Some observations by His Eminence Sheikh Ezzedin Husseini

Islamic Republic: the role of religion and democracy

2005

“I absolutely do not believe in religious governments, not in Iran nor in any other parts of the world. If in the past religious regimes could play a positive role in society and were useful, in the present world they must not have any role in the government of any country. This is especially true about Velayate Faghih (the sovereignty of religious scholar) which is based on dictatorship. The concept of Velayate Faghih indicates that all the Imams [namely the 12 Imams in Shi’aism, tr.] were representatives of God, and people were obliged to obey their orders unconditionally. Some Shi’a scholars believe that during the time of the 12th Imam’s Absence the will of God guides people to choose a person as the Valieh Faghih who represents the power of the 12th Imam and has absolute authority. This means that Valieh Faghih represents the 12th Imam and must be obeyed unconditionally. In this way religion through Valieh Faghih interferes in all aspects of people’s lives. Of course there are different points of view among Shi’a scholars, some are very radical and some are moderate.

“From the start of the Islamic Republic, I personally was against the rule of Velayate Faghih and did not vote for the Islamic Republic and do not accept it now. For this reason I never endorsed the leaders of the Islamic Republic and never got close to it. I never believed that the Islamic Republic could provide the personal freedom of people or recognise the rights of nationalities. My problem is not only with the dictatorship of Velayate Faghih, but more than that, I believe in the separation of religion and the state.

“When the prophets emerged, people were at the beginning of their development and evolution. At that time only religion could manage society and keep order. Even then the religious scholars of the period tried to learn the sciences of their time and behaved accordingly. But at the present age, religion has given way to the role of contemporary sciences in managing society; people themselves must administer the affairs of society and pass laws. Power must be transferred to the people; they must be able to elect those who govern over them without the interference of religion in their election.

“Religion must perform its specific duty which is to establish a spiritual and ethical relation between humans and their God. This spirituality and this connection cannot be dealt with by science; it is the task of religion to provide the connection between the hearts and feelings of humans with each other, and with their God. Science has developed human beings’ ability to manage the affairs of society and to regulate relations within society; science has helped them to further their welfare and comfort, and provide them with a better life. That is why religion and government must be separate from each other, and each must have its own boundary and perform its own duties. Despite being taunted and pressurised by some because of my views on these matters, which is continuing, these have been my firm and long-held views and I think they have been proven to be true.

“I think religion, government and everything else must serve human beings, because mankind is the ultimate object. I also believe that when a phenomenon ceases serving human beings, it ceases to be useful and loses its values. If religion, given its huge sacredness and sensitivity, ceases to serve humanity and becomes a tool in the hands of the clergy to exploit people, it must be put aside. The concept of religious sovereignty does not leave any space for democracy. For example in Iran there are so-called elections, but actually the religion, the Valieh Faghih (leader) and the Council of Guardians who approve of the candidacy of people for the election determine the outcomes of the election. Even among Muslim candidates, only those who are supporting Valieh Faghih are approved. Hence religious sovereignty is in contradiction with freedom and democracy, because in democracy, there must not be any condition and limitation on human beings’ freedom, unless they are against the interests of society and individuals in the society and limit the freedom of other people. Human beings must be free to be able to realise and appreciate the secret of being and be able to develop and advance the life of humanity. That is why humans must not be fenced in and limited.

“An assessment of whether the freedom and behaviour of a person or a group of people is in contradiction with others’ freedom and interests is not arbitrary and in the hands of an individual or a group of people. It is done and voted by society as a whole which puts a limitation on the freedom of those who are damaging the freedom of others. With regard to religious freedom, people must be free to choose their own religion or make any other decision.

“Unfortunately in the present world we do not have democracy in its real meaning, i.e. that the nation is able to decide at all stages of its social life freely and without limitation, and benefits from all advantages of life. In most cases the elected people’s representatives transform themselves into permanent bosses of people and are not accountable to them. The present-day world, which is a unipolar world, is full of misery and misfortune for humanity.

“The Bush Administration – in the name of establishing democracy – has forced its will on the world and wants all other people to obey them, and to dominate humanity. If their interests or that of their friends demands it, they are willing to close their eyes to any undemocratic and immoral action. If their interests demand it, the United States uses various excuses, including lack of democracy, to attack her opponents, and in these cases the Bush Administration does not pay any attention to international laws. The United States is currently trying to conquer the world by her own methods and to superimpose her policies upon the peoples of the world.

“Let us acknowledge that democracy is not a gift to be given to people, or to impose it on people. Democracy cannot be realised by wars and by conquering the world. Democracy can be achieved based on the awareness and consciousness of masses of people. Otherwise, even if it is imposed upon people by good will and intention, it can be taken back, and people who lack awareness cannot defend it. There are examples in the history of revolutions in which people, for a while, have tasted freedom and democracy. But because they were not prepared to defend them, after some time they lost them to dictatorship, and lost whatever they had achieved.

“As far as Kurdistan is concerned, I believe that the people of Kurdistan must rely on their own power, and must not wait for some external force from outside to rescue them. It is obvious that the situation in South Kurdistan has had some impact on other parts of Kurdistan, especially East Kurdistan. While there are struggles in all parts of Kurdistan, the Kurdish people in Iran must, alongside other people in the country, try to abolish the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to establish a real federative system of government in which all nationalities living in Iran are able to enjoy equal conditions and equal rights.

“Groups, individuals and movements who, at the moment, have contaminated the political, economic and cultural demands of Kurdish people, and have reduced these to cheap and minor cultural demands, are irrelevant to the movements of Kurdistan. These people, who are the leftover of Khatami’s movements, want to achieve their own goals within the framework of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They are encouraging the people of Kurdistan to follow their route. What they are doing is alien to the people’s demands and their activities do not have any value for the Kurdish people of Iran.

“One of the indices of progress in a society is the role of women in different aspects of the political, economic and social life of society. In my view, women are an important part of society, men without women and women without men cannot manage society. Historically women have been oppressed and discriminated against, not only in society but even in the political parties as well. They have been oppressed by their husbands, fathers, brothers and the whole social establishment. I believe women must be equal to men. Women and men must be free to choose their destiny. Women must be able to choose their favoured occupations, and have freedom in choosing their economic, political and social life. Women must themselves try to achieve their rights, rather than somebody else pitying them and giving them their rights.

“In the present day, women, like men, can study and progress in the fields of science, social science and technology, with many of them having achieved much in these areas. Whilst progressing alongside their male counterparts, they must thrive to get into key positions of social life, reflecting their interests and abilities, so that they can change the cultural of society and the way society perceives women. Women especially in backward and oppressed societies must engage in a twofold struggle. One is the struggle for the freedom and liberation of the oppressed nation and to achieve freedom and democracy. The other aspect of their struggle has to do with their efforts to elevate their own abilities to find their role in their preferred activities in the political, economic and social spheres of society.

“Finally, I hope the spirit of democracy and search for freedom in the whole of Iran will blossom, and the Kurdish nation also, day after day, by reliance on its national spirit, love of freedom and democracy, will continue to pursue its demands.”

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