Hazem Saghieh

Regarding ‘Khomeini’s Home’ 

When news broke that Khomeini’s home in the city of Khomein (central Iran) had been burned down, the political significance of this development was not the first thing to come to mind, or this significance chose to come at us circuitously. The implicit and concealed facts of the matter, i.e., the existence of this house in itself, drew more attention. 

Indeed, the news revealed that Ayatollah Khomeini lived in a house, an “ancestral home,” as the press put it, and that in the rooms of this home lived a family that raised and looked after their little boy. 

The bewilderment stems from the image that the Iranian regime has painted of Khomeini since it was established in 1979. What is true for ordinary humans, who are born in homes, live among their kin, and are raised by their parents and grandparent, does not apply to Khomeini.  

The latter, who was sanctified and cleansed of everything human, had so many atypical and supernatural qualities attributed to him that it is difficult to imagine he descends from ancestors and comes from a home. According to this narrative, it was destiny that brought him, or he landed on earth through an obscure miracle.  

Adding to the shock is that the home and family in which one first begins to develop are more than intimate details of one’s life. On top of that, these matters play a major role in shaping the person in question, whoever they may be.  

As for the official image of Khomeini, it liberates him from having been made by humans like the rest of us, and it allows him to avoid a childhood, the stages of which it seems difficult to imagine him having undergone. In this image, he had never been a child, he did not grow into an adult, and he did not go through phases and changes, nor did any caregivers raise him or any teachers teach him. He was born in one go, a creator who had never been created. 

Burning his home thus also burns the myth, or rather the fairytale, around the Ayatollah and leader of the revolution of 1979. Through their actions, the angry crowds in Khomein, did two things: on the one hand, they humanized Khomeini by demonstrating that he had lived in a house and been raised by a family; on the other hand, they issued a verdict on the person Khomeini had been, and it is extremely radical and harsh:  

Burning the home, the “ancestral home” no less, is much more than tearing up a poster or breaking a statue. The poster was put up by followers, just as the statue was built by other followers, and there are always many other pictures and statues. The same is true for mandating the veil, which is, at the end of the day, a tyrannical measure.  

As for burning the home, of which there is no other, it is a position on the roots and essence of things, on an extremely intimate, personal matter in Khomeini’s actual life, not his mythical life. Here, in this action, we see a mass disowning of everything tied to him in any way- everything he made and did.  

Setting it on fire is perhaps the furthest they could have gone in terms of eradication and disinfection, which is to be condemned when directed against an ordinary person who is singled out and scapegoated by crowds. However, when it is directed at someone like Khomeini, who ruled millions with an iron fist before allowing his followers to inherit the country, it becomes an act of just anger and a demand for freedom, exactly like burning a prison or another site known for its dark injustices.   

The fact that the house was turned into a museum “visited by supporters of the regime,” adds another layer of significance to the arson attack. The enraged crowds also declared their rejection of attempts to immortalize Khomeini and have his home turned into a shrine. Perhaps their pains drove them to take a more extreme position regarding the transformation of Khomeinism and its heritage into well-preserved historical sites.   

In other words, humanizing Khomeini through the arson attack takes three steps in one: it turns him into a child once again and has him inhabit a house, which indicates that he is human like the rest of us, it burns the house as a punishment for his actions and behaviors, and it then prevents the house from being turned into a museum, thereby preventing his mystification in death after he had been mystified in life.  

Such a prediction is reinforced by two factors: the first is that while the house was going up in flames, the protesters burned a section of the famous religious school in Qom, where Khomeini had originally been formed.  

This school also produces more cadres for the regime than any other institution and does more than any other institution to grant it religious legitimacy as well. As for the second factor, it is that young men and women are the backbones of the ongoing Iran revolution. They are, by definition, more incensed and fed up with the weight of the dead past on their youth and future than any other Iranians. 

By setting the house on fire, the protesters have gone as far as they can go in breaking divine aura, and divine auras and freedom are two opposites that will never come together. After this rupture, a regime like that in Iran, which is to a large extent founded on a monistic aura and arrogance, will work hard to ensure that it can manage an obscure future brimming with flammables.