Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri is Iran’s most prominent clerical dissident. He was the designated successor of Ayatollah Khomeini, but Montazeri’s criticisms of the authoritarian nature of Khomeini’s government earned him rejection by Khomeini, followed by years of house arrest.
Montazeri issued a statement today strongly supporting political and religious pluralism, and cautioning both the regime and the demonstrators against violence:
The distinction of a powerful government — Islamic or non-Islamic — is its ability to heed both similar and opposing views and, with religious compassion, which is a prerequisite of government, allow all the strata of society, whatever their political beliefs, to participate in the running of the country, instead of totally alienating them and constantly increasing their [the dissidents] number. Since this government is known as a religious government, I fear that the conduct and actions of the officials may ultimately harm the religion and undermine the people’s beliefs. [...]
I urge all the people, in particular the youth, to pursue the realization of their rights with patience and grace, to maintain calm and security in the country by virtue of sagacity and intelligence, and to refrain from aggression or any action that may harm their image and legitimate demand, and which would give an excuse to those of unfit character, who infiltrate the crowds, to create turmoil and disorder, and set people’s homes and belongings on fire, in a bid to generate an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. [...]
I advise all the officials, as well as the military and security forces, to uphold their religion and not sell their souls; they must understand that the term “officials are excused [because they are only doing their duty]” would not be accepted by the Almighty God on the Day of Judgement. They must regard the protesting youth as their own children, and refrain from violent and cruel actions. They must learn from the mistakes of the predecessors and understand that, eventually, those who oppress the people will receive their just comeuppance. In this day and age, one cannot hide the truth from the people through censorship, closures and restrictions of communication means.
In conclusion, I beseech the Almighty God to grant success to all those who serve Islam and the Muslims, and honor and glory to the dear Iranian nation.
Unlike allegations of vote fraud from American congressmen and former presidential candidates, this is the sort of statement, a respected clerical authority making an appeal for justice, tolerance, and non-violence on the basis of Islam, that could has the potential to really change the outcome on the ground. Hopefully more clerics will join with him.