Professor Nazeer Ahmed
Only a free society wherein each individual is free to express himself or herself can collectively aspire to discovering the next level of its national consciousness. Freedom is an essential pre-requisite to human progress. The real tragedy of coups, dictatorships, despotic kingships and colonization is that they scuttle the natural evolution of societies, suppress ideas and retard human progress.
The coup of 1953 was a disaster for the political development of Iran. It derailed the natural evolution of Iran towards a constitutional republic with broad participation from the masses. After the coup, the nationalists were arrested, put on trial, executed or put under house arrest. At the other end of the political spectrum, the communists were decimated. Some of them went under-ground or coalesced around the Tudeh party where they continued to receive covert support from the Soviet Union. This left the political arena open for a frontal confrontation between the monarchists and the religious right. The monarchists were backed by American might but the religious right had the advantage of tradition and history, for it has been true that while most of Islamic history is the story of kings and conquerors, Islam itself looks askance at monarchical and dynastic rule. It is to protect themselves from a curved hook from the religious flank that Muslim kings and despots often found it convenient to call themselves Amir, Amir ul Mo’mineen, Khalifa or Imam rather than king, a ruse that continues to this day. The Shah promised the Iranians riches of the world with the corruption that is inherent in any such human endeavor. The religious right promised them justice and the hereafter. The long term outcome of such a battle should be obvious to a student of history.
In this article we will summarize the ideational basis of this struggle for the soul of the Iranian people, and ultimately, for control of its political destiny and its oil riches.
Adored by those who love him, scorned by those who dislike him, Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini towers high as the central figure in the events leading up to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. He was a religious scholar, a revolutionary, a political leader and an ideologue all rolled into one and a principal player on the world stage in the second half of the twentieth century. Millions followed his lead. And millions opposed him. He offered a vision of heaven on earth to the Iranian people but his actions also brought untold hardships on the people of the Middle East. The twentieth century would not be the same without this giant figure.
The twentieth century witnessed the appearance of many a scholar who struggled with the grand issue of establishing an Islamic way of life. Some were successful; others perished in the struggle. Our distinguished readers are no doubt familiar with these works. The Turkish poet Zia was a primary source of inspiration for the secular Turkish Republic that was established by Kemal Ataturk following the dissolution of the Khilafat. The writings of Allama Iqbal formed the basis for a conceptualization of Pakistan. Maulana Maududi provided perhaps the most voluminous narration for establishing an Islamic way of life. His political views were rejected by the Muslims of India but they found a niche in Pakistani politics. Hasan al Bannah and his Muslim brotherhood ran into the secular Arab nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser and were crushed. Syed Qutub was extreme in his rejection of all systems non-Islamic and his writings evoke suspicions of extremism even to this day. Ali Shariati was a western trained liberal Islamic ideologue but his incisive works were cut short by his untimely death. Of all these attempts, only the idea of Vilayat e Faqih advanced by Khomeini found its full expression in the Iranian revolution of 1979. Khomeini was alone among scholars of his ilk who not only formulated their ideas but pursued them relentlessly and lived to try their implementation in the matrix of the national politics of an ancient and proud people and their impact on international affairs. Only Khomeini lived to see the triumph and tragedy of his ideas, its promise as well as its disappointments.
It must be emphasized at the outset that none of these ideas are applicable to societies wherein Muslims live as a small minority. They are only useful for their didactic and historical insights. Muslims in America, Europe, China or India, for instance, must engage in their own rigorous intellectual exercise and chart out their own destiny consistent with the promise and challenge of their specific and situational national experience. We have in the past advanced our own ideas for such a life based on Iman, Adl and Ehsan (www.encyclopediaofislamichistory.com) and have suggested a process for their implementation through SEEEC (spirituality, ethics, education, economics and cooperation). This is a continuous process and it must continue with broad participation from the knowledgeable public.
What is Vilayet e Faqih? I remember a conversation with a young Iranian scholar almost thirty years ago. “The Sunnis live in a house that has no roof and no furniture”, he said at the end of a long discussion, “whereas, the Shias live in a house that not only has a roof but is embellished with furniture”. There you have it, the understanding of Vilayet at the operational level. The words Vilayet and Faqih have different meanings in the Sunni and Shia schools, and there are differences of opinion even within each of the Sunnah and Shia schools. We will avoid our own opinions here and present the ideas as advanced by Khomeini. The quotes are taken from Islam and Revolution, Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini, by Hamid Algar, Mizan Press, Berkely, CA. 1981.
