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Ali Motahari's Extraordinary Interview

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

17 Aug 2011 15:33Comments

"You think that because they are in the opposition, they must die!"

iran_077_1.jpg[ feature ] Ali Motahari is a son of the noted Islamic scholar Ayatollah Morteza Motahari (1920-79). The elder Motahari was a disciple of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and a leading member of the Islamic Revolutionary Council that was set up to govern Iran during the transition from the regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to the Islamic Republic in 1979. He was assassinated on May 2, 1979, by a member of a then little known group called Forghan (or Forqan). The younger Motahari is a Majles deputy, a brother-in-law of current Majles Speaker Ali Larijani, and a harsh critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Motahari has tried to summon Ahmadinejad to parliament to face questioning and possible impeachment. Though a conservative, Motahari has been something of a maverick.

Fars, the news agency that is reportedly run by the intelligence unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, recently interviewed Motahari (parts 1 and 2 in Farsi). The interview covers the most important issues facing the Iranian nation, and the opinions Motahari expresses are often striking. At the same time, the approach of the interviewer is also interesting. As soon as he reaches any sort of impasse with Motahari, he abruptly changes the subject. The interview opens a window onto the views of the hardliners, their thinking about the current state of affairs in Iran, and their behind-the-scenes political interventions. My explanatory comments are interpolated within brackets in the following translation of the interview.


Our question is about the Liberation Movement [of Iran (LMI), founded by Mehdi Bazargan and others]. Do you agree with the view of [Dr.] Ebrahim Yazdi [the current LMI leader] that the letter by the Imam [Khomeini] about the Organization to Protect and Publish the Imam's Work (OPPIW) was written by Haj Ahmad Agha [Seyyed Ahmad Khomeini, the ayatollah's son]?

I do not know. I do not have enough information. What does the Imam say in there?

In that letter, the Imam said that whatever the OPPIW certifies will definitely be by him. In 1987, [Ali Akbar] Mohtashamipour [a leading leftist cleric] wrote a letter to the Imam and asked whether "we [the government] should allow the LMI to run in the elections [for the Third Majles in 1988]." In response, the Imam wrote, "Dear children, Bazargan [and his comrades] are worse than the hypocrites [the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO)] and are not qualified for anything, and should not be given any official position." This question is being asked now because you said that we have not treated the LMI well, whereas they had a monthly publication, [annual] convention, Ebrahim Yazdi was [aligned] with Behzad Nabavi [a leading reformist, currently imprisoned], and they even issued a statement supporting [Mehdi] Karroubi [in the 2009 election] and used [the dailies] Etemad-e Melli [Karroubi's mouthpiece] and Kargozaran [the mouthpiece of a group close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani]. Where, then, was the bad treatment?

Suppose that it was the Imam's view that members of the LMI should not be given any official post at that time. But the criterion is what they do now, and it must be investigated whether they still espouse the same views. Secondly, should the opposition not be free to express its views? You say that they are free. But they were really not free, as their mouthpiece was constantly being banned. You yourself say that they express their views in Etemad-e Melli and Kargozaran. Thus, they did not have their own newspaper.

Well, it was because they questioned the red lines [that must not be crossed].

I am a member of the Press Monitoring Commission. Currently, the atmosphere [in the commission] is good and the extremists of the past are no longer members. [The monthly] Nasim-e Bidari supports the LMI and publishes [pieces] about the views of Bazargan, historical issues, and [Grand] Ayatollah [Hossein Ali] Montazeri. Some say that because it has mentioned Mr. Montazeri, it must be banned, but we have prevented it.

But it has been reported that [the weekly] 9 Dey [published by extremist cleric and Majles deputy Hamid Rasaei] was shut down because it criticized the Majles speaker.

No, it was shut down because it published a cartoon of a cleric and other [transgressive] items.

Mr. Motahari, that cartoon was an excuse; the main issue is the criticism of Mr. [Ali] Larijani.

No, the main issue was the cartoon and accusations [against officials].

Are other mass media scrutinized as strongly as the principlist mass media are [by the Press Commission]? The daily Iran [which supports Ahmadinejad] was barred, but they are still debating the lashing of Kaveh Eshtehardi [a pro-Ahmadinejad journalist who was managing editor of the Iran Cultural-Media Organization, which publishes Iran and other periodicals. He was removed from his position by a text message].

That is due to a private plaintiff, not because of the Press Monitoring Commission. 9 Dey published a photo of Mr. [Seyyed Reza] Akrami [a cleric and Majles] with the caption, "The people must pay attention to those who were elected to the Majles under the principlist [banner] but support the sedition [the Green Movement]; they should not be elected again." They published the photo of a respected, noble cleric and referred to him as a "sedition" supporter, when they had no such right. On their front page, they also published photos of [Grand Ayatollah Yousef] Sanei [a supporter of the Green Movement], [Masoud] Rajavi [ideological leader of the MKO], Googoosh [a popular singer], and others as collaborators with the "sedition."

