The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; A Personal View From Inside the Chaos of the Iranian Revolution by Mansour Farhang
MANSOUR FARHANG: Well, we have to understand Ayatollah Khomeini is the unquestioned and immensely popular leader of this revolution, and the Iranian people have been on guard against any kind of counterrevolutionary activities, both inside and outside the country.
ROBERT MacNEIL [voice-over]: That endorsement of the Iranian revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini came from Mansour Farhang in November, 1979. Then, Mr. Farhang was a member of Iran`s diplomatic staff in Washington. Today he is an exile from the political terror in Teheran, disgusted and disillusioned.
MacNEIL: Good evening. Another Iranian religious leader/politician was assassinated today. He was Hojatolislam Abdulkarim Hashemi Nejad, secretary-general of the ruling Islamic Republic Party, in die northeastern city of Mashhad. He was killed by a grenade, which also blew off the hand of his attacker. The killing was condemned by Ayatollah Khomeini as an act by American lackeys to scare Iranians away from the polls in Friday`s presidential election. That election is to fill the vacancy caused by the assassination of one president and the dismissal of President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, now living in exile in Paris. The wave of political assassinations has been met by wholesale executions of people the Khomeini regime considers its opponents. Another 110 left-wing militants were exe- cuted by firing squad yesterday, and 43 today, bringing to nearly 1,400 the number of people put to death on political charges since Bani-Sadr was dismissed last June. In the middle of this wave of terror, the Iranian government announced yesterday that its troops had driven Iraqi forces out of the oil refinery city of Abadan, after a year of occupation. The Iraqis confirmed it. Tonight, a personal view from inside the chaos of the Iranian revolution. Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Robin, when the Islamic revolution swept across Iran two and a half years ago, there were several spokesmen here who articulated and argued the revolution`s cause and virtue. They did the same later when the hostages were taken at the U.S. embassy in Teheran, and during the prolonged crisis that followed. One of the most prominent of those spokesmen then was Mansour Farhang. An opponent of the Shah, he had first come to the United States in 1959 to go to college, returning in 1970 to become a professor of international relations at Sacramento State University in California. There he lived with his wife and two children, and taught for 10 years. After the revolution in Iran he came to Washington to become the culture and science counselor at the Iranian embassy. It was then that he appeared on this and other television programs. He also served as an interpreter for an interview we did with Bani-Sadr, then the Iranian foreign minister. Farhang went from Washington to a visible post with the Iranian mission to the United Nations, and finally, in June 1980, returned to Iran to become a foreign policy advisor to Bani-Sadr. When Bani-Sadr was deposed from office and went underground, so did Farhang. He has been in Paris with Bani-Sadr the last few weeks, and now he`s with Robin in New York. Robin?
MacNEIL: Mr. Farhang, how long were you in hiding in Teheran?
Mr. FARHANG: About eight weeks.
MacNEIL: Eight weeks. What sort of place were you in?
Mr. FARHANG: In a family
MacNEIL: In a family of sympathizers.
Mr. FARHANG: Yes
MacNEIL: And were you with Mr. Bani-Sadr. or were you separate?
Mr. FARHANG: No, separate.
MacNEIL: I see. And were you well looked after?
Mr. FARHANG: Yes. People are very sympathetic to those who have to hide from the terror in Iran. And a family which was very sympathetic to the original cause of the revolution was very generous in caring for me during the period.
MacNEIL: Were they putting themselves at great risk by --
Mr. FARHANG: Yes.
MacNEIL: Would you have been killed if you had been found?
Mr. FARHANG: Very likely.
MacNEIL: Would they have been?
Mr. FARHANG: Yes, there was such a likelihood.
MacNEIL: How did you get out of Iran after that time?
Mr. FARHANG: Through the Turkish borders.
MacNEIL: But how did you get out of the city of Teheran and to the Turkish border?
Mr. FARHANG: Friends drove me to an area close to the Turkish border, and we walked over the borderline during the night.
MacNEIL: And you made your way to Paris?
Mr. FARHANG: Yes.
MacNEIL: Did you actually leave with Bani-Sadr or separately?
Mr. FARHANG: No, separately.
MacNEIL: Separately. But now you have joined him in Paris.
Mr. FARHANG: Yes
MacNEIL: And what are you going to do now? What is your purpose in life now?
Mr. FARHANG: I am going to do a book on the Iranian revolution, and continue my struggle for democratic self-government in Iran, which I have been interested in since I was 15 years old.
MacNEIL: Is it yours, and Bani-Sadr`s, purpose now to try to overthrow Ayatollah Khomeini`s government?
Mr. FARHANG: It is the decision of overwhelming majority of the Iranian people to overthrow the fascist regime in Iran. And Bani-Sadr, being the representative of 75 percent of the voters -- more than 11 million people - - obviously, he is fulfilling his responsibility in taking a position against those who turned the revolution into a counterrevolution.
