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Mohsen Kadivar

Molla or not
Concern over Mohsen Kadivar's arrest, even though he's a clergyman

By Emami
March 11, 1999
The Iranian

Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar was recently detained at a time when many Iranians were rejoicing over the outcome of a landmark election in modern Iranian history. No formal charges are brought against him yet, but it is clear that the losing faction is once again acting in frustration to make the point that it is still in control of the key instruments of power.

Kadivar's contributions to a new theology of love and freedom, along with other prominent Shi'ite thinkers such as Mohammad Mojtahed-e Shabestari, are widely acknowledged inside Iran. His longstanding scholarship on theories of state in Shi'ite jurisprudence has been devastating to the monolithic claims of a small circle within the political elite who justify their absolutist yearnings for power on the basis of a minority view of government in Shiism.

Drawing on authoritative Shi'ite sources, Kadivar catalogues at least nine valid interpretations of the idea of velaya-e faqih (trusteeship of the jurist) among Shi'ite ulama. He has also been an outspoken advocate of democratic rights and freedoms in Iran and has hence been harassed and subjected to all kinds of pressures, including being barred from teaching in some faculties.

News of his detainment have sparked a wave of protest among university students, journalists, professors, and a whole range of political organizations and parties founded or revived in the new atmosphere created by President Khatami's gradually expanding civil society.

Among Iranians living abroad, however, there does not seem to be a widespread sense of outrage and any visible activity in defense of him, at least of the kind rightfully shown in the case of the recent murders of (secular) activists and intellectuals.

Could this lack of sensitivity be attributed to the penchant for the dead and the martyrs which is so engrained in our psyches that even after many years of living in the west one would still react to injustice and brutality when someone is actually killed? Or is it, perhaps, the anti-religious, modernist outlook of so many of us that militates against defending a molla and getting unduly involved in some "in-fighting" that is going on out there?

What fascinates people like myself who work and teach in Iran is that the current "civil society" movement is overcoming some of the nastiest features of our past (leftist as well as Islamic) political orientations, including the discursive practice of excluding "others" on the basis of narrow ideological definitions. Thus many of the past us/them-type dichotomies (modernist/traditionalist, secular/religious, intellectual/clerical and so on) that prevented or hindered dialogue and cooperation among differing points of view are consciously being discarded.

Another noteworthy development in the Iranian pro-democracy movement is a heightened sense of mature action in the context of gradual reforms. The defunct project of overthrowing the regime, still cherished by the disciples of some political sects in diaspora, has no appeal even among younger generation.

Public opinion stands for non-violent, efficacious action to expand democratic rights and freedoms and to bring about meaningful change. Even a cursory look at the election results testify to the fact that voters are not rejecting the regime in toto, but rather those in the machinery of power who stand against reform and democratic transition.

Kadivar's detention on the orders of a special clerical court may very well instigate a general debate on the need to reform and unify the judiciary and to do away with various extant bodies and paralegal procedures in the judicial system.

Copyright © 1997 Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form

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