Well, are the positions of Mr. Sanei not the same as those of Googoosh?

No, they are not. Suppose that on a specific point the positions of some people are the same -- this does not mean that we should treat them the same. Some people emulate Mr. Sanei [as a Marja, a recognized source of emulation among Shiites]. Just because he is a critic does not mean that he should be treated like this [his home, office, and library were attacked and ransacked last year]. He is a highly knowledgeable scholar. In any case what happened to 9 Dey was an exception that happens very rarely, and it is possible that it will be allowed to be published again.

Well, other publications [such as those put out by the LMI] were also allowed to be published again.

No, they were barred as soon as they criticized [anything]. Assuming that the Imam said that the LMI's members should never be given any government post, those who are critics of the nezaam [the political system, or state] and oppose it also have the right to express their views. We have not given them such a right, whereas they recognize the Islamic Republic.

With their current views?

They recognize the nezaam and even went to jail [under the Shah] to create it. They may criticize us and even the Velaayat-e Faghih [the doctrine of guardianship of the Islamic jurist, as represented by the Supreme Leader].

But in an interview with Fars in 2008, Mr. [Ezatollah] Sahabi (1930-2011) [leader of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition] said that we [the nationalist-religious groups] do not recognize the nezaam and the Islamic society [as defined by it], but because we wish stability for the country, we do not want to confront it [at present].

All right, do such people have the right to express their views or not?

They have the right, and no one has hindered them. They issued statements [concerning the presidential election] in 2009 and campaigned [for Mir Hossein Mousavi]. Whereas the Imam said, "The LMI is not qualified to do anything," they issued statements and supported Mousavi.

That is the problem -- you think that because they are in the opposition, they must die!

No, we do not agree with this. We say that they have freedom and ask you what kind of mistreatment they have received.

Their freedom has not been at the desirable level.

How do you define "desirable level"?

For example, they wanted to commemorate the anniversary of Bazargan's death, but we did not let them. That is the freedom [they should have].

Mr. Motahari! Was their position after the [2009] election any different from Rajavi's that we should allow them to do such things? In the aftermath of the election, Rajavi sent them a message and asked them to continue their Ashraf-like resistance [a reference to MKO leader Ashraf Rabiei, who was killed by the Islamic Republic in February 1982; Camp Ashraf in Iraq is named in her honor], and it was based on this that the LMI issued a statement: "So long as you have not toppled this regime, do not stop your resistance."

First of all, they may have meant the government [rather than the nezaam]. Secondly, how did they suggest "to topple the regime"? By armed struggle or through civil struggle?

What constitutes "toppling"?

A person who does not recognize the government and even the nezaam and would like to topple it, but at the same time wants to achieve this through peaceful means and elections, is different from those who take up arms.

They [the LMI] never said a word in their statements about civil struggle. The common point between them [the opposition] is that they do not accept the laws.

As a matter of fact, they also say that this government also does not recognize [and execute] the laws. The main feature of the LMI even before the Revolution has been that they believe in civil struggle, not armed struggle. Rajavi declared armed struggle on June 20, 1981. Thus their record is different from that of the LMI.

But they want to topple [the state], do you agree?

We do not know that.

They themselves confessed. Have you not heard?

One statement that was issued in the excitement of the [2009] election is not a reason [to conclude the LMI is intent on toppling the nezaam]. We must consider their beliefs.

Then -- according to your criterion -- in the excitement of the presidential debate, Mr. Ahmadinejad [merely] talked about certain issues! [This is a reference to the accusations that Ahmadinejad made against Mousavi and Rafsanjani].

Ahmadinejad as the president and a candidate accused people who were not present in the debate of thievery that had terrible consequences for the nezaam. This is very different from a statement that an isolated political group might issue. And, if the LMI brought out armed members onto the streets, then that becomes armed struggle.

Do you mean that they must come out on the streets with Kalashnikovs and G3 machine guns [to deem their actions armed struggle]?

Yes, with guns.

Has the government died to allow them to come out on the streets with guns?

Did the MKO not do this [in 1981]?

Armed struggle does not mean just to come out on the streets with guns. Why did the Basij and people die in 2009 [in the election's aftermath]?

Anything can happen in a chaotic social uprising. At such times, illegal mobs on the one hand and the armed opposition [the MKO] on the other hand become active.

Who created the necessary [social] background for such actions?

We did by not giving [the opposition] a permit for their gathering.

Is it not the legal authority that must decide whether a permit should be granted?


The official in charge decided not to grant the permit.

That is what we are saying, that given the special conditions the official erred by not granting the permit. They should have considered the social conditions. In Tehran, 3.2 million people said that there was fraud in the election [when they demonstrated on June 15, 2009], and most of them were not concerned with Mousavi and Karroubi. A large number of people wanted to protest. What should we have done? Beat them up with batons?

