by Hugh Fitzgerald
A report on a learned Shi’a cleric, a talented calligrapher, and one of the bravest Iranians – no, one of the bravest people — alive, is here: “From Iran, cleric tells Israel TV hostility between the two countries should end,” Times of Israel, January 25, 2021:
In an unprecedented interview, a former senior Iranian cleric and current opposition figure spoke with an Israeli television news channel Monday night from Tehran, and called for an end to hostilities between the countries.
Just giving an interview to an Israeli television channel, even if he had said nothing more than describe his calligraphic work, would ordinarily be enough to have him hauled in for questioning at Evin Prison. But Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani is a problem for the regime. He comes from a distinguished family of scholars and clerics.He was an ayatollah – and while the regime can strip him of the title, it cannot take away the respect he gained, both from his elderly teachers, and from a critical mass of followers, that lead him to be considered an ayatollah, and a marja’ at-taqlid — “a source of emulation.” Once the cleric has gathered a critical mass of followers (known as muqallid) and earned the respect of his elderly teachers, he is generally considered an ayatollah.
“It is time for the Iranian regime to stop inventing enemies that don’t exist,” the former ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani told Israel’s Channel 12 news.
The Islamic Republic has been built on hate: hatred for the Shah, hatred for the ancient regime; hatred for Jews, Christians, and Baha’i, hatred for America and, especially, for Israel. It’s the emotional glue that keeps this terrifying regime from collapsing. Crowds are whipped up endlessly to march about, shouting slogans against the Great Satan (America) and the Little Satan (Israel), while images of the satanic leaders and their countries’ flags are defaced, stomped on, torn, and set alight by Iranian mobs. Though both are enemies of Iran, it is tiny Israel that the Islamic Republic and the Supreme Leader most want to destroy: America is just too powerful to take on, while tiny Israel, should Iran ever acquire nuclear weapons, could be done away with in a single volley of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads.
Masoumi-Tehrani cuts to the quick when he accuses the regime of creating enemies where none exist, in order – he needn’t add, for it is understood – to keep the people willing to sacrifice so many freedoms they formerly enjoyed, to endure so much hardship, because they are constantly being fed fresh lies about the putative enemies that surround them, and urged to focus their anger on them, when it is the Iranian regime itself that has created those enemies, and needs them to survive.
Masoumi-Tehrani, who had the honor of the “ayatollah” title revoked by Tehran due to his disagreements with the regime, said he has “no problem” with the Jewish state.
He also derided the Islamic Republic’s frequent declarations of its intention to destroy Israel: “Don’t forget, these slogans were also said by [late former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein, and we know where he is today.”
Masoumi-Tehrani said the Islamic Republic is a dictatorship that stifles dissenting opinions and freedom of speech.
Asked if he feared for his life for speaking to an Israeli TV station, he told interviewer Ohad Hemo: “I have been speaking clearly for 20 years. If they don’t like that I’m talking to you or anyone else, it’s their problem.”
This is a direct challenge to the regime, which he calls a “dictatorship that stifles dissenting opinions and freedom of speech.” All true, but what dictatorship can tolerate being accurately described? And Masoumi-Tehrani says has been saying such things for 20 years – and in fact spent time in an Iranian prison, though apparently his status as an ayatollah protected him from capital punishment or a long imprisonment. But now he has criticized the Iranian Republic on a television station of the Israeli enemy: can such act go unpunished?
Possibly the Iranian regime thinks he can best be dealt with not by imprisoning him, given that he has a following among Believers both within the country and outside Iran, but by studiously ignoring him. When he presented to the persecuted Baha’is of Iran an illuminated work of calligraphy featuring verses from the Baha’i sacred writings, one that he had himself produced, this was widely praised by Muslim leaders from Great Britain to India, including Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters in the U.K., Ibrahim Mogra, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Es’haq Al-Sheikh, a prominent Bahraini journalist, and Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahli, head of the Islamic Centre of India.
Perhaps the Supreme Leader has decided to let the matter lie, in order not to give Masoumi-Tehrani any more publicity or, still worse, to turn him into a martyr for tolerance and co-existence, his image carried by chanting protesters in Tehran, Mashhad, Isfahan, and even abroad. Better to ignore him altogether.
“Iranians and Jews have many years of friendship,” he said. “I haven’t met Iranians who don’t have a positive opinion of Israel.”
