My only encounter with the Ayatollah Khomeini, the man who founded the present political order in Iran, was an indirect one. In the late 1960s in London, I helped to produce a news sheet in Persian for non-Communist Iranian activists pressing the Shah to return to the principles of the parliamentary constitution of 1909. Unbeknown to me, a fellow activist in Paris, Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, had been sending copies to the Ayatollah in his place of exile in Iraq and the Ayatollah had objected to the way we referred to him. He wanted to be described as the acknowledged leader of the whole opposition movement. He was no such thing. He was the leader of the most fanatically religious wing of the opposition. He opposed the Shah’s land reforms and the granting of the vote to women, and he had been implicated in terrorism and the persecution of the Baha’i religious sect (with the Shah’s blessing, it must be said).
Bani-Sadr claimed that, even if the monarchy were overthrown, the clergy would have no alternative to handing over power to us, the secularists. They were incapable of ruling a modern state. But the Shia clergy had a history of lusting after power, and of cruelty and corruption whenever