If You Daren’t Speak, Why Don’t You Emigrate?

• May 1st, 2010 • Category: Works By Soroush

With greetings to the distinguished scholars and elders of religious learning. I would like, if I may, to address a few words to you.


The anniversary of the Green Movement and the people’s Judgement Day is approaching, and the people have growing expectations of righteous clerics. The movement’s prisoners and martyrs have a message to convey to the knights of the showground of religion and learning:


We know that you, the poles and pillars of religion, are yourselves among the wronged victims of the Islamic Republic. Since this tyrannical State’s sins and crimes have also soiled your good names and religion’s pure countenance, we know that you are inwardly enraged and outwardly dejected; that you quell the searing fire within you with droplets of patience; that you bite your tongues and withdraw to this or that corner; that you pray that God will make things easier for you to bear; that you flee the admonishing glances and questions of your disciples and loved ones, who ask you why you promised them honey and delivered vinegar instead. We are in no doubt that, in your private moments, you remonstrate with God, saying: You gave us influence and authority—for which a thousand thanks—but why in these times and in these circumstances? When we can neither criticize nor engage in innovative thinking [ijtihad]. When we don’t even have a free hand in writing our religious treatises because we are hamstrung by the State’s fatwas and commands. When fiqh has lost all its credibility and integrity, and the seminaries have lost all their sanctity and independence. When hojjat ol-eslams are called ayatollahs and ayatollahs have become playthings in the hands of power.


And why shouldn’t you be aggrieved and dejected? Intimidated and oppressed, and occupying a position of grave responsibility, you try to keep heart and soul together as you see how religious tyranny has taken a stick to people’s faith and morality; has placed religion at the service of politics; and has left justice broken and meaningless. The economy’s belly is distended with religiously-forbidden deeds, religion’s countenance is distorted, the rivulet of culture is muddied, the air of politics is poisonous, the sky of freedom is grey, art’s eyes are weeping, learning’s heart is seething, honour is cheaply traded, and deceit, bribery, lies, sycophancy, jailing, banning, shaming, aggression, ignorance, superstition, lawlessness, terror, insults, toadying, duplicity, cheating and discrimination are the coins of the realm and brute force is the State’s prime power.


There is no justice left in the judiciary, nor thought and courage in the legislature, nor skill and talent in the government. And in the eloquent words of the leader of the pious: “The ignorant are honoured and raised up, while the learned are silenced.” (Nahj al-Balaghah)


We know that you, too, feel compassion for Iran’s good people, who remain ensnared in the clutches of the ogre of tyranny; who have no smile on their lips, no joy in their hearts, no bread on their tables, no learning in their books, no source of pleasure, no cure for their grief. What’s left for them other than a heavy heart and a tearful eye? The constabularies have robbed them of their smiles and the preachers have robbed them of their faith. The corrupt have left them no bread and the ignorant have torn up their books. They have nowhere to go for redress and justice. They are overburdened with duties and deficient in rights. Their leaders bellow night and day about the importance of justice, and lecture the world about benevolence and governance, but they themselves have filled the jails with the poor and the wretched, and infected the land with duplicity and lies. Murderers have no fear of being exposed and thieves can steal in full freedom. Any word of advice is said to be voiced by the enemy and any word of opposition is said to come from the devil. They seem to see themselves as the peacocks of the supernatural world and everyone else as the spies of the West. Vices are seen as virtues and virtues are seen as vices.


You, righteous clerics, can be the smiling face of Islam by acting against injustice and by conveying religion’s comforting message to the exhausted masses, so that they can see that you are always on the people’s side; that you plan to lay no snare for anyone under the guise of Islam; and that you have no personal ambitions.


The guardian’s lackeys and power’s eulogists are disdained by the Creator and disliked by His servants. But you, the custodians of religion and the heirs of the Tradition of the Lord of the Sent Ones, must abide by your oath to the Creator and His servants. For, this is what’s expected of you; nothing more and nothing less. And rest assured that neither Iran’s Islamism nor its independence hinge on the survival of this bunch of sham rulers, and that supporting these “tin pot Taliban” will neither please the nation nor bring honour to the clergy.


As if the rot and the tyranny were not enough, insolent, interfering Revolutionary Guards have been creating or crushing religious authorities at will. They have conferred religious authority on a “know-nothing”, who is a certified madman, so that he can eulogize the leader and liken him to a river in paradise. And, at the other extreme, in the early days after the current leader had taken up the post of guardianship and was putting on airs and graces as a religious authority, a true faqih who advised him against “issuing fatwas without knowledge” was made to pay for his courage with endless hardship. And all of then pulled your heads into your shells, grieved the lost sanctity of the faqihs and religious authorities, and opted for silence. Now, you must not allow your honour to be further sacrificed for the sake of the sinister whims of the Revolutionary Guards. You must not allow yourselves to be seen, unwittingly, as the supporters of religious tyranny.