In your view, when they attacked an armed Basij base, we should have praised them? Would you have said the same had they attacked the Majles?

If the permit had been granted, that [attack] would not have happened. They should have granted them the permit to go to the Mosalla [where special mass prayers are held] and shout slogans [against the government]. Then they should have been asked what their demands were and the television should have broadcast it. They should have even allowed Mousavi and Karroubi to speak to the people on television and evidence their claim about fraud, and [the government could have] respond[ed] to them.

If they had been granted several assembly permits, they would have lost their supporters and, for example, only 100,000 people would have remained at the end who wanted to cause destruction and set [places] on fire. Then they could have been seriously confronted. I saw [with my own eyes] that they [government forces] beat up on the people with batons right from the first day. We viewed the problem from a security/intelligence angle, not political and social, and acted based on the intelligence [gathered on the opposition], whereas we should have calmed the common people until they went home. In reality, we did not separate the common people from the leaders of the crisis.

The national media asked Mousavi to speak, but he said that he would speak only in a live broadcast, and he would not debate anyone.

When did he say that?

In the first few days after the election.

In the first days of the crisis, I told Mr. [Ezatollah] Zarghami [head of the Voice and Visage, the national television and radio network] to allow them [Mousavi and Karroubi] to express their views: "They do not have much to say, and you can use the occasion to respond to them." But the Voice and Visage dragged its feet. After two weeks, when everything was chaotic, they thought of inviting them, but Mousavi told them that he would not debate anyone.

What we are saying about Mousavi not wanting to take part in a television program is based on what Zarghami said in November 2009. He said, "We told Mousavi and Karroubi in the first week [after the election] to take part [in the television program], but they said that they did not want to debate and only wanted a live broadcast." If you were the Voice and Visage chief, what would you have done?

Yes, I would have done what I told you and taken responsibility for it. I told Zarghami to allow them to speak to the people, but they dragged their feet so long that after two weeks they were not willing to take part in the program. Let us even suppose that they were connected to Israel. The main issue at that time was calming people and convincing them [that the vote was legitimate], because they thought that there was fraud and were not concerned with the accumulated evidence. We view the protestors the same way that we viewed Mousavi and Karroubi.

That is not true. The national media distinguished between the mob and Mousavi's supporters and specified in the news program that 40 million people had voted but created a lot of chaos in their gatherings, meaning that no mention was made [specifically] of the 13 million [people who voted for Mousavi according to the hardliners].

But [even if true], it was not successful, as the people's impression was that they were being called mobs and regime changers. If we had allowed them to gather and had asked them, according to the law, to take responsibility for their own security, the crisis would have receded more easily and sooner.

According to this thinking, they [the opposition] could have claimed that the government granted them a superficial permit and then murdered some of them.

Sometimes you have to disarm such people through such actions [as granting them permits]. The goal of a small minority was creating chaos, but this was not clear to the people. Thus, if we had granted them the permit once and they had started a melee, then the people would have understood their true goal. How did the Imam handle the MKO? While they were attacking the Imam and the Revolution, they were not confronted and were distributing their newspaper [Mojahed], until they came out on the streets with weapons. The Imam waited long enough for the people to demand a crackdown on the MKO.

But before they took up arms, the Imam declared the [secular opposition coalition] National Front apostate.

That was because they rejected the ghesas [execution for the crime of murder], which is a principle of the religion. And the religious verdict for [opposing] it is apostasy.

If some people want to enter the Majles to begin a melee, what should be done?

They should be stopped.

Well, the police also stopped the mob!

Not everybody was a mob member. We must institutionalize the principle that protestors must be allowed to gather together and shout slogans, and not label them immediately as regime changers and opposed to Islam.

Is it the right thing to do to grant them a permit to destroy wherever they want?

A permit has its own regulations. The gathering takes place in a specific place and the permit is granted after receiving the necessary guarantees. There was unjustified fear after the election, which made things worse. If we were to have granted them the permit, we would have naturally asked Mousavi, Karroubi, and [former president Mohammad] Khatami to commit themselves [to an orderly gathering] by signing [the required form] and to provide for their own security. Then, if a melee had started, people would have taken our side. But, unfortunately, instead of disarming them [by granting a permit], we made them look like the oppressed.

Mr. Motahari, did you participate in the marches after the election?

No, I did not. Because I take the subway trains to go home, in the first few days of the crisis I walked from the Haghani station to Mirdamad Avenue [in northern Tehran] where I live and would pass through the Basij and the protestors' ranks. Interestingly, both sides respected me, and naturally this was due to Martyr [Ayatollah Morteza] Motahari.

What is behind the joint attacks by you, [investigative journalist] Akbar Ganji, and [distinguished Islamic scholar Dr. Abdolkarim] Soroush on Sepah [the Revolutionary Guards], the Basij, and the security forces? They say exactly what you say.

