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By Micah Halpern

Wednesday December 23, 2009


Mainstream Western press has taken proper note of the death of the Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Even his funeral was covered in a significant and respectful way in major, national, newspapers in the United States.

This Iranian cleric deserved our notice. He deserved our praise.

The Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri had a clear and forward thinking vision for Iran. He helped shape Iran - not the tyranny that envelopes Iran today.

Montazeri functioned as the right hand of the original Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Revolution. Montazeri was his protege and it was Montazeri who drafted the Iranian laws that empowered religious life in Iran. It was he who created the framework enabling parallel lines of leadership, one religious the other political. This Ayatollah's vision, however, took on a life of its own. Montazeri believed that religious leadership should serve on an advisory level for the political leadership and not be involved in the day to day happenings in the newly established Islamic Republic. The ultimate power of the clergy in Iran today is antithetical to all that he believed and gave root to.

Our press is correct in noting that Montazeri was the first person chosen to become successor to the first Supreme Leader. When that decision was made, he was, without a doubt, the most learned and most widely respected of all Shiite thinkers. But then the cleric overstepped his bounds as both adviser and protege to the Supreme Leader.

He dug his own premature grave when he went on record renouncing a spate of public executions. Later that same week Montazeri started hammering the nails into his own coffin when he went public again, this time rejecting the death sentence that had been issued against British author Salman Rushdie. In his own defense the cleric responded to the outrage over his pronouncements saying that he was fearful that the world would see Iran simply as a society that glorifies killing, nothing more.

Montazeri was immediately stripped of his position and of his future position. The Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was demoted from Grand Ayatollah to a simple Ayatollah. He was placed under house arrest in the holy city of Qom.

After the death of the Ayatollah Khomeni and the subsequent appointment of his heir, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei, it became clear that a sub par leader had been placed in leadership and that there were far more superior Islamic thinkers than the Grand Ayatollah chosen to lead.

Montazeri had always asserted that the Supreme Leader must be accountable to an earthly body and not, exclusively, to heaven. In many ways this man was not only wise, he was prophetic.

Unlike Khatami and Mousavi, Montazeri had a real and fundamental respect for leadership and cultural for power bases. He spoke without fear of punishment from the establishment because he was indisputably the greater Islamic thinker of our time. Unlike Khatami and Moussavi, the relationship this Ayatollah had with the people of Iran rang genuine, he was their hero. He will be missed by his people. Montazeri's death, the mourning period and the mourning rituals surrounding his death will be significant and will allow us a window into the hearts of Iranians.

The Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri will be missed. And not only be the people of Iran.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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