There's been a debate lately about the legitimacy of the concept of Islamic fascism. Both Senator Santorum and President Bush have been criticized for using the term, as if the politicians were introducing a new idea. Actually, however, the concept is an old one, first explored in the Wall Street Journal a quarter of a century ago by a scholar of Italian fascism, Michael Ledeen. The January 5, 1979, article is reprinted below, with permission of Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Recently Jonathan Randal of the Washington Post quoted without comment the remarkable claim of Ayatollah Khomeini, the elderly Iranian Moslem leader living in exile in Paris, that he would be quite willing to see his country maintain good relations with the U.S. American columnists have reported enthusiastically claims by associates of Khomeini that they favor a form of democratic socialism based on the Koran.
As George Will acidly remarked earlier this week: "The sort of people who, a decade ago, compared Ho Chi Minh to George Washington, are now comparing Khomeini to Jefferson."
This, despite a convincing body of evidence that Khomeini, who has called for the removal of the Shah and who appears to be controlling much of the disruption in Iran, is in fact a clerical fascist, a violent anti-Semite and an intensely chauvinistic anti-American. This evidence, moreover, is not the sort which is closely guarded in the offices of intelligence agencies; it is published in several books in Arabic and Persian, and is readily available to anyone willing to look at it. Until recent days, few Western observers apparently were willing to take the time.
Khomeini's attacks on the Shah are cut form a single piece of theological cloth. In both "Islamic Government," a collection of his lectures published in Arabic in 1970, and "Khomeini and His Movement," a collection of his speeches and harangues, published in Persian in 1975, Khomeini criticizes the Shah for violating Islamic law and for betraying the principles of the Koran. "The rationale of (the Shah's) government and some of its members is the abolition of the laws of Islam," Khomeini is quoted as saying in the 1975 volume.
The violations he ascribes to the Shah's government are those that characterize what we would call a secular, pluralistic society. Thus, Khomeini rails against the employment of women in boys' high schools, and men in girls' high schools, "the moral wrongness of which is clear to all." Furthermore, the Shah and his allies are condemned for urging that "women enter (certain) government offices, while their being there is both self-evidently useless and morally wrong." The Shah is also attacked for his leniency in the enforcement of the Koran's moral code. "We want," according to Khomeini's 1978 volume, "a ruler who would cut off the hand of his own son if he steals, and would flog and stone his near relative if he fornicates."
If Khomeini and his followers come to power in Iran, all this will presumably be rigorously enforced. In the 1970 book he says: "If a just mullah is placed in charge of the enforcement of canonical punishments ... would he enforce them otherwise than how they were enforced in the days of the Prophet ... ? Would the Prophet have imposed more than a hundred lashes on the fornicator not previously chaste? Can the mullah reduce the amount of this punishment, thereby creating a divergence between his practice and that of the Prophet? Most certainly not! The ruler…is no more than the executor of God's command and decree."
Khomeini's complaints about the Shah are made, then, in the name of the Muslim divines in Iran, for only they (the mullahs) can be expected to enforce the laws of Islam properly. The attacks on the Shah are not complaints about the harshness of his regime or violations of human rights by Savak, the secret police. Rather, Khomeini condemns the Shah's regime for having sapped the fiber of the country by bringing unsuitable people (non-mullahs) to positions of power.
Above all, Khomeini bemoans the replacement of mullahs with lay persons in the courts of Iran. In fact, under the Shah's father and more recently under the Shah himself, some lay persons have been appointed to judgeships, and it is even theoretically possible that some non-Moslems could become judges (although no such cases have been reported). Khomeini is quoted in the 1975 book as finding such pluralism contemptible:
"In order to accomplish its own designs and to abolish manliness and adherence to Islam as qualities for judges, the government's Ministry of Justice has shown its opposition to the established laws of Islam. From this point on, Jews, Christians and enemies of Islam and of the Muslims must interfere in the affairs of Muslims ... "
When Khomeini refers to "enemies of Islam," this is a code-word for the Baha'is, an eclectic offshoot of Islam, who, along with Christians and Jews, would find a regime led by the mullahs extremely unpleasant.
But if Khomeini is consistently xenophobic toward all non-Muslims he reserves particular venom for the Jews, and for their two great national supporters in the world: Israel and the United States. In the case of Israel, no distinction is made between Jews and Israelis, and the Shah is viewed as the agent of both: " ... what is this relationship and association between the Shah and Israel that the Savak says, ‘Do not speak about the Shah or about Israel.' Is the Shah in the view of the Savak an Israeli? Or, in the view of the Savak, is the Shah a Jew?
It is Israel and the Jews who, in the writings of Ayatollah Khomeini, have brought about the desecration of Iran. Over an over again, in a series of books, lectures and harangues, Khomeini has lashed out at Israel (and, ultimately the United States) as the basic cause of his country's moral and religious ills. From "Khomeini and His Movements:"
"Israel does not wish that the Koran exist in this kingdom; Israel does not wish that the mullahs of Islam exist in this country ... Israel through its evil agents ... has dealt a blow to us. It strikes at you, the nation: it wishes to seize your economy; it wishes to carry off your commerce and agriculture; it wishes to make itself the owner of wealth ... The Koran bars its way — it must be removed ...The Iranian government in pursuance to the purposes and schemes of Israel has humiliated us and continues to do so."
Little wonder, then, that Khomeini is now finding willing allies to the Libyan regime in Muammar al-Khadaffi, and among the Palestine Liberation Organization. But, Khomeini does not stop with attacks on Jews, Christians, Baha'is and Israel; for behind all these enemies of the new order he wishes to create in Iran lies the United States. Again, from "Khomeini and His Movement":
"It is America which supports Israel and its wellwishers; it is America which gives Israel the power to turn Muslim Arabs into vagrants; it is America which directly or indirectly imposes its agents on the nation of Iran; it is America which considers Islam and the glorious Koran a source of harm to itself and wishes to remove both from its path."
These words were published in 1975, and although the Washington Post reports uncritically Khomeini's statement that he is quite willing to have good relations with the United States if America "stops interfering in the internal affairs of Iran," it seems that his basic hatred of this country continues as before. After all, the same Khomeini urges his followers at the Tehran airport to strike against American and Israeli airlines. And the same Khomeini told the audience of the MacNeil-Lehrer Report that he would stop oil shipments to the United States and Israel.
In light of Khomeini's writings, it is astonishing to find him treated with such sympathy in the West. No matter how strongly one may deplore the Shah's authoritarianism, no matter how revolting one may find the excesses of Savak, there can be little reason for any democratic citizen of the West to sympathize with Ayatollah Khomeini. For if he has a major voice in the government of Iran, all women and all those not in the good graces of the Muslim divines will be second-class citizens, and all Iranians subject to stern punishment for violating the theocratic code.
As Judith Miller of the New York Times wrote in an important article tucked away on the fourth page of last Saturday's edition, Khomeini's writings demonstrate contempt for all forms of government except theocracy. In the present circumstances, it is not surprising that Khomeni and his followers should have made attempts to disclaim authorship of the books; they make very unpleasant reading for the West.
Finally, for those who believe that Khomeini, whatever his faults, is nonetheless a sincere patriot who is fighting for his people, there is a significant incident from his own past. In 1969, when Khomeini was a guest of the Iraqi government, some 300,000 Persian Shi'ites (in whose name Khomeini now speaks) were brutally expelled from Iraq. Many of these had been born and raised in Iraq, since the two holiest cities of the Shi'ites lie in that country. The expulsion caused great suffering, but Khomeini did not say a word.
Mr. Ledeen was at the time this was written the executive editor of the Washington Quarterly, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University. He is now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.