Iran's Rebel Ayatollah


by sadegh

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's legacy is complex and multi-faceted. Some revile him as nothing more than the scourge of the Shah who was instrumental in fomenting the retrogressive Islamic Revolution of '79. His “idiocy” in backing Khomeini stems from his fanaticism and reactionary ideology. He is no hero, no dissident, and has only himself to blame for his years of house arrest and persecution by a regime of which after all he was at one time a part.

To others by some strange work of fate he has become the focus of dissent and Islamic reform both inside Iran and across the Islamic world. Millions look to him for insight and judgement on the pressing issues not only determining the future of Islam, but Iran’s tumultuous and turbulent political scene. He is a voice of reason in a thick fog of deceit, mendacity, hypocrisy and propaganda. He is one man against an unremitting and unforgiving regime which like all revolutionary regimes, went on to consume and devour its children. Montazeri made it out alive by the skin of his teeth, by virtue of his age, his seniority amongst the ranks of the clergy and his formidable base in Isfahan.

The Grand Ayatollah’s story tells us that no person can be summed up with a single word, phrase or expression - all men and women are composed of conflicting and contradictory forces; good or evil, kindness and cruelty, generosity and mercilessness. We are all capable of both the greatest kindness and the most unforgiving cruelty. None of us are without sin or an open book and the mysteries and opacity of selfhood elude even the most perspicacious amongst us.   

Strangely enough Montazeri was once Khomeini's heir apparent, but later resigned in the face of the mass executions of 1367 (1988), when prisons across the country were purged by the government with the explicit order of the highest echelons of government. Some argue that this was at least in part a strategic decision on the part of Khomeini to consolidate the regime and separate the half-hearted fellow-travellers from the true-believers. By Khomeini’s lights, Montazeri failed miserably.

In protest Montazeri fired off two letters to Khomeini and one to the Special Commission overseeing the executions unequivocally denouncing the "thousands of executions" which were then taking place. The pretext: an attack on Iran’s western borders by the Mojahedin-e-Khalq. Montazeri has since fleshed out in greater detail the brutal and merciless nature of the mass executions in his memoirs.

As Ervand Abrahamian in his classic work Tortured Confessions reminds us, Montazeri began by reminding the recipients of his letters that he had suffered more than anyone at the hands of the Mojahedin who had assassinated his son. These were undoubtedly some of the darkest days in modern Iranian history.

Amnesty International estimates that as many as 2,500 people were executed, but some more liberal estimates have put the figure as high as 12,000. Most of those executed were members of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, but members from a plethora of other leftist groups were also sent to the gallows and firing squads of the Khomeinist regime. A report largely based on Ayatollah Montazeri’s memoirs by Human Rights Watch further states that,

"According to Ayatollah Montazeri, the government formed a three-person committee to oversee the purge in each prison. The authorities told these committees to interview all political prisoners and to order the execution of those deemed “unrepentant.” These committees became known as “Death Committees” [Heya’t Marg]. Each comprised a prosecutor, a judge, and a representative of the Ministry of Information. Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi represented the Ministry of Information on the committee at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. In a letter of protest addressed to Ayatollah Khomeini, dated August 4, 1988, Ayatollah Montazeri wrote: “The principal role [in determining which prisoners to execute] is played by the representative of the Ministry of Information everywhere and others are effectively under his direct influence.”"

Many of those directly involved in carrying out this crime against humanity remain at large and unaccountable. Pour-Mohammadi was a made member of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first Cabinet upon coming to office, and appointed Interior Minister! Apart from Professor Ervand Abrahamian’s excellent work, Tortured Confessions, Kaveh Shahrooz’s numerous and compelling articles on the massacres of 1367 (1988) are worthy of serious examination.

More recently Montazeri has repudiated the notion that "apostasy" can be considered a crime or worthy of punishment under Islamic law. This was no paltry judgement and marks a major stepping stone toward greater reform and consonance with the tenets of liberalism and mainstream human rights discourse.

Furthermore Grand Ayatollah Montazeri has recognized that members of the Baha’i faith are 'rightful citizens of Iran' in an unprecedented move by a member of the traditional Iranian ulema. His statement is tantamount to recognition of the Baha’i faith as a fully-fledged fixture of Iran's rich mosaic of disparate religions, ethnicities, languages and creeds. The mainstream of the Iranian ulema have in the past and the vast majority continue to regard Baha’ism as “heretical” to Islam, and many of the faith's leading members have been executed or disappeared under mysterious circumstances since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 (though it must be said that the Shah was most certainly no friend of the Baha’is; turning a blind-eye to the activities of the Hojjatieh Mahdavieh Charity and the poisonous invectives of Sheikh Mahmoud Halabi; in 1955 the Shah even permitted a series of anti-Baha’i sermons by Mohammad Taqi Falsafi to be broadcast on Tehran Radio).

