By Nadav Eyal
Powerful opposition to the ayatollahs' regime lies with the clergy... In a certain sense, the Iranian opposition is an internal battle within the clique of Shiite clerics in Iran. In an interesting fashion, what people like Montazeri or Taheri did was to turn their Islam into a liberal, democratic version of the current regime; Islam does not fake election results, and Islam does not torture prisoners, and in Islam women have rights... They set about inviting Western democracy into the political Islam.
Translated by Viktoria Lymar
Edited by Steven Stenzler
7 June 2013
The rising power of a different kind of ayatollahs who believe in the republic rather than in the dictatorship can start a change from within.
This week, with his death, Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri has been gratified in the international arena. The prayer leader in Isfahan – one of the largest cities in Iran – was a vehement opposer of the Spiritual Leader Ali Khamenei. His funeral, so it appears from the videos uploaded to the Internet, has become a huge demonstration against the regime. The masses were seen chanting "Down with the dictator"1 and shouts were heard in support of the opposition leaders who have been for years already under house arrest. The images and the voices were covered extensively around the world and embarrassed the regime on the eve of presidential elections.
The expression "dictator" had not sounded in the Islamic Republic since the revolution against the Shah and up until the rigged elections in 2009. After these elections, all the dams have been breached, and the Supreme [Spiritual] Leader, who was formally considered a consensus, has turned more and more into the supreme representative of repression.
There were allegations regarding the authenticity of the filming. Among other things, it was argued that the slogans were added on the films from the funeral, and alternatively – that the demonstration actually took place during the 2009 green protests, and attached in a fake way to Taheri's death. It seems, there’s not much basis for the forgery charges, among the rest – because one can have a visual on a coffin (all covered with green cloth, the symbol of the protest) and the pictures of Taheri waved in the crowd. The amount of cell phone clips from the funeral is such that it’s hard to imagine this is about a sophisticated conspiracy of the opposition.
The regime's desire to avoid confrontations on the election eve and Taheri’s special status have given his funeral the opportunity to turn into a large protest action against the regime. This action is particularly important on the eve of the presidential elections, since they are increasingly perceived as pure puppet theater. Not only has the regime disqualified all of the reformists – it doesn’t allow even Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and one of Khomeini’s prominent disciples, to run for the presidency. In a delicate game Iran is playing between republic and theocracy, the latter won a complete and absolute and oppressive victory – in a manner unknown since the revolution. What had begun as an “Islamic republic" became a totalitarian Islamist dictatorship.
Many in Israel will ask what's new; the answer is: a whole lot. Since the end of the ‘80s, Iran proved that elections there were held relatively freely, and the results were not determined in advance or phony. The election of reformist President Khatami, for the first and the second time, was a surprise – and so also was the rise of Ahmadinejad. Between Israel and Afghanistan, Iran was the freest country for political change – unlike Egypt, Syria and Jordan, let's say. This was the claim of the Iranian supremacy over the Arab world: We are both Islamic, and a Republic. But in 2009, the regime eliminated the last remnants of political freedom and got completely addicted to suppression of any opposition.
With the Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, Taheri was a symbol. In the complicated domestic discourse of Iranian society and politics, both of them were exceptional ayatollahs. In 2002, Taheri shocked the entire Iran. Exactly him – the personal representative of Ayatollah Khomeini in Isfahan, from among the veterans of the revolution and most senior clerics of the country, overtly came out against the regime and against the revolution. He resigned from his position as a prayer leader in the city, and published a letter banned from broadcasting in the electronic media, but which was published in the newspapers. That was one of the most powerful battle cries of the Iranian opposition. It criticized not only the oppression of the regime, but lamented the decline of religion following interference of the clergy in the country's affairs.
He said he could not close his eyes to "tangible realities, and witness the stifling pain and unbearable suffering of people who were seeing the flowers of virtue being trampled, values collapsing, and spirituality being destroyed... When I remember the promises and pledges of the beginning of the (Islamic - N.E.) revolution, I tremble like a willow thinking of my faith... All this threatens the existence of our country and our people"2
On June 30, 2009 Taheri published an open letter denouncing the regime and ruled that Ahmadinejad's government is illegitimate.
