One of the stated goals of the Islamic Revolution of Iran led by Imam Khomeini in 1979 was to fight against racism and to support people of color. What did the Islamic Revolution do to prove this claim? Did Imam Khomeini fulfill his promise? These issues have been examined in an op-ed written for

I cannot breathe” is an apparently simple sentence that is being repeated millions of times these days with a new meaning. With every repetition, it reminds us of thousands of pages in the history of racial discrimination. This sentence was among the last words uttered by George Floyd and Eric Garner before their deaths while being chokehold under the ruthless boots of the American police. Now, it has turned into a symbol of the last words uttered by thousands of individuals who have been the victims of racial discrimination and who stop breathing under the boots of the American government without their demands and claims being heard by the international community. The thousands of Muslims murdered in anti-Arab and anti-Islamic wars waged by the US and Israel, and the thousands of Africans murdered and suppressed by the South African Apartheid regime, are merely a few examples of these horrific circumstances.

What Is Apartheid?

In Afrikaans, apartheid means “apartness” and generally the term refers to legal racism and racial segregation in the history of South Africa. This tyrannical culture, based on “baasskap” (white supremacy), for a long time had put the majority of blacks under the political, social and economic domination of a white minority. And, it had subjected them to a savage form of deprivation.

Although it had a perennial presence in South Africa, the culture was established as a formal and legal policy in 1948, and it survived until 1991. On the basis of that savage policy, the black community had to live in underprivileged areas, with limited amenities, and without having the right to leave those areas. They did not even have the right to participate in national or religious ceremonies, and they were deprived of all amenities and resources. Between 1960 and 1983, more than 305 million Africans lost their homes following the implementation of the apartheid laws and were forced to move to those specific areas.

With these measures, the Apartheid system gradually provoked the rage of justice-seeking activists and led to the emergence of influential movements in the 20th century. In the 1960s and 1970s, resistance inside the country against Apartheid resulted in bloody repressions by the regime, and thousands of individuals were killed or imprisoned.

Nelson Mandela is the most celebrated figure in fighting Apartheid in South Africa. He was arrested in August of 1962 following his activities against apartheid. He had also been arrested many times before that. After being arrested in 1962, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and was kept in prison until 1990. He resumed his activities after he was released from prison, and ultimately his actions led to the formal abolition of Apartheid and he later became president.

Imam Khomeini was an inspiration for anti-Apartheid movements

After being released from prison and while busy with his political and social activities, Nelson Mandela acknowledged many times that Imam Khomeini had been an inspiration for him on his path. He considered Imam Khomeini to be an awakening force for all his contemporary monotheists. He described him as being not only the leader of the Islamic Revolution but also the leader of all freedom-seeking movements throughout the entire world. During his presidency, Mandela travelled to Iran two times, and in both trips he met with Imam Khamenei. During these meetings, he emphasized that Imam Khomeini was a source of inspiration for the South African people in their anti-Apartheid activities. In addition to Nelson Mandela, there are many other intellectual and political figures involved in the anti-Apartheid cause who consider Imam Khomeini an inspiration for their fight against racism. Gerard Horn, a professor at Houston University in Texas, stated that the Islamic Revolution and Imam Khomeini’s ideas prepared the ground for the victory of the South African people and other countries in South Africa in their fight against Apartheid and its Western supporters. Hanif Henderson, a Muslim member of the South African Parliament, said in an interview with RNA that they hadn’t had any hope of achieving victory over the Apartheid regime. He goes on to say that it was Imam Khomeini who, having defeated the oppressive monarchical regime in Iran, revived the idea of fighting and gaining freedom for their people.

“Once, Mr. Mandela, who had just been released from prison, came and sat in this room. He was here before he became president. So, we sat here together, and I explained the story of Imam Khomeini (r.a.) to him. I spoke to him about Imam’s fight. I said that Imam’s fight was like his own: he did not use arrows, guns, a coup d’état or the like; rather, he proved something to the people and won their hearts.
The people poured onto the streets with their own bodies. No regime can confront and defeat a people who take to the streets courageously with their own bodies. I realized that at some point my words had moved him. When he left here, street rallies were held in South Africa, and they continued until the apartheid regime was overthrown.” Imam Khamenei, [Sep 24, 2018]
Aside from such quotations and statements, intellectually and spiritually speaking, what aspect of Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution was a source of inspiration and hope for activists and these people who were struggling against the racist Apartheid system? The answer to this question may perhaps be summarized in the following two premises:

The very essence of Imam Khomeini’s cause as a liberating movement–which succeeded in bringing the dictatorial regime in Iran to its knees and in establishing an Islamic government by relying on the power of faith and by mobilizing the underprivileged in Iran–was an example and a source of inspiration and hope for all underprivileged people in the world. It exported the message “We can stand up to oppression” to the whole world.

Imam’s position regarding the usurping Zionist regime and the Apartheid regime in South Africa, when the Western powers were supporting these two regimes whole-heartedly, was a direct invitation to the Palestinians and the South- African black people to begin a movement of Resistance. A few months before the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Imam had announced that the would-be Islamic government would have no limits in interacting with the world and that the door would be open to negotiations with everyone except with the usurping Zionist regime and the racist Apartheid system in South Africa, since neither of these two were legitimate. He also announced that the Islamic government would not sell oil to either of those two regimes. This change of attitude came about after the Revolution. The Apartheid regime used to obtain more than 90% of its crude oil imports from pre-revolutionary Iran, and the monarchy in Iran was not willing to impose sanctions on that racist system despite the existence of international pressure for them to do so. After the Revolution, oil exports to South Africa stopped immediately.

Why did Imam Khomeini adopt a policy of fighting Apartheid?