There has not been an attack, let alone a joint one. Secondly, we must pay attention to what is said, not to who says it. Some of the things that they have said are correct. Is it true that whatever Ganji says is false? We should be the first ones to correct mistakes, before such people as Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi talk about them. Third, when did I attack Sepah?

On the day the [Majles's] vote of confidence was given to the [new] minister of oil [Brigadier General Rostam Ghasemi].

That was not an attack. This is a general principle that when Sepah becomes a political/economic entity, it is no longer a military organ.

14167_788.jpgIf this principle is the basis of what you said, why then was your brother-in-law, Ali Larijani, who was the head of the Voice and Visage, also considered a Sepah commander?

He previously worked in the Ministry of Defense [before taking over the Voice and Visage in 1994] and was never an official member of the Guards.

Did you not support the former commander of the Guards [Mohsen Rezaei] in the 2009 election?

[If] a Sepah member resigns, or retires, there is no problem.

Why did you say on the day of the vote of confidence that the Sepah ministers [such as] Mr. Ghasemi cannot be questioned? Did the Majles not question [Hossein] Saffar Harandi [Ahmadinejad's first minister of culture and Islamic guidance] and [Parviz] Fattah [Ahmadinejad's first minister of power]?

What I said was questioning and impeaching such ministers becomes difficult, because it would be questioning the Guards. I said, according to general principle, that the Guards should not intervene in politics.

It appears that your views have changed.

No, my views have always been the same. I am opposed to Sepah entering such arenas as economic and political ones and becoming a government [unto itself]. The independence of Sepah must be preserved -- it belongs to the entire nezaam and people. Of course, it is clear that the minister of defense must be a military person. We may also be able to somehow justify a military man as the interior minister, due to his working with the police. But there is no justification for [their running] other ministries.

But all the ministers that used to be with Sepah were voted in by the Majles.

They should not become ministers while they are still Sepah members.

As Mr. Larijani said, Is it a sin to be a Sepah member?

This has nothing to do with what I am saying.

Is it true that Larijani told you not to oppose the oil minister [nomination]?

He sent two or three people [to ask me] not to speak [against Ghasemi], which I did not agree to.

Why do you think someone who has no record of political or economic corruption should not enter executive affairs?

Because so long as he is a Sepah member, he should not join the government.

Is it not true that in the Imam's era, many Revolutionary Guard members were also involved in executive affairs?

Doing executive work is different from running a ministry.

What is the difference?

In a ministerial position, the political, economic, and military power join together and increase the likelihood of corruption, whereas one must try to eliminate corruption.

Why then, during the Imam's era, did Sepah run the provisional government [right after the Revolution]?

Bazargan led the provisional government. Perhaps the Guards helped him identify people [to employ]. In the atmosphere of the early days of the Revolution, everything was in a crisis mode.

Is it not true that the country is currently facing the most severe sanctions?

As a matter of fact, when the country is being sanctioned, a military man should not take over the Ministry of Oil.

But the Majles strongly approved the nominee for the Ministry of Oil.

And people such as myself opposed it so that it will be recorded by history. During the reconstruction era [the two terms of Rafsanjani's presidency], the Ministry of Intelligence started economic activities, and many of them [the intelligence staff] became corrupted and ended up with the Chain Murders. We must protect the Guards from such possible deviations, lest it meet the same fate.

Are you predicting this?

By entering economic and political matters, they will lose their identity.

According to this reasoning, Saffar Harandi and Fattah also changed after [they became] ministers.

I am talking about Sepah as a legal entity; the issue is not the individuals. Sepah is also expressing its views about the 7+8 Committee [established by the hardliners and conservatives to coordinate unity efforts for the upcoming Majles elections].

When did Sepah express any view about 7+8?

It expresses its views behind the scenes that it does not support such and such persons.

When you talk about specific matters, you say that they are behind the scenes. Can you prove [what is happening] behind the scenes?

Sepah opposes a representative of the Front of the Followers of the Imam and the Leader [a conservative coalition of 15 groups, led by the Islamic Coalition Party] to the 7+8 Committee, whereas it has nothing to do with it. Sepah should not intervene in politics. Joint military, political, and economic power will create corruption, you can be sure of this, unless someone is masoom [absolutely sinless]; piety is not enough.

Then, according to this view, even the Velaayat-e Faghih can be questioned?

Vali-ye Faghih [the Supreme Leader] is not the ruler and does not run the country, but only monitors it and is the ideological ruler to prevent the government from deviating from Islam. The ruler and executor are the president and the government. Moreover, the Assembly of Experts was founded to monitor the Supreme Leader.

But Vali-ye Faghih is not merely an observant, but also has [the power of] hokm-e hokoomati [orders that must be obeyed] and absolute authority.

