Mustafa Fahs

Bitter saffron

A personal account of how the Iranian Revolution changed from a struggle against oppression to a quest for domination

Hossein Mustafa Khomeini, grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini (center), with the late Sayyed Hani Fahs (behind, left) in Jibchit, Lebanon, during the 1980s. (Photo courtesy of Mustafa Fahs)

I don’t know how far the Syrian town of Douma is from Tehran, or how far it is from Al-Quds or Jibchit, my village in southern Lebanon. I don’t know how far it is from our house; the house my father opened to men who came from far away, men he listened to, trusted and befriended. He believed in them and took up their cause. He told me back then that they were revolutionaries from a country called Iran, and that they were fighting to topple an oppressive dictator called “the Shah.”


At other times and in other places I witnessed my family and my people’s joy as they followed the progress of the revolution; from its inception to the day it claimed victory. Our house in the Mount Lebanon village of Keyfoun was full of well-wishers and people joining us in celebration — members of every religion, sect, and political persuasion. We also celebrated at Lebanon’s first Revolutionary Guards training camp, which had just been set up under the supervision of the late freedom fighters Khalil al-Wazir and Hani Fahs. We followed Khomeini’s return from his Parisian exile in Neauphle-le-Château and quickly embraced the revolution. As a family, our journey to our chosen exile in Tehran began after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.


Thirty-six years have passed since we invested our hopes and dreams in the Iranian Revolution, which we believed spoke our language. Now we can see that it has its own, different language; a language not far removed from the steel and fire of those who had tyrannized and oppressed us in previous decades. We have heard that same language over the last four years; since the autumn of the dictatorial Arab regimes, the delayed arrival of the Arab Spring, and the recognized Arab system’s failure to keep us from collapsing and falling to pieces.


For several days now, we have been seeing footage in which the body parts of children lay strewn about in the Damascus suburb of Douma. Before this, we saw numerous gruesome killings in cities, towns and neighborhoods all across Syria. Some time ago now, Hamza al-Khateeb came back from his reading class to his mother’s embrace and to the embrace of the earth, after being viciously mutilated. More recently, the infant Bilal Farzat al-Dilati was pulled from the rubble of houses that fell on the heads of their inhabitants in Douma. The ongoing siege of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp is another example. These atrocities prompt us to engage in a serious review of our convictions and commitments, not only in relation to the present, but to the recent past as well, on humanitarian and moral grounds far from nationalistic, sectarian and political fanaticism. Only in so doing will we be able to deal more realistically with the Iran of the Revolution — the Iran we imagine — and the truth: that Iran has betrayed both its own principles and us.


It is said that an individual cannot fall, even if they stumble, as long as they commit themselves to a morally sound position, and that regimes may fall if they do not defend their interests or if they defend them too vigorously. States follow their interests; they are not charitable institutions and they do not base their actions on moral values. For this reason, when faced with challenges, states and regimes do not need moral justifications to defend their actions. Likewise, when they become aware that they have attained greatness as a result of accumulated power — or by virtue of the weakness of their rivals — they elevate their dominance to the level of ideology, using it as a weapon to advance their projects.


Accordingly, both revolutionary Iran and the subsequent Iranian state used all the tools they had to achieve their one goal; that is, to establish dominance. We, the Arabs, gave them an opportunity to simplify this task. Saddam Hussein’s adventure ensured the strengthening of patriotic zeal, and helped hold the country together during a transitional period in which Iran’s unity was under threat. Then the Arabs gave Iran a winning lottery ticket by neglecting their central cause: Palestine. This made up for the political losses Iran incurred as a result of its war with Iraq. Furthermore, disunity among Arabs has helped Tehran use the Shiite question to meddle in the internal affairs of many states.


However, the Syrian people’s revolution has lain bare all Tehran’s secrets and put Iran in a face-to-face confrontation, not with Arab regimes, but with the masses. In the revolution of the downtrodden against the arrogant, Iran has oppressed Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni and Lebanese nationals. Arrogantly, and with the use of military might, Tehran has quashed Syrian calls for dignity and freedom: using the very force it created to protect its revolution from the evils of enemy regimes, Iran has illegally crossed the borders of several Arab countries. It has imposed itself on their territories and peoples, as if the Arabs have no right to revolution or freedom except on Tehran’s orders, in accordance with what Tehran has gained and what Tehran stands to gain.


