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Iran's 'Cardboard Khomeini' Faces Criticism, Condemnation

A cardboard Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini arrives in Tehran to mark the 33rd anniversary of his triumphant return to Iran following the Islamic Revolution.
Iran's "Cardboard Khomeini" is fueling a firestorm of criticism in the Middle Eastern country after cutouts of the Islamic republic's founder appeared at a number of events, and photos mocking the mock-up went viral.

The controversy stems from a bizarre February 1 ceremony that sought to recreate Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's triumphant return to Tehran in 1979 after 14 years of exile.

As part of the ceremony, which took place 33 years after his return, a cardboard cutout bearing the likeness of the leader of the revolution disembarked from an aircraft in Tehran and was greeted by lines of saluting honor guards and a marching band.

In another ceremony officials had tea and chatted next to a seated Khomeini cutout at his old headquarters in Tehran.

High-Profile Critics

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is among the more high-profile critics. On February 4, during a meeting of the Expediency Council, he warned that cardboard cutouts of Khomeini could be abused by "the enemies" of the Islamic republic he founded.

Within Iran, he said, according to Deutsche Welle, state bodies should refrain from organizing "injudicious and weak" programs featuring the cardboard Khomeini. They exhibited a lack of taste, he said.

A number of Iranian politicians and lawmakers have criticized such events as "distasteful," "damaging," and "regretful."

Among them is lawmaker Mohammad Reza Tabesh, who has said the display of Khomeini's cardboard cutout is offensive to supporters of the Islamic Revolution and Khomeini.

'A Warning To The Revolution'

Khomeini's grandson, Hojatoleslam Morteza Eshraghi, has gone so far as to demand an apology from those who organized events featuring cardboard images of his grandfather.

Iranian media have also weighed in. The "Mardomsalari" newspaper wrote that events suggesting that all that remains of Khomeini and his aides is a mock-up should be taken as a warning to the revolution.

Iran's state television said in a report that those who were behind the idea should be stopped, " or else the problem is going to get serious."

Khomeini On The Moon

Jokes about Khomeini's cutout are making the rounds among Iranians. It has been nicknamed "The Cardboard Imam", a parody of the title "Imam Khomeini" which is used by supporters of the leader of Iran's 1979 revolution.

Photoshopped versions of the official cardboard photo are also circulating widely on the Internet.

The blog "cardboardkhomeini" already depicts the faux Khomeini at more than 20 well-known scenes, including the lunar landing and last year's funeral of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il.

"The Cardboard Imam" also has a Facebook fan page where users have been posting jokes, parodies of old slogans about Khomeini, and pictures.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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