Editor’s Note: Dr. Abdolkarim Soroush is one of the most prominent Iranian political philosophers, intellectuals, religious scholars and writers. He is a former professor at the University of Tehran (bio). Last Wednesday, he published an open letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressing his belief that Iranians would triumph over “the decline of religious despotism”. This remarkable letter appears below in translation.
By Abdolkarim Soroush
The blood-soaked wedding ended and the untrue groom left the bridal chamber.
[Ballot] boxes trembled and evildoers danced in the darkness.
Victims stood watching in their white shrouds and the prisoners clapped with their severed hands.
And the people, one eye filled with rage, the other with hatred, bore off the groom.
The eyes of the world cried bitterly and blood flowed over the republic’s head.
The Devil laughed, stars were extinguished and virtue fell into a slumber.
In this drought-year for virtue and justice, everyone complains against you, but I thank you. “Of that beloved of the heart, either is he thanked or criticized.” It is not that I have no complaints. I have, and they are many; but I have set them before God. Your ears have become so full of the praise and caresses of sycophants that they have no room for the voices of those with grievances. But I thank you deeply. You said, “The sanctity of the regime has been torn asunder” and its honor has been robbed. Believe me when I say that in all my life I have never received such glad tidings from anyone. Bravo for announcing the misery and affliction of religious despotism.
I am joyous that finally the sighs of morning prayers have reached the celestial spheres and awakened the fires of divine vengeance. You were prepared to allow God to be shamed, in order to to preserve yourself from shame. To have people turn their backs on piety and religion, but not to turn their backs to your guardianship. That tradition and the path and the truth be crumpled up, so that not a wrinkle would besmirch your leadership. But God did not want this. The pained hearts and muzzled mouths and spilled blood and cut hands did not want it, and prevented it. The pure and the devout and the prophets did not want it. The deprived and the peacemakers and the oppressed and the righteous prevented it.
“The fairy hides her face as the fiend is about,” [a line from Hafez – translator] this is the story of your republic of guardianship. Praise God that the veil of this fiend’s false purity has been torn. His secrets have been disclosed, his hands opened, and his guilt placed before the sunlight. And the world has looked upon its naked form with anger and astonishment.
I know that you are passing through bitter and hard times. You have committed an offense, a severe offense. I explained this offense to you twelve years ago. I told you to choose freedom as your method. Forget that it is virtuous and just; choose it as a method of successful governance. Is this what you want? Why are you doing things backwards? Why do you send denouncers and spies among the people to look into their hearts and pull words from their mouths through trickery, and then report lies as truths to you? Leave the press, political parties, associations, critics, teachers, writers… alone. The people will express themselves in a thousand ways and cast open their windows to you and help you in organizing the country and the system. Don’t strangle the press. The press is the breath of society. But you took dead ends and weaving paths. And now you are under the spell of nothingness and have become the prisoner of a closed regime that you yourself created long ago, in which neither criticism, nor opinions, nor science, nor information flourish. You think that by reading confidential bulletins or listening to subservient advisers, you will grasp the reality of what is going on. Both the election of Khatami and the green election of Mousavi must be obvious to you, otherwise disdain and the charms of despotism would not have chased away the knowledge and shrewdness within you. And now, to make up for that sin, which is due to ignorance and despotism, you are turning to even greater crimes. You are washing blood with blood in order to regain purity.
Treason and fraud were not enough, you turned to murder and crime. Treason and crime were not enough, you added the rape of prisoners to everything else. Murder and rape and fraud were still not enough, you added accusations of spying and dishonor to the lot. You did not spare dervishes or clerics or writers or students. And in the end, you reward the killers and wrongdoers. Then you laugh in everyone’s face and take a poor soldier to task for stealing an electric razor. [Translator: Soroush is referring to the student movement of July 1999 in Iran. Dormitories were raided, students beaten and arrested, and an unknown number of people killed. The ensuing trial acquitted all police commanders and security officers, except for one soldier who was fined and imprisoned for stealing an electric razor from the student dorms, and a police officer who was jailed for assault.]
I knew that bereaved mothers and fathers were weeping behind closed doors and asking God, Save us from this place of oppression and send us succor! […] The prisons were temples where worshippers genuflected day and night, and prayed — and are still praying — to God for the collapse of the guardianship.
When Neda Agha Soltan was martyred, her chest pierced by oppression’s bullet, I wailed to God. Do You not hear the voice of the people? As Jesus said on the cross, I asked “Father, why have You forsaken us?” […]
Until the day when I heard that forced admission, I mean those life-giving words, “The sanctity of the regime has been torn asunder.” It was as if the words had come from You, God. I knelt and thanked You. […]
I want to tell you that the page has turned and the regime’s fortunes have shifted. It has been disgraced. […] Even God has turned His face and taken His light from you. Those acts you committed in secret places and behind curtains have been revealed. […] Even the path of repentance has been closed to you. Religion will not intercede in your favor, you who have lost legitimacy. The green Iran will no longer be that black Iran of devastation. This movement’s whiteness and greenness have taken precedence over the blackness of your tyranny. The earth and water and fire and clouds and winds… are aligned against you on God’s orders.