The idea of Vilayet e Faqih did not originate with Khomeini. In the cited reference, Khomeini states: “The subject of governance of the faqih is not something new that I have invented; since the very beginning, it has been mentioned continually”. He offers the rulings given by Mirza Hasan Shirazi prohibiting the use of tobacco during the tobacco revolution of 1906 as an example of guidance offered by a faqih which all other fuqaha were obliged to follow. Khomein continues: “The late Kashif al-Ghita expounded much of what I have said. The late Naraqil also was of the opinion that the fuqaha are entitled to exercise all the worldly functions of the Most Noble Messenger. “
Throughout Islamic history, scholars, kings and conquerors have sought validation for their ideas and their actions in the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet. As an example, the intellectual storms that overwhelmed the Islamic world in the eighth century CE following the eruption of the Mutazalites were fought on the basis of the Qur’an. The Mutazalites as well as the anti-Mutazalites, the philosophers as well as the traditionalists, all sought their justification for their views from the Qur’an. The idea of Vilayet e Faqih is no exception to this rule. It is here that we have search for its roots and its foundation.
Great ideas transform nations and guide them towards their destiny. When they are applied in the matrix of human affairs, they are necessarily compromised to reflect the cultural norms of a people and accommodate human frailties. It is like rain water. When it falls from the heavens, it is pure and brings with it the Grace of God. Before it gives life to a dead earth and transforms a desolate landscape into lush gardens, it must necessarily create gushing, muddy rivers which cause havoc in the land.
The ideas that animated the Islamic world in the twentieth century, those of Zia Gokulp, Allama Iqbal, Dr. Ali Shariati, Maulana Maududi, Hassan al Banna, and yes, Imam Khomeini are no exception to this rule. Each one of these ideas held out the promise of a better world when it was nascent. When it was applied, it was muddied, compromised and often scuttled or abandoned.
Each of these ideas sought its justification in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Expressed another way, no idea that cannot be traced to the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet has a chance of survival in the Islamic body politic. But when you study these ideas in depth and examine their relationship to the revealed Word, you will find that the human ideas were in themselves a reflection of the interpretations of their authors. The revealed Word, like a diamond with infinite cuts, reflects light in many directions, and lends itself to multiple interpretations. That is the beauty and majesty of the Qur’an. It reflects light no matter where you stand. It offers guidance whether you are in the East or the West, North or the South, whether you are a liberal or a conservative, a modernist or a traditionalist, a scholar or an illiterate, a minority or a majority, a Sufi or a Salafi, a Bedouin or a city dweller, living in the eighth century or in the twenty first century. It is for this reason that our ulema have said that Ijtihad is a continuous, unceasing process. Each generation must rediscover for itself what its existential destiny is through a process of rigorous, continuous, unceasing struggle and apply Divine guidance to its own lives. Muslims, who constitute one quarter of the human race, live in different cultures and have a myriad of historical experiences.
The unity that the Muslims seek cannot be political unity; it is unity of purpose, a unity of vision, and a unity of a shared struggle with mutual support. One shoe does not fit all.
Vilayet e faqih was one such idea. It was an idea that Khomeini deftly used to topple one of the most entrenched monarchies which was backed by the awesome might of a superpower. In the process he changed the political map of the Middle East and launched Iran into the turbulent waters of clerical rule.
What is Vilayat? And who is a faqih? There is no consensus among scholars as to the meaning of these terms. The term Vali appears in multiple contexts in the Quran. In its functional meaning, it means protector, safe keeper, guardian, overseer. When I was a child, India was still a British colony and some Indians referred to England as Vilayat. The Sufis interpret it to mean one who is close to God (one whom Allah has favored with His closeness and His Grace, hence the term Awliya Allah). There is also a difference of opinion as to whether the term Vilayat means the safekeeping and protection of religious affairs or that it includes temporal and political affairs as well.
