to talk of “morality” and how do you think we can bring morality back to our politics and society in their present state of decay?
HK: Without choice one cannot talk of virtue. Coercion does not produce virtue. With choice only can virtue be produced and good and evil be understood. It is by “choosing” right that one reins in both good and evil and produces virtue. Without choice, faith and heresy cannot be judged nor valued. Morality should be part of all activities, be it economic, social, or political. However, it is the way to implement morality that is problematic. Coercion is no operational guarantee for morality since coercion is amoral itself and a non-value that destroys the element of choice. We have no choice but to accept people’s freedom and choice in their deeds and preach morality although there can be no guarantee that morality be followed.
RP: Corruption of the Iranian elite, be it political or else, having now reached astronomical proportions, has more a less consistently been a predicament of our society. How do you think corruption can be uprooted in Iran?
HK: Freedom! When people have the freedom to go back to themselves and become who they are, they avoid corruption. When dictatorship rules the people’s destiny and coercion prevails, mental equilibrium is jeopardized. Mentally unstable people are prone to corruption. Freedom is the first step towards redemption.
RP: From Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt to General Tommy Franks liberation of Iraq, it seems that our region has awaken to modernity with the slap of war. To borrow the words of Professor Bernard Lewis, what did really go wrong for us to have such difficulties to accept the evidence of Man’s free and responsible will?
HK: Our problem goes back not to two centuries ago but to the very beginning, with the subjection of people’s will to coercion that prevailed in Iran either before or after Islam. After the advent of Islam, with the appearance of justice –haq- to Muslims and to our people, justice was stamped and subjection to unjust governments was accepted. In reality, with the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the Umma was caught into mediocrity and became accomplice of the murderers. The damnation of that day befalls upon the Umma as a whole. This Umma is damned. We hope to be freed from this holy damnation. So far, there has been nothing in our history but damnation. However, our hope is that Iranians are different for they did not take part in that murder…
RP: In your speech at the American Enterprise Institute, at several occasions, you spoke of an “alliance” around which our people could coalesce and initiate a mass movement. How would you see the formation of such an “alliance”?
HK: I meant “alliance”, in the sense that it would bring hope to our people and not in that it would ignite a violent struggle, which seems unlikely. Even if such struggle does ignite and reach its goal, it is not clear what the outcome would be, given our people’s lack of knowledge about the aftermath. There will be no guarantee for the advent of democracy. Such an “alliance” could prove heartwarming and present a roadmap, a clear discourse. It could well crystallize in the person of an individual, as the history of nations has shown, or emerge from a group of individuals. History will show. For the time being, the arena is empty.
RP: What is your definition of the Iranian identity?
First, we have to free ourselves from defining a nation or the Umma with an identity. Extremist nationalism is not really acceptable. It is true that some degree of identity does exist, but we should be careful not to fall into illusion. What is real is the individual. The group of individuals that we call society is virtual, an emanation of the intellect. However, Iranians have a certain characteristic traits. Religious belief –Dîn Bâvâri-, faith –Imân-, and selflessness –Isâr- are among them.
RP: In our region however, Iran is one the few countries endowed with a long history as a nation-state.
HK: We have to free ourselves from hegemonic tendencies. What is true is the individual, the self and self’s life. A country where the police stamp my rights is not worth living. In the absence of freedom, how can we talk of nation or Umma.
RP: With regard to your rank and status, which may bring you followers among the bassidj and young clerics, do you have a message for them?
HK: God willing, they have religious believes. My recommendation is that they should look into the teachings of the Koran and the Prophets so that dissimulators and hypocrites could not deceive them anymore with wrongful religion. Justice in its entirety is in the Koran.
RP: Thank you for your time, Mister Khomeini. Hopefully, we will again find such an opportunity, in Iran next time.
HK: God willing.
(1) Sebastian De Grazia, Machiavelli in Hell (Vintage Books, NY, 1989), p.101.