“We don’t have a problem — not with Israel and not with any other country in the world,” he added.
“He said he would come to Israel if his health allows it, adding that his longtime wish has been to go to Jerusalem and “pray at the Western Wall.”
Intrigued by his remark about Iranians having a “positive opinion of Israel,” I checked with Iranian informants, who assured me that, despite what might be assumed from those staged hatefests against the Jewish state, Masoumi-Tehrani’s remark was largely true. Iran has 82 million people; perhaps two million of them are True Believers, but the rest are disaffected, and many disgusted with the regime’s corruption and cruelty. They are aware of the Supreme Leader’s business empire, said to be worth $95 billion, and of the many other, albeit lesser, crooks among Iran’s ruling class. The regime’s savagery has just been brought home again by its execution of two wrestling champions, Hamid Afkari and Mehdi Ali Hosseini. And when these disaffected tens of millions hear that hateful regime incessantly denouncing Jews and Israel, their natural reaction is to think the very opposite.
Note, too, Masoumi-Tehrani’s reference to Jerusalem. He did not say “I want to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.” He did not declare his wish to visit the “Haram al-Sharif.” No, he deliberately said he wanted to “pray at the Western Wall,” the holiest site in Judaism, thereby recognizing the Jewishness of Jerusalem. Such a remark must have driven Iran’s clerics half-mad with rage.
“With God’s help, if I stay alive, I would love to meet you and witness the end of the illogical hostility between the Iranian and Israeli peoples,” he said.
He expresses his desire to meet with the Israelis, who for 41 years have been depicted by the Islamic Republic as the scheming enemies of Iran. He dares to dismiss Iran’s hated of Israel as without foundation, an “illogical hostility between the Iranian and Israeli peoples.” He mocks that “hatred” of Israel and of Jews that the Islamic Republic continues to whip up. How dare he? These treasonous sentiments need to be punished, but such punishment, unfortunately, will undoubtedly bring him more sympathetic attention and fame, both within Iran and abroad. If the Tehran regime imprisons him – or worse — that will certainly turn him into a “martyr.” Best to ignore his deliberate provocations. A studied silence is the best way to handle this wayward cleric.
Masoumi-Tehrani published a religious ruling against the appointment of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the 1980s, and told Channel 12: “From my prior knowledge of him, I argued that he will surely ruin both the religion and the country. For that and for opposing him, I served five years in prison. That disagreement continues to this day.”
This is not a man afraid of prison. He has gone to prison on several occasions. He served a five-year stretch, because of his opposition to – and his obvious contempt for – the Supreme Leader, a man he opposed from the very beginning of his rule, as someone who would, once in power, “ruin both the religion and the country.” He didn’t have to add – it was clear from his tone – that he believed his prediction had come true.
The cleric has been arrested many times over his opposition to the regime. He is a prominent advocate for separation of church and state, for minority rights, and for the right to protest against the leadership.
An accomplished calligrapher, Masoumi-Tehrani recently wrote a Hebrew copy of the Bible’s book of Ezra, the TV report said. He said he has been questioned multiple times over many issues, including his Hebrew calligraphy.
He has created in calligraphic form the Torah, the Psalms, and some of the writings of Baha’ullah, the prophet founder of the Baha’i, as well as of the Qur’an. He is not merely tolerant of other faiths, but has shown a deep respect for them. And this – especially his solidarity with the Baha’i, who are persecuted in Iran — has infuriated the mullahs. But the respect he earned as an ayatollah, and his following, which is both wide and deep, have prevented the regime, so far, from imprisoning him for decades, or even ridding itself of his existence, as no doubt many in authority would like to do.
He’s a phenomenon. In his country, where homosexuals are routinely executed, where wrestling champions who dare to demonstrate against the regime are falsely accused of crimes and then themselves executed, he continues to utter astounding home truths and to oppose, undermine, and mock, the essence of the regime’s ideology. He is undoubtedly one of the bravest men in Iran. For now he’s safe, because those in the regime who think that ignoring him is the most sensible policy, as a way to contain his fame, have so far prevailed. But that view can change. A Nobel Prize for Peace might secure his safety. I can think of several people who were given that award quite undeservedly – Yasser Arafat and Barack Obama come immediately to mind. Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, on the other hand, has truly earned it.
First published in Jihad Watch.