Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How important is the recent Montazeri fatwa?

Juan Cole argues that the fatwa's importance has been exaggerated, and that the conclusions of the fatwa are self-evident, namely that if Ahmadinejad stole the election it would be illegitimate for him to occupy the office. This is a very narrow, even strange reading of the fatwa, which clearly, if implicitly, refers to the illegitimate behavior of the rulers, not simply the president. Juan is certainly correct to note the regime has marginalized Montazeri in terms of his access to public space and open discourse in Iran; however, despite the regime's concerted efforts to marginalize Montazeri he retains many middle class followers who consider him to be the most qualified interpreter of religious law. It is instructive to recall that Ali Sistani was marginalized in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but he retained a wide swath of muqallids or imitators, as the American occupation authorities discovered to their surprise.

I agree that it will take more than a few fatwas from a highly respected mujtahid to move political mountains in Iran, but Montazeri's comments certainly undermine the legitimacy of the President as well as the Leader.

1 comment:

Adam said...

What's being missed here is something extremely important. Prof. Cole is looking inside the box and the importance of fatwas on religious grounds, thinking more about what it will do for the people, or its direct impact on the regime rather than what it will do among the religious establishment.

I see this having more effect on Qom than on the regime. What this fatwa does is pry open the discourse in Qom regarding the legitimacy of Khamenei's leadership.

Now there is a theological principle to discuss and argue in the Shi'i tradition. If such an influential ayatollah al-uzma issues an edict delegitimizing Khamenei's leadership, lesser ayatollahs, instructors, seminary students, etc., can now flush these things out theologically more and more.

His carefully constructed fatwa can begin to make cracks. Maybe they will be hairline for now, but they can develop into major ones, even influencing other senior grand ayatollahs to answer their followers' and students' questions more directly like Montazeri did.

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