Forty years ago, the dawn of the year 1979 inaugurated a series of events in West Asia the consequences of which continue to reverberate at a global level in contemporary competitions and conflicts.
On January 15, the Shah of Iran and his queen left Tehran airport and went into exile, ending two years of protests and street clashes which saw the mobilisation of millions of disgruntled youth ranged against the powerful war machinery of the monarch. The Shah’s autocracy had destroyed every avenue for secular protest in the country, leaving the field open to the clerics of the land to lead the opposition and assume power after the ruler’s departure.
Within just two weeks of the Shah commencing his exile, the same airport would witness the arrival of a very different personality—a bearded cleric, in long traditional robes and a black turban signifying his descent from the Prophet—Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Khomeini had been in exile in Iraq and then Paris since 1965. But, from outside his national home, he...