Montazeri Warns Iraqis Against Clerical Rule
Ayatollah Husain Ali Montazeri of Qom warned [Persian link] the Iraqi political class on Friday against allowing clerics to dominate the executive in their new government. He spoke through his son to the Persian service of the BBC. He said that clerics were just not trained to or capable of running a state. He said they should stick to oversight (i.e. using their moral authority to safeguard Islamic principles). He also said that the “guardianship of the jurisprudent” should only be exercised within the parameters set by voters. He condemned the Khomeinist system in Iran for having an “absolute” guardianship of the jurisprudent, with no checks on it in the form of a popular franchise.
Montazeri had been close to Khomeini and had at one point in the 1980s been his designated successor. But he broke with Khomeini and other hardliners over the extensive human rights abuses in Iran in the mid to late 1980s. He has openly questioned the doctrine of the guardianship of the jurisprudent (at least in the absolutist form practiced in contemporary Iran). Because challenging this ideological basis of the Iranian state is illegal, Montazeri was under house arrest until two years ago.
Montazeri’s son, through whom the ayatollah spoke, was careful to say that Montazeri did not favor a separation of religion and state. Islam, he said, is not limited to acts of worship. But he thought Iraqis should take a lesson from the failures in Iran that had derived from clerics attempting to rule directly, a task for which he said they were unsuited.
Montazeri’s position is somewhat similar to that of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq, though Sistani rejects the guardianship of the jurisprudent in the political realm altogether, allowing it only in the realm of social issues. Montazeri’s idea that clerical power should be delimited by the popular will is something I haven’t seen in Sistani. Rather, I think Sistani thinks civil politics should be run on a civil basis, and religion stay in the seminary except when an occasional fatwa is required to protect the interests of Islam when they were touched upon by civil legislation.