Update: Cross-posted with kind permission on Harry's Place.
Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri died yesterday (English, Farsi). I refrained from immediately posting about it, because I wanted to get my own opinions in order about what I really thought.
Now I've considered it, my own opinion can be very simply summed up that Montazeri lived and died as a reformist. Like all reformists, (Mousavi, Khatami, Karroubi, etc) his career started off in the darkest days of the Islamic Republic's brutal history. He stood by faithfully after 1982 whilst Khomeini dragged the country through six years of unnecessary war and remained as Khomeini's right hand man for 10 years. He watched impassively and saw the crimes that the insane Khalkhali inflicted upon countless innocents. He watched as Iran's educational system was thrown back to the Middle Ages during the Cultural Revolution. He remained steadfast with the Islamic Republic as Rafsanjani plundered the country's wealth and as Khamenei steadily and undemocratically rose through the country's political hierarchy. Eventually he fell out with Khomeini and was punished, but why did it take him a decade to start coming to his senses?!
Like all reformists he was loyal to the Islamic Republic, believing that it was capable of being reformed to achieve "Islamic democracy", and like all reformists he also had a pragmatic streak, which made him different from the principalist Ahmadinejad types. He could see that the Islamic Republic would rapidly disintegrate if it carried on down the brutal Khomeinist path, so in common with reformist ideology he believed it would be prudent to change certain superficial aspects of the Islamic Republic so as to keep public discontent at bay, but keep the main structure (i.e. the Constitution) largely the same. We can see this since not once did he press for a referendum on the future of the Islamic Republic, or call for the abolishment of the position of Supreme Leader, Guardian Council, IRGC, or all those other unelected bodies that rule Iran.
Many Iranians are mourning the death of Montazeri, since they see him as one of the few people to stand up to the hardline elements of the Islamic Republic. Various gatherings have been held here in London, but I did not attend. Whilst Montazeri is certainly a more favourable Ayatollah than the Khalkhalis, Khatamis and so forth, the fact remains that for a whole decade he actively nurtured the Islamic Republic. He may have felt sorrow at certain acts he committed, but at best this is simply a case of atonement...it doesn't make him a hero. The fact that he vehemently opposed Ahmadinejad and the fraudulent June 2009 election doesn't make him a saint, it simply makes him like all the other billions of human beings who are against fraud.
The real focus should be, as ever, on the Iranian people, who are bravely using any and every oppurtunity to fight for their rights, e.g. at Montazeri's funeral today, where they were chanting against Khamenei as the Supreme Leader's speech was read. The future of Iran and hopes for democracy lie with Iran's people who are willing to look beyond this regime, and towards the achievement of true democracy and real liberty.
Montazeri once said "The Islamic Republic is neither Islamic nor a Republic"....What he really should have said was that a Republic can't be Islamic.
Comments are most welcome