Saturday, December 26, 2009

Montazeri's Symbolism

Protests and clashes involving Iranian reformists are taking place throughout much of the country:
"Witnesses told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that police and Basij militia were out in force in Tehran and other cities, including Mashhad, Qom, Hamedan, and Najafabad and preventing protesters from congregating in large numbers. Other reports quoted witnesses as saying police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the demonstrators.

"The incidents come as Iran marks a Shi'ite religious festival, Ashura, commemorating the death of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.

"Its culmination on December 27 coincides with the seventh day since the death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of Iran’s most prominent dissidents and an outspoken critic of the government.

"An eyewitness from the western city of Najafabad, who didn’t want to give his name, told Radio Farda that a group of people chanted slogans supporting Montazeri as well as the opposition Green Movement and that there were 'a few clashes today in Najafabad with Basijis and security forces' and that the situation in Najafabad is now 'tense.'"

Much has justifiably been made of the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri a few days ago. Some of the coverage, however, focuses on a quest to identify a "new Montazeri" in ways that seem to me misguided. Montazeri has been a dissident cleric for years, and I see no evidence that he served as any sort of catalyst for the Green Movement as opposed to just supporting it, as do many ayatollahs of somewhat lesser stature. He was, I think, seen by reformists as more of a political martyr than someone they looked to for leadreship and guidance, though he could generate some ideas they found interesting.

If Montazeri did anything to catalyze demonstrations, it was to die during Ashura, and the latter is certainly critical for many of the protestors in this equation. I suspect Ayatollah Yusuf Ali Sane'i will become the new go-to guy for reformist clerical opinion, but he won't have Montazeri's history. The best candidate to take over Montazeri's symbolic role is actually Mousavi, if he gets arrested.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)



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