Hokm-e hokoomati happens very rarely, perhaps once every several years.

Mr. Motahari, you have said that if you cannot question the president, you will not run in the Majles elections. So you will not be a candidate? [This is a reference to Motahari and others' thwarted attempts to question Ahmadinejad in parliament.]

I said that as an example. What I said was if the Majles cannot do important work, such as questioning the president, and cannot force the government to follow the law, there is no value in being a deputy.

Do you mean that the most important task of the Majles is questioning the president? Does monitoring [the work of the government] not have a higher priority?

No, questioning and confronting lawlessness are more important.

Currently, due to lack of monitoring, the Majles is facing problems. Some days as many as 80 deputies are absent.

This is the same in all parliaments, because some deputies are either on an official duty, or traveling with a minister or the president. There are also others that are outside the building giving interviews or doing something else. This is especially true during the speeches before the Majles begins debates. If you sit in the Majles for four hours, you will get vertigo. The Voice and Visage has also played a big role in making this look more important than it really is.

Did the deputies not accept such conditions [when they ran for office]?

If a deputy sits on a seat in the Majles for four hours, he or she will develop back problems. If you mean that a deputy must spend the rest of the day [after the Majles session] speaking to the people, it would be good for him to become familiar with people's problems, but if you mean the deputies must solve people's problems, this is not really their job. People usually ask either for a job or a loan, which is not something that we can do. People's thinking is that their Majles deputies must solve their problems, but that is not true. Our job is to develop laws and monitor [the government's performance].

You have said that your goal in questioning the president is to "hurt his pride." Is it so important for the Majles to hurt the president's pride that you prefer it over the national interest?

When the government declares that it will not execute the laws [approved by the Majles], it implies that it has become arrogant, and the Majles cannot be silent. It must put the government on the lawful track, which naturally means hurting the president's pride and [thus] it is in the interest of the nation.

All the deputies, whether principlist or reformist, view you as arrogant.

Arrogant, no, but they consider me an independent who always speaks his mind. As a matter of fact, because I like joking and laughter and never lose my composure when I am attacked, they are happy and even surprised.

Mr. Motahari, in an interview on March 5 with Khabar Online [a website aligned with Ali Larijani] you said, "Hashemi [Rafsanjani] must pursue justice and condemn illegal acts, which he has done." Do you still defend what you said, when the judiciary still has a case against [his son] Mehdi Hashemi [who lives in London]?

Hashemi wants Mehdi Hashemi to return and be put on trial.

But in December 2009, Mr. Hashemi said in a speech in Mashhad [in northeast Iran], "I told Mehdi not to return. Whenever it is necessary, I'll tell him to return." Is this justice if people such as [outspoken reformist Mostafa] Tajzadeh are in jail, but Mehdi Hashemi has not even returned?

He [Rafsanjani] did not think that the conditions for a fair trial were in place and was even afraid for his [son's] life. My understanding -- which is also what I have heard from the people who are close to him [Rafsanjani] -- is that he wants a trial as soon as possible. Several months ago, a person close to Mr. Hashemi told me, regarding the position of his family about Mehdi, "We want him to be put on trial as soon as possible to make everything clear, but we are not sure that it will be fair."

Do you think that it is fair if Mehdi Hashemi is a fugitive?

If it is really that important, Interpol [International Police] can arrest Mehdi Hashemi.

Do you believe that the salary that Mehdi Hashemi receives from the Islamic Azad University for his work in London is legitimate?

I know nothing about this.

Mr. Motahari, some people say that you are the executive arm of Mr. [Ali] Larijani in the Majles. Do you agree with this assertion?

On the day of the vote for the new minister of oil, and on several other occasions, it became clear that this is not true. He may be my executive arm!

What do you think of the fetneh [sedition -- the hardliners' term for the Green Movement] in the aftermath of the [2009] election? Is that the right word?

In terms of its literaral meaning, I accept "fetneh," which is a series of social events amid which one cannot distinguish between right and wrong. This definition is compatible with what happened after the election. But if we want to claim that it had been planned before the election, this would not be right.

Do you really believe that the Western intelligence agencies, such as the CIA and Mossad, did not have any plans for the election?

They always have plans for our country, but I do not accept the claim that Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami were plotting and in contact with the CIA and Mossad.

But what they have done [questioning the structure of the Islamic Republic] is supported by the Western intelligence agencies.

It is a different matter [if we are talking about] after the results of the election were announced. Mousavi and Karroubi committed some mistakes, and what they did was looked on with favor by the U.S. and Israel. The Westerners always support any criticism and opposition [to the Islamic Republic], right or wrong, such as what I say that makes them happy.

But [Israeli President] Shimon Perez said that the Greens are Israel's capital [investment] in Iran.