The courageous ones in the realm of the greater jiahd have sharpened their tongues and attacked the usurper government. They have done the masses a service and gained felicity for themselves. Now, it is your turn, you who are silent and unhappy. The oppressed and the deprived expect much more from you than to sit silently, dejected and enraged; enduring the admonitions of the tyrants in public and remonstrating with the Crusher of Tyrants in private. Endlessly whispering “I seek refuge in God” and “there’s neither might nor strength but in God” will not get you anywhere. And entreaties and pleas have ceased to be effective. Your silence in the face of tyrants has made them more bellicose. Now that you neither have any say on anything nor dare oppose anything, the best thing for you to do is to emigrate. Embark on the lesser jihad. They may have barred you from speaking, but they haven’t barred you from leaving.


Granted; it is a difficult thing to do. But look past the hardship to the relief; think of the repose after the flight; think of the good and the deliverance of the masses, who look to you to see how you conduct yourselves. Respect and re-read the angels’ words of admonition to those who endure oppression. “And those the angels take, while still they are wrongdoing—the angels will say, ‘In what circumstances were you?’ They will say, ‘We were abased on the earth.’ The angels will say, ‘But was not God’s earth wide, so that you might have emigrated in it?’ (Al-Nisa, 97)


You must act or else, on Judgement Day, abased faqihs may incur God’s wrath, such that the way to contrition is barred to them and they are condemned to damnation.


Over the years, emigration—as a religious and Koranic recommendation, as a method of civil protest and as a way of escaping jail and shaming the jailers—has become a recognized element of the code of conduct of scholars of religion, and the emigration of the ulema from Iran to Iraq or from Iraq to Iran has been established as a laudable tradition over the past century. “The Shah’s colonels”, who watch over you, take your meek silence to mean consent and support. The loud cry of emigration will break the lock of your ambiguous silence and will cleanse you of the shameful suspicion of surrender.


After a brief period of stagnation and inactivity, Najaf’s Shi’i seminary is now returning to its thousand-year-old track record and is thinking of renewed splendour. Now, Najaf can liberate Qom. It can welcome any of the ulema who are living silently and in fear in Qom and Mashhad, and allow them to carry out their religious and historical mission fearlessly. Then, unafraid of religious tyranny’s army of lackeys, murderers and marauders, and the so-called nameless (shameless) soldiers of the Hidden Imam, the liberated ulema can recount the tale of Joseph caught in the clutches of the wolves. They can speak about both the badness of tyranny and the goodness of freedom. And they can experience practising religiosity in a free environment, with ample competition. And they can offer their innovative ideas [ijtihad] to those who are hungry for spirituality. And, of course, “Iraq and Najaf” are anywhere where the free-minded can live safely and speak freely.


Then, the only ones who will remain at home will be the guardianship’s lackeys, the court preachers, the servants of Satan, “the religious elders who are bereft of love” and the lowly beings who bow down, morning, noon and night, before the leader, who pray with their backs to the qiblah, who associate with the usurpers and plunge their hands into the blood of the usurped, and break their oath to God.


“… that God may distinguish the corrupt from the good, and place the corrupt one upon the other, and so heap  them up all together, and put them in hell.” (Al-Anfal, 37)


And the people, for their part, will be able to distinguish their servants from the traitors, to take back Solomon’s gemstone from the hands of the devils and to pull down the ogres from the thrones of the princes.


“Upon the day the evildoer shall bite his hand, saying, ‘Would that I had taken a way along with the Messenger! Alas, would that I had not taken such-and-such for a friend!’” (Al-Furqan, 27-28)


We know that power’s footmen, the guardianship’s lackeys and State broadcasting’s thought-engineers have deafened people’s ears and filled them with foreboding that if the canopy of the arbitrary rulers’ mastery ever collapses, Iran will be conquered by sin and immorality, on the one hand, and by foreigners and their agents, on the other. And that the world’s only Shi’i State will fall. But this is no more than an old lie and a worn-out trick.


The villainous system of despotism is itself the biggest immorality and sin, It is an evil tree which attracts a range of malevolent insects. It is only the joyous spring of rule by the people that will put the seal on this grim autumn of violence and vice.


Granted; the times seem to revolve around criminality and thieves and the unclean are lying in ambush. But let the ulema of Islam take courage and let them rest assured that Iranians’ nationalist pride, religious zeal, commitment to the good and love of their country will never allow this gemstone to be entrusted to evildoers; they will safeguard Iran for Iranians.


