Abdulkarim Soroush is a prominant Iranian intellectual, reformer, Rumi scholar and a former professor at the University of Tehran. He is a well-known figure in the religious intellectual movement in Iran. He is currently living in exile in the United States.
Prompted by the speech Khamenei delivered on June 4, 2010 (anniversary of Khomeini’s death), Soroush delivers a scathing rebuke of Khamenei in poetic prose and suggests he acquiesce of his own free will, lest they (Iranians) take his fate out of his hands.
The letter is as follows:
Flagging Oratory (and Mind?)
I heard your speech on 4 June 2010. It was an error-strewn oration. It ebbed and flowed between slips of the tongue and slips of the mind. It testified to flagging oratory. Our accomplished sermonizer, who had surpassed all others in deftness of speech in the thirty years since the revolution, seemed extremely muddled and inept on that day. His homily contained no enchanting eloquence or sweet turns of phrase. The bile of rage had robbed him of all the considerations of public speaking. The steed of his words refused to be tamed by the fierce lashes that his muddled mind inflicted on his leaden tongue. Inelegant and unruly words leapt out of the cage of his mind and squatted upon his tongue. His topsy-turvy historical judgments only added to the holes in his discourse, and no sooner did he emerge from one hole that he fell into the next. He clawed at Talha and Zubair’s faces, and stumbled into battle with them in Imam Ali’s stead. Never having won the Sunnis over, he now pushed them away. Imagining himself in Ali’s shoes, he saw enemies every which way he turned. And overexcited as he was by this imaginary, nonexistent resemblance, he portrayed the opponents of his policies and leadership as usurpers of his position and mandate and as violators of the pledge of allegiance to religious guardianship.
It was a strange and outlandish performance. His audience expected him to attack, but he lacked even the strength to defend. Both the phraseology and the reasoning were turgid. His words were not well spoken; nor did he have any good words to say. He was true neither to the laws of speaking, nor to the laws of logic. Neither his faculty of speech nor his faculty of thinking could be stirred from their slumber. All he could do was to reach down into history’s timeworn sack to pull out indiscriminately this or that figure to rouse and torment; to assign them bogus roles; to reject their ijtihad as deviant; to present his own particular dogmas as the measure of all that is right; to wreak vengeance on everyone past and present; and, with utter arrogance, to define truth and falsehood in terms of people’s closeness to or distance from his own ideas, hoping thereby to restore legitimacy to his discredited religious guardianship.
When you first assumed office, I pictured you as a not very well travelled Shariati; as someone who is not acquainted with fiqh, philosophy and exegesis, but is interested in history, art and oratory. I thought to myself, maybe it will turn out for the best. Most faqihs and philosophers are unacquainted with history. They therefore – in Ibn-Khaldun’s words – make the worst of all possible leaders.
As time went by, as your theoretical and practical despotism led you to treat the people cruelly and to mismanage the country, as eulogists and sycophants surrounded you, as counsellors and critics were jailed or shackled, as the land began to descend into disorder, as the cries of the poor rose up, as the impure hands of the plunderers began to snatch the property and lives of innocent people, it became clear to me that the garment of leadership and guardianship does not become you and that the weary, sleepy spirit of history was ill advised to hand you the key to our land in the dark of the night.
Hardly a day went by without some bitter fruit falling from the evil tree of tyranny to crack a head or to poison a life. I prayed to God to save Iranians from devastation and a sultan from his own misrule, but when the noose of savagery tightened further and the flames of repression blazed higher, I realized that prayer would not solve the problem.
For years, wishing to help, I had offered counsel. I hoped that it would have an effect, but it only exacerbated the bile and made the patient grow more sickly. Our patient had become afflicted with hallucinations. He saw counsel as lies and trickery, and criticism as conspiracy and subversion. He cooked up charges of espionage and immorality for his critics, and sentenced them to shackles and persecution. He remunerated eulogists, devoured critics and beheaded rivals. And as the criticism and counsels grew, so did his paranoia.
So, on the command of God and wisdom, we spoke out and protested. Growing misrule, rising cruelty, diminishing justice, and endless plunder and transgressions eventually knocked the ill-fitting cap of legitimacy off his head and exposed his inability to run the land and create order. He had lacked spiritual authority from the start; he eventually frittered away his political authority too. But he was still clad in the handsome garb of the sermonizer; that is, until the unfortunate sermons of 4 June. Then, it became clear that, not only did he lack expertise in fiqh and exegesis, he also had a warped reading of history. And he is incapable of driving his words with the rod of eloquence.
He has eaten the forbidden fruit of guardianship and, now, like Adam in paradise, he waits, naked and dispossessed, to receive the order to fall and to descend to Earth.
And now, “O Supreme Leader”!, let me tell you: The order to fall has been issued and it has descended from the heavens to Earth. You do not belong in the paradise of religious guardianship any longer. The voice of human beings is the voice of God. Can you not hear the voice of God?
Now, it is best if the leader acquiesces of his own free will, takes off the ill-fitting garb of leadership and, like Adam, the father of humankind, utters the words of repentance and descends quietly from the celestial paradise of religious guardianship to the earth of the masses. It is best if he lives peaceably with his Eve, abandons the fratricide of Cain and Abel, and acquaints himself with the secrets of history. Then, he will at least remain a sermonizer, who, freed of leadership, can preach and offer guidance and be true to people’s trust, in the hope that the people will allow him to frequent the “mosque of decency” once again and to give alms to poor dervishes in gratitude for his life and his health.
Or, would that the slumbering members of the Assembly of Experts roused themselves long enough to break off the shackles and to bring the despotic guardianship to an end. But is pinning our hopes on the cold-blooded residents of the Assembly of Experts hothouse – who lay flowers at power’s feet and eat at the guardianship’s table – not like trying to hold water in a sieve or like blowing in the wind?
But when the wretched rag, which is at the beck and call of the leader’s office, published that bogus report about my “apostasy”, I realized that it had gone further than its usurped position allows. I waited for the signal from the leader’s office that would make the rag retract that charge of apostasy. For, I knew that the leader considers it the guardianship’s prerogative to excommunicate and to issue verdicts of this kind, and that he would not tolerate anyone stepping into this terrain – not out of concern for justice, but for the sake of preserving his own position. And so it came about. And the wretched paper was forced to publish a denial, piling one bogus report upon another and cleansing the initial act of malevolence with another act of malevolence; thus invalidating the sham four-hundred dollar bill that it had forged with great idiocy.
The charge of apostasy that was published by that rag did not cause me any offence. Nor did it make me tremble. For, I obtained my faith from mystics, not faqihs. It is faqihs who should tremble when they see such mindless and faithless lackeys taking it upon themselves to do their work for them; burning their credibility in the fire of politics. It is “the Guardian of All Muslims” who should grieve and tear at his collar when he sees such lame goats leading the flock, playing the lord instead of being the servants and usurping the sultan’s role in herding the sheep. He should realize that, before long, the impudent horns of these domestic enemies will be shredding the guardianship’s cloak and turban, breaking the sovereign’s crown and bringing down the State. Let him hasten to save Iranians from devastation and the sultan from his own misrule by taking himself out of their clutches before they take his fate out of his hands. “East Wind, if you have a cure, now’s the time.”
**Translated from the Persian by Nilou Mobasser
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