When, after Mousavi's mistakes, we also erred by not granting the permit [for peaceful demonstrations] and a crisis emerged, Israel made that claim. We all share the responsibility for creating the fetneh from Mousavi, Karroubi, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Khatami, to the government, you as a reporter for Fars, Sepah, and Basij -- although each has a different share.

What was your share in the fetneh?

They did not assign my share; as a matter of fact, my share was positive. On Tuesday [June 16, 2009], when no one dared to say anything and many doubted the election, I said on national television that there was no fraud and Mr. Mousavi is wrong to see only the vote of the people in northern Tehran [who cast their ballots for him overwhelmingly]. He should look at the votes in all of Iran. I had no control of the fetneh, [but] many of the things I said contributed to making the Green Movement calmer.

And, of course, it also made them happy.

Well, when someone speaks the truth, people become happy.

Would it not have been better if you had said those things privately?

When doing so has no effect, it must be done publicly. I talked privately to Ahmadinejad and [Esfandiar Rahim] Mashaei [Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and closest adviser] about many issues, but when it went nowhere, I was forced to speak out publicly.

Well then, Ahmadinejad may also have spoken to Hashemi [Rafsanjani] privately [before going public with his accusations against the former president].

When something has not yet been proven, it should not be talked about on national television.

Has your assertion about Ahmadinejad being a liberal been proven that you speak about it publicly?

When something has been admitted by someone, one no longer needs to prove it. Ahmadinejad himself publicly rejected the law concerning hejab in a television program.

The next question is about Karroubi. He believes that the current regime is worse than the Shah's. Do you agree?

No, I do not agree.

My next question is about the developments in the Middle East and North Africa. Why have you not taken any position regarding the developments?

I have spoken about the developments two or three times. Once I said that I'll go to Azadi Stadium [west of Tehran] to show my support for the people of Bahrain and the protesting [Basij] students [who gathered there to demonstrate in support of the Bahraini opposition].

But you did not attend. We were waiting for you.

As I remember it, I would have had to leave a [meeting of a] Majles commission, which was not possible. On other issues, when everybody expresses their opinion, there is no need for me to speak out.

What we are talking about is doing our duty.

You are right. But one should consider what effect what I say may have. I usually speak out when others do not.

You claim that you helped calm the fetneh. Your views about the people of Bahrain can be effective. They have expectations of the son of Martyr Motahari.

Yes, from this perspective [what I say] may be effective, but as a Majles deputy it does not have much effect.

Why have you not taken a position regarding the developments in the region and the massacre of Shiites in Bahrain?

I have been interviewed by Al-Kausar and Al Jazeera.

Mr. Motahari, if we go back 150 years to the era of the Constitutional Revolution [actually 105 years], do you belong to the Islamic Constitutionalists [Mashrueh] or the Western [secular] Constitutionalists [Mashruteh]?

I agree with the former. Sheikh Fazlollah [Noori, who was executed in 1908 and opposed the Mashruteh] wanted the same. Those among the ulema [Islamic scholars] who opposed him, such as the late Akhond Khorasani [Mullah Mohammad Kazem Khorasani, a progressive cleric and leader of the Constitutional Revolution, whose views on freedom can be read here] were not really opposed to Mashrueh, but were saying that they did not have the power [to implement it]. In fact, Sheikh Fazlollah wanted to revive the role of the first-rank ulema, which had faded, and what is approved by the Majles that is compatible with Islam. I do not accept Western democracy in its absolute terms, because it goes nowhere and considers the people's whim as the [ultimate] criterion.

Our next question is about the Sadra Organization, which publishes the work of Martyr Motahari. Many people have criticized your proposal, which was approved by the Majles, to renew the exclusive rights of Sadra and have protested it. Their other criticism concerns the failure to publish Motahari's taped speeches. Despite such shortcomings, why do you insist that only Sadra publish the work of Martyr Motahari?

Such exclusive rights have also been granted to the organizations that publish the works of the Imam and the [Supreme] Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei]. My proposal did not concern the work of Motahari alone, but increased the exclusive rights of all authors and artists from 30 to 50 years. When it comes to such special works, there has to be an exclusive publisher; otherwise, the works may be altered and tampered with. If a book can be published by 500 publishers, who can control it? If a sentence or paragraph is deleted, who would know? Thus the work of Martyr Motahari should be published exclusively by a publisher that is qualified to do so. I am not saying that only we can interpret the work and others' interpretations are wrong. There is no exclusivity regarding the topics. For example, if someone wants to write about Martyr Motahari's views on justice and does the research, he is free to do so. The only thing that Sadra must do is check Motahari's quotes for accuracy. It is even possible that a researcher may reject Motahari's views. It does not concern us. Thus the main work of Motahari is published by Sadra, otherwise, his work becomes commercialized and may be tampered with, which would be dangerous. We have experience with this. After his martyrdom, more than 60 books of his have been published, which puts the total number at 90.

