Kapuściński: “Qom Was Rumbling”

From Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book Shah of Shahs (about the last Shah of Iran):

Kapuscinski interviews an Iranian about the beginnings of the revolution:

Every pretext, he says, was good for rising up against the Shah. The people wanted to get rid of the dictator, and they flexed their muscles whenever they had the chance.

Everybody looked toward Qom. [Ed: Qom is a religious center in Iran.] That’s the way it had always been in our history: Whenever there was unhappiness and a crisis, people always started listening for the first signals from Qom.

And Qom was rumbling.

This was when the Shah extended diplomatic immunity to all US military personnel and their families. Our army was already full of American experts. And the mullahs came right out and said that the Shah’s move offended the principle of sovereignty.

Now, for the first time, Iran would hear Ayatolla Khomeini. Before that, no one knew of him — nobody but the people of Qom, that is. He was already over 60, old enough to be the Shah’s father. later he would often call the ruler “son”, but of course in an ironic and wrathful tone. Khomeini attacked him ruthlessly. My people, he would cry, don’t trust him. He’s not your man! He’s not thinking of you — he’s only thinking of himself and of the ones who give him orders. He’s selling out our country, selling us all out. The Shah must go!

Now I wonder just what conditions created Khomeini. In those days, after all, there were plenty of more important, better-known ayatollahs as well as prominent political opponents of the Shah. We were all writing protests, manifestos, letters, statements. Only a small group of intellectuals read them because such materials could not be printed legally and, besides, most people didn’t know how to read. We were criticizing the monarch, saying things were bad, demanding changes, reform, democratization, and justice.

It never entered anyone’s head to come out the way Khomeini did — to reject all that scribbling, all those petitions, resolutions, proposals. To stand before the people, and cry, The Shah must go!

That was the gist of what Khomeini said then, and he kept on saying it for fifteen years. It was the simplest thing, and everyone could remember it — but it took them fifteen years to understand what it really meant. After all, people took the institution of the monarchy as much for gratned as the air. No one could imagine life without it.

The Shah must go!

Don’t debate it, don’t gab, don’t reform or forgive. There’s no sense in it, it won’t change anything, it’s a vain effort, it’s a delusion. We can go forward only over the ruins of the monarchy. There’s no other way.

The Shah must go!

Don’t wait, don’t stall, don’t sleep.

The Shah must go!

The first time he said it, it sounded like a maniac’s entreaties, like the keening of a madman. The monarchy had not yet exhausted the possibilities of endurance.

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