Khomeini's Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam


In February 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Tehran after nearly fifteen years in exile and received a hero's welcome. Just as the new world order sought to purge the communist ideologies of the Cold War, the religious doctrine of Islamic fundamentalism emerged to pose an even greater threat to post-Iron Curtain stability-and Khomeini would mastermind it into a revolution.

Khomeini's Ghost is the account of how an impoverished young student from a remote, area of ...

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Khomeini's Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam

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In February 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Tehran after nearly fifteen years in exile and received a hero's welcome. Just as the new world order sought to purge the communist ideologies of the Cold War, the religious doctrine of Islamic fundamentalism emerged to pose an even greater threat to post-Iron Curtain stability-and Khomeini would mastermind it into a revolution.

Khomeini's Ghost is the account of how an impoverished young student from a remote, area of southern Iran became the leader of one of the most dramatic upheavals of the modern age, and how his radical Islamic philosophy now lies at the heart of the modern-day conflict between Iran and the West. Con Coughlin draws on a wide variety of Iranian sources, including religious figures who knew and worked with Khomeini both in exile and in power.

Both compelling and timely, Khomeini's Ghost is essential reading for a anyone wishing to understand what lies at the center of many of the world's most intractable conflicts.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Coughlin (Saddam) offers a serviceable biography of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989), a brief history of his reign and an even briefer history of Iran in an account that is regrettably taciturn on his continuing influence. The author provides ample evidence that the ayatollah's agenda was always radical, though Khomeini chose to downplay it before the revolution; Coughlin says that, in fact, Khomeini "[stole] the revolution from beneath the nose of the very people who had brought him to power," in great part through the creation of the Revolutionary Guards. Coughlin details the bloody chaos that followed the revolution, and the ensuing decades of bloodshed, but what goes unremarked might be the most astonishing detail of all: in spite of chaos, war and a dictatorship to rival that which they had overthrown, the Iranian people clearly loved, and continue to love, the imam. Coughlin places great emphasis on the Iranian commitment to exporting the revolution and achieving nuclear capabilities, and American and Israeli concerns about both, but doesn't always give all the necessary information about the give and take between the countries, the political forces within Iran or why Khomeini's ideology struck a chord for so many. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Daily Telegraph executive foreign editor Coughlin (American Ally: Tony Blair and the War on Terror, 2006, etc.) reports on the causes and effects of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The pivotal figure in the Revolution was Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, who returned to Tehran from a 15-year exile in Turkey, Iraq and France and galvanized a groundswell of dissatisfaction against the ruling Pahlavi dynasty. However, the populace did not fully comprehend the ayatollah's intended agenda, which was the establishment of a theocracy based on Sharia (Islamic law). Coughlin emphasizes Khomeini's careful concealment of the full thrust of his "religious dictatorship." Within the first two weeks of taking power, Khomeini and his aides formed the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which safeguarded internal affairs and effectively exported the revolution abroad. Coughlin asserts that Khomeini would "steal the revolution from beneath the noses of the very people who had brought him to power." The ayatollah's rise to prominence forms the bulk of this thorough work. Born in 1902 in the remote provinces, Ruhollah Musavi-ayatollahs took their hometown as their name-grew up in a time of enormous turbulence between the shah, controlled by foreign interests, and the constitutionalists. He demonstrated early promise as a student and jurist of Shia Islam, and was deeply resistant to the shah's forced program of modernization. During his years as a teacher, Khomeini built his reputation as an Islamic authority and scholar. Coughlin skillfully traces Khomeini's iron tentacles manipulating the disastrous war with Iraq, the establishment of the Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon (which aided the emergence ofHizbollah) and the development of an international terrorist network. The author also pursues his haunting shadow over the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the proliferation of Iran's nuclear program. A valuable study of three decades of a defiant radical Islamic regime. Agent: Melanie Jackson/Melanie Jackson Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061687150
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/16/2010
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 847,470
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Con Coughlin, one of Britain's leading journalists, is the executive foreign editor of the Daily Telegraph and a world-renowned expert on the Middle East. He is the critically acclaimed author of the New York Times bestseller Saddam: His Rise and Fall. He appears regularly on television and radio in the United States, and has been a frequent political commentator on CNN, NBC, and MSNBC. He has also written for the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Monthly. He lives in London, England.

