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CH-15 - 15 Khomeini and Shi`ite Islamism The most dramatic...

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The most dramatic example of politics and Islam in this century is the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty, rejected monarchy as un-Islamic, and established an Islamic Republic continuing to this day.This cataclysmic change brought about in 1978 1979 has fueled, more than any other, the American image of radical Islam. The dour visage of that elderly cleric, Ayatullah Khomeini, became in those years following 1978 as recog- nizable as that of the American president. Sustaining the white heat of American-Iranian confrontation was the storming of the American Embassy in Tehran by radical Islamists on November 4 , 1979 , and its occupants taken hostage—in clear violation of international law and custom. Only 444 days later was this crisis resolved with the release of the remaining 52 American hostages on January 20 , 1981 , just hours after President Reagan’s inauguration. Jimmy Carter— whose last years as president were clouded, and his reelection prospects probably dashed, by the challenges Islamic Iran had posed—was denied the solace of having the hostage release take place during his tenure. President Reagan, too, was almost tripped up by Islamic Iran. The mid- eighties brought the “Iran-Contra” affair in which the administration, in violation of its stated policy, secretly provided arms to Iran in its war against neighboring Iraq. Then, when this undercover operation was revealed, the Reagan administration lurched in the opposite direction toward support of Iraq. This sufficed to force Ayatullah Khomeini into a decision “more dead- ly than taking poison” (as he put it) and sue for peace with Iraq on unfavor- able terms. 15. Khomeini and Shi‘ite Islamism
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Even the later crisis and war provoked by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait did not open the door for rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Although a few Americans now call for restored relations with Iran, evok- ing in some cases realist balance-of-power arguments and in others the belief that the Islamic Republic of Iran has mellowed, official U.S. policy continues to lump together Iraq and Iran as rogue states that must be held in check by a policy of “dual containment.” From the Iranian perspective the United States is the country that mounted a coup overthrowing a popular nationalist leader, Muhammad Musaddiq, as long ago as 1953 and thereafter supported an increasingly despotic shah.The U.S. is seen as the country that backed Iran’s enemy, Iraq, during that brutal war lasting from 1980 to 1988 and has since been the principal outside power seeking to rein in, if not overthrow, its Islamic Republic. Ayatullah Khomeini’s image of the U.S. as the “great Satan” still strikes a responsive chord among many Iranians.
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