Montazeri’s decree is a vital and watershed moment in the ongoing struggle for tolerance and peaceful coexistence between the disparate religions inside Iran. In fact a pivotal point made by Montazeri, if only implicitly (though I think it's in fact quite clear), in the decree is that all Iranians irrespective of religious affliation are entitled to the same set of rights and obligations and therefore all members of the body politic have an equal claim to a notion of citizenship unencumbered by religious stipulations and allegiances. This he contends finds its legitimacy in Islamic and Quranic sources.  

Finally in an interview with Rooz Online he unambiguously descried the hardline factions of the IRI. He goes so far as to call the present government "totalitarian" in demeanour. 

This is merely a meagre blog entry written in some haste. I hope that it has gone a little way to indicate that the lives of men and women are intricate, multi-dimensional phenomena. Just as the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was not merely a dictator (though he was of course that) as his revolutionary detractors never tired of reiterating, Ayatollah Montazeri is more than a cohort of the Khomeinist faction and much more than a “religious reactionary” (though of course there are elements of latter which go to make up his world-view and outlook on life).

Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, now in his late 80s continues to be amongst the present regime’s staunchest and authoritative critics; neither house arrest nor innumerable threats have slowed him down. Though we can merely speculate, we might hazard a guess that the man endeavours in the only way he knows how to make up for past silences, mistakes and complicity.  To partake in world-history and politics is to often become complicit in the most heinous of crimes – perhaps few better than Grand Ayatollah Montazeri are today cognizant of that observation.


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more from sadegh

No basis in reality

by Fred on

Glad you are not taking it personally and to no surprise your personality/motive evaluation has no basis in reality. 


It's not a matter of being

by sadegh on

It's not a matter of being critical or're intrinsically incapable of being critically engaged...a precondition of being critical is being open to other points of view even if you disagree with are not - you're hermetically sealed - I understand why some are fundamentally incapable of discussing domestic Iranian politics calmly or rationally - but the fact of the matter is you mock and taunt those you disagree with and praise those who concur with your preconceptions...snide and smug asides and jabs are not serious or "scrutiny"...they are unproductive and designed to thwart and scupper discussion...This I believe is your intent...Meanwhile where is the work you have subjected to public scrutiny???

i'm not taking it personally my friend, as the illustrious Al Pacino once said, this is "strictly business"...

Ba Arezu-ye Movafaghiat, Sadegh



More to come

by Fred on

Why have you not made a single contribution yourself then...why have you jettisoned your patriotic duty?”

What I do or do not is for me to know and for you to find out but in the meantime what others including you do publically are subject to public examination, criticism and rarely accolades are doled out for the job well done.  It is just a fact of life in a democracy; you better develop the thick skin needed in this environment and forget about the Islamist/Anti-Semites and their like minded lefty allies’ lovey-dovying one another wall to wall.  For the last time there is nothing personal and if my comments irritate you so much just ignore them and bask in the bountiful sycophantic ones.


Ver well put, Jamshid.

by Killjoy (not verified) on

That's what he can do now being respected as a higher authority on Islam than Khamenei who isn't viewed as an authority by most bigwigs of the Shi'ite sect of Islam.

He can use his "Fatwa" powers and cause some headaches for the regime. Tens of millions of Iranians will gladly pour into the streets of Iran, if they knew they were being backed by some kind of authority.

What's he waiting for?


Very good point

by sadegh on

Very good point Jamshid...and thanks for the link...

Ba Arezu-ye Movafaghiat, Sadegh




by sadegh on

No brownie points for partially doing that which had to be done to begin with and is expected of all who care for the enslaved Iranians.

Why have you not made a single contribution yourself then...why have you jettisoned your patriotic duty?

Thanks for proving that there is no way of talking, communicating or discussing anything with people of your ilk since one is going to get slapped in the face anyhow; in the past you have shown your malice by creating false dichotomies, problems and discrepancies where there were none just for the sake of denouncing me and anyone you perceive as worthy of denunciation (which is pretty much everyone) are interested in nothing but spreading your poison...the sad thing is that this doesn't surprise me in the least...

Ba Arezu-ye Movafaghiat, Sadegh



Re: Sadegh

by jamshid on

Interesting post. I agree with many of your points. As you said, Montazeri directly or indirectly contributed to many crimes committed by the IRI. He is 85+ years old now. I think he has at most 5+ years left to live.

So what has he got to lose? He has done too little to make up for his role early in the revolution. Even setting aside his role, the IRI by itself is criminal enough to be strongly criticized. But he should go one step beyond criticism of the IRI, and act against this regime as he did against the previous regime.

You and other readers may find the following link interesting. It includes many of Montazeri's writings or interviews criticizing the regime:

One of the major flaws in IRI's opposition is a lack of unity between Iranian seculars and dissent clerics. We need a bridge between these two groups.


