The Khomeini “Revival” The so-called “Khomeini revolution,” which in 1979 deposed the secular, Western-oriented regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, was in reality a mere return in full (including najis regulations, etc.) to oppressive Shiite theocratic rule, the predominant form of Iranian governance during four centuries. Conditions for all non-Muslim religious minorities, particularly Jews, rapidly deteriorated. Historian David Littman recounts the Jews’ immediate plight:
In the months preceding the Shah’s departure on 16 January 1979, the religious minorities . . . were already beginning to feel insecure . . . Twenty thousand Jews left the country before the triumphant return of the Ayatollah Khomeini on 1 February . . . On 16 March, the honorary president of the Iranian Jewish community, Habib Elghanian, a wealthy businessman, was arrested and charged by an Islamic revolutionary tribunal with “corruption” and “contacts with Israel and Zionism”; he was shot on 8 May.
Indeed, the demographic decline of Iranian Jewry after the creation of Israel was dramatic even before the revolution — from nearly 120,000 in 1948 to roughly 70,000 in 1978. The current Jewish population is perhaps 10,000, or less.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s views were the most influential in shaping the ideology of the revitalized Shiite theocracy, and his attitudes towards Jews — both before and after he assumed power — were particularly negative. Khomeini’s speeches and writings invoked a panoply of Judenhass motifs, including orthodox interpretations of sacralized Muslim texts, and the Shiite conception of najis. More ominously, Khomeini’s rhetoric blurred the distinction between Jews and Israelis, reiterated paranoid conspiracy theories about Jews (both within Iran and beyond), and endorsed the annihilation of the Jewish state. The pillars of this continuous modern campaign of annihilationist anti-Semitism are the motifs from traditional Islamic Jew-hatred, including Islamic eschatology, grafted seamlessly to jihadism. These deep-seated Islamic theological motifs are further conjoined to Holocaust denial and the development of a nuclear-weapons program intended expressly for Israel’s eradication.
The writings and speeches of the most influential religious ideologues of this restored Shiite theocracy — including Khomeini himself — make apparent their seamless connection to the oppressive doctrines of their forebears in the Safavid and Qajar dynasties. For example, consider the “Islamic perspective” on the U.N.’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written in the mid-1960s by Sultanhussein Tabandeh, the Iranian Shiite leader of a prominent Sufi order. According to Professor Eliz Sanasarian’s important study of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, Tabandeh’s tract became “the core ideological work upon which the [post-revolution] Iranian government . . . based its non-Muslim policy.” Tabandeh begins his discussion by lauding as a champion “of the oppressed” Shah Ismail I, the repressive and bigoted founder of the Safavid dynasty, who, as per contemporary accounts, “bore hatred against the Jews and ordered their eyes to be gouged out if they happened to be found in his vicinity.” It is critical to understand that Tabandeh’s key views on non-Muslims were implemented “almost verbatim in the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
In essence, Tabandeh simply reaffirms the sacralized inequality of non-Muslims relative to Muslims under sharia:
Since Islam regards non-Muslims as on a lower level of belief and conviction, if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim . . . then his punishment must not be the retaliatory death, since the faith and conviction he possesses is loftier than that of the man slain . . . the penalties of a non-Muslim guilty of fornication with a Muslim woman are augmented because, in addition to the crime against morality, social duty and religion, he has committed sacrilege, in that he has disgraced a Muslim and thereby cast scorn upon the Muslims in general, and so must be executed. . . .
The conception of najis or ritual uncleanliness of the non-Muslim has also been reaffirmed. Ayatollah Khomeini stated explicitly: “Non-Muslims of any religion or creed are najis.” Khomeini elaborated his views on najis and non-Muslims, with a specific reference to Jews:
Eleven things are unclean: urine, excrement, sperm, blood, a dog, a pig, bones, a non-Muslim man and woman, wine, beer, perspiration of a camel that eats filth. . . . The whole body of a non-Muslim is unclean, even his hair, his nails, and all the secretions of his body . . . The body, saliva, nasal secretions, and perspiration of a non-Muslim man or woman who converts to Islam automatically become pure. As for the garments, if they were in contact with the sweat of the body before conversion, they will remain unclean. . . . It is not strictly prohibited for a Muslim to work in an establishment run by a Muslim who employs Jews, if the products do not aid Israel in one way or another. However it is shameful [for a Muslim] to be under the orders of a Jewish departmental head.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1942 speech “Islam Is Not a Religion of Pacifists” is a modern vision of classical, authoritative formulations on the uniquely Islamic institution of jihad. It states plainly:
Those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvation. For they shall live under [Allah’s law; the Sharia]. . . . Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]? Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors! There are hundreds of other [Koranic] psalms and hadiths [sayings of the prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.