This prompted Kadivar to say, “Events that have taken place in Iran in the last 30 years are neither republican nor Islamic … but the will of a single ruler”, words that were recently echoed by another senior dissident ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. A leading reformist strategist, a senior intelligent official and a senior advisor to former President Khatami, Hajjarian has been under house arrest since the protests. Because of an assassination attempt on his life in 2000, Hajjarian can hardly speak and his health has been deteriorating. Mohsen Kadivar is a dissident reformist cleric currently a visiting professor at the University of Virginia, who spent 18 months in prison because of his interpretation of Islam. Read the excerpts.
Rooz: Prior to the June 12th elections, there was a debate whether one should vote or not. In retrospect, and in view with what has happened, do you view the current situation we are in to be the result of participation in the vote?
Kadivar: What has happened in Iran is both good and bad. But overall, I think any reasonable man will conclude that benefits outweigh the negatives for the Iranian nation.
Rooz: And people were not prepared for the negatives.
Kadivar: Yes, people did not think they would be asking, ‘Where is my vote?’ Or that the state would fire at their hearts
Rooz: Let’s diverge from the subject of the interview for a moment and look at the nature of the state in dealing with people who have protested. On one hand some like cleric Mesbah Yazdi have said that sexually abusing 12 year old boys or girls is not a problem because they have challenged the Islamic state, while on the other there are individuals who not only shoot at the children of this land, but aim for their head and heart. This is pre-meditated murder. What are the roots of such views and violence?
Kadivar: I have not heard Mr. Mesbah say this and doubt it because this is against all the foundations of the Sharia, ethics, and humanity. In Islam we do not even accept such behavior against infidels. About violence, the fact is that the situation that the current despotic system faces is similar to a spider so that when one thread of its net is broken, the whole system crumbles. Millions have said that the person who was announced the winner of the election was not the one we voted for. The state engages in violence to protect his position of power. Protests take place all over the world, but the order to shoot people is given only by the highest authority in every country. Such an order is not issued by any police agent, head of a police station or a para-military person. And this is how it used to be prior to 17 Shahrivar. So one must ask who gave the fire order to these inexperienced and simple individuals. Regardless of who he is, he bears the biggest responsibility to God and this nation.
Rooz: In Iran the supreme commander is Mr. Khamenei.
Kadivar: When they claim that he has absolute authority, then he certainly has absolute responsibility as well. Legally and from a religious perspective, the supreme authority is accountable.
Rooz: Let’s return to the elections. What would have happened in the elections if people had not voted?
Kadivar: The state’s choice would have easily prevailed and things would have continued as they had during the last four years. People participated and disrupted all the plans. The cheaters did not think this would be the outcome. They thought that people would protest for a few days and then would calm down. They did not think that the candidates and their supporters would insist on their demands. They did not expect it and so resorted to violence against them.
Rooz: So of the two choices, you approve of people’s participation to vote?
Kadivar: Precisely. The majority of Iranians are not happy about the current domestic, foreign, cultural economic and other policies that are pursued and they want change. People are not after a revolution because that is very costly and its outcome uncertain. So they have chosen to pursue their demands peacefully and through reforms through legal methods. So they participated in the elections to change the state of affairs. The rulers however say that people do not understand, that they are ignorant and that they do not really understand their interests. They argue that they have been appointed by God and his representative to rule over this mass of people. We know their interests better than them. The principal fight now is between the people and the state. People say we understand while the leader of the regime says no I know better and that his choice must become the president.
Rooz: From the state emerged the coup, from the people the Green Movement. What are the features of the movement?
Kadivar: It depends on how you look at it. If you look at what has been said or published in the last two or three months, you will see that every person sees himself a supporter of the Green Movement. So it has tens of owners, including those who did not vote. They say now that this movement is getting somewhere, they say we have been saying this for the last 30 years. They too wear the green band.
Rooz: What is the relationship between the Green Movement inside the country and the outside world?