Which means that one book has been published every six months, whereas the main task of Sadra is to transcribe taped records.

Transcribing and organizing the work is a specialty and not easy. If we wanted merely to publish them, our work would have been finished by now. Currently, about 10 percent of the speeches and lectures of Martyr Motahari have not yet been published, and our conscience must be clear that the published work is precise.

If that is true, why is there a picture of Bahaullah [Mirza Hossein Ali Nuri, founder of the Baha'i faith, not recognized by Islam] on the cover of one book. Why did you not protest it?

It is possible that there are such mistakes. Over the past 30 years, there has been only one mistake [I know of] in the design of the cover of one book. I suggested changing the cover of the book Islamic Movements and proposed using pictures of the Imam, Seyyed Jamal [al-Din Asadabadi, also known as Afghani, the 19th-century Islamic political activist], [Mohammad] Abdoh [the 19th-century Egyptian Islamic intellectual], and [Mohammad] Iqbal [Lahouri, the Pakistani Islamic thinker]. Before its publication, I asked about Abdoh's picture, and they said that it was the right one, but after it was published we realized that it was someone else's picture. We immediately recalled the book and changed its cover.

Mr. Motahari, someone said in an interview 12 years ago that you supported the Taliban. Is this true?

The Taliban?

The basis of what you had [purportedly] said was that because they are religious, they should not be criticized too harshly.

I do not remember. I do not think so. Perhaps I said that not everything they say is wrong, especially during the reform era [Khatami's two terms as president], when every effort to execute Islamic teachings was labeled Talibanism.

Will you run in the elections for the Ninth Majles [to be held March 2, 2012]?

The probability of me running is 80 percent.

Let me ask more explicitly. There is not unanimity in the 7+8 Committee for listing you as one of the candidates of the principlists. Between a parallel list of the principlists and a list of such people as [cleric] Majid Ansari and Mohsen Hashemi [a son of Rafsanjani's] -- meaning the reformists -- which one do you prefer?

There is no need for unanimity. Only a majority of eight need support it. Regardless of whether my name is on that list, we may draw up a separate list by ourselves. It all depends on the conditions.

Do you not think that doing so will undermine the unity of the principlists?

I have said that I am opposed to [superficial] unity among the principlists, but support unity based on wisdom. Thus we can have a separate list. Ultimately, we will have to wait to see what happens, but it is also possible that our list will not be under the banner of the principlists. For example, we may have a list consisting of the moderate reformists and principlists.

Can you please explain the views of Martyr Motahari about elteghati-haa [those who believe in eclecticism -- a reference to the MKO and, more generally, anyone who mixes Islam with Marxism] and how he challenged them?

When he felt that there was hypocrisy, he would strongly oppose it. If he felt that people wanted to present their own thinking in an Islamic framework and [ab]use the Qur'anic verses as a tool, he would confront them strongly. In addition to not working with them, he would reveal their deviations [from Islamic teaching]. But if he felt that someone did not have bad intentions, and had arrived at a wrong conclusion in his search for the truth, he would treat him moderately.

Please give an example.

The first person in the country that talked about the MKO from 1970 to 1975 and said that we would not work with them was Martyr Motahari. [In 1975, the MKO was taken over by communists.] The Imam was in [the Iraqi city of] Najaf at the time. This position was unusual to many revolutionary Muslims. In that era, many of the clerics supported the MKO and raised funds for them. They could not digest what Martyr Motahari was saying about the MKO, and before the Revolution the baselessness of the MKO's thinking was not obvious to many. An example of those who arrived at the wrong conclusion as a result of their research was Mehdi Bazargan -- who had friendly relations with Martyr Motahari despite the [latter's] criticism; he even suggested Bazargan as prime minister to the Imam.

Given the close relation between Motahari and Mr. Montazeri, what do you think of their deep differences when it comes to their thinking? Before the Revolution, the thinking of Mr. Montazeri regarding the MKO was similar to Motahari's, and Martyr Motahari recognized their perversion much earlier, but the position that Mr. Montazeri took concerning the MKO in 1988 was about the treatment that they received [in prison].

There was not much difference between their thinking. During Amaliyat-e Mersaad [Operation Trap, the Revolutionary Guards' name for the MKO's disastrous attempted invasion of Iran at the end of the Iran-Iraq War in August 1988], some reports were given to Mr. Montazeri about the MKO prisoners that provoked his protest. But this did not mean that he was a supporter of the MKO.

But the letter in which the Imam fired Montazeri explicitly said that he supported the hypocrites [the MKO].

The "support" referred to his protest about the treatment of the MKO in the detention centers and jails.

Many cases [of prisoners' abuse] that Montazeri talked about were rejected after visits to jails by various committees.

