At the heart of Iran’s Islamic Revolution was a stencil duplicator and a tape recorder. These were the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Facebook and Twitter. He used them to get his sermons into Iran when he was in exile in Iraq and France.
Khomeini’s mimeographed and tape-recorded messages made their way to Iran through his devoted followers who willingly broke the law to assist in his attempts to communicate with the Iranian people. These tapes and pamphlets were secretly distributed throughout the bazaars, mosques, shrines and neighborhoods of Iran.
During the year leading up to the Islamic Revolution, the Shah’s regime was arresting and intimidating anyone who was copying or distributing Khomeini’s communications.
Apparently, the current Iranian leaders have taken a lesson from the Shah on this point in particular. Today, they are employing the exact same tactics, but this time, they are doing so in the name of Khomeini’s Islamic Republic and they are targeting phones and computers, not mimeographs and audio-cassettes.
On Wednesday I spoke with a gentleman who helps run Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s Facebook site. As I listened to him tell me how important it was that Hashemi Rafsanjani feel popular and media pressure to come out in support of the opposition during his sermon this Friday, I thought about Ayatollah Khomeini. Compared to what he went through, the current Iranian opposition movement has it easy.
There I was sitting in my living room, talking with a friend in Los Angeles who then calls her friend in Europe, and voilà, I am now speaking with the man who just posted Mousavi’s last Facebook message. The three of us on the phone had created exactly what Ayatollah Khomeini had thirty years before. We all had the same goal (change, if not revolution), and we too were using communication as our main means of reaching that goal.
Ahmadinejad and the current Ayatollah Khamenei may have guns and teargas, but we have words, and I’ve always believed in the power of words. A bullet can kill a person, but it can’t kill an idea, especially if someone has bothered to write it down. In fact, if anything, bullets only strengthen ideas. They have a strange way of transforming beliefs into actions. Once that happens, the gunmen don’t have a chance, and before long, they too may find themselves staring down the barrel of a gun.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision for the Islamic Republic of Iran did not include what we are seeing today. In an interview with Reuters in October 1978, Khomeini stated that “the foundation of our Islamic government is based on freedom of dialogue, and we will fight against any kind of censorship.”
The best sermon we could hear at this Friday’s prayer service is not one from the mouth of Rafsanjani. The sermon we need to hear today has already been recorded.
So, my advice to Ayatollah Rafsanjani this Friday is to pull out the old cassette player and play a song from the great Ayatollah Khomeini. There could be no finer time, rhythm or melody.