Iran’s Mullahs: Providing the Rope to Hang Themselves?

July 9th, 2009
Published in Middle East Times July 9, 2009

Nineteenth century philosopher and communist revolutionary Karl Marx chastised capitalists saying, given enough rope, “they will hang themselves.”  It may not be immediately clear, but the battle of the mullahs in Iran may be providing the “rope” by which Islamic extremists eventually “hang themselves.”

The source from which Islamic extremists claim their power flows is the Quran. There are two tenets in their thinking utilized to keep followers in the dark, which, hopefully, are now being illuminated by the mullahs’ actions in Iran.

First, believers are told the Quran represents the words of Allah, as told to the Prophet Muhammad, and, therefore, are immune to man’s own interpretation. But, because those words were memorialized more than a millennium ago, they often fail to provide guidance on point for 21st century believers. But it is the confusion resulting from reading the Quran that is used by extremist leaders to provide their own interpretation of what Allah meant. Thus, such extremists violate their own basic tenet of Islam that prohibits man’s interpretation of Allah’s words. Anyone questioning the extremist’s interpretation, even if offering a logical alternative, is deemed to be waging war against God. This is the box into which Iran’s mullahs endeavor to place those opposing their regime.

Second, to be true Muslims, believers are warned by extremist leaders not to think for themselves. Independent thought is taboo. Believers must simply accept what they are told, following with blind allegiance, much like a robot programmed only to act.

When extremists came to power in Iran in 1979 under Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, Iranians faced a unified Islamist mindset among the leadership. Interestingly, the players responsible for building the framework within which that mindset functioned are the same players involved today in events unfolding in Iran. They include former Iranian presidents Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Khomeini as Supreme Leader; Mohammad Khatami; Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi; and current Iranian President and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. All five leaders are cut from the same ideological cloth as was Khomeini; all have track records for brutally suppressing opposition; all are extremists to their very core.

The Supreme Leader in Iran dictates both foreign and domestic policy for the country, invoking the teachings of the Quran. But, without Allah or the Prophet Muhammad around to interpret the Quran’s passages as they apply to Iranian policy, man – in the form of the Supreme Leader – is left to perform that role. But, again, it is a role taken in violation of the Islam’s basic tenet prohibiting man from interpreting Allah’s words according to man’s own whims.

With the supreme leader dictating policy and believers blindly following his dictates, the schism among these five leaders today should, theoretically, have never evolved – that is, had all abided by the second tenet of blind allegiance. But in an exercise of thought independent of the supreme leader, Mousavi, Rafsanjani and Khatami collectively stepped over the line Khamenei had drawn in the sand.

Ayatollah Khamenei initially tried to paint the post-presidential election uprising as a family dispute; but, as it continued, he labeled those involved as “foreign agents” – for only such agents would reject his absolute authority. It will be interesting to see if he now tries to attach the same label to the most important group of religious leaders in Iran — the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom — who recently issued a statement declaring both the election and the new government to be illegitimate. This is the clearest sign a major split has occurred within Iran’s clerical establishment — an evolution possible only through the exercise of independent thought.

This is not the first time Islam has suffered a schism because followers exercised free thought. It happened soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad when disagreement arose over whether leadership should fall to Muhammad’s heirs or to someone selected by tribal elders. The schism in Islam remains today, having given rise to Shiite and Sunni sects who share a relationship not unlike that of the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

Extremists have hijacked the Quran — a holy book intended by Prophet Muhammad as a guideline to which believers could refer and apply, through the exercise of their own free thought, to their daily lives. Instead, by outlawing such thought, extremists seek to justify violence to grab or maintain power under the guise of God’s word.

Hopefully, like the Phoenix of Greek mythology that arose out of the ashes of destruction, the realization will arise from the sacrifices of the Iranian people that the Quran empowers believers, not with the sword, but something much greater: free thought.

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