You Have Turned Iran into a Grim Land

• Dec 22nd, 2011 • Category: Works By Soroush
A letter from Soroush to Khamenei

Mohammad Nourizad, the brave and free-minded artist, who has opened the way to critical admonitions and admonitory criticism, has invited writers and thinkers to join him; to perform their duty of enjoining virtue and opposing vice; and to do their share in reinforcing the criticism in the hope that these faint, critical calls will turn into a bellow that might pierce an eardrum and a conscience, and help an aggrieved people.

Mr Seyyed Ali Khamenei, leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The present author has, on a number of occasions, addressed you indignantly; reprimanded and condemned you; and painted a grim picture of your deeds. But he now wishes to suppress his anger; to let his pen take a different course; and to address you in the spirit of moral advice and guidance. And although he can most assuredly see the end of your ephemeral rule, he wishes to show you how you can come to a better end if you use the broom of fairness to sweep the injustice out of your house of power; ask God and the people for forgiveness; release justice and freedom from their chains; free tyranny’s prisoners and imprison tyranny (which is the greatest of all reprehensible deeds); restore wisdom to statesmanship; apply the accepted rules to the game of politics; cut the garb of leadership down to size; and devote your remaining days as leader to repentance and remedies so that you can face God on Judgment Day.

I know that I am not trying anything that hasn’t been tried before and that my only reward may be further remonstrations. But I believe that you must risk censure if you want to embrace the cause. There are benefits in speaking that there aren’t in holding one’s tongue; viz. performing one’s duty; informing the masses; absolution from blame; stirring the hearer’s conscience; opening the way to free-mindedness; breaking the lock of sorrow and servitude; and being remembered well in history. So I fear neither penalties nor potentates.

Rafsanjani, Khatami, Ahmadinejad

This is not the first time I have tried to speak gently to you. Years ago, when I wrote an essay that was critical of the clergy and asked why the clergy had laid the canopy of their livelihoods on the pillar of religion, I aroused your displeasure. In a speech, you found fault with my essay and when I responded in the politest and most modest way in Kiyan; bore your displeasure with equanimity; and welcomed the start of a dialogue with you, you addressed me with such haughtiness in a subsequent speech and so angrily slammed shut the scarcely-opened door to dialogue it was as if you wished to break my teeth and ribs, and wanted to make it clear that me and my like should know that we were out of your league.

It was thereafter that the Intelligence Ministry set out to frighten me. On the pretext that “You have even made the master cry out”, they put pressure on me and insulted me. They imposed all manner of restrictions on me and directed at me their “naked power”, which came out of the sleeves of the Ansar-e Hezbollah zealots. They said openly that “the lads will tear you to pieces and set you on fire”. And of course their brazen conduct continues to this day. A while back, they summoned my son, whose only crime is that he is my son, and threatened to kill him. They told him to prepare himself for martyrdom because “the Israelis might do you in and blame it on the Iranian state”.

It hardly needs saying that they eventually prohibited me from teaching; then, from speaking; and then from leaving the country. I was dismissed from the university, beaten up in Tehran, Qom, Mashhad, Esfahan, Khorramabad, etc. This was all of the nature of “gentle violence”, which was so gentle as to merit no complaint! My aggrieved letters to Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with a wall of silence. From then on, I swallowed my tongue and steered clear of the perils of expressing my views. This was all during the bone-chilling winter of asphyxiation. When Khatami came, I hoped that the time had come for dialogue, liberty and civility.

Khatami was president for eight years and we did not see each other once. He was afraid of tricksters’ tricks and sneerers’ sneers. He went to Qom. He went everywhere. But he never visited the most senior cleric and most learned faqih, Ayatollah Montazeri, may he rest in peace. Khatami was so fettered by caution as to become removed from friends. Be that as it may, I wrote him frank, open letters, with bold criticisms. I warned him against cultural bosses who were as culturally-minded as Genghis Khan. I said: “What we know as Iran, what we know as faith, what we know as human dignity, what we know as reason and ratiocination, what we know as love and mysticism – all of these things – are being pillaged and ravaged. Where is the lion who can challenge this affliction fearlessly?”