And where does the Vali derive his legitimacy from? The Qur’an states: “O you who have certainty of faith! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and (follow) those among you who are endowed with Amr” (4:59). This Ayat forms the foundation and provides the point of departure for the formulation of Islamic rule. Allama Iqbal and Ayatullah Khomeini both start from this foundation. However, the analogy ends here. It was the genius of Iqbal that he interpreted the term Amr to mean directed energy, thereby giving it a transcendental meaning as an action that derives its legitimacy from Divine law “There is no power (energy in motion) nor is there any force (applied energy) except from Allah”. (The Qur’an) Khomeini, by contrast, interprets the term to mean authority. For Iqbal the “directed energy” came from a legislature elected by universal suffrage. Here Iqbal stood at the confluence of Western liberal thought and Islamic traditionalism. By contrast, Khomeini‘s ideas were an exposition of the traditional Shii schools which maintain that authority flows from the Quran, the Prophet, and after him through the Imams and those who have inherited the mantle of the Imams.
In applying their ideas to their own societies, both Iqbal and Khomeini faced specific problems. Iqbal lived in British India wherein Muslims formed a minority. As evidenced from his classic work, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal’s solution was to seek a separate homeland wherein a legislature elected by popular vote would be Muslim dominated. This was the conceptual origin of Pakistan. Khomeini, by contrast, was faced with a monarch, who albeit a Shia Muslim, was a despot and a dictator. Khomeini had to delegitimize the rule of a king before he could offer his own Vilayet e Faqih as a substitute for kingship. Khomeini did this by extrapolating the meaning of Vilayet e Faqih and excluding the rule of kings and sultans from its scope.
“Islamic government is not a form of monarchy, especially not an imperial system”, Khomeini said, “In Islamic governments, unlike monarchical and imperial regimes, there is not the slightest trace of vast palaces, opulent buildings, servants and retainers, private equerries, adjutants to the heir apparent, and all other appurtenances of monarchy that consume as much as half of the national budget”. He wrapped up this argument in theological terms: “Islamic government can therefore be defined as the rule of divine law over men… In this form of government, sovereignty belongs to God alone and law is His decree and command”. Quoting Imam Sadiq, he states “ The Imam forbids all recourse to illegitimate governments, including both their executive and their judicial branches. He forbids the Muslims to have recourse in any of their affairs to kings and tyrannical rulers”. Thus Khomeini framed his contest with the Shah as one between “rule by divine law” and “an imperial system”. It is not hard to see how the message was received in the bazaars of Tehran and Tabriz.
There are similar differences of opinion about the term faqih. The tenth century scholar Imam Tarmidhi used the term to mean one who has acquired knowledge of both the internal aspects as well as the external aspects of religion. Khomeini accepts this definition but expands it to include not only knowledge but the ability to rule. “The qualifications essential for the ruler” says Khomeini, “derive directly from the nature and form of Islamic government. In additional to general qualifications like intelligence and administrative ability, there are two other essential qualifications: knowledge of the law and justice”. Khomeini quotes a Hadith of the Prophet narrated by Abu Abdullah: “The fuqaha are the trustees of the prophet, as long as they do not concern themselves with the illicit desires, pleasures, and wealth of this world”. He affirms the continuity of this position through Imam Musa (one of the twelve Imams): “Believers who are fuqaha are the fortresses of Islam”, asserting that the fuqaha have the duty of being guardians of the beliefs, ordinances, and institutions of Islam. And finally, “There cannot be the least doubt that the tradition we have been discussing refers to the governance of the faqih, for to be a successor means to succeed to all the functions of prophethood.” Thus Khomeini asserts the authority of a faqih from the Qur’an, through the Sunnah of the Prophet and the sayings of the Twelve Imams. “Since Islamic government is a government of law”, said Khomeini, “those acquainted with the law, or more precisely with religion, i.e., the fuqaha, must supervise its functioning. It is they who must supervise all executive and administrative affairs of the country, together with all planning.”
This was the doctrinal framework, that of Vilayet e Faqih, within which Ayatullah Khomeini waged his dual battle against the rule of the Shah and the pervasive western influence in Iran.
What is astonishing about humankind is not that it makes errors– after all to err is human- but that it repeats its errors with a consistency that baffles rational analysis. In this respect, man is like a moth that charges time and again oblivious of consequences and sacrifices itself at the altar of a burning candle. If there is any lesson that can be drawn from the history of the prophets, from Adam and Noah, Abraham and Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them), it is that humankind repeats its errors. The appearance of a prophet marks a critical moment in the struggle of man on earth. Divine Grace intervenes through the revelation granted to a prophet to show humankind the straight path. Alas! Humankind does not learn! It forgets and it errs inviting Divine intervention, again and again.