Yes, it is possible. I believe that some of the things that he said were due to the reports that he was receiving. I accept that there were limitations to Mr. Montazeri's thinking. Before the Revolution, Martyr Motahari had warned Mr. Montazeri about his close relation with Mehdi Hashemi [a brother of Montazeri's son-in-law, who helped expose the Iran-Contra affair by revealing to a Lebanese newspaper that Iran had received missiles and military spare parts from Israel; he was subsequently executed by the Islamic Republic]. He [Motahari] was one of the first people who truly knew who Mehdi Hashemi was. When Ayatollah Shamsabadi [Seyyed Hassan Al-Rasoul, a supporter of Khomeini's] was suffocated with his own frock [in 1976], the SAVAK [the Shah's security apparatus] said that it was the work of "Hadafi haa," meaning Mehdi Hashemi's group, but no one accepted it and thought that the culprit was the SAVAK. But my father said that the SAVAK was right; it was Mehdi Hashemi and his group that committed the crime. Sometimes people told Mr. Montazeri it was not worth it for him to go to jail for two years for protesting the opening of a liquor store in Qom [before the 1979 Revolution]: "A young seminary student could do the same thing. You are a Faghih, who should educate the students." Overall, Martyr Motahari was deeper and more mature and did not share Mr. Montazeri's naïveté.

Who do you think is currently the closest to Martyr Motahari in terms of his thinking?

138305_883.jpgI do not know anyone who is completely similar to him, but Ayatollah [Mohammad Reza] Mahdavi Kani [chairman of the Assembly of Experts] is close to him in terms of his political views and clerical affairs. His emphasis on rohaniyat [the clergy], on strengthening their position in the society, as well as preventing them from becoming an organ of the government, are similar to Martyr Motahari's. His views in the Islamic Revolutionary Council regarding the MKO, the communists, and the type of activities the clerics should pursue were similar to those of Motahari. But in terms of style of discussing philosophical issues, Mr. [Mohammad Taghi] Mesbah [Yazdi, the ultra-reactionary cleric] is closer to him. In terms of social views, intellectualism, giving weight to the younger generation, emphasizing the scientific power of Islamic society, and views toward the Islamic world, the Supreme Leader is similar to Martyr Motahari.

In an interview three months ago, your brother Mojtaba Motahari said, "Our father was killed by those who listened to the lectures of [Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad] Mousavi Khoeiniha, because he had Marxist leanings."

There is no doubt that Akbar Goudarzi, the leader of the Forghan group, and his men were present in the Niavaran Mosque [in northern Tehran] and listened to the lectures of Mr. Mousavi Khoeiniha. But,whether they were influenced by him is not clear. We cannot say that the Forghan group got its thinking from Mousavi Khoeiniha, because they were present in many places, in the Qoba Mosque, in Khamseh Mosque [both in northern Tehran], and in the Roudaki neighborhood in [central] Tehran. [In fact, Forghan was heavily influenced by Dr. Ali Shariati, the distinguished Islamic thinker and sociologist.] There is no doubt that Mr. Mousavi Khoeiniha sometimes gave lectures and interpretations of Islamic teaching that were influenced by Marxism, because the Supreme Leader told me a story about it when he was president [1981-89]. He had visited Martyr Motahari and found him upset about Mr. Mohammad Khoeiniha's interpretations. Khamenei was told to tell Khoeiniha to visit Motahari, but when Khamenei visited with Motahari again after a few months, he was told that Khoeiniha never visited with Motahari. This was actually quite common at that time, and was not limited to Mr. Mousavi Khoeiniha. Such interpretations were also presented by Dr. [Habibollah] Peyman [leader of the nationalist-religious Movement of Militant Muslims] and others. They viewed Islamic issues from a Marxist perspective, and this thinking had even influenced many clerics. But the expertise of Martyr Motahari was that he recognized this very well; even Martyr [Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini] Beheshti [the Islamic Republic's first judiciary chief, who was assassinated in 1981] did not possess such sharp-sightedness. But I also remember that when the Revolution was on the verge of victory, Mr. Khoeiniha was present at a meeting in Qom about the Revolution along with Martyr Motahari.

[At the end of the interview, Fars asked Motahari to express his views of certain major figures in a few words:]

Ali Larijani.

Moderate and expedient politician.

Ahmad Tavakoli [Majles deputy and a maternal cousin of Larijani].

Truthful principlist.

Mohsen Rezaei [former top commander of the Revolutionary Guards].

Political commander with plans.

[Mohammad Bagher] Ghalibaf [Tehran mayor and former Guard commander].

Science-based intellectual.

[Morteza] Agha Tehrani [Majles deputy and Ahmadinejad ally].

Rigid principlist.

[Ali Reza] Zakani [hardline Majles deputy].

Anti-discrimination politician.

Seyyed Hassan Khomeini.

Scholar with morality.

Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani.


Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Scholar who is compassionate for the Revolution.


Emotional intellectual.


[long pause]

There's no need to think to give your view of Karroubi.

Emotional cleric.



Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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