MacNEIL: Well, thank you. Jim?
LEHRER: Mr. Farhang, the first time you were on this program was in February, 1979. The Shah had fled. Khomeini had just returned from exile in Paris, and the revolution was at its emotional peak. Among your words that night were these:
Mr. FARHANG [on videotape]: But the most interesting manifestation of the future society I saw in Iran was the spirit of cooperation among the people and the ability to relate to one another in such a way which is unprecedented in Iranian history. Unlike what Professor Lewis explained, what is going to happen in Iran doesn`t have anything to do with what has been done in the name of Islam during the past 400 years. In fact, the theory of the Islamic Republic in Iran comes from the tradition of resistance to those who have oppressed and exploited the masses of Muslims in the name of Islam. In the present situation in Iran, the theoreticians of this revolution, as well as Imam Khomeini himself, have placed equal emphasis on the significance of freedom and the importance and necessity of socio-economic justice.
LEHRER: Mr. Farhang, what went wrong?
Mr. FARHANG: Let me say that I would repeat exactly the same words today. And giving you an example of what happened in Iran: the principle theoretician of the revolutionary movement. Dr. Ali Shariat Til, who died about a year before the revolution -- on June 5th. Dr. Ali Shariat Til`s family and close friends had the occasion for a gathering for the fourth anniversary of his death. On the evening of that day, Khomeini`s paratroopers attacked Dr. Ali Shariat Til`s home, burned it down, beat his children, and insulted his wife, and arrested a large number of people. That symbolizes the betrayal of the revolution by Khomeini who for 14 years in exile expressed support for human rights, human dignity, democracy and commitment to popular sovereignty. What has actually happened in Iran is that the popular and peaceful revolution was gradually transformed into a totalitarian movement of the worst kind, which is fascist totalitarianism. And in the process, an 80-ycar-old man who had defended freedom and justice for 15 years in exile, was transformed -- due to corruption of power and his dogmatic position on various issues -- into a criminally insane person.
LEHRER: He`s criminally insane now. in your opinion?
Mr. FARHANG: Yes.
LEHRER: Was he criminally insane when he left Paris and returned to Iran as the leader of that revolution?
Mr. FARHANG: Not at all. The description of him as a criminally insane person is based on his actions. He says criticism of his views is equivalent to war against God, and thus punishable by death. He actually orders his men to execute young men and women without asking their names simply because those young men and women are expressing support for a popularly elected president. Up to the moment he went to Iran -- when he was in Paris, when we studied his life and what he said -- I would say exactly the same thing: that the Iranian people overwhelmingly supported him and followed him because he lived an exemplary life in terms of resisting the Shah`s oppression, and leading a very popular revolution. It was Khomeini who was changed by power. The Iranian people are still committed to the same revolutionary goals.
LEHRER: Changed by power in what way? I mean, what -- he realized that anything that he thought -- he began to think he was God, is that it?
Mr. FARHANG: Very much so. Let me tell you that his own grandson, Hossein Khomeini, said exactly the words you express at this very second. He came to us one night and said, "My grandfather thinks of himself as God, and he cannot tolerate any criticism because he does not believe that God can be criticized."
LEHRER: When did you first -- when did it first hit you that Khomeini thought of himself as God, and as a result had become -- to use your term - - "criminally insane"?
Mr. FARHANG: Well, there is no exact, specific time I can point to --
LEHRER: I don`t mean a date or anything.
Mr. FARHANG: -- but it was very gradual. It was very gradual. Beginning with the hostage taking that -- he expressed very clearly to various people, including Bani-Sadr. that the purpose of hostage-taking was to manipulate internal Iranian politics, and it didn`t really have anything to do with an anti-imperialist objective he claimed to have. When Bani-Sadr heard this, he knew that the man is really devoid of any moral commitment, that he has completely been taken over by power and the Machiavellian dictates of using power in order to maintain his position.
MacNEIL: Is it senility, or is it a mind -- is the mind still a good mind, which has just become corrupted by power?
Mr. FARHANG: I don`t think that -- you see. from the very beginning, he said he was not interested in power. In Paris, I talked to him several times, and you interviewed him in Paris. He stated over and over that he was disinterested in taking a position of power, that he wants to go to Iran -- go to Qom, and resume his teaching duties. Well, he actually asked the men around him to formulate a constitution which makes him the absolute ruler of Iran without anyone being able to question his views, and he absolutely does not listen to any critical views whatsoever. This kind of mentality -- it is, in terms of having a constructive set of goals, yes, it is senility.
MacNEIL: You say you first began to notice this when the hostages were seized. What part did the hostage crisis play in the destruction or corruption of the Iranian revolution?
