Imam Khomeini was anti-Zionist, not anti-Judaism: Richard Falk

Imam Khomeini was anti-Zionist, not anti-Judaism: Richard Falk

Richard Falk who met Imam Khomeini has said , "Imam Khomeini made clear his opposition to Israel although he was also clear that he regarded Judaism as an authentic religion deserving respect."

Imam Khomeini has been the founder of the Revolution and the school of thought that has crossed geographical boundaries and has become an important discourse. The Revolution founded by him has not been limited to Iran and its effects can be seen in the region and other parts of the world.

Political figures and elites around the world, regardless of their different viewpoints and even their opposition to the Islamic Revolution of Iran, have not been able to ignore the important and influential role of Ayatollah Khomeini.

In an interview with Mehr News Agency, Richard Anderson Falk, an American professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and former UN official shared his views on Ayatollah Khomeini’s role and viewpoints in the world. Richard Anderson Falk had met Imam Khomeini a couple of days before he left Paris to Tehran.

Following is the text of our interview with him:

An Israeli leader described the Islamic revolution as an "earthquake of the century". What have been the effects of the Imam Khomeini-lead revolution in the region that worried Israelis?

Imam Khomeini made clear his opposition to Israel and the Zionist Project of establishing a Jewish state inside the Islamic World, although he was also clear that he regarded Judaism as an authentic religion deserving respect. When I had a meeting with Imam Khomeini in Paris days before he returned to Iran, he said explicitly that so long as Jews were not active in supporting Israel, it would be a 'tragedy for us if they left Iran after the revolution.’ His outlook was anti-Israeli, but not anti-Semitic.

I am not familiar with this quote although it makes sense. Israel had enjoyed positive relations with Iran during the period of the Shah’s rule. The Islamic Revolution was perceived as an immediate threat to Israel because it sought to reclaim political control for the ancestral peoples, long resident in the region under the auspices of a political movement espousing Islamic principles and opposed to all forms of secular and Western penetration, especially in the form of a settler-colonial state. And such a movement had successfully challenged the Pahlavi regime in Iran, which had the most elaborate modernized internal security apparatus in the region. If it could in Iran, it was supposed that such revolutionary movements could and would succeed elsewhere in the region.

Whether "earthquake of the century" is an overstatement can be discussed and challenged. Possibly, seen in the context of the Middle East, and from the perspective of Israel, it was seen as an extreme disruptive event, with an anti-Israeli mobilizing potential that would influence the peoples of the region, and at the same time deprived Israel of its most sympathetic support as centered previously in Iran. 

What features of the Islamic Revolution have worried the western powers?

I suppose the most worrisome aspect of the Islamic Revolution from the perspective of the West was its resolve to eliminate all forms of Western influence—geopolitical, political, economic, and cultural. In this sense, the events in Iran could be interpreted as anti-imperial as well as anti-colonial, that is, not only opposing European colonialism but its sequel taking the form of the project of U.S. influence in strategic partnership with the hostile regimes and Israel. 

The second source of concern was the rejection of Western ideas about governance and the place of religion in the life of society. Western ideas of political legitimacy rested on a premise of separating church and state, while the Islamic Revolution favored their organic connection, giving primacy to religious leadership, although accompanied by a political sphere that was legitimated by periodic free elections.

Other issues involved imposing religious traditions contrary to Western cultural ideas. This can be observed, especially, in relation to the dress and appearance of women, and with respect to education, social life, and entertainment.
The West celebrates ‘freedom’ by reference to social practices, including music, consumption of alcohol, pornography, and tolerance of anti-religious ideas. It perceived Iran after the Islamic Revolution as prohibiting what in the West were regarded as achievements of the Enlightenment and modernity.

In the end, the most fundamental opposition to the Islamic Revolution arose from the belief that political Islam would be resistant to Western penetration and hegemonic control after the collapse of European colonialism, and thus threatened crucial Western strategic interests, including access to energy, security of Israel, ideological anti-Marxist solidarity, and neoliberal globalization. 

How do you see the role of Imam Khomeini in the Muslim world?

I believe that Imam Khomeini had a major impact in demonstrating to the Muslim world that the mobilization of national populations could be effective in challenging corrupt and decadent forms of political leadership. It gave rise to Islamic activism, which in turn produced Islamophobic reactions in Europe and North America.

Of course, Khomeini’s Influence has also led to deeper rivalries, especially in the Middle East. Imam Khomeini was as opposed to the [Persian] Gulf dynasties, especially Saudi Arabia, In turn, these conservative monarchies, although purporting to adhere to Islamic law and practices were severely threatened by the advocacy of an Islamic orientation of government. It is no secret that [Persian] Gulf monarchies, along with Israel, opposed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood anywhere in the region, especially Egypt.

Imam Khomeini always hated compromising with Western imperial powers and Israel and believed in resistance. Do you see any changes in the balance of power in the region?

Except for Iran itself, I do not see any considerable shift in the balance of power in the region. It could be argued that the Arab uprising of 2010-11 reflected a certain influence of the Imam and the Iranian experience of revolutionary success inspired people to act collectively in mounting challenges to the status quo. Even if this is so it must be offset by counter-revolutionary moves that followed these uprisings, producing chaos in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and intensifications of the harsh rule of Arab monarchies. It may be correct that Western influence has somewhat declined, and is being now challenged by other extra-regional forces, China and Russia. These changes are affecting the role of global geopolitics in the Islamic world.

Iran’s foreign policy has enjoyed a measure of success in Lebanon, Palestine, and above all, Syria, but it seems premature to speak of a new balance of power in the region.

***: (The interview was originally published on in June last year)

Read more: 

French TV Conducted Historic Interview with Imam Khomeini

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