For years, your cohorts and agents, under the umbrella of your protection and guardianship, savaged the people like hungry jackals and took safety and justice away from them. […] They took them prisoner, like an invaded tribe, trampled their rights, plundered their freedoms, broke their dignity, subjugated their thoughts, and turned their religion upside-down. They started producing sanctities as if in a factory and sold superstition as religion. They shoved their treasonous hands into the people’s ballot boxes. They placed the universities under the supervision of the uneducated. They filled a house of woes called the Islamic Republic’s radio-television with lies and insults, and gave the nation lessons on how to despair and be slaves. They created fake and extravagant gatherings and sold lies to the world about how the people loved the regime of the Supreme Leader. In prisons and houses of death, they murdered, raped, committed injustices, assaulted, and tortured to an extent unseen even during the Mongol invasion. They trampled the law and encouraged the science of ignorance and fanaticism. They lifted up the benighted and pushed down the wise. They took joy from the young and dignity from elders. They created colorful ayatollahs and obtained heavy fatwas from them. […] Their psychosis about imaginary enemies created daily crises. People were imprisoned and ridiculous confessions were placed in their mouths and horrendous punishments were meted out. […]
[These acts] lit a blaze in the conscience of the people that burned the house of the guardianship. The post-election protest was neither a military exercise, nor sedition, nor the Zarrar Mosque — a term you have coined in your mint and employ often. [NB The Zarrar Mosque, mentioned in the Koran, was built by religious hypocrites to tempt the true Muslims.] It was an outburst of honor over plunder. The people, with awakened consciences, defended their vote, their elected choice, their rights as citizens, and their freedom of thought in a calm and collected manner against those who would plunder their vote and rights and freedom. The thieves were up in arms, but we heard God’s laughter. He was satisfied with us. He had heard our prayers and had disgraced the murderers and the wrongdoers. Taraneh Mousavi’s death was the death knell of tyranny.
The green movement has been established with determination to create a green Iran. This movement has found its green martyrs, green poets and poetry, its green literature and arts and phrases. It is the fruit of 20 years of efforts on the part of intellectuals and activists in the political and cultural spheres. You are wasting your time trying to break it with your militarism.
This lion is not one that you can escape
There is no escaping the curse of God [from Rumi – translator]
The fading fear of the people and the vanishing legitimacy of the concept of Supreme Leadership are the greatest achievements of the revolt of honor over plunder. The slumbering lion of courage and resistance has been awakened. Neither usurpation by the military, nor rape committed by the corrupt; neither dust thrown in the eyes of humanity, nor hot air to puff up the [regime’s] ragged clothes; neither dependence on animal savagery, nor attacks on human sciences [he refers to a recent speech by Khamenei in which he voices concern that humanities being taught at universities instills secularism – translator]; neither the flattery of flatterers in your pay, nor the poetry of poem-selling fools; none of these will bend the back of the resistance. Religious tyranny has been besieged by blasphemy and religion, and it is time to cut it down in the green fields of the movement. We have asked this of God and God is with us.
There is no sweeter proof of your turning fortunes than the fact that all your celebrations have become mourning ceremonies. And whatever tweaked your mirth once, now brings you tears and tremors. The universities which you wanted to kiss your feet now provoke your nightmares. Street demonstrations, the usual gatherings, Ramadan, Muharram, the Hajj, and mournful prayers have all become curses which work against you.
We are of a fortunate generation. We shall celebrate the disappearance of religious despotism. A moral society and a government beyond religion are the beacons of our Green nation.
We shall cherish and esteem freedom, that same freedom which you did not value and onto which you heaped injustice. You sold fascism and said that freedom is whimsical and permissive. […] If you had allowed the press to be free, it would have divulged corruption and the corrupt would not have dared engage in their misdeeds. If you had allowed people to criticize you, you would not have fallen into the abyss of dictatorship and the corruption of power. The people’s true words would have dispelled your daze of ignorance. They are the schools of the nation, not ‘enemy bases.’ And what would have been so terrifying if the doors of those schools had been kept open and you had been able to learn there?
We will cherish religion, that same religion that you made a tool of your power and in whose name you gave lessons in slavery and melancholy. You did not understand that joy and freedom walk alongside true faith […] and that religious power corrupts both religion and power. Governing a joyous, free, informed, and nimble people is an achievement, not lording over a bound and dejected nation.
I ask myself for whom do I write this? For a regime whose luck has turned? […] And then I recall the words of God:
When some of them said: “Why do ye preach to a people whom Allah will destroy or visit with a terrible punishment?” – said the preachers: “To discharge our duty to our Lord, perchance they may fear Him.” (Qur’an, Sura 164)
O God, bear us witness. I. who have spent a lifetime longing for religion and teaching religion, distance myself from this despotic regime’s oppression, and if I once aided the evildoers out of error or sin, I ask for your forgiveness and absolution. O God of wisdom and virtue, accept our prayers, […] and leave not your friends in the hands of enemies.
Call upon the winds to tear away despotism’s tabernacle, and call on fire to burn away the roots of oppression. Call on the seas to drown the pharaohs and the earth to bury the Qaruns [an arrogant Qur’anic character; for example, see 28:76-83].
Call clouds and rains so that they may rain bounty and justice and joy and compassion upon this wronged people, and that this barren land of oppressors may become the flower meadow of the just.
Water and sea, O God, are at Thy service,
Wind and fire are under Thy command.
If Thou willest, fire will be as cool as water,
Or if Thou wishest, water will become as fire.
O Lord, make Thy wish known,
So the world may be filled with light.