I always took pride in writing about this revolutionary warrior of Islam, who singlehandedly took on the ‘gangsters’ of the world from Washington to Tel Aviv, and valiantly led the fight against the ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But I never imagined writing an obituary for him. Life can be a tough taskmaster.
It never struck me that he could leave us like this even though he literally lived on the razor’s edge. He was on the ‘most-wanted-list’ of all rogue regimes and escaped assassination bids many times. His unflinching faith and extraordinary courage always helped him prevail over his enemies, who failed in all their devious attempts to track him. As the Supreme Leader famously remarked, he was a ‘living martyr’.
I had heard and read a lot about Gen. Soleimani before I came to Iran in the summer of 2018. His charismatic personality, his powerful oratory, his astounding intrepidness, his gentle demeanor and his unmatched devotion to the ideals of Islamic revolution were some of the traits that appealed to me. After almost a year in Iran, I had a chance to meet him at a ceremony to mark the death anniversary of the founder of Islamic revolution Imam Khomeini in Tehran last year.
I found myself just two rows behind him in the jam-packed mausoleum of Imam, while the Supreme Leader delivered a thoughtful speech. His love and admiration for the Supreme Leader was extraordinarily beautiful. It was a relationship of a soldier with his commander in chief. After the ceremony was over, I noticed all top government and military officials huddling around him. They all held him in great esteem for his exemplary services to Islam and Iran. I also tried to get close to him and shake his hands. That moment will live with me forever.
Truth be told, it is difficult to imagine Iran without Gen. Soleimani. It is difficult to find someone who would match him in bravery, charisma, oratory and revolutionary ideals. It is difficult to accept the reality that he is no longer with us. But, as one of my friends remarked, his death does not mean victory for the oppressor. It is a moral victory for the oppressed, a badge of honor for the fallen hero of oppressed. The revolution is very much alive and his blood will infuse new life in it and inspire many more revolutionaries in times to come.
It is important to know that the man who bravely took on the Americans, Zionists and ISIS had a beautiful heart, which was evident from his private life. He was a family man who respected his parents and loved his children. He could be seen praying and crying silently during his visits to Imam Reza shrine Mashhad. In one of the videos circulated online, he is seen addressing a gathering at a martyr’s funeral and making soul-stirring supplications. In his public meetings, his affable and easy-going nature was there for everyone to see.
In the wee hours of Friday morning, when the news about the martyrdom of this brave commander broke out, my heart skipped a beat. It can’t be true, I tried to reassure myself. I checked multiple sources to confirm the news and my worst fears came true. My first thought went to the Supreme Leader, who lost his most loyal and dedicated soldier. More than anyone else, it is a big loss for him. As someone very rightly remarked, Ali has lost Malik Ashter.
As a testimony of his astounding popularity, thousands of people poured into the streets in different cities of Iran to mourn the death of their ‘Sardar Soleimani’. People chanted ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ and vowed to take revenge for his death. Even the Supreme Leader said there would be ‘severe retaliation’ for this dastardly and cowardly act of war. This act cannot go unpunished.
It remains to be seen how Iran will respond but the response will be fitting and at the time and place of its own choosing. Gen. Qaani, a close aide of Gen. Soleimani, has been announced as his successor but he has a very big boots to fill and a difficult task ahead. To come out of the shadow of Gen. Soleimani, who was a larger than life figure, his successor has a long way to go.
This is perhaps the most difficult obituary I had to write because I am overwhelmed with emotions. It is a personal loss. I lost a real life hero, someone who inspired me in ways no one else did. He may not be physically with us anymore but he has left an illustrious legacy that will inspire millions in the future in every part of the world. Soleimani is not dead. We are all Soleimani today.