Kadivar: There are some four million Iranians living outside and students comprise a part of that which includes some who have recently left Iran to study abroad or that third generation of Iranians who hardly speak Persian. Just like those inside Iran, they are pure, shining and green and do not say anything more radical than what the people inside Iran are saying. They see their goal to be to tell the world exactly what those inside Iran are saying. There are no issues with them and I kiss their hands. If they were inside Iran, they would be no different than the youth who are there now. There is of course also another group that is still caught in the views of the twenty or thirty years ago. But the Green Movement has a group that is critical of what the officials of the Islamic republic have been doing, they have a fundamental criticism. The Green Movement has a clear difference with the royalists. And just as the Green Movement abhors religious despotism, it also detests American agents. It has a clear demarcation with the Mojahedin Khalq Organization. These are the people who in the past held a hand of friendship with Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of the Iranian people, and who along with him launched a war against Iran. This is the height of opportunism for them to try to connect themselves to the Green Movement. They want to hijack the Green Movement. If they really want to do something for the Iranian people, they should be supportive of them. Some of them have come to the conclusion that they must stay with the Iranian people. But one must clearly know that the leadership of the Green Movement is inside Iran and that these people cannot have a decisive role in the this.
Rooz: So what are the main features of the movement?
Kadivar: These are foremost in the statements and positions that have been announced by those who have gained the votes of the people: First of all Mir-Hossein Mousavi and then Mehdi Karoubi. Khatami too continues to enjoy a large public following. Then, are the calls of the people as pronounced in their peaceful demonstrations. People want to peacefully remove a usurper president and replace him with their own choice. One can stress the following as the calls of the people:
First of all, this movement is peaceful and against violence. Second, it is democratic and wants the respect of human rights. It is anti despotic. It is against dictatorship. Third, it is independent and not planned by any foreign government. It is born from inside the houses of the Iranian people. It was the children of this people who took to the streets because they had been humiliated and their votes ignored, and because they were told that they did not understood and that others knew better. So it is a purely Iranian and national movement and Iranian interests are its highest aspirations.
Fourth, this movement is not after a revolution. It wants to attain its goals legally and through the use of the existing constitution. People say that the constitution is referred to only when the rulers want to impose their will on the people. Only the provisions of the absolute leader and those of the Guardians Council of the constitution are enforced. It is as if there are no other provisions in the constitution regarding the rights of people. The third chapter of the constitution is completely ignored. The most basic rights of the Iranian nation are outlined in this chapter. And these include questioning someone’s beliefs or views, banning torture, prohibiting reading people’s mail, convening press and political courts without the presence of a jury, trying individuals without their right to be represented by a defense attorney, peaceful demonstration, forcing people to make false confessions, depriving people of their freedom on the excuse of keeping the independence of the state, banning despotism, respecting the code of civil procedure, freedom of press, banning censorship, etc.
Fifth, the leaders of the movement and its supporters have chosen green as its color, which bears a meaning for us. Mousavi has repeatedly said that the nature of this movement is Islamic and has asked that all slogans begin with Allaho Akbar, and that Islamic institutions should be used as much as possible. And in all honesty this is what people have done. The organization credo of the movement is “Allaho Akbar, Death to Dictatorship.” Nobody can negate the powerful slogan of Allaho Akbar. Death to the dictator too is a natural outburst, like the older Death to the Shah call during the 1978-9 revolution.
Sixth, this movement is absolutely against using religion as a tool. It is repulsive of religious despotism. It detests cunning Islam. It is against the negation of people’s rights and vote. It is against the view which believes people are inferior and lack understanding. It advocates and supports rational and merciful and intellectual Islam.
Seventh, it is an ethical movement. It is against lies, cheating, and treason. Nothing is higher than the truth and ethical values and believes that one must rise against a lying regime which has even trampled on ethics and morals.
Rooz: So this is an anti despotic and anti dictatorial movement. But still, you talk about attaining it through the constitution. But this constitution also provides for an absolute ruler, an experts’ assembly which is supposed to monitor the work of the leader but in practice does not. Can one say that a review of the constitution is one of the goals of the movement as well?
Kadivar: Unlike past reform movements, this one believes in small goals but great resistance and work. This resistance has gone up to martyrdom. Its impact has been great. So the fist step of the movement is to install the elected president and bring down a usurper president and expose the cheaters. The leaders of the movement too have not gone beyond this call. Other calls will automatically be raised. We do not have the necessities for changing the constitution. Because it is not implementable, it is not enforceable and will be wasted.
Rooz: I did not mean to say whether we should or should not make such a call. What I meant was that if the people’s choice becomes president, will reviewing the constitution be inevitable?