Mr. FARHANG: You see, there was a legitimate and --
MacNEIL: If there had been no hostage crisis -- no hostages taken -- would the revolution still be on a good course?
Mr. FARHANG: It`s- -- I don`t know. But that was the incident which was used as an instrument of suppressing any critical view as pro-American or pro-imperialist -- that is, he transformed the anti-imperialist sentiment of the Iranian people into xenophobia. Xenophobia can only lead to fascism. In fact, fascism needs xenophobia in order to appeal to the destructive and hateful instincts of those who follow the fascist leader.
MacNEIL: Many people in this country -- some sympathetic to the Shah, some not sympathetic to the Shah but opposed to his violent overthrow -- predicted at the time that the regime led by Khomeini could be even more intolerant and destructive than the Shah`s. And they saw it, looking at Khomeini, who sounded so absolutist in his statements. Now, have they not turned out to be right?
Mr. FARHANG: Well, we have collected his statements up to the time he returned to Iran, and those statements overall indicate a very progressive and democratic orientation. Yes, there were those elements who had some fundamental conceptions about religion and what a theocratic state would be like; and. based on the general understanding of history and theocracies, they made those statements. But we did not believe that Khomeini would become an absolute ruler of a theocracy. We thought we were going to have elections for a constituent assembly, and an elected constituent assembly will formulate the constitution, and people will become the source of legitimacy, unlike the kingdom, or the historical source of legitimacy in Iran, which was fundamentally power.
MacNEIL: Is Iran today, under what is left of the Khomeini regime, worse for the people of Iran than the Shah`s regime was?
Mr. FARHANG: Yes.
MacNEIL: Which must be a very painful statement for you to make.
Mr. FARHANG: It is very painful. There is no question that from an economic and moral and cultural perspective we have gone from bad to worse. But the struggle is not over yet.
LEHRER: Mr. Farhang, you said a moment ago that the majority of the people in Iran no longer support the Ayatollah Khomeini. If that is the case, then why is he still ruling the country? Or is he?
Mr. FARHANG: Well, an overwhelming majority of the people did not support the Shah, and he was in power for almost 30 years. So he is using an atmosphere of terror -- guns -- in order to maintain his power. Any leader who was overwhelmingly supported by his people two and a half years ago, today has to execute scores of innocent young men and women in order to maintain an atmosphere of terror so that he can govern, is obviously illegitimate. There is no functioning government in Iran. The principle function of the fascist regime in Iran is to protect the lives of its officials, and to suppress the opposition. We have almost five million unemployed people in Iran. The universities are completely shut down. This is the beginning of the third -- fourth - -- semester that we have no higher education in Iran. Our trade is in the terrible shape. The country has no credit anywhere in the world. So I can get into details if you`re interested, but the regime in Iran cannot really be described as a responsible, functioning government at all.
LEHRER: But it`s still in place, even in its crippled form, is it not?
Mr. FARHANG: Sure, it is.
LEHRER: Well, then how -- what happens? I mean, what --
Mr. FARHANG: Well, there is a slow-motion civil war going on in Iran. That is, people are resisting the repression. With more intensity than we have ever had in our history. When distributing a leaflet in the streets of Iran means being executed by the regime, still every day we see demonstrators throughout the country who resist the regime. The resistance will continue to go on, and there is no question that the regime will be overthrown. The exact timing cannot be predicted. But the ultimate outcome, there is no doubt of it.
LEHRER: You mentioned -- you said, "slow-motion civil war." Do you think it will ever go beyond a slow-motion civil war into a really hot civil war?
Mr. FARHANG: After, perhaps, the war with Iraq is over; that is, if our army succeeds in expelling the Iraqis out of our territory. At that point it`s possible that the regime might try to bring the army into the picture, and at that time the civil war will be expanded.
LEHRER: What is your reading of the army`s loyalties now? I mean, are they -- are they still supporting Khomeini, or are they -- or what? What is the position of the army?
Mr. FARHANG: The army at the moment is completely preoccupied with the war which was begun by Iraq`s aggression against our territory. They are fighting a patriotic war, and their principal responsibility right now is in the battles against Iraq, and they are not really very pleased about the internal situation. And they are fighting the war in spite of Khomeini`s policies, and not because of them.
MacNEIL: The Ayatollah blames the Mujahedccn for the attacks and for the demonstrations. And they, as I gather, are most of the people who are being executed. Who are the Mujahedeen, and what is their political identity?
