There was big news out of Iran this weekend: Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, perhaps the most renowned religious figure in Iran, has passed away. Montazeri was once Ayatollah Khomeini’s deputy, but later had a falling out and became a vocal critic of the concept of clerical rule. He had been under house arrest for years.
Montazeri’s memoirs, banned from publication in Iran during the time of the supposedly liberal Mohammad Khatami, acknowledge and detail the horrendous human-rights abuses conducted by the regime. The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, whose funding the Obama administration cut without explanation, documented many of the abuses discussed by Montazeri.
While the media focuses on popular protests in Iran, such as those which occurred in Iran after this summer’s flawed elections, the real Achilles Heel to the Iranian regime is Shi’ism. Simply put, it is hard for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to claim ultimate political and religious authority when he is outranked by many clerics who oppose him and his philosophy of government. Khamenei previously made a play for ultimate religious authority after the passing of Grand Ayatollah Araki in 1994, but was figuratively laughed off the religious stage.
Khamenei’s reaction, in a letter of condolence to the family of Montazeri (translated by Ali Alfoneh and delivered to those who have requested a free subscription to the Iran News Round Up) was remarkably uncharitable. Khamenei called Montazeri “Ayatollah” rather than “Grand Ayatollah” and wrote, “During the final years of the blessed life of the Imam [Khomeini], [Montazeri] was subjected to a difficult and dangerous test, and I ask God to forgive and show his mercy upon him and consider this worldly punishments as atonement [of Montazeri's sins.]“
The mourning for Montazeri could provide another test for the regime, especially as it comes so close to Ashura, the Shi’a holiday marked by passion plays and mourning for the martyrdom of Hussein at the hands of a regime Shi’a consider illegitimate.
All eyes should return to Iran. Perhaps Obama will have a second chance to voice moral clarity and cast his lot with the Iranian people, rather than the regime which they detest.