In France, 88-year-old Abolhassan Banisadr died from a long illness on Saturday, October 9, 2021. After supporting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Banisadr became Iran’s first elected president in February of 1980 but was shortly impeached and fled to France following an internal struggle with the Islamic clergy. While Banisadr’s supporters portray the former president as a victim of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, he was, in reality, a power-hungry individual who knowingly installed an oppressive antisemitic regime.
Banisadr’s support for Khomeini and his revolution was rooted in his deep-seeded animosity over the 1953 U.S. and Great Britain-backed coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and strengthened Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s rule. In Banisadr’s mind, he and Khomeini would not only topple the Shah and install a democratic government but allow human rights to flourish. There was only one major problem: the person that Banisadr supported staunchly opposed democracy and human rights from the very beginning.
Khomeini and the rest of the religious Mullahs openly sought a theocratic system of government whereby Khomeini’s Islamic teachings would shape Iran and the entire Middle East. They believed in abolishing the rights of women, overthrowing western-backed regimes in the Middle East, destroying the state of Israel, and killing those who resisted the Ayatollah’s Islamic teachings. Khomeini lied to many ordinary Iranians about what he stood for with help from secular Iranian intellectuals like Banisadr, who altered his teachings to make it more appealing.
So why did Banisadr, a man who opposed Islamic rule of Iran, support an individual who did? The answer lies in Banisadr’s relentless pursuit of power which caused him to betray his ideals and support what Egyptian President Anwar Sadat called a “lunatic”.
As a member of Mossadegh’s National Front party, Banisadr and many of his colleagues were imprisoned, purged, and exiled from Iran because of their hatred of the Shah, handicapping any potential political opposition. Conversely, Ruhollah Khomeini was not part of any political party and was revered highly by Iran’s large Shiite population as he staunchly spoke out against the Shah and his policies. In exile, Khomeini managed to amass a huge underground following.
Banisadr and many of the exiled National Front members saw Khomeini and his loyal following in Iran as a means to build a coalition that would overthrow the Shah and create a government where he and other National Front members could rule. After being exiled to France, Banisadr gave the Ayatollah his own home and helped spread the cleric’s messages throughout Europe and Iran, laying the foundation for the revolution. As Banisadr grew closer to the man he described as his “dear father,” he became a mighty figure among the Revolutionary Council, which he thought would pay off for him in the future.
Even though everyone around Khomeini came to understand what he stood for, the only thing that mattered to Banisadr was gaining power and influence, even if it meant allying with a theocratic dictator. Ironically, Banisadr would later criticize the Ayatollah for being a liar and a power-hungry individual while simultaneously elevating the cleric for his own goals.
Instead of propping up Ayatollah Khomeini, Banisadr could have advanced human rights, Iran’s economy, and democracy by working with the Pahlavi regime. Even though the Shah did not care for democracy, he attempted to create a strong economy and allowed for women to have individual rights. Banisadr could have influenced the Shah on issues that he cared deeply about, though it would have required Banisdar to negotiate with the regime, thereby suppressing his large ego to better Iran’s future.
Once the Islamic Republic was born, Banisadr was able to become the first elected President of Iran due to his powerful position in the Revolutionary Council and close relationship with Khomeini. From Banisadr’s perspective, all those months of entertaining the cleric and his radical friends had finally paid off.
When Iranian college students took over the U.S. embassy in 1979, Banisadr claimed in various interviews and books that he was appalled and disgusted by the action, though his actions tell a different story. Instead of resigning as an act of defiance against the taking hostages, he remained in office.
Similarly, when the Revolutionary Courts were summarily executing the military generals, friends of the Royal Family, Iranian Jews, and ordinary Iranians who were not in favor of the Revolution, Banisadr claimed that he was against the killings but could not prevent them. The former president could have resigned from office and left Khomeini and the revolution as an act of protest against the killings. Instead, he clung to his position of power and turned his back on thousands of innocent civilians.
Before the 1979 Revolution, many Iranian Jews and other minorities lived safely under his regime. However, when Khomeini and his cohorts came to power, many Iranian Jews had to leave Iran because of the extreme hostility the new government showed toward the Jewish community. Iranian Jews who have lost loved ones to the Islamic Republic and have been forced to leave Iran are fully justified in blaming Banisadr for propping up Khomeini and his antisemitic Islamic Republic.
The actions of Banisadr and others like him play a large role in the ongoing turmoil between Iran and Israel, countries that were once friendly. Khomeini and his government couldn’t have been able to perpetuate terrorist attacks against Israel if it weren’t for the support from power-hungry people like Banisadr.
Banisadr hoped he would be famous for fighting against oppression and for human rights. To remember him this way is a disgrace to people who advocate for individual rights and fight against oppressive governments. The only thing that former Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr should be famous for is the anarchy, chaos, oppression, human rights violations, and countless deaths that many Iranians and Iranian Jews faced in the 1979 Revolution and even to this day.
“The views expressed in this post reflect the views of the author(s) and not UCLA or ASUCLA Communications Board.”