The White Ayatollas
Montazeri was more seasoned than Taheri in opposition to the regime. He began as one of the most important of Khomeini’s allies, with one significant difference between the two: While Khomeini had a high, however, limited religious authority, Montazeri was a prodigy. Upon his passing, he was Marja'-i Taqlid [Source of Emulation], the highest rank of a Shiite scholar. Of course, there is no comparison between Montazeri and, say, the so-called "Supreme Spiritual Leader" Ali Khamenei. Khamenei was not even an ayatollah when he received this impressive title – and the world of Shia scholars deeply despises him. In the realm of the holy city of Qom, Khamenei had no status, contrary to individuals such as Taheri or Montazeri.
Montazeri fell out with Khomeini in the late '80s. Initially, he was extensively dealing with the “export of the revolution,” – the code name for the terrorist, espionage and subversion acts Tehran conducted throughout the region since the Islamic Revolution commenced. The essence of the conflict between the two is still controversial; some say that Montazeri "merged" his principled opposition to Khomeini with a personal rivalry, and some maintain that despite much blood on his hands – because of the mass executions in the decade after the revolution – he later tried to transform himself into a human rights adherent and civilian. No matter what the reason was, Montazeri succeeded. He started to speak out time and again, and very courageously, against the repressive policies of Khomeini and the suppression of the opposition.
He had enough courage to subject to direct criticism Khomeini himself, in a statement that in practice destroyed him, "The denial of people's rights, injustice and disregard for the revolution's true values have delivered the most severe blows against the revolution. Before any reconstruction [takes place], there must first be a political and ideological reconstruction... This is something that the people expect of a leader."3 He repeated such remarks over and over again, until Khomeini ordered his dismissal. He was placed under house arrest, the title of Grand Ayatollah was stripped of him (in the Iranian media) – and he became the symbol of the opposition.
This is a fascinating case. Montazeri, at the end of the bill, was a regular clergyman, a friend of Khomeini’s with whom he quarreled. But precisely him, as well as Taheri later, or Karroubi and Mousavi – the Green opposition leaders – they are the ones considered the harshest opponents of the regime. Them – and not, suppose, secular academics or writers, human rights activists and students. The potent opposition to the ayatollahs' regime, in other words, lies with the clergy; by the way, most of them claim that it is them who are the true followers of Khomeini, for Khomeini would not want Khamenei's dictatorship.
Within the framework of the Islamist Republic, there’s no sweeping opposition that requires separation of religion and state, or abolition of Islamism. In a sense, the Iranian opposition is an internal battle inside the clique of Shiite clerics in Iran. In an interesting fashion, what people like Montazeri or Taheri did was to make their Islam into a liberal, democratic version of the current regime; Islam does not counterfeit election results, and Islam does not torture prisoners, and in Islam women have rights.
Their version of Islam is very popular in the religious schools of Qom, because the top Shia leaders don't want the state to be identified with the Shiite clergy – for the current Iranian state has a horrible name. They embarked on inviting Western democracy into political Islam. And so they have become the heroes of the students, those crying out at Taheri's funeral this week – “The real clerics: Montazeri, Taheri!”1
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The larger original Hebrew article (a part dealing with an irrelevant topic has been omitted):
Photo/video credits: ISNA/The New York Times:
video:YouTube/Tom Brown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HhvLzR7o7PY#!;
Al Arabiya News: Montazeri (L) had been named to succeed late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini (R) as Iran's supreme leader;
ISNA; RFE/RL//Payvand Iran News: Iran's Top Dissident Cleric Montazeri Laid To Rest Amid Protests
Related: The Really Important Elections
1. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/06/05/Video-Iranians-chant-down-with-the-dictator-at-funeral-for-top-cleric.html; http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/06/04/video-thousands-rage-against-irans-regime-at-funeral-for-ayatollah/
also: “Death to the dictator!:”