Mr. FARHANG: The Mujahedeen is the oldest and the most popular political organization. which was formed about 17 years ago. They are committed to a very progressive and democratic interpretation of Islam. From the time they started their struggle against the Shah, they played a very important role in Iranian opposition politics. It was the only group which questioned Khomeini`s leadership from the very beginning, and they must be credited with seeing the deviations before other political groups and personalities in the country. And the Mujahedeens were forced: they had no choice but to pick up arms to continue their resistance. From September of last year until June of this year, 17 members of the Mujahedeen were killed on the streets of Iran, mostly in Teheran, for selling their newspapers. And during this period, at any given time, about 1.000 of them were in prison. And during this entire period they did not at all use arms in responding to Khomeini`s paratroopers.
MacNEIL: Are they Marxist, the Mujahedeen?
Mr. FARHANG: They are not
MacNEIL: What would be their place in the political spectrum?
Mr. FARHANG: Well, they present themselves as an Islamic group, but when you read their literature their interpretation of Islam is very democratic and very progressive. They`re committed to popular sovereignty; they`re committed to political equality: they`re committed to majority rule; and they have a very effective organization. Based on their records, the Mujahedeen must be described as a very patriotic and moralistic political group in Iran that any government in the future will have Mujahedeens as a principal partner in it.
MacNEIL: And you and Bani-Sadr support the Mujahedeen in their struggle?
Mr. FARHANG: No question about it. Let me tell you, even 48 hours before Bani-Sadr was deposed as commander-in-chief, Khomeini sent his son-in-law. Shaboddin Eshragi, to Keirmansha, and asked Bani-Sadr for the last time -- which was the with time -- to take a position against Mujahedeen, and continue to be commander-in-chief, and to have anything he wished to have within the government. Bani-Sadr refused to do that because he knew that in order to have a democratic order in Iran, we must have a political order. We must have a government which absorbs diverse political elements, and not be exclusive to any particular perspective -- monopolistic -- like the Islamic Republican Party.
LEHRER: Is there any question in your mind that the Mujahedeen is responsible for the assassinations and the explosions that have resulted in the killing of so many of the Islamic Republican Party officials -- the clergy ?
Mr. FARHANG: Well, they have issued statements declaring their armed struggle against the regime. Whether they are specifically responsible for these actions, I don`t know exactly which ones they take responsibility for. But it is not really an act of terror in the sense of having another option in order to pursue their objection. There is a war. When Mr. Rashid- Al-Hefazi, who was a member of our staff, a former student from Stanford University, he was arrested even before Bani-Sadr was deposed as commander- in-chief. The man was executed five days ago without a trial. When young people are arrested in the streets and executed because of taking part in a demonstration, you don`t really describe Mujahedeen`s activities or other armed revolutionary activities as terrorism. It should be described as civil war, and on both sides, unfortunately, violence is being used, and there is no question that poisoning the Iranian political environment and definitely damaging the cause of democratic self-order.
LEHRER: When is it all going to end. Mr. Farhang?
Mr. FARHANG: It will end when Khomeini is no longer on the scene. That is - - that would at least be the beginning of the end.
LEHRER: What will -- let`s say that Khomeini dies, or Khomeini, for one reason or another, steps down or is forced out. What would then happen in the country?
Mr. FARHANG: Immediately, other religious leaders, who are unanimously against Khomeini`s policies today, and who have been suppressed or under house arrest -- they have been beaten -- they will begin to speak out against Khomeini`s version of Islam, which they regard as a deviation. And once other religious leaders reject Khomeini`s line, the Islamic Republican Party and the men surrounding Khomeini have no chance to remain in power. Who will take their place ? That remains to be seen. Whether we as a people are going to demonstrate our capacity to form a coalition government embracing progressive religious elements, the National Front elements, elements of socialist, nationalists, those who respect independence and freedom of Iran, the only way we are able to form a democratic self- government in Iran is to be committed to a diverse and -- diverse coalition government. The Mujahedeens and Bani-Sadr have formed the Council of National Defense. The National Front has joined the Council on National Defense. Various political elements and personalities have requested to join. Even there is the discussion and negotiation for the Democratic Party of Kurdistan to join the Council on National Defense. If these various political elements continue to work together, we have a chance for a more humane political situation in our country.
LEHRER: Thank you. Robin?
MacNEIL: In a word -- there are just a few seconds -- is there a role, constructive role, for the United States to play?
Mr. FARHANG: To stay out of the situation. It is very fortunate for the United States that they cannot overtly support the fascist regime in Iran, because there is no such desire on the part of the Khomeini regime. And this is an interesting change in the general policies of the United States toward the Third World, and it should continue.
MacNEIL: We have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us this evening.
Mr. FARHANG: Thank you.
MacNEIL: Good night, Jim.
LEHRER: Good night, Robin.
MacNEIL: That`s all for tonight. We will be back tomorrow night. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
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- This episode features a A Personal View From Inside the Chaos of the Iranian Revolution by Mansour Farhang. The guests are Mansour Farhang. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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