â€œNo one has done more harm to the name and image of Islam than the fanatics who rule Iranâ€
Exclusive Interview by: Iran Focus
Paris, Feb. 11 â€“ In an exclusive interview with Iran Focus, a prominent dissident ayatollah lambasted Iranâ€™s theocratic rulers for â€œplaying politics with Islamâ€™s sanctities and taking advantage of the religious sentiments of Muslims simply to serve the narrow interests of their own regimeâ€.
â€œI sincerely believe that the publication of these cartoons [of Islamâ€™s Prophet Muhammad] was absolutely unjustified, because they offend all Muslims and only help the extremists like those in power in Iranâ€, the mild-mannered, soft-spoken ayatollah, who has been condemned to death in a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, said over tea at a coffee shop in Paris, where he lives incognito, mindful of the long reach of Tehranâ€™s assassins.
â€œBut I hasten to add that Iranâ€™s rulers are inciting violence and provoking Muslims for purely Machiavellian reasons: they want to exacerbate the confrontation between Muslims and Christians at a time when their sponsorship of terrorism and their nuclear weapons program have come under increasing international scrutiny and criticism. They are playing with the sentiments of Muslims to divert attention from their own crises at home and abroad. This is more than criminal; it is evil.â€
Ayatollah Jalal Ganjei, a respected Shiite scholar and writer who lives in exile in France, was one of Ayatollah Khomeiniâ€™s disciples in the 1960s, before he broke away with him in the mid-1970s over their divergent views on the role of freedom and democracy in Islam. When Ganjei left Iran to join the opposition in the early 1980s, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him. Since then, thirteen of his close relatives, including his son, have been executed by the clerical regime.
Ayatollah Ganjei is incensed at the way he believes Iran is manipulating the cartoon row to its advantage.
â€œLook at the outrageous way in which they are making use of these cartoons. Listen to their daily television and radio broadcasts. Theyâ€™re calling on people to come to demonstrations in support of the regime to show their anger at the cartoons. They are telling Iranians, â€˜If youâ€™re angry with these Westerners who are insulting the Prophet, then come and show your support for our nuclear program!â€™ These are the exact words of their propagandists being broadcast non-stop on the state-run radio and televisionâ€, the senior cleric said.
Despite his virulent attack on Iranâ€™s clerical leaders, the ayatollah does not hide his criticism of newspapers that published the cartoons, but points out that opposition and criticism conducted in a lawful and civilised context are the only, and the most effective, way for Muslims to air their grievances.
â€œFreedom of speech is a sacred principle that genuine Islam has always upheld and encouragedâ€, Ayatollah Ganjei said. â€œFor centuries, Muslim thinkers and philosophers openly debated issues that would be considered â€˜blasphemousâ€™ by the fanatical extremists who are today giving Islam such a bad name. But in any mature society, freedom of speech must be inextricably linked to social responsibility. You cannot offend the profound beliefs and sanctities of millions of people simply in the name of freedom of expressionâ€.
Ayatollah Ganjei was sharply critical of Iranâ€™s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who said on Thursday about the cartoon row that â€œthe issue is to confront Muslims and Christians and it is appropriate that Muslims should show their furyâ€.
â€œNo one has done more harm to the name and image of Islam than the fanatics who rule Iranâ€, Ganjei said, and continued with a voice vibrant with emotion, â€œWho has executed 14-year-old girls in the name of Islam? Who has stoned women to death in the name of Islamic law? Who has been meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq in the name of exporting Islamic revolution to that country? Who has brought impoverishment, death and misery to Iran in the name of a divinely-ordained theocracy?â€
â€œThey are the worst enemies of Islamâ€, the ayatollah said, referring to Iranâ€™s clerical leaders.
Ganjei also referred to specific information that he said has been obtained from inside Iran by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political coalition of opposition groups to which the moderate ayatollah belongs.
â€œWe know for sure that the recent violence has been instigated by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (Iranâ€™s secret police), the Qods (Jerusalem) Force, the Foreign Ministry, the Islamic Culture and Communications Organization, the World Association of Ahl al-Beit (House of the Prophet), the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, and the Islamic Propaganda Organizationâ€, he said, referring to several organisations set up by Tehran to spread the â€œmessage of the Islamic revolution among the Muslim massesâ€.
Ganjei said a radical Shiite cleric, Aboulghassem Khazali, and his son, Mohsen, who are on the governing board of Ahl al-Beit Association, travelled to Germany on February 9 to incite the Shiites in Europe. Ganjei accused an Iranian agent provocateur, whom he identified as Barati, an official in Ahl al-Beit, of being in active contact with Muslim fundamentalist cells in Europe and North America to incite them to violence over the cartoons.
â€œThe attacks on the Western embassies in Tehran were clearly orchestrated by the governmentâ€, Ganjei said, noting that the tight security situation in the Iranian capital would not allow any â€œspontaneousâ€ raid on diplomatic missions. â€œThey have been telling their proxies in other countries to take similar actionsâ€.
Ganjei urged the West to deny the Iranian regime an opportunity â€œto exploit Islam and repress those who stand for genuine Islam, the Islam of freedom and toleranceâ€.
â€œNinety-nine percent of Iranians are Muslim and more than 90 percent of them want an end to this religious tyrannyâ€, the ayatollah said.