By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Heard the one about the ayatollah who wanted to marry war widows? It's the type of joke that doesn't get many laughs in Iran, even if told by the grandest ayatollah of them all -- Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic.
granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic republic
The 1980-88 war with Iraq remains a painful memory for Iranians, and the tens of thousands of soldiers lost their lives in the conflict are honored as martyrs.
So when a one-liner attributed to the late Khomeini appeared on his granddaughter's Facebook page, controversy ensued.
Khomeini's granddaughter, Naeimeh Eshraghi, denies posting the joke, which recently appeared on the comments section of her Facebook page, under her ID.
"Another joke we used to tell the Imam, and he always jokingly recalled, is this: Imam Khomeini: 'Hey Pasdaran [Revolutionary Guards Corps members], marry the widows of the martyrs ... I wish I were a Pasdar.'"
Amid the outcry, Eshraghi has closed her account on the social-networking site.
Martyrs, a reference to soldiers and members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) killed in the war, hold a special status in the Islamic republic.
Streets are named after some of them, and their faces are seen on street murals.
During and after the war, soldiers and IRGC members were encouraged to marry martyrs' widows, who were often unable to provide for themselves or their children.
Criticism And Disbelief
A screenshot of the joke has been shared extensively among Iranians on Facebook.
Some express disbelief that Khomeini -- who has been blamed for sending many to the front and prolonging the war -- could have joked about it. Others were upset at Eshraghi for making light of such a painful and dark chapter of Iran's modern history.
The criticism has come from all sides -- hard-line media, relatives of martyred veterans, moderates and those opposed to the Iranian establishment. All have expressed their disapproval.
Ali Afshari, a Virginia-based former Iranian student leader who was jailed and tortured in Iran, wrote on Facebook that whoever made the joke should be condemned.
"A part of the Revolutionary Guards members have hurt the Iranian people and they have had a hand in different crimes," wrote Afshari. "But a significant part of them -- particularly those who fought during the war -- were healthy and believing people who would never want to misuse anyone, particularly the war widows."
The son of Mohammad Ebrahim Hemat, a well-known commander who was killed in the war, has criticized Eshraghi for her insensitivity.
In a letter published by conservative websites, Hemat's son wrote that Eshraghi has cast a shadow on the founder of the Islamic republic.
"The first thing that comes to mind when one reads her ugly [post], is that when the children of this country were being torn to pieces by bullets, bombs and mortars, the leader, at whose command many went to the front lines, was making ugly jokes about them and their families," he wrote.
Hemat's son adds that such people lead him to the conclusion that those who fought in the war and their families had been fooled.
He said he watched his language in the letter because of his respect for Ayatollah Khomeini.
But he added that those around Eshraghi should make sure she minds her language. Otherwise, he warned, he wouldn't remain so respectful.
The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
Eshragi responded to the letter by saying that the martyrs and their families are at the "apex of humanity" and that nothing that can stop their "heavenly union" with Khomeini.
She announced that, after her Facebook page was hacked several times, she had decided to shut it down.
The move and her denial of responsibility for the post apparently failed to satisfy her critics.
Parliament member Hojatoleslam Nasrollah Pejmanfar was quoted on October 17 as saying that Eshraghi's "insult" to the families of those killed in the war would be discussed by lawmakers.
Pejamnfar, a member of the parliament's Cultural Committee, said no one has the right to insult the families of the martyrs.
The controversy over the Facebook comment highlights the social-networking site's growing role in political discussions in the Islamic republic.
Although the site is officially blocked in Iran, an increasing number of officials have joined in recent months.
... Payvand News - 10/18/13 ... --