Great loss for the opposition – a tribute to Grand Ayatollah Montazeri

2009/12/21

Published in German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” on December 21 2009
Source (German): http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2009-12/iran-tod-opposition

The Iranian dissident Hossein Ali Montazeri has died. The green movement has lost its spiritual leading figure, and one of its most prominent clerical supporters. A tribute.
By Martin Gehlen

Iranian dissident Hossein Ali Montazeri died Saturday night at the age of 87 (© Norbert Schiller/ AFP/ Gettty Images)

His last letter to the green opposition has become his legacy. “Do not let yourself be tempted to respond with violence, if those in power proceed with force and repression”, the 87 year old Grand Ayatollah in early December had warned young supporters of the green movement who had turned to him with four questions. “Do not expect that victory will be soon and easy”. The green movement should be careful now to not get impatient and hectic. In times of resistance, when it comes to reviving the rights of the people, it is of major importance to endure hardships – according to the teachings of the Quran. “Intimidation, threats, arrests, illegal show trials, severe an completely unjustified punishments for people who call for more freedom, as well as false and misleading state propaganda: all this has not been able to break the will and the determination of the people”, he wrote.

In the night from Saturday to Sunday, Hossein Ali Montazeri passed away at the age of 87. With him, the green opposition has lost its spiritual leading figure, and a key supporter from the upper echelons of the Iranian clergy. On Monday, Montazeri, who was one of the most respected Shiite theologians in the world, will be laid to rest in Qom. Foreign journalists, again, are not allowed to report about the event. For his funeral could turn into one of the largest political demonstrations against the Tehran regime in the Islamic Republic since the disputed presidential elections in June.

Born in 1922 into a peasant family in the village of Najafabad, Montazeri since the 1960es was one of the closest companions of Ayatollah Khomeini. He studied theology in Isfahan and subsequently became a lecturer in Islamic science and philosophy in Qom, which today is the center of Shiite learning in Iran. At the time of the Shah, Montazeri spent four years in prison, where he was repeatedly tortured. After the triumphant return of Khomeini from Paris to Tehran in early 1979, the gifted theologian, who used to receive all visitors with innocent friendliness, immediately became part of the ruling elite of the new regime. He became an Ayatollah in Tehran and called for the export of the revolution to other countries. In 1985, the founder of the Islamic Republic designated him to be his successor. Three years later, however, Montazeri fell from grace.

“In the name of God, the benevolent and merciful”, as the conventional formula says, he had protested against the mass executions in Iranian prisons. He argued that the executions had often killed innocent people and were not to any benefit, instead they provoked media propaganda against Iran.
In the 10th anniversary of the overthrow of the Shah in February 1989, he even took a rather negative stock of the Iranian revolution, warning the government not to monopolize power, and called for more justice and a better protection of civil rights. That was it. Khomeini, who was already critically ill with cancer, stripped him of his trust. After Khomeini’s death in June 1989, Montazeri’s arch enemey Ali Khamenei advanced to the head of the state, a pale and hitherto little-known cleric with mediocre theological qualifications.

In 1997, after Montazeri publicly criticized that Khamenei had no adequate qualification for the position of the head of state, and too often meddled in politics, thugs devastated his office. He escaped unhurt, but was placed under house arrest in Qom, and completely isolated. It was not until 2003 that the anathema was lifted. And again, the Grand Ayatollah took on the powerful. Multiple times within the last few months, he accused Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of establishing a dictatorship in the name of Islam. “The country belongs to the people, not to any one person”, the respected cleric shortly after the disputed presidential election wrote in a legal opinion that made the headlines world wide. And again, he bluntly challenged the Supreme Religious Leader Ali Khamenei, saying: The Shah “heard the call of the people’s revolution only when it was already too late. One can only hope that the current officials will not to let things get that far”. Because a leadership that is based on “batons, injustice, and violations, that has taken possession of the votes and manipulates them – such a leadership has no value.”

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