I Hate You, Then I Love You, Then…

19 November 2011 | 21:54 Code : 18011 Who’s Who in Iranian Politics
Culturally conservative, politically liberal, verbally candid. Ali Motahhari is a judgment-proof politician.
I Hate You, Then I Love You, Then…

 In June of 2002, when Iran's political stage was witnessing one of its periodical turbulences, this time following Hashem Aghajari’s death sentence on charges of apostasy after his controversial speech at Hamadan University, Ali Motahhari penned a letter to the then head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi. While slamming Aghajari’s anti-cleric remarks, calling them “deviant, dangerous thoughts”, Motahhari criticized the verdict, quoting his father, Morteza Motahhari, the would-be ideologue of the Islamic Republic assassinated a few months after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, that “whenever the religious leaders of the society –who are, regardless of circumstances, known as the genuine representations of religion by the [common] people- wear leopard’s skin and display tiger’s teeth [i.e. intimidate] and resort to declaring their opponents as apostates and evildoers, the hardest strike is blown against religion, and in favor of materialism.”

 

In an eccentrically candid fashion, Motahhari confessed that he could not judge Aghajari’s comments in full since “the recorded tape had a bad quality.” And that is Ali Motahhari: orthodox in religious beliefs (especially when it comes to hejab), outspoken advocate of freedom of speech and thought (“even if this freedom leads to the denial of the existence of God or the Islamic Republic”), candid (perhaps the only post-Revolution politician to have revealed his deep love for a colleague such that it stopped him from eating and sleeping), and a true believer in the intellectual stature of his late father, quoting him in almost every single remark.

 

Now a legislator in the Eighth Parliament, Ali Motahhari, the brother-in-law of Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, started his political activity via the hard-line daily Kayhan, where he wrote trenchant critiques against the Reformists in their heyday, questioning their liberal cultural policies (“I wrote articles during the Reform Era and criticized their liberal and occasionally secular outlook … Probably no one has written against the Reformists as much as I have.” (link). His political career moved to a higher level when -reportedly at Ahmadinejad's suggestion- he entered the electoral slate of the Principlist camp in the 2008 parliamentary election. Like his Reformists rivals -who were slashed by the government-run pre-election screening councils and in the next phase by the Guardian Council, and barred from running for the parliamentary seats- Ali Motahhari was initially disqualified, but admitted following negotiations, and secured the third place among the Tehran MP-elects. According to Motahhari, one of his key motives to enter the parliament was to counter threats by the likes of radical Reformists Behzad Nabavi and Mostafa Tajzadeh who could find their way into the parliament (link).

 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must have later regretted his support for Motahhari, when, as the government’s increasingly liberal cultural policies and political misconduct gradually unfolded, Motahhari’s attacks on Ahmadinejad's team snowballed. Ali Motahhari was a spearhead during the impeachment of Ali Kordan, minister of interior in Ahmadinejad's first administration, dismissed by Majles for what seemed to be forgery of a PhD certificate from the Oxford School of Law. He criticized the distribution of five thousand-dollar checks among the MPs, saying that “the government is misled if it thinks that the lawmakers will change their vote with a check.” (link).

 

The new cultural, political and social strategies embarked on by the Ahmadinejad-Mashaei couple –sarcastically called “Marx and Engels” by Motahhari (link)- was seen as an attempt to garner support from the mostly middle class, Westernized citizens who cast their vote in favor of Mir-Hossein Mousavi during the disputed 2009 presidential election. “Their laxity in the cultural domain, about movies, women’s sport activities and hejab; and their remarks on music and the School of Iran stems from this attitude… this is an instance of the end justifies the means,” Motahhari once claimed (link). He kept insisting that the government is “culturally liberal” and called Mashaei’s theory of the School of Iran “a dangerous thought”, going further to claim that “Ahmadinejad's cadre have a long-term plan to deviate from the [path of the Islamic] Revolution” (link).

 

Getting increasingly uncomfortable with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's “liberal” policies in the domain of culture, especially the touchy issue of hejab, Motahhari amplified his attacks on the government, as he believed that “the problem of hejab has gone into serious decline in this government” (link) and Ahmadinejad's hejab policy “has no difference with the Reformist government” (link). When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the ministers of higher education and health to quit running gender-segregated classes -calling the decision “superficial and non-refined”-- Motahhari penned another open letter addressing the president, criticizing him once again for his liberal attitude (link).

