in the early 1950's. A young Shah rules unsteadily. His prime
minister is Dr. Mossadegh, a charismatic nationalist and demagogue
who makes little secret of his antagonism to the monarchy.
Mossadegh's ally is the Ayatollah Aboulkassem Kashani. Kashani
is the undisputed leader of the Shi'ite world of Islam. One
word from Kashani, and the streets of Tehran would fill with
people. Kashani ruled the religious world in an imperial manner.
Even though he was an elected member of Majlis (parliament)
Kashani never attended a session. He would communicate with
his fellow parliamentarians by letter. When Kashani's letters
would be read to the Majlis, all the members would stand up
base were the poor of Tehran. At his home in a working class
district, Kashani would receive supplicants from all walks
and classes of life. He would hear them out and issue letters
of support when he thought there was a just cause.
day, two men came to him saying they were struggling taxi
drivers and needed tyres for their cars. They complained that
the business was controlled by Jews and they couldn't get
a fair deal. This, of course, was not true. But Kashani took
them at their word and wrote them a letter asking for a fair
price for tyres. They came straight away to our showroom.
(At the time, I had been in Iran for almost a decade, having
left Baghdad as the Jewish community began leaving in droves
after centuries of peace).
their letter from the ayatollah, the two Iranians demanded
their tyres. They did not provide their permit numbers like
other taxi drivers did. But we sold them what they wanted
at a very low price. After all, who were we to go against
the ayatollahĂs will? Soon as they left our office, they were
spotted outside on the sidewalk selling the tyres at a hefty
profit. Later, we found out they had visited other companies
and got away with the same deal.
had to put a stop to this extortion. A meeting was held to
decide what to do. I suggested visiting the ayatollah to get
him to withdraw the letter. The others thought that was a
fine idea, as long as I was the one to go. I was taken aback.
"Me a Jew, and not even an Iranian at that!" They insisted
and eventually I accepted reluctantly.
next day I showed up at the Ayatollah's residence in a poor
district of Tehran called Sar-cheshme. I walked into a large
entrance packed with people, all seated on a floor covered
with carpets. Most of them were men, the women sat off to
one side. The only chair to be found was occupied by a young
Mullah who served as the Ayatollah's secretary. I approached
him to give my name, tell him that I was Jewish and wanted
to see the Ayatollah on an urgent matter that involved his
stern looking Shi'ite holy man sitting nearby gave me an angry
look and snapped at me, asking sarcastically if my business
was more important than that of the others waiting. I told
him I was addressing the Ayatollah's secretary and not him.
He looked away with contempt and said nothing more. That holy
man's face was later to become the most recognisable face
in Iran and indeed, the whole world.
minutes later, I was called into Ayatollah Kashani's office.
It was a small, modest room and the Ayatollah sat cross-legged
on the carpet. He extended his hand to me as I bent down.
I kissed it twice and put it to my forehead as a sign of respect.
He noted I was Jewish and asked me where I was from. When
I told him Baghdad, he broke into fluent Arabic and our conversation
continued. I told him about the two men who were going around
the bazaar holding up his letter and getting merchants to
sell them cheap car tyres. How they sold them at exorbitant
profits. He grew angrier as our conversation continued, remembering
the two men had come to him earlier. His voice grew to a shout
when he found out they had claimed the tyres money was going
to the Ayatollah himself. At that moment, the Mullah sitting
outside his office burst in, thinking a fight had broken out.
the Ayatollah put up his hand to stop him. "Leave this Jew
alone. We should be glad he came to us. Call the police."
the policemen guarding his building came running into his
office, the ayatollah told them to accompany me downtown and
arrest the two men who were buying tyres in his name. He also
told them he held them personally responsible for my safety.
I thanked him, kissed his hand again and left with the police
we got downtown, I pointed at the two men, who began running
when they saw us. The police gave chase and eventually caught
them. A scuffle broke out, the two men were beaten and taken
away in handcuffs. I never saw them again.
Dabby is retired and lives in Montreal. His son Victor helped
prepare this article.
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