What was the meaning of the Iranian revolution of 1979?
I guess different people have different impressions of the revolution, but I believe that it was a demand for dignity on the part of the Iranian people. They wanted recognition for who they were, for their history, for their identity.
Do you think Americans generally understand the Iranian experience prior to the revolution?
I guess not. I believe the American people have not been subjected to the type of indignation and lack of respect that the people of Iran were subjected to, although they were a close ally of the United States. But you could feel that Iran was not receiving the respect that it deserved.
And how was that revolution received on the Arab street, across the region?
Well, to be honest with you, I was in the United States, so I know how it was received in the U.S. I do not have a personal experience of how it was received in the Arab street, but from what I read, there were two reactions, one by the Arab masses, who saw the possibility of ridding themselves from dictatorships. Didn’t mean that Iran wanted to do it for them. It just provided the example that people without any foreign help were able to engage a very brutal regime, supported by primarily by the United States, and defeat it.
So that was one message that was received, I believe, in the Arab street. And there were jubilations. On the other hand, the Arab governments, some of them, because of this possible implication for the future, started to guard against this revolution and without anything having been done on the Iranian side, started to prepare to defeat this. The most vivid example of that was their arming, financing and supporting for eight years a brutal aggression against Iran.
I want to talk about that in a minute. Let me ask you a couple more questions about the revolution, because indeed, there were demonstrations and support from the Arab street. What made this a seismic event that shook not just the region but around the world [was] that this was a religious revolution.
Well, actually, it was a revolution that received its inspiration from the teachings of the Islamic religion, but not necessarily a religious uprising.
Adel al-Jubeir, your counterpart, foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, calls it a Shia revolution. Was it a Shia revolution?
Well, you see, they feel threatened because of the wrong choices that they have made. Starting with Saddam Hussein, continuing with Al Qaeda, with Daesh, with Al Nusra [Front], they made all the wrong choices. Now, in order to be able to one way or the other justify what they’re doing, they have to do this name calling.
Iran has supported the cause of Palestine. Is Palestine a Shia revolution? Are Palestinians Shiites? We have paid the heaviest price for our support for the Palestinian people. I don’t believe even a minute percentage of the Palestinian people are Shiites, so I think they need to think twice before they make such ridiculous statements.
Are you saying it was not a Shia revolution?
No, because it’s an Islamic revolution, because it brought everybody together, and it reverberated, as you said, throughout the Islamic world. People try to portray it as a Shia revolution, and since then tried to propagate a message of hatred throughout the world with a lot of money.
Now, that message of hatred created all these cells in every corner of the world that are now coming to haunt the supporters of the Saudi regime. You see that every extremist terrorist organization has its roots, ideological roots, without any exception, in the teachings, in the books and literatures that have been propagated, published and sent across the world, spending a lot of petrol dollars providing the teachings that provide the foundations for this extremist ideology.
But yet those Salafist cells that you’re talking about, those Wahhabi cells that you’re referring to, do not attack Iran, but they attack Saudi Arabia regularly.
Yes, because they do not find sympathetic populace in Iran. They cannot take refuge in Iran. They do not have houses, businesses who support them in Iran. All of it comes from Saudi Arabia. Look at how many messages of support for Daesh comes from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. This is an unfortunate fact. You know why? Because we believe that instability in Saudi Arabia, instability of the government of Saudi Arabia, instability of any government in our region is a threat to our national security, because you cannot live in a non-secure environment and enjoy security.
This is just impossible. That is why, although these terrorist groups do not have sympathizers with Iran, our intelligence has to be very careful, because on a daily basis, they’re trying to infiltrate from other countries into Iran. And some of them continue to this day to receive financial and military support from Saudi Arabia.
You know, you talked about the fear that the governments of Gulf [nations], and Saudi Arabia in particular, felt after witnessing your revolution. At the same time, Imam Khomeini called for the downfall of Gulf monarchies and the House of Saud.
We did not take action against any country. We make our views clear about the nature of governments that were submissive to the United States, governments that were presenting a message of hatred.
But back in 1979, there were radio reports coming out of Iran calling for Shia in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia to rise up against the monarchy.
That sounds like interference to me.
We always rejected the use of force against governments. We may have encouraged people to ask for their rights.
But that’s interference in their internal affairs. You say you have no sort of aggression against these governments.
I like to see that really observed, because I saw that a few years ago from the floor of the Senate, people were sending messages to the Iranian people to rise up against the government.
I’m not saying that’s right. One thing does not justify the other.
But people are not making a lot of fuss about it, saying that the United States wanted to overthrow the Iranian government. People express their views. In today’s world, expression of views, particularly by radio and television, if these are to be considered calls for revolution and calls for overthrow of the government, then you would have a very difficult time looking at the record of many countries, including the Saudi former chief of intelligence going to Paris, participating in the rally by a known terrorist organization and telling the terrorist organization that we are with you as you overthrow the Iranian government. This is an official member of the royal family, an official of the Saudi government, who goes and makes these statements.
This was at an MEK [People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, or Mujahedeen-e-Khalq] rally?
Yeah. And we’re talking about 2017, not during the emotional days after the victory of the revolution, where emotional statements were rather normal under those conditions.
Read full article by FRONTLINE on PBS, February 20, 2018