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Ecclesiastics and Power (Part 4)

Mohsen Kadivar
Source: Jameh Madani

Q: Here it might be suitable to point to a definite example to make our discussion more objective and that is the role of the clergy in the seventh presidential election. During this election, the two main rivaling sides tried to absorb a part of people's vote by bringing to the scene a group of spiritual figures and well-known personalities of the religious schools to support their candidates. Such approach was so much exaggerated by one of the rivaling sides that some observers evaluated the results as a sign indicating that people are no longer supporting the clergy. How do you evaluate the function of the clergy in the course of that election?

A: The role of the clergy in the course of the election was quite serious and decent, but it can not necessarily be regarded positive. To me, a considerable part of the clergy played a negative role on the scene of the seventh presidential election, in the sense that through inappropriate propaganda and unskillful participation, they made people to vote in a way opposite to what they wanted. Surely, I don't interpret this reaction of people as a sign indicating that they are no longer supporting the clergy. It was the result of a strategic error made by some of our religious brothers. The overwhelming majority of the state clergy, i.e. those who were in a way a part of the ruling system, except in very rare cases that they either kept silent or adopted a position only a few days before the election, all of them, from the highest to lowest ranks of state authorities, publicized in favor of a specific candidate and regarded their vote for this candidate as the vote for God, the Prophet and Imam Hossein. Similarly, they considered voting for the other candidate as voting for ignorant and alien. The famous quotation by Imam "Do not let Revolution to fall into the hands of aliens and non-intimates" was the main slogan of their propaganda during that time.

To me, the most negative propaganda was carried out by the state radio and television and some of the newspapers that are financially fed by the state resources and treasury. The majority of Imam Jomehs (the clergymen conducting Friday collective prayer) throughout the country, except in Esfahan and a few other cities were under tremendous pressure to support a specific candidate. If one day the documents relevant to this event get published it will be very instructive and beneficial. In fact, the official lecterns of Friday Prayer were used as a means to promote the candidate of a specific political wing. Even worse, the major clergy in the city of Ghom and other religious schools were also under tremendous pressure for the same purpose. Some went so far as to call voting for a specific candidate as a religious duty.

When it is said that the whole complex mobilized and spent all its potentials on the election of a specific candidate, it is no exaggeration. Guardian Council as the highest supervising power that had to adopt an impartial position among different political parties and wings, announced the list of the approved candidates on the basis of its own views. This was something that people themselves realized very well and with their vote expressed a big No both to them and to other notion-producers.

This was a heavy price that the state clergy paid for a political issue, and not only it did not attain its goal, but achieved exactly the opposite result.

This is what I wrote in the form of an article published in Salam newspaper during that time, but instead of paying attention to what was said, many editorials and notes were published in Keyhan etc, against it and even some of the clergy expressed their worries and unease about it. At that time I was teaching at the university of Imam Sadegh and after the publication of the aforementioned article, I heard that Ayatolah Mahdavi Kani had complained about it, so I went to see him in person. The fruit of that polite critic for me was a number of limitations. I was even forbidden to continue teaching at university.

In any case, at that time the main concern of one of the political groups was to suggest to people that the whole spectrum of the ecclesiastic is in favor of a specific candidate and wish him victory in the election. For this reason, the supporters of Mr.Khatami, in order to nullify such a false suggestion, and show people that this spectrum has no specific person in mind, appealed to high ecclesiastics to make public their position in this respect. In this way, nearly all clergy appeared on the scene.

Leaving out the details, the overall conclusion is that regarding political issues such as election the clergy should not decide for people as clergy. As clergy they should only clarify the general pre-requisites and imperatives.

Q: Therefore, in your opinion, if clergymen having specific political views, appear on the political scenes, such as presidential or parliamentary election as individuals and not as a member of ecclesiastic and even involve themselves in particular issues such as supporting a specific candidate, it is alright?

A: Yes. I don't see anything wrong in that and those lofty personalities that supported Mr. Khatami publicly during the course of election, they did so as a reaction to the improper and unreal atmosphere created by some people at that time and wanted to suggest that the whole spectrum of the men of religion has a specific candidate in mind. Under those conditions, the clergy supporting Mr.Khatami saw it as their duty to even get involved in particular issues and show people that a section of the ecclesiastic support Mr. Khatami. But at no time they were heard to say that this is a religious duty to vote for Mr. Khatami or to say that the view of the whole spectrum of the clergy is to vote for him. They wanted to show that it is not true that the God and the Prophet and religion are all on one side and in favor of a specific candidate and liberalism and atheism and amorality are all on the other side among the followers of Mr. Khatami. It was only later that people discovered the hands responsible for creating incidences such as Aashoura's episode; all that abuses of religion led to nothing except the glorious victory of Mr. Khatami.

Thank you for participating in this interview. Hamid Kaviani

The above interview was published in Jameh Madani, Oct.7, vol 1. No.2.

-- Translated for by Roya Monajem,

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