Saturday, December 26, 2009

What Grand Ayatollah Montazeri Meant to Iranians

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Family, followers and associates of Hossein Ali Montazeri, the highly respected grand ayatollah who died in Iran last Sunday, are not being allowed to mourn his passing. Two memorial services – in Qom, where his office was, and in Isfahan, where he was born – have had to be cancelled owing to heavy presence of security forces and plainclothes thugs. The former leader of Friday prayers in Isfahan, Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri – a close associate of Montazeri – was in tears when he announced on Tuesday that all six routes leading to the Sayed mosque, where the memorial was being held, were blocked and that his house was surrounded. Some reports speak of 2,000 security forces surrounding the mosque using brutal methods and teargas to disperse the mourners. By blocking all gatherings the authorities reveal their fear of opposition assembly yet, by their action, they create even more anger among the supporters of high-ranking ayatollahs, each with their own powerful support groups. The official press has used abusive and threatening language about all opposition leaders, including Ayatollah Montazeri. The authorities have also threatened to put on trial and send to prison political players who were hitherto treated with utmost respect – Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi – accusing them of treason. They threatened to strip Ayatollah Yousef Sanei, another close associate of Ayatollah Montazeri, of his religious credentials. They have removed the leader of the "green movement", Mousavi, from his post as the head of Iranian Academy of Arts – an academy that he created.

Officials seem oblivious to the dangerous consequences of what they are embarking upon. In major cities such as Qom, Isfahan and Tehran the scene is that of ferocious clashes between the supporters of opposition and those of the supreme leader. Official press are calling on people to "silence those who disrespect the supreme leader". Reformist ayatollahs are putting their weight behind the opposition, confronting directly those who favour the leader. Some banners say "down with the dictator" others say "down with the anti-supreme leaders". The situation looks explosive. Supporters of Ayatollah Montazeri take their cue from his incisive criticisms of the Islamic Republic in his speeches and open letters. As a grand ayatollah he was of a higher clerical rank than the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It was from this position of Islamic scholarship that Montazeri called into question the authority of the leader, Ali Khamenei, saying he lacked the necessary Islamic credentials and that his style of leadership was "oppressive". They closed Montazeri's offices and put him under house arrest for five years. But they did not silence him. Time and again he would issue bold statements criticising the regime. When, in the midst of brutal crackdown, Montazeri denounced the June presidential elections as "fraudulent" it brought a sigh of relief to many demonstrators who were being brushed aside as "insignificant particles of dust". Montazeri did not mince his words. "With the ongoing oppression, imprisonment, forced confessions, and show trials the government cannot be Islamic," he said in an open letter published on his website. "This is neither Islamic, nor a republic" was his most quoted last phrase. What concerned the authorities was that his criticisms could influence hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom may be inside the political machinery of the Islamic Republic, such as the Revolutionary Guards or the Bassij militia. (Read more...)