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Defending Khomeini

The Islamic revolution in Iran may come to be seen as one of the great modernising eruptions of the 20th century

By Karen Armstrong   October 2000

Many people in the west were dismayed by the astonishing spectacle of the funeral of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in June 1989. Huge crowds surged round the bier and at one point the corpse fell off: it was as though they wanted to keep their Imam with them forever. This was bewildering to the people of western Europe and north America, who regarded the Ayatollah as a demon. Only a few months earlier, his infamous fatwah against Salman Rushdie had challenged freedom of expression, one of the sacred values of modernity. Khomeini’s career had also overturned an entrenched western idea: by…

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