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Read an Excerpt

Khomeini's Ghost

The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam

By Con Coughlin
Copyright © 2009

Con Coughlin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-168714-3

Chapter One Stealing the Revolution

Only a few days had passed since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had staged his triumphant return to Tehran on 1 February 1979, and the crowds were still out in force on the city streets celebrating the fall of the Shah. But the delirious atmosphere that had accompanied the 76-year-old ayatollah's homecoming was slowly changing, and the millions of Iranians who had supported Khomeini's return were now starting to turn their attention to how the country would be run in the future. For months the country had lived on a knife-edge as the cancer-ridden Shah had battled to save his throne, but Khomeini's return to Iran meant that the Pahlavi dynasty's rule had been brought to an end. It was a testament to the widespread unpopularity of the Pahlavis that hardly a tear was shed when Mohammed Reza Shah and Empress Farah left Tehran for Egypt on 16 January. Instead their departure was greeted with paroxysms of joy and relief throughout the country; jubilant crowds took to the streets and immediately began pulling down statues of the Shah and his father, the founder of the Pahlavi dynasty. After decades of brutal repression at the hands of the Shah's SAVAK security police, Iranians were more than ready to embrace the revolutionary ideals of 'freedom, independence and an Islamic Republic' that had been espoused by the returning ayatollah. Now they wanted to know precisely what these inspirational words meant in practice.

Under the Shah, Iran had been a monarchical dictatorship, with all political power and the nation's wealth concentrated in the hands of a small clique of loyal royalists. Political dissent was fiercely suppressed, and the state media was, for the most part, rigorously controlled. With Khomeini's return, both Iran's liberal intelligentsia and the public at large looked forward to a new era where freedom of expression was enshrined in law, and the nation's vast oil wealth was used for the benefit of the entire nation, not an unelected elite. Khomeini himself had promised as much when, writing from exile, he had vowed to set the people free from the cruel despotism that blighted their lives.

But even as the crowds continued to proclaim their unequivocal support for Khomeini's revolution, the ayatollah was already hard at work on a very different political agenda. Ever since the early 1960s, when he had first emerged as a vociferous critic of the Shah, Khomeini's burning ambition had been to establish an Islamic state in Iran in which supreme authority was vested in the country's religious leaders, and the country was governed on the basis of Sharia, or Islamic, law.

To Khomeini's mind, politicians and other representatives of the state were subservient to the wishes of the clergy, who derived their authority directly from God. Khomeini had developed his unorthodox personal philosophy during his time as a student and teacher at the ancient holy cities of Qom and Najaf, where he was drawn to an obscure interpretation of Shia Islam, which held that all power should ultimately derive from the will of a divinely appointed religious leader. Khomeini had drawn up his manifesto for an Islamic state in a pamphlet entitled velayat-e faqih, 'the regency of the theologian', and he regarded this as the prefect model for Islamic government. As Khomeini would later write with marked understatement about his proposed new system of government, 'Islamic government does not correspond to any of the existing forms of government.'

When he was still an unknown cleric at Qom, not even Khomeini's own students paid much attention to his idiosyncratic interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence. 'People looked up to Khomeini because of his political opposition to the Shah, not because of his religious teachings,' recalled a former pupil who studied under Khomeini at Qom. "When we went to his classes he was talking about things that happened 1,000 years ago, which were of no interest to us. Little did we realize he was looking for a path that would give him so much power."

Now that he was safely back in Tehran as the undisputed figurehead of the Iranian revolution, Khomeini was determined to implement the radical agenda he had championed for more than twenty years. It was of no concern to him that his programme bore little relation to the wishes of the majority of the Iranian people, and was firmly at odds with the desire of most Iranians for the establishment of a constitutional democracy to replace the Shah's highly dictatorial system of government. If he were to ignore the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, Khomeini would need to rely on far more than personal charisma to achieve his ambition, particularly as the power vacuum created by the Shah's removal was being hotly contested in Tehran by a variety of factions, from nationalists on the right to Marxists on the left.

Khomeini convened a meeting of the close-knit group of followers who had stayed with him during the long years of exile, and had accompanied him on his return journey to Iran. He had set up his temporary headquarters at a disused girl's high school in the city centre. While still in exile, he had appointed a small group of trusted supporters-some based in Iran, others exiled abroad-to form a revolutionary committee responsible for organizing grass-roots opposition to the Shah and to plan for Khomeini's eventual return. From early January 1979, when it became clear Khomeini would soon be returning home this motley collection of clerics, politicians and activists was formally constituted as the Revolutionary Council, and one of its first tasks was to acquire a suitable location for Khomeini to use as his provisional headquarters.


Excerpted from Khomeini's Ghost by Con Coughlin Copyright © 2009 by Con Coughlin . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Map x

Introduction xii

Part 1 Origins

1 Stealing the Revolution 3

2 Child of the Revolution 32

3 To Be a Mullah 58

4 Living in Exile 88

5 The Ayatollah Returns 115

Part 2 Legacy

6 The Revolution Unveiled 149

7 Taking on the World 181

8 The Legacy Defined 209

9 The Global Brand 239

10 Rogue Regime 278

11 In Search of the Apocalypse 307

12 The Clenched Fist 341

Notes 371

Select Bibliography 385

Index 390

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