In these dark and brooding times it is Kafkaesque tragicomedy that strikes the right note of collective mirth. The Iranian government recently staged an anniversary celebration of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s momentous return from exile in France. The cardboard reenactment of his arrival has been the subject of effusive internet mockery since photos from the state-affiliated Mehr News Agency (taken by photographer Ruhollah Yazdani) proved it was not, alas, an insurgent Photoshop hack operation but an official ceremony.
On February 1, 1979 Khomeini, who would become the steward of the revolution, descended the stairs of a chartered Air France Boeing 747 as three million Iranians turned out on the streets of Tehran to salute him. To understand the mass fervor of the moment that prognosticated Khomeini’s role in the nation (and region’s) fate it might be useful to remember that between January 27-28 at least 28 people were killed protesting the Shah’s closure of the airport to prevent Khomeini from returning. But it was too late for the Pahlavi dynasty—the damage to their rule was irreparable.
Now, 33 years after those prophetic moments, the richly deserved ridicule that Cardboard Khomeini has received is an indicator of the profound upheavals, divisions, and contradictions that have characterized modern Iranian history.
Once you regain yourself after laughing at the photos of the 2012 ceremony there’s something deeply serious and ironic to consider: as a consequence of the revolution Khomeini himself would turn into a figure of majesty, even divinity. He who denounced immodestly dressed women as ‘coquettes’ (the Shah referred to them as ‘dolls’) has been dwarfed into a string puppet. There’s a measure of pathos that elaborate stately images strike. These make a sad pauper out of the regime.