My, how the world changes. When, in late 1978, your humble correspondent presented the first translations into English of passages from Ayatollah Khomeini’s book, Velayat-e Faqih (“Governance of the Jurist”), bought in Tehran in 1977, I knew the religious extremists would challenge the shah’s rule, but I was certain they had no chance against his army, police, and security services.
I was wrong. In January 1979, the Islamic Revolution took place, and by April, Khomeini declared the foundation of an Islamic Republic headed by himself and, under him, a clerical regime.
In November of the same year, a young Muslim fundamentalist and his followers took control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, thereby sparking a siege that lasted 15 days and led to possibly 1,000 deaths; intervention by a French counter-terrorism force; a series of executions, and a number of surviving rebels who would years later join the terrorist organization al-Qa’ida.
In December, just a month later, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. This sortie started a nine-year war that caused around a million civilian deaths. The term Mujahidin (Jihad fighters), became famous in the West, along with the concept of jihad. After Russia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, the stage was set for the Taliban (students from religious seminaries), who took control of the country in 1996. The Afghan war against Russia also set the scene for Osama bin Laden’s forming, in 1988, al-Qa’ida, which was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and led to the US invasion of Afghanistan as well as a multinational war that continues.