A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Iranian Newspaper Ban Shows Limits of Rouhani's Liberalization

The Iranian reformist newspaper Bahar has been closed following publication of an article suggesting that Imam ‘Ali was more important as a spiritual leader than as s political one. The article interprets the offense as being seen as a subtle criticism of the governing principle of velayat-e faqih and thus veiled attack on the authority of the religious leader, Ayatollah ‘Ali Khamenei,

The article quotes a "scholar of religion" as follows:

A scholar of religion, who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, asserted, “Look, this article has crossed two red lines. One is that its author is a well-known member of the Freedom Movement of Iran [Nehzat-e Azadi-e Iran],” the opposition party that has been banned from political activities for more than two decades. During the past three decades, especially after the unrest following the 2009 presidential elections, a number of party members, including its leader and other prominent figures, were arrested. “The second problem,” the scholar continued, “is the content of the article.”
“The establishment in Iran is stressing the point that the velayat-e faqih [guardianship of the jurist] is in fact the continuation of the rulership [velayat] of Imam Ali. Knowing this fact, Gharavi still emphasized the point that Imam Ali was more of a spiritual leader than a political one. In other words, he has questioned the position of Ayatollah [Ali] Khamenei as the political leader.” In one part of the article Gharavi wrote, “Imam Ali repeatedly mentions in Nahj al-Balagha [a book of quotations and sermons attributed to him] that political rule can only be achieved by people voting and paying allegiance.”
True, but depending on what the article said in detail (the brief quote in the article isn't very illuminating). one could even argue that the article attacked not only velayat-e faqih, but also the fundamental underpinning claim of Shi‘ism, that ‘Ali and his descendants were the rightful successors of the Prophet as the head of the Muslim community, a role which included both religious and political authority. In addition, ‘Ali, in addition to being the first Imam of Shi‘ism, is also considered the fourth and last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs who ruled the entire Muslim community AD 656-661; it's not clear if the article went so far.

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