Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Unlikely Pair Emerges as Foe Of Iran Regime

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
Two scions of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran are emerging as emboldened opponents of the regime in Tehran, reviving the prospect that the son of the former shah may collaborate with the grandson of the ayatollah who deposed him.

In a reversal of historical roles, it was Reza Pahlavi, heir to the Peacock Throne, who was last week in Paris - the safe haven of Ayatollah Khomeini immediately before the 1979 revolution - drumming up support from French legislators for his plan of nonviolent regime change.

Meanwhile, at the spiritual center of Iran's Shiite theocracy, Qom, the grandson of Khomeini, broke a near three-year silence in the press, and publicly gave his support for a Western armed intervention in his country. READ MORE

The public statements from Hossein Khomeini are especially relevant given the recent unrest in Iran. In the last two months, the ruling mullahs have had to contend with a rash of demonstrations from ethnic Azeris, disgruntled students, and now women's groups. Yesterday about 200 women from a group called the Labor and Communist Party staged a demonstration in Tehran Square at which 20 of the demonstrators were detained, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, dissident journalist Akbar Ganji is scheduled to visit Italy and France this week on a tour of the West in which he has been urging newspapers, activists, and other civil society groups to step up their solidarity with Iran's nonviolent opposition.

Yesterday the Middle East Media Research Institute translated an interview Mr. Khomeini gave on May 31, the anniversary of his grandfather's death, to the Arabic satellite station, al-Arabiya. In it he did not mince words.

"My grandfather's revolution has devoured its children and has strayed from its course," he said. "I lived through the revolution, and it called for freedom and democracy - but it persecuted its leaders."

Mr. Khomeini then noted the fate of Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleqhani, who was driven into hiding after the revolution, despite his opposition to the Shah.

Hossein Khomeini emerged in the fall of 2003 as one of the least likely enemies of the Islamic Republic that his famous grandfather helped create in 1978 and 1979 during the country's revolution, when he visited Washington and New York in September and October to give speeches and interviews calling for an armed intervention to depose the ruling clerics. But soon after his visit to America, the young cleric went back to Iran at the urging of his family and kept his thoughts on regime change at least to himself.

When Mr. Khomeini returned to Iran, many of his close followers had assumed that he had been lured back to the country for the safety of his family. A senior researcher yesterday at the London based Center for Arab-Iranian Studies who has been in touch with the grand ayatollah's grandson, Alireza Nourizadeh, said he was able to return safely to Iran only after Khomeini's widow and Hossein's grandmother, Batol Saqafi Khomeini, sent a stern warning to Iran's supreme leader.

"She sent a message to the director of Ayatollah Khomeini's personal office, a man named Mohammadi Golpaygani. The message was, 'My grandson is going to come back. If anything happens to him, even if he has been taken for questioning, I will not be silent,'" Dr. Nourizadeh said.

Dr. Nourizadeh added that Mr. Khomeini lived with his grandmother in Tehran for three weeks upon returning to Iran and then began a mentorship with Iran's most senior cleric and a harsh critic of the mullahs, Ayatollah Ali Montazeri.

The tutelage of Mr. Montazeri has not tempered the opinions of the young Khomeini. When asked by al-Arabiya about his earlier calls for America to invade, he said, "Freedom must come to Iran in any possible way, whether through internal or external developments. If you were a prisoner, what would you do? I want someone to break the prison."

By contrast, the son of the Shah, Reza Pahlavi, is not such a hardliner. In this week's issue of Time Magazine's European edition, Mr. Pahlavi said he could not imagine an American invasion of Iran. "I cannot foresee any military action which could be feasible," he said. "The thought of foreign tanks rolling into Tehran is beyond imagination. No Iranian could tolerate an invasion. It would be an attack on our homeland. Even limited air strikes: If you want to alienate people, strike the first blow."

Mr. Ganji and several student leaders have also come out recently against a foreign invasion or aerial bombing campaign against Iran.

One question that emerged three years ago among the opposition is whether Mr. Pahlavi, who has endorsed nonviolent civil disobedience as the best means of toppling the mullahs, could work with Mr. Khomeini, who told this reporter in 2003 that if the Iranian people ever were to rise up, they would kill the country's current rulers.

During Mr. Khomeini's 2003 visit to Washington he asked author and columnist, Christopher Hitchens, to inquire of Mr. Pahlavi whether he would renounce his claim to the throne in Tehran.

Mr. Hitchens yesterday said Mr. Khomeini "said he heard nice things about him, that he would be ready to work with him on a democratic secular outcome on condition that he renounced the Pahlavi claim to the Iranian throne. And so I put this to young Reza and he would not do that. It was quite clear, he said he did not claim to be the Shah of Iran. But that's not what the message inquires. He wants to know if you renounce the claim."

Mr. Hitchens remembers pressing Mr. Pahlavi on the specific point of renouncing the throne, and Mr. Pahlavi would not abdicate, nor would he criticize some of the human rights abuses of his father's old regime.