Not Everyone Ignored Khomeini's Radical Philosophy

Wednesday, 13 Apr 2011 10:15 AM

By Judith Miller

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I greatly admire Bernard Lewis, whom I have known for many years, and his meticulous scholarship. But in "The Weekend Interview" (April 2), he asserts something about The New York Times that I recall differently.

Quoting him, Bari Weiss writes that in the late 1970s he became alarmed about Iran's future ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after reading his book, "Islamic Government." The book, Prof. Lewis asserts, made clear that Washington's then widely held view that Khomeini's rule would be "a step forward" and "a move toward greater freedom" was "absolute nonsense."

Ms. Weiss quotes him as saying that he "tried to bring this to the attention of people here" and went to The Washington Post with the story after "The New York Times wouldn't touch it."

I can't speak for others at the Times or for the Op-Ed page, but I was then a reporter in the Times' Washington Bureau and I had long been curious about the mysterious ayatollah who was still in exile in Paris as the shah of Iran struggled to survive.

Through intermediaries, Prof. Lewis managed to call to my attention the book that Khomeini wrote and a series of lectures he had given on his political views.

On Dec. 30, 1978, I wrote an exclusive article about Khomeini's little-known book, its anti-Jewish and anti-Christian sentiments, its hatred of democracy and endorsement of theocracy as the best form of government ("Shah's Foe Said to Have Denounced Non-Muslims").

As far as I know, the Times was the first American paper to publish a story about the book and the lectures.

I also recall that The Wall Street Journal published an Op-Ed sometime later complimenting me for my reporting on that story and criticizing the Times for having underplayed it by failing to put it on the front page.

I remember the episode well because the ayatollah's aides, then still in Paris, denied that the book was genuine. Their emissaries in Washington visited the Times' Washington bureau to complain. Anonymous callers threatened me physically.

Out of caution, I moved to a friend's house for a week until things calmed down. As a result of that article, I was banned from visiting Iran until after Khomeini died.

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