Thirty-six years after its revolution against tyranny, Iran now practices a tyranny that exceeds the one it suffered itself. Despite the fall of its enemy, Saddam Hussein, Tehran has not yet allowed Iraqi Shiites to run their own affairs; instead, it has enlisted the militias it created to destabilize the state. Meanwhile, it has confined Syria’s future and perhaps that of the entire region to the fate of Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian president has proceeded to ravage his country and people, burning everything around himself with Iran’s blessing.


Tehran has also reached into Yemen, tearing apart the country’s fragile social fabric, which was already primed to explode. In Lebanon, despite the positive role it played in supporting the Lebanese resistance against Israel, Iran has had a strong divisive influence: illegal arms continue to form an obstacle to any national understanding being reached; young Shiite men are being pulled into the Syrian inferno; and sectarian stereotypes, social concepts and political experiments that are foreign to our society have been introduced. Iranian influence has also found its way in to Palestine, where the division sown between Fatah and Hamas is still growing. Finally, Tehran has quietly slipped into Libya and Sudan without causing a stir.


After more than three decades since the Revolution, Iranian troops should have reached Israeli settlements in the Golan Heights and Galilee, not Aleppo, Daraa and Homs. They should have been at the gates of Al-Quds, not the gates of Washington preparing for a rapprochement. Washington has not changed. It is Tehran that has changed, and perhaps that is what it has been hiding all along, and we have just been slow to realize.


More than four decades ago, my mother began to use saffron in her cooking; that is, at the same time the Iranian revolutionaries entered our household. Like their words, it had a sweet flavor, but eventually it turned bitter, like their deeds.


Iran has always been our neighbor and always will be. We are waiting for good deeds to be done with good intentions because more things unite Iran with its neighbors than separate it from them — that is, if some within the Tehran regime are willing to change their ways. As the Quran says: “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”


Mustafa Fahs tweets @mustafafahs


This article has been translated from the Arabic by Ullin Hope

Hossein Mustafa Khomeini, grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini (center), with the late Sayyed Hani Fahs (behind, left) in Jibchit, Lebanon, during the 1980s. (Photo courtesy of Mustafa Fahs)

The Syrian people’s revolution has lain bare all Tehran’s secrets and put Iran in a face-to-face confrontation, not with Arab regimes, but with the masses."

  • Beiruti

    sorry for the reps

    February 25, 2015

  • Beiruti

    Nuclear weapons for the Islamic regimes of the region is a foregone conclusion. Pakistan is already nuclear. What would it take for the Saudis to simply buy a bomb from Pakistan? Nothing, it is there for the taking. And it is this Saudi capability more than the peace talks that causes Iran to refrain from wanting or obtaining a bomb, for just as surely as Israel holds Jerusalem, when Iran announces it has a bomb, Pakistan will deliver Saudi Arabia its bomb and who is more threatened by that fact, Iran or Israel?? I'd say Iran, so Iran will not act to obtain a bomb so as to cause Saudi Arabia to continue to refrain from obtaining its own from Pakistan. So while all the talk goes on, Iran will continue to find security for itself by causing insecurity and instability for its neighbors, just as Israel would like.

    February 25, 2015

  • Beiruti

    Trita Parsi, a very notable Iranian author explains the seeming contradictions of Mr. Fahs' article well. The unspoken truth is that Iran and Israel have the very same program for the Middle East driven by the same concerns. Both Israel and Iran are comprised or ethnic and religious minorities in the majoritarian Arab Sunni Region: Jewish by ethnicity and religion in Israel; Persian and Shia in Iran. What better project for Israel than to divide the Palestinians between HAMAS and Fatah, to leave the leadership in Lebanon void by the armed presence of Hezbollah; to fight and depose Saddam Hussein and to support the Assad Regime in Syria thus prolonging the never ending war. Not to mention keeping the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia off balance by making inroads into the Shia majorities in the eastern oil producing provinces of the kingdom and supporting the Houthis in Yemen. Israel itself could not have done better. Netanyahu's concerns with Iran and the American Iranian talks are not that they will eventually reach a deal. Rather, his fear is that the US will find a new regional ally that it at least relevant to resolution of the regional instability. What can Israel do? Nothing. And the Royal Family? They are hostage to the Wahabis among them and to ISIS from without. If they go too hard they will lose the right to govern the holy places at Mecca and Medina. Right now Israel holds the monopoly on nuclear weapons and strategic partnership with the US. Iran can break the monopoly and make Israel less relevant to the US, so says Mr. Parsi and he has a point.

    February 25, 2015