Written by Serena Berger
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Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini is one of the most controversial figures in global politics. From his own perspective, he sought to return traditional values to Iran after the liberally-minded Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, allowed certain Western ideas of a more open culture to influence the country. From the perspective of those he killed in his quest and those Americans he held hostage and threatened, as well as all those Iranian citizens who were denied a forum of self-expression under his rule, he is a violent and hated revolutionary whose acts of terror are deplorable.

Khomeini was a fundamentalist Shi'ite Muslim, a distinction which is difficult for some Westerners to understand. While most Muslims would never initiate hostile or violent actions against their own countrymen or people of different countries or faith, Khomeini's faction identified with the title of Shi'ite Muslims, but acted with a vicious will that defied the holy scriptures. It is much more reasonable to call Khomeni an irrational mystic than a holy man, as his behavior became increasingly dangerous and, according to Time magazine (who named Khomeni 1979's Man of the year), "surreal."

Khomeini as Leader of a Revolution

1979 was the year that the religious opposition, led by Khomeini, overthrew the Iranian monarchy and drove the Shah into exile. Even after establishing power, Khomeini sought Pahlavi's capture and execution, and upon discovering that Pahlavi was being treated for medical problems in the U.S., Khomeni initiated a hostage crisis of over 50 United States citizens trapped at the U.S. embassy in Teheran. In an additional foreign policy act which stunned the U.S., Khomeini demanded that we replace our president with someone he found "suitable."

Khomeini ruled Iran until his death in 1989. The decade he was in power was marked by violence, both foreign and domestic. While still venerated by reactionaries and militant fundamentalists both at home and abroad in other countries with similar struggles between tradition and reform, he is generally considered an enemy of freedom, tolerance, and the code by which the global community seeks peace.

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