Kadivar: Under those circumstances ye. But political prudence says we should not be after such a thin now. It will create un necessary sensitivities. Mousavi has clearly said in his statements that when people attain the necessary authority, then there may be issues that would need to be changed. If the real structure of power changes, you can be confident that changing the legal framework will not be difficult. So we can add an eight feature to the movement which is to be realistic and taking one step at a time.
Rooz: It appears that it is because of the need to change the constitution that those in power resort violence against the public.
Kadivar: Yes. They read minds. Any one who looks at these events can make such a conclusion. Anyway, this is one of the most important accomplishments of the movement that during the last 30 years the Iranian state has neither been a republic nor Islamic. People’s will and determination has not been respected because the rule of a single man has been dominant. It is not Islamic either because Islam means respecting the dignity of the human being, respecting justice, respecting ethics, being merciful, Islam means freedom, … . As a person knowledgeable in Islamic I ask which Islamic principles have been respected and followed in this regime. Justice, or violence?
Rooz: So the interpretation that Mr. Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and Mesbah etc offer of Islam is different?
Kadivar: A good deed can always be misused. Just as a secular government can turn to fascism or become democratic. When a fascistic interpretation of secularism is presented, can we condemn secularism? The same is true for an Islamic government. It could be interpreted in fascistic terms with dictatorial elements or democratic ones.
Rooz: Secular fascist regimes and secular democratic ones have real examples. Can you give an example of a democratic Islamic republic?
Kadivar: Just because there is no record of it does not mean it cannot take place. It did exist during the rule of the prophet. It existed during Imam Ali’s days. In fact this is what the Islamic revolution asserts. This has also been the claim of the Islamic intellectual that Islam and democracy are fully compatible. But one can clearly say that the Iranian regime has brought things to the point where one can say that democracy and Velayat Faghih (rule of the jurisprudent) are not compatible. Human rights and Velayat Faghih are not compatible. Republicanism and Velayat Faghih are not compatible. These are the contradictions that have come to light in practice. Just as if Marxism-Leninism turned to Stalinism and failed, it does not mean that Trotskyism is a failure too. This is what some Islamic propagandists say that Velayat Faghih equals Islam, and so a failure of the latter means a failure of Islam. Today, the greatest opponents of religious despotism are against Velayat Faghih.
Rooz: What is the clergy’s role in the Green Movement? Is their current position in the interest of traditional religious institutions?
Kadivar: A minority of the grand ayatollahs (i.e. Marjae Taghlid, sources of emulation) are in tune with the Iranian people. Some such as grand ayatollah Montazeri are in the front line of the Green Movement. His historic announcement on 19 Tir this year is comparable to the cleric Khorasani’s during the constitutional movement against Qajar despotism, or the ayatollah Khomeini’s historic fatwa against Pahlavi despotism through the Islamic revolution. He says that an administration that does not enjoy the vote of the people, will not rule thoughtfully, its justice is flawed, and its rule is illegitimate. He has expressly said what needs to be said, and has added that people must act by using ways that have the least costs but maximum benefits by telling what is right and what is wrong with this regime – i.e. pushing aside a despotic ruler. Other ayatollahs have made similar remarks at their own level. Ayatollah Sanei for example has raised some of the complaints made by people which is why he has been attacked by the rulers. On the other hand the reality is that some grand ayatollah’s du support the regime but they are in the minority, in fact no more than just one and he is said to be regretting his support and has stopped it.
Rooz: Who is this?
Kadivar: Ayatollah Nouri Hamedani. But there is a large group who neither oppose the Green Movement nor support the actions of the regime. Some have shown their sympathy for the people even though they have not issued a formal statement. They may have sent a message, but it has not been public. If I compare the actions of the people with the religious leaders and clergy, unlike the past where it was said that the clergy were the leaders, this time we can say that people are ahead of the clergy and have passed them, with the exception of ayatollah Montazeri. People have passed most of the grand ayatollahs.
Rooz: What is the impact of this on the clergy’s standing?
Kadivar: Anyone, whether a university professor, a doctor etc who sees that his nation is being assaulted, killed, tortured, forced to make fake confessions, etc, and does not raise an eyebrow, he will fall because according to the Prophet he is an accomplice to this evil.
Rooz: Does this not impact the faith?