 

His criticisms gained momentum when Ahmadinejad’s discourse metamorphosed from a Shi’a Messianic mode towards a nationalist one in his second administration. On the advent of the new Persian year in mid-March of 2011, in response to the president’s decision to hold a grandiose Nowruz ceremony, Ali Motahhari once again resorted to his favorite discursive mode, i.e. open letters, calling Nowruz-related rituals such as Chaharshanbeh Suri and Sizdah be Dar against Islamic teachings (link), asking if Nowruz was actually an ideal of the Islamic Republic. “The Reform Government would have been reduced to rubble [by its opponents] if it decided to carry out similar measures,” Motahhari added in his letter.

 

Ahmadinejad's policies undoubtedly had a role in the gradual softening in Ali Motahhari’s stance towards the Reformists, particularly the ‘moderate’ strand, much to the chagrin of the Principlists. “If they [Reformists] say that we do not believe in velayat-e faqih, but take no actual adverse steps, they should be free in their activities. We were also culprits in that crisis” [i.e. the post-election turmoil] he once said (link), later adding that “Reformists have practically proved their commitment to freedom of speech … the atmosphere was really welcoming [during their rule] since citizens could easily express their criticism against officials.” (link). Motahhari supported Mohammad Khatami's controversial stipulations for the Reformists re-participation in the Islamic Republic’s political process after their ostracism following the 2009 presidential election, calling the conditions “fair”, adding that those conditions, that is, “clarifying the fate of political prisoners, full enforcement of the Constitution, and free elections” have been always the objectives of the Islamic Republic.

 

A great volume of Motahhari’s controversial remarks came following the 2009 presidential election which sparked off the worst political turmoil in the 32-year history of the Islamic Republic. In almost every single post-election remark, while criticizing Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi for their disobedience of the law, Ali Motahhari criticized Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his mega-controversial comments during his historical debate with the Green candidate. “I still believe that the [Ahmadinejad-Mousavi] debate paved the way for the Fetneh…If my proposal (trying Mousavi, Karroubi and Ahmadinejad at the same time) was considered, it would serve the Nezam more efficiently, and it served against the interests of Mousavi and Karroubi,” Motahhari once said. He also stated that in Ahmadinejad's debate performance, “the thirty-year history of the Revolution was questioned, including the era of Imam Khomeini’s leadership. The Nezam’s awe was shattered.” (link). He also criticized the way IRI security forces handled the post-election protests, regarding it as disproportionate and unthoughtful. In the wake of post-election protests, he wrote his second open letter to former Chief Magistrate Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, criticizing the way the detainees were treated by the Judiciary and the police forces. “[W]e were unreasonably intimidated by those who protested the election results for whatever reason and believed in vote-rigging. We should have allowed them to demonstrate … and when their fervor died down, only a maximum of 100 thousand chaos-seeking demonstrators would remain. That would be the [apt] time for tough reaction; we should not have used truncheons since the first day” (link). Later, he went as far as to lament the way the political system treated the ‘nationalist-religious’ leader, the much-revered Ezatollah Sahabi, and the critical Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri (who was a close friend of his father.)

 

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 11-day strike –which was the last straw for many who previously believed in him as a true follower of velayat-e faqih- gave Motahhari the most powerful incentive to submit to the Majles’ presiding board his request to summon the president to the parliament; a request initially signed by one-hundred MPs but later cut to under 70 (according to Motahhari due to the parliament’s presiding board’s fear of facing accusations from Ahmadinejad in the same manner the president did during his electoral debates), hence losing the legal force to be enacted. Seeing his plans go up in smoke, Motahhari decided to materialize his threat to resign from his seat in the parliament (link), though his resignation was rejected by the majority of legislators, despite what many pro-government MPs wished.

 

Motahhari made further controversy in an important Majles’ session to put to the vote IRGC Rostam Ghasemi’s candidacy for the Oil Ministry, when Motahhari warned of the Revolutionary Guards’ entering into politics. Mahdi Kouchakzadeh, the controversial, sharp-tongued Principlist legislator was infuriated by his remarks, saying that “Motahhari’s words in Majles’ open session today were exactly the words favored by the BBC and VOA [Voice of America]. Motahhari deserved a slap in the mouth by the lawmakers. Unfortunately that did not happen, but the Speaker of the Parliament [’s speech in defense of Sepah] made up for Motahhari’s gibberish partially.”

 

Many find it hard to make an ultimate love or hate decision over Ali Motahhari. While they can enjoy his defense of their right to protest, Reformists can get quite irritated by his orthodox views on hejab and his defense of polygamy. Principlists may like his praise of Conservative cleric Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, but find his constant criticism of the state of affairs a pain in the neck. Nonetheless, the 54-year old professor-turned-politician has one characteristic that makes him worth appreciation: integrity.
 
By: Ali Attaran

 


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