In the Holy Qur’an, God has always based everything on peace, except where justice is violated. Under such circumstances, establishing peace is only possible by establishing justice. God sent prophets who were to call people to establish justice wherever they were. Similarly, as a successor of the movement of the prophets, the Islamic Revolution set this as the base of all its domestic and foreign policies, and it founded its movement on fighting Arrogance in accordance with this outlook. Arrogance is something that stands against human beings’ nature and prevents the administration of monotheistic justice. Therefore, monotheistic systems can become well-established only when they fight against Arrogance and oppression.

With his anti-dictatorial and anti-arrogance movement, Imam Khomeini highlighted the duality of Islam and Arrogance in the modern age with the purpose of clarifying the direction of resistance for all truth-seeking individuals in the world. It does not matter if Arrogance is wearing the garment of religion– such as in the case of the ISIS–or that of atheism. In whichever part of the world someone stands against human nature, this is helping to raise the flag of oppression and despotism. Therefore, it is the responsibility of monotheists to fight with this.

Two weeks after capturing the Spy Den [former US Embassy in Tehran], Imam Khomeini ordered the immediate release of American women and

blacks who were accused of spying. In explaining this decision, Imam Khomeini said, “‘Because Islam gives women special rights’ and ‘black people have lived a long time under pressure and oppression by the Americans, and they may have been forced to come to Iran,’ if it is not proven that they have engaged in espionage, give them a commutation of their sentence.”

Monotheism is the soul of Imam Khomeini’s school of thought on the basis of which all human beings–who are equipped with the power of reason and human nature–are born free and on an equal standing with each other. After their creation, they find value in accordance with their servitude to God. Therefore, no one has the right to transgress against the fundamental rights of others. It is everyone’s right to live in a society based on justice and to benefit from its advantages.

The first opponents and adversaries of the administration of justice on earth are the Arrogant Powers who will not stop oppressing and violating justice until they dominate the entire world and usurp all of its resources.[16] In order to achieve their goals, they take away the independence and freedom of nations. That is why with the slogan of independence and freedom, the Islamic Republic introduces its main enemy in the world to be the pillagers of these two fundamentals. In Imam Khomeini’s worldview, the descriptions of the US government as “the Great Satan,” Israel as a “cancerous tumor” and the Apartheid regime as “illegitimate” are based on the logic of confronting such policies and behavior. The Apartheid regime and the Zionists have displayed the most savage forms of racial discrimination by stimulating racist sentiments against black people and by arousing anti-Arab attitudes in West Asia respectively. They have committed many crimes in accordance with this policy.


Apartheid is still alive

Apartheid policies were officially rescinded in South Africa, but the Apartheid mentality and various other forms of racial discrimination still thrive in the world. Israel and the US are the flagbearers of this grave injustice. Israel has persisted with its anti-Arab policies and oppressed the Palestinian nation to such a point that for the first time on March 15, 2017, the United Nations accused Israel of establishing an Apartheid system against the Palestinians. Over the course of all these years, the US has proved to be a staunch supporter of these crimes. Recently, by designing a plan known as “the Deal of the Century,” the US has helped these crimes to reach their peak. The violence hidden within this plan is so enormous that 50 former European politicians–including people like Zigmar Gabriel, the former German Minister of Foreign Affairs; Xavier Solan, the former Secretary-General of NATO; and also Jean Claud Juncker, the former President of the European Commission–described this plan in a letter as being reminiscent of former Apartheid policies in South Africa.

Of course, US Apartheid policies are not limited to this kind of support. The story of George Floyd is merely an example of American inhuman policies, both in the Middle East and against its black citizens, which have only become more obvious with the emergence of Trump. For a long time, the unemployment rate of black Americans in the United States has been twice as high as that of white Americans. Black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. And, 67 percent of physicians discriminate against black Americans. This matter, which medically is considered to be a crime, has shown itself clearly during the Corona crisis. Although the percentage of black people in the country is much lower than white people, their mortality rate due to this disease is much higher. According to the New York Times, fewer medical facilities are available for black Americans. These are all people like George Floyd whose throats have been squeezed under the boots of the American government for years.

Apartheid continues to thrive with the same strength but in a different form, and this puts a heavier burden on the shoulders of those who wish to fight against Apartheid types of injustice. Undoubtedly, the powerful resistance of Imam Khomeini against oppression can serve as a motivating factor on this path.

  1. From Politics Past to Politics Future: An Integrated Analysis of Current and Emergent Paradigms. Mayne, Alan, p. 52, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger (1999).
  2. South Africa: The Struggle for a New Order. Ottoway, Marina, pp. 23-26, Washington: Brookings Institution Press (1993).
  3. Hard Cases in Wicked Legal Systems: South African Law in the Perspective of Legal Philosophy. Dyzenhaus, David, pp. 35-36. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1991).
  4. South Africa – Overcoming Apartheid. African Studies Center of Michigan State University. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  5. International Terrorism and the Contemporary World. Pandey, Satish Chandra, pp. 197-199, New Delhi: Sarup & Sons, Publishers (2006).
  6. South Africa ends racial classifications. Myre, Greg, Associated Press. Cape Girardeau: Southeast Missourian (June 18, 1991). Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  10. South Africa and Iran in the Apartheid Era. Chehabi, H.e., vol. 42, pp. 687-709, no. 4, Journal of Southern African Studies (2016). doi:10.1080/03057070.2016.1201330.
  11. The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea. LeVine, Steve, Random House (2007).
  12. Qur’an, 8:61.
  13. Qur’an, 49 :9. [14] Qur’an, 57:57.
  15. Sahifa al-Imam, vol. 18, p. 30.
  16. people-apartheid-occupation-english.pdf


The views, opinions and positions expressed on Op-Ed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *