Imam Khomeini Was Real, Trump Is a Phony
The Ayatollah Made Islam/Iran Great Again—by Making GOD Great Again
Below is the article I recently submitted, upon request, to Press TV on the anniversary of the death of Imam Khomeini. Above is my latest Friday khutbah. I realize that this stuff is controversial—for example, people on both sides of the divide may bristle at my speaking the names “Khomeini” and “Trump” in the same breath—but if you can handle it, you’ll earn bragging rights and be able to say that you have been exposed to an interesting and perhaps somewhat unusual Muslim viewpoint. -KB
“Allahu akbar.” That phrase, “God is greatest,” is repeated no less than thirty times each day in the calls to prayer that ring out above the rooftops of the Muslim world.
In 1978, Iran was ruled by a Shah who, like Donald Trump, had an inordinately high opinion of himself. Like Trump, and like Pharaoh in the Qur’an, the Shah thought he was the greatest. And like Trump, the Shah wanted some of his own self-styled greatness to rub off on his country.
Trump and the Shah both wanted to return their countries to a mythical era of ancient glory. Trump conjured up a grandiose vision of the American past, almost as grandiose as his image of himself. The Shah had a similar vision. He wanted to return Iran to its pre-Islamic era of imperial grandeur, so that he could strut around in the robes of an ancient emperor.
Neither egomaniac succeeded in remaking his country into a replica of the bygone mythical days of yore. And neither succeeded in becoming Emperor-for-Life. Both ended their rule ignominiously—the Shah when he fled Iran on January 16 1979, and Trump when he was practically dragged out of the White House kicking and screaming in the wake of the January 6, 2021 debacle.
Since Trump was unceremoniously ejected from office, the US has continued on its path of moral, spiritual, cultural, and economic decline. Joe Biden is now even more unpopular than Trump ever was. Neither Trump’s MAGA movement, nor its Democratic opposition, has a clear idea how to set things right.
Iran filled the void left by the departure of its Shah with considerably more success, thanks to the genius of Imam Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic. Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi Khomeini (b. 17 May 1900, d. 3 June 1989) was a brilliant and highly accomplished religious scholar whose insistence on speaking truth to power gave him the moral authority to lead the uprising against the Shah that ushered in the world’s first Islamic Republic.
Like Trump, Iman Khomeini was at first not taken seriously by the Western establishment. Both expressed views far outside the Western mainstream. Both sounded, to the ears of political experts, naive about the realities of power. Both said things that sounded “crazy” to the experts—often because they expressed or alluded to taboo or unspeakable truths.
But Trump, like Imam Khomeini before him, rapidly accumulated millions of followers thanks to a new communications technology. For Trump, it was Twitter and other social media that allowed him to bypass the gatekeepers of traditional media and broadcast his message directly to the people. In like fashion, Imam Khomeini had bypassed the media gatekeepers by recording messages on cassette tapes, which were copied and recopied as they were smuggled into Iran and passed from hand to hand—an Iranian parallel to the samizdat literature of the former Soviet Union.
Just as almost nobody believed Trump could actually win the 2016 election, likewise almost no-one thought Imam Khomeini could overthrow the Shah and take the reins in Tehran. In both cases, the percolating people-power of peer-to-peer media was invisible to the experts. By the time a slight plurality of American voters in key swing states anointed Trump, it was too late. And by the time an overwhelming majority of Iranians celebrated the return of Imam Khomeini to Tehran on February 1, 1979, it was likewise too late for the CIA to do anything about it.
Both Imam Khomeini and Donald Trump wanted to radically remake their countries. Only Khomeini succeeded. Why? The short answer: Because Trump is a phony, while Khomeini was “the real deal.”
Trump, a narcissist and egomaniac, is in essence an actor permanently stuck in the role of his own inflated self-image. All of his decisions and actions are taken on the basis of their ability to make himself look good in his own eyes and in what he imagines to be the eyes of others. Since a man so wrapped up in himself cannot see much outside of his own puffed-up head, he is likely to act with marked incompetence, because he doesn’t know much about the real world.
Imam Khomeini, in sharp contrast, acted according to the Islamic injunction that one should surrender the self and always do what is right in the eyes of God. An advanced student of Islamic mysticism, Khomeini knew that al-fana’, sometimes translated as “the annihilation of the ego,” is a requisite step before one can experience al-baqa’, subsistence or permanence in an exalted state close to God. With the lower self out of the way, he could look at earthly as well as scriptural and divine realities and see them for what they were.
Imam Khomeini’s decisions, like Trump’s, often contravened the conventional wisdom of worldly experts and powerbrokers. The difference is that Khomeini acted under the dictum “God is greatest,” while Trump’s motto was “Trump is greatest.” So Khomeini’s decisions, as counterintuitive as they sometimes seemed, were based on worldly and Divine realities and wound up bearing fruit, while Trump’s were usually just plain stupid.
Western experts were shocked and discomfited by Imam Khomeini’s string of successes as he transformed the US-occupied kingdom of Iran into an independent Islamic Republic. They had doubted that Khomeini could ever achieve power, then doubted whether he would last more than a few days. The idea that such a man, with a formation so far outside that of the dominant political class in the West and in Western-colonized lands, could successfully wield the reins of power in a modern state, seemed to them unthinkable. And the idea that a coherent alternative to secular liberalism could not only be proposed and implemented, but might persist, seemed even more unthinkable. And yet today, the Islamic Republic of Iran, founded by Imam Khomeini, forges ahead, not merely enduring but generally moving from success to success, despite the rabid enmity of the most powerful worldly forces on the planet.
The US under Trump, of course, experienced no such success. No wall was built. No swamp was drained. Few manufacturing jobs returned. Cultural and financial corruption continued to fester. The liberal elite oligarchy kept its grip on power. The COVID-19 pandemic exploded and was badly mishandled. Ultimately, Steve Bannon’s dream of replacing secular liberalism with an amorphous traditionalist alternative, with Trump somehow being the catalyst, was stillborn.
The above comparison between two profoundly different leaders—and between two populist movements aiming to totally remake society by overthrowing secular liberalism—suggests that one succeeded while the other failed largely due to the genius, versus the marked lack of genius, of the respective leaders who embodied each movement. Additionally, the fact that the successful effort was rooted in a traditional faith and led by an extremely pious and erudite man of religion, while the unsuccessful effort was led by an ultra-worldly egomaniac obsessed with his own wealth, power, and self-image, indicates that secular liberalism is best overthrown by those who can offer a spiritually-energized and time-tested alternative.