What is true of humankind is also true of civilizations, dynasties, empires, kings, despots, political leaders and individuals. Whether it is imperial overreach or a battered wife, the story is similar. You can see this pattern even in a business. If you have tried to implement Six Sigma quality control in your operations, you must have seen individuals repeating their errors in statistically predictable patterns. And the errors made by one person are not necessarily the same as the ones made by the next person.
Such predictable human behavior has a positive side for a student of history. It makes it possible to formulate empirical theories for the rise and fall of civilizations, dynasties, empires, even businesses and individuals so that if man chooses to do so, he can learn from them. One such universal observation is that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The history of Iran falls into this paradigm. The Shah of Iran, hoisted onto the Peacock throne by American power after the coup of 1954 that toppled Mosaddeq, grew increasingly ruthless in his suppression of dissent. The nationalists were silenced. The communist Tudeh party was crushed and went underground where it continued to receive clandestine support from the Soviet Union. The clerics were sidelined; some were persecuted. The Iranian Secret Service, SAVAK, widely thought to be trained by the Israelis, grew into a vicious instrument of political suppression and torture. The Majlis became a rubber-stamp parliament. The anti-communist slant of the regime fit in well with the foreign policy of the United States, dominated as it was in the 1950s by a fear of Soviet world domination, and the pact mania of the Dulles era. (John Foster Dulles was the Secretary of State during the Eisenhower Administration from 1953 until 1958. He was known for his hard stand against communism, and against the Soviet Union and China, in international affairs). Iran was drawn first into the Baghdad Pact and then into CENTO which bound Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and the United Kingdom into a mutual defense treaty, supposedly as a shield against an invasion by Soviet armies from the north. In return, Iran received plentiful supplies of military equipment from the United States. The army and the police forces grew even as the budget for development and education nose dived. The pressures in the Iranian body politic grew in proportion to the heavy handedness of the Shah, even as popular discontent was held in check by the dreaded SAVAK and the power of the armed forces.
During this period, Khomeini was not in the political spectrum. He pursued his scholarly work in the cities of Qum and Najaf.
It was not until 1963-64 that the Shah made a serious attempt to address the economic issues facing an oil rich but feudal Iran where illiteracy was rampant and poverty was endemic. The broad based initiative, dubbed the White Revolution, sought to transform Iran into a modern, westernized nation. It had nineteen elements, the most important of which were the following:
- Land Reform: The government bought land from the landlords and sold it to landless peasants at a discount.
- Women’s suffrage: Women were allowed to vote for the first time in local and national elections and contest elections to the Majlis.
- Profit sharing for industrial workers and the right to buy shares in corporations.
- Free and compulsory education through high school.
- Nationalization of forests and water resources
- Privatization of government enterprises
- A public works program to improve the infrastructure
- Social Security and national insurance schemes
- Establishment of a literary corps, a health corps and a modernization and reconstruction corps.
- Price control, rent control and anti-corruption measures.
- Free food for needy mothers.
- Encouragement of local self government through the election of village elders to settle local disputes.
The Shah also removed the restriction that the judges be Muslim and opened up the judiciary to Christians, Jews and Baha’is. The United States, as the principal benefactor of the Shah, backed these initiatives perceiving them as forward looking and modernist. It also put pressure on the Shah to increase his cooperation with Israel.
The Shah sought to legitimize his reforms by a referendum which was held in 1964. Official figures showed that 5.6 million people voted for the reforms while only 4 thousand were opposed to it.
Were these reforms cosmetic and self serving or were they the initiatives of a far sighted monarch? There are many writers who question the sincerity of the Shah to genuine reform and ascribe political motives to his initiatives. For instance, Dorman and Farhang write in The U.S. Press and Iran (University of California, Berkeley Press, 1987): “Admiring press coverage to the contrary, the Shah’s plebiscite was nothing more than a public relations ploy aimed at demonstrating public acceptance of his program and was hardly an indication of democracy at work.”
The Shah made considerable progress in increasing literacy and building up the industrial infrastructure of Iran. The literacy rate went up to 42 percent. Enrollment in primary schools increased more than 15 fold. Enrollment in universities increased to more than 100,000. Almost 50,000 students were enrolled in American schools, many on government scholarships. Iranian manufactured goods began to penetrate the markets in Oman and East Africa. To the policy planners in Washington, this was good news. But Iran was like an old elm tree eaten up by termites from within. Beneath the façade of progress, social unrest was brewing ready to blow up. All it needed was a catalyst.
Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi was vulnerable on multiple fronts. Iran as a society was like an inverted pyramid. Oil revenues had made the Shah and a few of his cronies enormously rich. Trickledown economics had not worked. The vast majority of slum dwellers in the cities and the peasants in the countryside saw none of its benefits. Income disparities between the super rich and the poor increased. Corruption became endemic, further exacerbating the tensions between the rich and the poor. The Shah was surrounded by sycophants. Drunk with pretenses of imperial grandeur he assumed that he was the savior of the Iranian nation, a second Cyrus the Great, and in a grand ceremony attended by kings and presidents from around the world, crowned himself the Shahanshah of Iran in October 1967. The problem was that the Persia of 1967 was not the Persia of Cyrus the Great.
The Shah ruled over a corrupt oligarchy. Corruption is the bane of sound economics. No economic theory predicts the destructive effects of black money, under-the-table transactions and nepotism. It introduces uncertainty into the future. It makes planning impossible. It scuttles a rational allocation of resources. It grotesquely distorts the performance of a business and at the macro level, it warps the economic performance of a nation. It gnaws at the social fabric, eating it from within, and ultimately destroys a society.
Secondly, the Shah confused the trappings of democracy with democracy itself. The lopsided vote in the referendum of 1964 about his White Revolution was a sham. No democratic election can give a partisan a 99 percent edge over an adversary. Did the Shah really believe that the world would buy into this sham plebiscite, a mockery of the democratic process?
The truth was that the Shah lived in a make believe world which he had himself created with his vast network of informers. Like a spider that weaves a web and gets caught in it, he became a prisoner of his sycophants.
There are no checks and balances in a monarchy. It can only be moderated by constitutional constraints or done away with by outright removal. The verdict of history is clear: he who rules by the law becomes a saint; he who rules by his own power becomes a scoundrel
Third, women’s suffrage and the rights granted to women were not always welcome in a traditional, conservative society. It left the Shah open to an attack from the religious right.
Fourth, the land reforms hit at the power base of the traditional landed aristocracy as well as the clergy that benefited from large waqfs. It was not uncommon to find entire villages “owned” by a single landlord. Many of the clergy were themselves landowners or were married into land owning families. The social matrix was not unlike that in rural Punjab in pre-partition India in the 1940s where a coalition of sajjada nashins and rich landlords proved to be a decisive factor in the defeat of the Unionist Party and the emergence of the Muslim League. The Iranian landlords coalesced around the clerics who were willing to articulate their grievances in religious jargon and challenge the power of the Shah.
Fifth, and this was perhaps the most sensitive issue, was the admission of the Baha’is to the judiciary. The issue of the Baha’is has been a controversial one in Iran much as the issue of the Qadianis is in the Punjab. The clergy did not take it lightly that their traditional role as judges was usurped by not just lay Muslims but by Christians, Jews and the Baha’is.
The Shah made no attempt to build political institutions commensurate with his proclaimed reforms. By 1975, he abolished the multi-party system of government in favor of a one-party state under a single party. Reformers and would-be reformers often overlook the organic relationship between reform, structure and people. Liberal reforms require a liberal political structure and vice versa. Political structures must be consistent with the historical and cultural experience of a people which are colored by their deeply held religious beliefs.
The land reforms deprived the traditional rural proletariat their protective cover from the landed aristocrats and the clerics whose income depended on the waqfs. There was not enough land to go around and in spite of the millions of acres that were distributed among peasants, millions more remained landless. Mechanization created a flight of surplus labor to the slums of Tehran and Tabriz where they were an easy target for the sermons of the mullahs. So, the land reforms were a triple whammy for the Shah: he lost the traditional support he had enjoyed from the landowners ; he failed to cultivate the allegiance of the emerging affluent classes in the cities; and he had no contact with the growing slums and the bazaars in the cities.
Add to these woes the Shah’s cozy relations with Israel and his all too obvious dependence on the United States and you can understand the multiple flanks from which the Shah was vulnerable.
