Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Statement from Ayatollah Montazeri

Here (via Andrew Sullivan) is a recently released statement from Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri of Iran. Montazeri was an important clerical supporter of theocracy during the early days of the Revolution, but fell out of favor because of his support for a more open policy and spent some time under house arrest.

Given that Montezeri is no longer a powerful political figure, his statement probably won't have any impact on the policies of the current theocratic leadership of Supreme Leader Ali Khameinei.

But from an American perspective, Montazeri formulates his views in an unusual, almost unique kind of way.

In the name of God

People of Iran

These last days, we have witnessed the lively efforts of you brothers and sisters, old and young alike, from any social category, for the 10th presidential elections.

Our youth, hoping to see their rightful will fulfilled, came on the scene and waited
patiently. This was the greatest occasion for the government’s officials to bond with their people.

But unfortunately, they used it in the worst way possible. Declaring results that no one in their right mind can believe, and despite all the evidence of crafted results, and to counter people protestations, in front of the eyes of the same nation who carried the weight of a revolution and 8 years of war, in front of the eyes of local and foreign reporters, attacked the children of the people with astonishing violence. And now they are attempting a purge, arresting intellectuals, political opponents and Scientifics.

Now, based on my religious duties, I will remind you :

1- A legitimate state must respect all points of view. It may not oppress all critical views. I fear that this lead to the lost of people’s faith in Islam.
2- Given the current circumstances, I expect the government to take all measures to restore people’s confidence. Otherwise, as I have already said, a government not respecting people’s vote has no religious or political legitimacy.
3- I invite everyone, specially the youth, to continue reclaiming their dues in calm, and not let those who want to associate this movement with chaos succeed.
4- I ask the police and army personals not to “sell their religion”, and beware that
receiving orders will not excuse them before god. Recognize the protesting youth
as your children. Today censor and cutting telecommunication lines can not hide
the truth.

I pray for the greatness of the Iranian people.

Much like I've always thought of Iraqi Ayatollah Sistani as an impressive religious figure working through a very difficult time, Ayatollah Montazeri impresses because he apparently takes great care to drain any theatricality out of his statement. This gives his thoughts a simplicity and authenticity that's often lacking from the statements of Western leaders.

Another dimension of Montazeri's statement that I very much appreciate is his stress on the Iranian people as the touchstone for his thoughts. There used to be a phrase in the West that "the voice of the people is the voice of God" and Montazeri writes as though he agrees with that statement. He evinces enormous respect for the integrity of the Iranian people that has shown through the Iranian Revolution and the eight-year war with Iraq, and which still shows in the patience and non-violence with which all sectors of the people--"old and young alike, from any social category"--are carrying out the protests of the rigged election.

My reading of Montazeri's statement is that he views the full wrongfulness of the Iranian government in rigging the election and suppressing the protests as lying in its destruction of its bond with the Iranian people. The election represented a great opportunity for the Iranian government to "bond with the people" and the Iranian government failed in its duty by dealing with that opportunity in "the worst possible way." The Iranian government not only "declared results that no one in their right mind could believe," they "attacked the children of the people with astonishing violence" in front of the whole world.

For Montazeri, the Iranian government has broken any bond it had with God as well. A government that does "not respect the people's vote" has no religious or political legitimacy" and the police and army personnel attacking the children of the people risk the judgment of God as well as the judgment of the world.

Montazeri seems to believe that "the people" has an inherent bond with God and that the duty of Iranian government is to nourish that the various segments of the population that forms the people and thus strengthen the ties between God and his followers. He worries that the authorities have undermined "people's faith in Islam" as a result of their conduct.

Montazeri's stress on "the people" makes it possible for him to articulate a condemnation of the Iranian regime that has considerable moral and theological depth. We would do well to follow Montazeri's example in reestablishing the notion of the people as a central concept in our political thinking.

In the Western world, there used to be balance between the concept of the people and the concept of the individual. But American authorities have been successful in putting the whole weight of political philosophy on individuality and draining the concept of the people of any moral or political substance. The most important repository for any concept of the people is now African-American thought and African-Americans are starting to fall into individualistic patterns of thought as well. By disconnecting individuality from any collective sense in this way, the development of American political thought has made individuals more vulnerable to government and corporate efforts at manipulation and control. Losing a sense for the life of the people has come at the cost of a great loss of human freedom in this country.

Altogether, Ayatollah Montazeri articlated an impressive statement on the situation in Iraq, one which holds lessons for us in the United States as well as the Iranian government.

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