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Poor Grand Ayatollah!

On Montazeri's release

February 3, 2003
The Iranian

Western observers have found a new "moderate" mullah to add to their list of so-called "reformists". This time their recruit is a Grand Ayatollah once anointed by Khomeini himself (See photos).

Ms Elaine Sciolino informs us ["Freed Ayatollah Again Makes Voice Heard"] that Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was freed a few days back from five years of house arrest, "considers himself in the 'reformist' camp of President Mohammad Khatami "

He complains of the "harsh" treatment he was subjected to by his fellow "revolutionary" clerics: "They kept me isolated from society for five years and wasted five years of my life this way. It was such a cruel thing to do. I could have been useful, given advice, but they deprived me from doing it. This is oppression " (underlined by me).

Poor Grand Ayatollah! While he was confined to his house and continued to enjoy decent living, thousands and thousands of Iranians were imprisonned, beaten, executed, assassinated, silenced or deprived of other human rights.

The Grand Ayatollah has his own understanding of "oppression", very different from that of ordinary Iranians who are suffering for more than 23 years from the religious autocracy he himself helped to institute.

True, Montazeri was deprived of his right to preach and speak, and most Iranians included him in their protests against the violations of human rights by the Islamic theocracy.

But should we forget that he was a backer of the theocracy, that he greatly contributed to the inclusion of velayat-e-faghih in the constitution, that he funneled money and weapons to terrorist groups, that his main purpose is to save and perpetuate the present theocracy?

Many foreign observers and reporters do not see that there are two different reform movements inside Iran. The one represented by President Khatami is internal to the ruling clergy. These "reformists" believe "conservatives" around supreme ruler Khamnei are endangering the Islamic Republic, if not Islam altogether. They want reform in order to "save" Khomeini's "heritage".

The other movement encompass the majority of Iranians who want to get rid of the theocratic rule of the mullahs. These two movements intersect, sometimes during presidential elections, but they are separate.

At any rate, we must defend freedom of speech, even that of Mr Montazeri and his ilks. This is a matter of principle. But the internal quarrels of the ruling clerics is not our business. I, for one welcome it because the more they fight one another, the sooner their autocratic rule will collapse.


Fereydoun Hoveyda is a senior fellow at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and former Iranian ambassador to the UN before the 1979 revolution. He is the author of The Broken Crescent.The Threat of Militant Islamic Fundamentalism (Praeger 1999). To learn more about the Hoveydas, visit their web site.

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