Opposition to the Shah’s policies was widespread and it came from the left as well as the right. Faced with the repressive dragnet of SAVAK, much of this opposition disappeared or went underground. The clerics retreated to the mosques where the reach of SAVAK was limited because of the religious sensibilities of the population. The mosque, beyond the reach of SAVAK, became the refuge and the center for resistance and the left as well as the right joined this new alignment. There were progressives such as Ayatullah Taleghani as well as conservatives such as Ayatullah Khomeini among the clerics. The mosque as the venue for protest suited the conservatives more than the progressives who were less successful in formulating and presenting their ideas to a religious audience in a mosque. Thus it was that the center of gravity of opposition to the Shah’s rule gradually shifted to the most conservative elements among the clerics.
Khomeini emerged as the spokesman of these disgruntled masses in the early 1960s. In 1963 he expressed his opposition to the new freedoms granted to women. Said Khomeini: “Can any Muslim agree with this scandalous uncovering of women? ……. They regard the civilization and advancement of the country as dependent upon women’s going naked in the streets, or to quote their own idiotic words, turning half the population into workers by unveiling them ……The repressive regime of the Shah wanted to transform our warrior women into pleasure seekers, but God determined otherwise……”
About the Baha’is he said:”In our own city of Tehran now there are centers of evil propaganda run by ……the Baha’is in order to lead our people astray and make them abandon the ordinances and teachings of Islam”.
In June 1963, Khomeini made a frontal attack against the Shah calling him “a wretched, miserable man” and comparing him to Yazid, the tyrant whose name is associated with the tragedy of Karbala. Such powerful imagery excited the population into a higher pitch of resistance. Khomeini called for a boycott of the referendum on the White Revolution and asked the clergy in Qom to oppose the Shah. He was arrested but was released after countrywide protests and riots. In 1964 when the Shah signed the “capitulation” agreements with the United Stated granting American soldiers’ immunity from prosecution under Iranian law, Khomeini denounced both the Shah and the United States in the harshest terms. A frustrated Shah exiled him.
In Najaf, Iraq, where Khomeini spent many of his years in exile, he gave a series of lectures which were compiled in 1970 under the title, Hukumat-e-Islami, Vilayet-e-Faqih. This formed the basis of his later teachings and his prescriptions for an Islamic government in Iran guided by a supreme teacher who combined in himself the internal and external knowledge of the Shariah as well as wisdom and justice.
The Shah was a driven man, in a hurry, as he saw it, to modernize his country so that it could take its place alongside industrialized nations such as Germany and Japan. He was impatient with opposition to his diktat and used all the oppressive measures of the state machinery to silence any opposition. As the repression grew, so did the opposition. Khomeini became a magnet and a catalyst for the opposition. His writings were secretly carried by tape, by courier and by paper to the mosques in the far corners of the country. Khomeini’s message, cast in religious terms and invoking the sacrifices of Karbala and of the Imams, resonated with the populace. His anti-western slant was music to the ears of the Iranians who had a bitter taste of foreign meddling in their national affairs. The people, men and women, were willing to put their life and limb on the line. Thousands perished in the struggle.
In 1978, following a diplomatic understanding between the Shah and the Iraqi regime, Khomeini was made to move again, this time to Paris. But this did not diminish Khomeini’s reach to the protesting masses of Iran. Indeed, his chateau in Paris became a magnet for news reporters and Khomeini now enjoyed a global audience.
Protests, strikes, work shut downs continued in Iran through much of 1978. By January 1979, the Iranian army was tired of shooting at its own people and gave up. The Shah left Iran and Khomeini returned triumphantly as the spiritual head of the Iranian Revolution. Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi died in exile the following year and was buried in Cairo.
Once in power, Khomeini proved to be less of a loving, protecting religious figure than a shrewd and obstinate politician. In November 1979, elements of the Iranian students calling themselves Followers of the Imam’s Line, invaded and occupied the American embassy and took 52 staff hostage. Instead of freeing these hostages, Khomeini supported the takeover and used the occupation to galvanize support for his regime and for the passage of his version of a new constitution for Iran. The hostages were finally released, after a captivity of 444 days, in January 1981 when Reagan became the President following the defeat of Jimmy Carter. The popularity of President Carter had fallen in large part because of the embassy takeover and the failure of subsequent American efforts to rescue the hostages. The hostage crisis alienated American public opinion against Iran, damaged long term U.S.-Iranian relations and tarnished the image of Khomeini and his legacy in the eyes of the world.