No brownie points

by Fred on

“funny though that all the people previously denouncing me for not addressing the regime's crimes have all of a sudden gone silent and mysteriously absented themselves from the discussion...”

No brownie points for partially doing that which had to be done to begin with and is expected of all who care for the enslaved Iranians.


He saved lives

by Alborzi (not verified) on

Its interesting what you may say. But I know several friends of my late sister who were political prisoners. They had confessed under torture and he made those null, by passing a law that confession under torture is not valid. He was able to be the ruler of Iran, instead he is under house arest. You may dislike his beliefs but he did save some political prisoners.


Thanks for all the nice

by sadegh on

Thanks for all the nice comments...especially those of Mehdi and Amir Ashkan...funny though that all the people previously denouncing me for not addressing the regime's crimes have all of a sudden gone silent and mysteriously absented themselves from the discussion...


Ba Arezu-ye Movafaghiat, Sadegh



Criminal Ayatollahs

by nema on

All Ayatollahs grand or little are criminals.... all of them...Shame on us to glorify people who betrayed Iran and Iranians throughout many centuries. Iranian never learned from their history.


AmirAshkan Pishroo

A courageous article about a courageous Shiite thinker

by AmirAshkan Pishroo on

I can sum up my reading of this courageous article by saying:

By saying that Baha'i "members are from this country, ‎they have territorial rights and the rights deriving from citizenship," Ayatollah Montazeri has become the most courageous Shiite thinker ever lived.



nice blog

by Mehdi-Palang on

This is a very informative blog entry.  I wasn't able to watch the video though.  I think Iran needs a secular system that accomodates everybody, I'm glad to read that Montazeri thinks so too.


Most excellent. He has shown

by Not Anonymous (not verified) on

Most excellent. He has shown that not all Ayatollahs are irredeemable.

I never really understood how one becomes an ayatollah. All I can infer is that intelligence, character, and spiritual conduct are not very important criteria in promoting a person to an ayatollahship...


Flip Flop

by Geej (not verified) on

I think we are in general a flip flop nation. We often forget and change so quickly. I am confused. I have lost faith.


it's amazing how some

by sadegh on

it's amazing how some people post comments just for the sake of attacking and being "cruel" to others...thanks for illustrating my point...

Ba Arezu-ye Movafaghiat, Sadegh



by "we" i meant

by sadegh on

by "we" i meant humanity...grow up please...

Ba Arezu-ye Movafaghiat, Sadegh



Speak For Yourself!

by Sarnakh (not verified) on

Sadegh says:

"We are all capable of both the greatest kindness and the most unforgiving cruelty."

And I say: Speak for yourself and the IR gang!


Thanks IranDokht jan...I

by sadegh on

Thanks IranDokht jan...I wanted to convey the notions of sin and atonement, and as you said, whether atonement is even possible...The matter is difficult to decide either way, moral judgement goes into suspended animation; it comes down to a question of whether people can change, learn from the error of their ways, and commit both acts of good and evil in the course of their lives...

Though I'm sure a Khomeinist revolution still would have taken place irrespective of Montazeri's presence (he was in fact Khomeini's student); it was much bigger than any single person. His role however is undeniable, perhaps he's motivated by guilt that he helped bring these people to power, we have no idea...

Unfortunately the video doesn't work because the guys who posted it on Youtube have disabled the embedding can watch it here:

Video: //

Take care and thanks for the words of kindness...

Ba Arezu-ye Movafaghiat, Sadegh



mixed feelings

by IRANdokht on

Sadegh jan

It's hard for me to come to terms with my feelings about Ayatollah Montazeri. I remember back during the chaos of 78 and 79 Khomeini was known not have the credentials for the title of Ayatollah and you would hear from everyone that Montazeri's approval was enough for them. That's why when people started making fun of him with the jokes that everyone knew back then, I repeated those too and had absolutely no respect for him. (I was never a supporter of Khomeini).

Then, in 1979-80 I put Islam aside all together because I realized that I didn't believe in any religion and found no need for it in my life. Therefore I had no use for an Ayatollah Ozma, decent or not.

Now I hear how he's been punished and abused, how actively he speaks up against the IRI and how decent a man he really is and I am not sure what to think about him anymore. His help in bringing Khomeini to power was essential to IRI and he suffered for it, but he also allowed them to rule and ruin the country.

I don't know what I expect of an 85+ yr old man to do, I don't even know if what he did can be forgiven. I am sorry he's been hurting but those murdering hands are committing all these crimes because he made it possible.

Nice blog though! Reading about those days is never easy for me, but I seem to have forgotten some details of the time. This blog helped me remember.

PS: the video didn't work, but you don't need to fix it, especially since your blog is featured.