Kadivar: Fortunately people can see the difference between the faith and those who claim to defend it. People do not treat the Islam that ayatollah Montazeri shows and what the silent clergy practice. By looking at the clerics that support the Green Movement and those that are silent, people indicate their awareness. People are not willing to listen about their faith from the silent clergy, let alone those that actually advance despotism.
Rooz: What are your concerns about the Green Movement and what hopes do you have?
Kadivar: The Green Movement is the hope of the Iranian people now. And just as Mousavi has said, this is the Green Path of Hope. I hope that our hope will not disappoint us. In any case this is a difficult job, in view of the power structure in Iran. We must thank Mousavi and Karoubi even for the resistance that they have shown till now. What I am afraid is that people will go even faster than our leader friends. If this vast public energy could bring a more satisfying leadership, then certainly more accomplishments would have come about. Still, one must recognize that many of those who do have leadership qualities for this movement are behind bars and under medieval pressures. These prisoners have been carefully selected. We have not had a short list of failed movements. We must learn from them. Our problem during the reform period (a reference to president Khatami’s administration) was that nobody led this movement. We must plan and have programs. If this movement is to go somewhere it needs deeper planning and greater activism. Being disappointed and then turning to violence, which is the natural tendency of the youth, is my serious concern. The road to freedom is a long and winding path. It cannot be achieved overnight. Without plans, without consultation, without an organization, this movement can die. I am concerned abut the cooling of this zeal. We must strengthen our parties and non-government organization. If the youth do not join these and prefer to act unilaterally, we will fail.
Rooz: The debate for a tribune for the Green Movement is because of this importance. Should this not be thought about too?
Kadivar: Yes, this must be done. But this is not something that you and I say needs to be done. A media is expensive. Those who love their country and desire that this Green Movement succeed should be told that it needs a national television, radio, numerous national websites which cannot be blocked by the Iranian authorities. A few journalists cannot launch something as big as this. During the Islamic revolution (in 1978 and 1979) it was the bazaar that provided expenses of the movement. Today one should ask has: has the Iranian bourgeoisie disappeared that it cannot provide the money for a national television? I am talking about all the national investors who love their country. Just as we expect the clergy not to abandon people at this juncture and join them in their protest, we also expect investors not to let people down. They should participate and commit to provide the money for a national radio and television channel so that tomorrow there are no accusations that the BBC and VOA were the voices of the Green Movement of the Iranian nation. When the Iranian people constantly hear lies from the state-run television, they turn to other media. In fact, it is the government that has made Iranians turn to foreign radio and television channels. We should take advantage of this vacuum. We have Iranian producers, technical staff, journalists, cultural advocates, etc
Rooz: As you said, the movement needs a clear leadership so that Iranian capital can go towards it.
Kadivar: All domestic organizations and groups are destroyed. The regime crushes every single pin with a hammer. The leaders of all of the existing groups are in prison or have disappeared. If all the domestic avenues are shut, then some of these should be transferred to outside the country. Didn’t this happen during the constitutional movement? Didn’t it happen during the Islamic revolution (197809)? Note that if this national and independent movement is to succeed, it must be Iranian money. The expenses of a green media must be paid by Iranian investors. During the nationalization movement Dr Mossadegh had said, “We have nationalized the oil, but nobody is buying it.” That is when our fathers and mothers sold their gold jewelry pieces and along with savings gave it to the head of the government and did not allow their national government to collapse. Can’t Iranian women today give their jewelry to the Green Movement? If each Iranian gives a small amount of money, believe me the foundations for such a national media will be laid.
Rooz: What is Ahmadinejad’s problem? Is he concerned about the faith?
Kadivar: We cannot read other people’s minds, but from the available evidence I doubt if his concern is religion. Someone who is concerned with the faith will not be the cause of such atrocities, he does not lie, and he does not commit treason. The first requirement for accepting the faith is to respect the rights of the people.
Rooz: And my final question: Do you have a green band or headband?
Kadivar: I have not had the fortune, but when I was in New York for prayers, my young friends
Gave me a green band which I put on my clothes during the prayers and I used it the next day when I gave a talk at Columbia University. But I am proud to be a small part of the Green Movement of the Iranian people and at the least I pray for its victory.
I also congratulate you and your colleagues for the 1000th issue of RoozOnline. I hope that with the victory of the Green Movement, we will soon witness a paper version of RoozOnline in Iran.