â€œNo one has done more harm to the name and image of Islam than the fanatics who rule Iranâ€
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.