The story of a Shi’i State and the danger of its decline, too, is no more than a ruse and a fairy tale.  There is no resemblance whatsoever between this State and the conduct, tradition and religiosity of the Lord of the Just, Imam Ali. How can such a State claim to be modelled on Ali and his followers? Imam Ali said on numerous occasions that “a society in which the weak are unable to demand their right from the powerful without stuttering is an unclean society”. (Nahj al-Balaghah, Letter to Malekashtar). And, in all truth, the system of theocratic guardianship has produced nothing but an unclean society, in which the judiciary counts for nothing and butchers count for everything. Today, you pay with a life for any criticism. Critics are punished and eulogists are esteemed.


And, anyway, does a State’s legitimacy hang on it being called Shi’i or Sunni? Legitimacy has only one central pole and that is justice; everything else is secondary. In the words of the late Ayatollah Montazeri, may he rest in peace, the Islamic Republic of Iran is now neither Islamic nor a republic. Imagining it to be religious and Shi’i is a distortion of the truth and a great injustice to religion’s way.


And although the current system of theocratic guardianship and its irate brand of Islam have made most Iranians ashamed of being Muslims, the smiling, humane, justice- and learning-loving, superstition-combating face of religious intellectualism and pious clerics are so enchanting that no one would flee from them or choose infidelity over faith. Here, too, that late ayatollah’s words will serve as our credo: in the absence of religious tyranny, Iran will belong to all Iranians, all citizens will have equal rights, and anyone from any ethnic groups will rise and prosper based on merit.


Nor should you be afraid of “infidelity’s assault”. Believers have strong arguments. Human nature and history are on their side. Reason and cause are at their service. For four centuries now, the most biting and the most devastating attacks have been made and are being made on religion in the West, but the lights are still burning brightly in the churches, the wheels of religion continue to turn, thoughtful religiosity is thriving and learned books on exegesis and on the history and philosophy of religion are being published far more and far better than in Iran. Certainly, the clergy no longer runs the affairs of the State; nor do they pitch the canopy of the State on the pillar of religion. Religion has taken up its rightful place; not at the head of things and not at the bottom of things. To the extent that science, art, philosophy and modern criticism allow, people believe in and are committed to religion. Infidels persist in their infidelity and believers persist in their faith. And, ultimately, that which is lasting will endure and that which is ephemeral will disappear like foam on a wave.


The springtime of rule by the people and the autumn of arbitrary rule are our historical dispositions, and, tomorrow, when the people’s Judgement Day is entrenched, when the post-theocratic State arrives in full splendour, when the sun of rule by the people rises, when the crowns fall from the heads of the wicked, when we rejoice the crumbling of religious tyranny, when the victims of rot and tyranny place the chains on the feet of the chain-makers and expose the collusion between the piety peddlers and the proponents of theocratic guardianship, as well as the complicity between the triangle of the truncheon, lucre and the worry bead, then, the arbitrary rulers and their lackeys will hang their heads in shame.



And a postscript for the devout and the good-hearted:


The ruling usurpers have themselves infested our land with tyranny (which is the biggest of cardinal sins) and have tied the people’s hands and feet with the chain of injustice. Then, their wicked preachers have spread the idea that an earthquake is on the way and that the “low-cut blouses of attractive ladies” will gash the earth and produce tremors. And the piety peddlers have spread their wares and are seeking to milk this idea for all its worth. They can see the earthquake that is ripping asunder the pillars of theocratic guardianship but try to hide it; instead, they rant and rave about nature’s  tremors and people’s imaginary sins.


But history does not reveal any occasion on which the Prophet, peace be upon him, scared the people about possible earthquakes. Nor did he teach people a special prayer against earthquakes! Instead, religious narratives testify that what the Prophet did fear and what he wanted his followers to fear was “the mastery of merciless rulers”. And he hardly ever left a gathering without uttering the following prayer: “Dear God, put enough fear in our hearts that we refrain from sin… And do not allow people who have no mercy to gain mastery over us”. In other words, in the inward-seeing eyes of this great teacher of piety and monotheism, the domination of oppressors was a hundred times more frightening than an earthquake. And, in fact, if we should pray to God for anything, it is precisely for the fall of our merciless rulers; rulers who have put the Mongols and the Taliban to shame with their killings, usurpation, rape, pillage, plunder, cheating, duplicity, calumny, torture and hangings.


Let all worshippers and everyone who prays—wherever they may be—let loose the arrows of their prayers and, in proud obedience to the noble Prophet, engrave these words on their hearts and on their tongues. And, openly or in secret, in the daytime or at night, at home or in the streets, in their prayers and entreaties, in any dialect or language, ask most merciful God to rid our poor nation of mean and merciless rulers and to bring back joy to people’s tearful eyes and grieving hearts.


Poets, artists and calligraphers, too, must use their skills and inscribe these blessed words on canvases and pages, on walls and on fences, in the media and on computers, with embellishments and adornments, to gladden the hearts of the oppressed and to demoralize the oppressors.

May 2010

Abdulkarim Soroush


Translated from the Persian by Nilou Mobasser


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