Behrouz-Mehri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Isn't he ADORABLE? I wish he was my Grandpa.

This past weekend, the New York Times did a profile on this guy, [Ed. Note–Yes, we at the Yetiblog read the New York Times. Three cheers for smug liberal elitism!] and oh boy, he is great! He is like the Iranian Yoda, but REAL.

Ayatollah Montazeri has emerged as the spiritual leader of the opposition, an adversary the state has been unable to silence or jail because of his religious credentials and seminal role in the founding of the republic.

And he’s playing a unique role in the Iranian reform movement thanks to those religious credentials, which outshine even those of the current Supreme Leader Ali Khameini. This one goes out to all the ridiculous claims that Islam and democracy are incompatible or mutually exclusive (after the jump):

“We have many intellectuals who criticize this regime from the democratic point of view,” said Mehdi Khalaji, a former seminary student in Qum and now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He criticizes this regime purely from a religious point of view, and this is very hurtful. The regime wants to say, ‘If I am not democratic enough that doesn’t matter, I am Islamic.’

“He says it is not an Islamic government.”

This is already patently obvious to many people, it’s true. But the fact that such a revered and esteemed figure as Montazeri is saying so openly and loudly to whoever will listen is a huge blow to the regime.

“He is able to delegitimize Khamenei more than anybody else on the Earth,” Mr. Khalaji said.

BOOSH! Indeed he is. And he knows it, and he’s taking full advantage of it.

Now, it’s important for us Americans to remember that Khameini is the Big Bad, so to speak. He is the man in charge. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gets way more play in the media, but he’s really just a figurehead. He doesn’t have nearly as much control over how the country is run as cable news tends to assume he does. Khameini is the one actually in control.

The media loves to make a big deal out of Ahmadinejad because he’s very dramatic and makes all these ludicrous speeches, but there is almost no real bite to Ahmadinejad’s bark. To poorly continue the Star Wars analogy from earlier, Khameini is like The Emperor, and Ahmadinejad just Darth Vader. No, not even Darth Vader. He’s more like Grand Moff Tarkin, the guy in charge of the first Death Star. Remember him, nerds? That’s Ahmadinejad.

That’s why Ahmadinejad isn’t once mentioned in the Montazeri article–he’s irrelevant to what Montazeri is doing. And Montazeri has been doing his thing for a long, long time.

Ayatollah Montazeri’s disillusionment, and his alienation from the state, came within a decade of the revolution [Ed. Note–the Iranian Revolution took place in 1979]. He mocked Ayatollah Khomeini’s decision to issue a fatwa calling for the murder of Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses,” saying, “People in the world are getting the idea that our business in Iran is just murdering people.”

Sounds like he should be Supreme Leader of the ZINGlamic Republic of Iran, amirite? [Ed. Note–Another quick reference for those unfamiliar with the history: Ayatollah Khameini is the current Supreme Leader of Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini was its first Supreme Leader and the leader of the Iranian Revolution.]

Also contributing to Montazeri’s greatness is how much he gave up by standing up and speaking out. Before he was an outsider and an opposition leader, Montazeri was as elite and inside as it got, practically Khomeini’s right hand. If he hadn’t criticized the government as openly or as forcefully as he did, Montazeri would be Supreme Leader right now instead of Khameini.

The breach with Ayatollah Khomeini became irreparable in January 1988, when Ayatollah Montazeri objected to a wave of executions of political prisoners and challenged the leadership to export the revolution by example, not by violence.

“He was not willing to sell his soul to stay in power,” said Muhammad Sahimi, a professor at the University of Southern California. The next month, Ayatollah Khomeini criticized Ayatollah Montazeri in a letter and then forced him to resign as his deputy and heir apparent.

Like a true champ, Montazeri refused to let anyone shut him up or make him toe the party line. He spoke his mind without fear and accepted the consequences standing up, head held high. He’s a credit to the dignity and pride of the Iranian reform movement.

“There is no one else in the current leadership of the Green Movement who risked as much, as publicly, as early, as consistently as he has, and has lost as much,” said Abbas Milani, a professor of Iranian studies at Stanford University who as a young man shared a jail cell with Ayatollah Montazeri during the time of the shah.

Seriously, commence Operation Love This Guy.

“Independence,” he said in a recent speech on ethics, “is being free of foreign intervention, and freedom is giving people the freedom to express their opinions. Not being put in prison for every protest one utters.”

Someone get this man a Twitter account, STAT!

(via the NYT)


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