He did not respond, but at least he was gracious enough to spare me warped answers. So I cheered myself with the following thought: If we have a high and mighty leader who refuses to speak to the people under his feet, we also have a president who is able to hear criticism without flying into a rage; who is open to “the rites of dialogue”; who teaches young people that criticizing statesman is both possible and desirable. Alas, he ultimately served as the leader’s shield and went so far in breaching his covenant with the people that “I abandoned my purpose that so clashed with the purpose of a friend”.

When Ahmadinejad took Khatami’s place, I was not even tempted by the futile idea of writing to him or sharing my thoughts with him. Certainly, the times were hard and injustice and incivility were all the rage, but what use is there in writing to an injudicious administrator and a government that is so bent on spreading superstition and inanity as to extract wealth from oil wells in order to pour it into the wells of Jamkaran? A government that steers the small boat of its naïve delusions this way and that in the sea of international dangers using the leader’s approval as its oar. A government that, armed with illusions about imminent victory and the return of the saviour, pokes its fingers into the bloodshot eyes of the world’s warmongers without ever fearing bringing ruin on Iran.

Expansion of Prophetic Experience

Time was passing and I was preparing myself for criticizing and admonishing the leader, but then I ran into the repugnant commotions and excommunications that arose over my ideas about “the Prophet and revelation”. I decided to hold back and not to allow the nectar of advice to be contaminated with the poison of politics. There seemed to be no point in stepping on the leader’s toes immediately after I had stepped on the clergy’s. I responded to any criticism that was based on learning, tried to appease any sincere concerns and explained the truth about God’s speaking, which is the same thing as Muhammad’s speaking. When the dust had settled on these disputes, the glimmerings of an election flashed on the horizon, drawing people’s eyes and captivating their hearts. Hopes were revived and spirits were rejuvenated. Everyone bestirred themselves and said: We must try our luck and vote to lift up justice to the throne. No one knew what was happening behind the scenes, what seditions were afoot and how quickly tyranny’s sharp horn would gouge and blind justice’s eyes. When the results were announced, it became clear that they had betrayed the voters’ trust; had re-seated the ogre back on the throne; sent a fraudulent groom to the chamber of state; stolen a precious treasure; and trampled over people’s decency. Fortunately, the people demonstrated their outrage and did not allow the thieves to enjoy their thievery in peace.

Green Movement

The people rejoiced to see religious tyranny crumbling. And wind and fire set about tearing down tyranny’s canopy and burning the roots of injustice. But the mercenaries and villains received their orders to take wickedness, rape and pillage to new heights and to plant the banner of villainy on the summit of barbarity. Many protesters were sent to their graves and many more were incarcerated. But the Green Movement did not subside and they realized that bullets would not solve their problem. They opted for a different approach. Day after day, on this pretext or that, the leader began receiving various groups of people in a show of amity. Even poets who were in the pay of the state were not spared this show of affection. It was hoped that in this way the protest movement could be forgotten. But the chants of the wronged people showed that they were far too intelligent to be so easily charmed. Their cries of “Death to the Dictator” showed they would be satisfied with nothing less than the crumbling of religious tyranny and the death of the dictator.

It was in the midst of all this iniquity and at one of the gatherings at which the leader was trying to display a mixture of kindness and sternness that a brave young man (Mahmoud Vahidnia) stepped forward and asked you to be open to criticism. In response, you said coldly and drily: “Yes, we are not opposed to criticism.” That was all. It was clear that the leader’s limited vocabulary contained little by way of a definition and explanation of this concept, and that a mind that had become so accustomed to praise from eulogists and courtiers did not wish to allow in such a ruinous notion.

It was clear and became ever clearer that the leader had other things in mind; that he was neither keen to listen to criticism nor eager to encourage critics; and that the reprehensible traits of a tyrant had become so ingrained in his disposition as to make receptiveness to criticism anathema. How can one tell the tale of the events that followed without make one’s pen weep? You flooded the movement’s Green meadow with the redness of our young people’s blood; you jailed the sun and the moon; and you put fetters on those two brave lions [Musavi and Karrubi] and locked them up in blacked-out houses for fear that they might light the way to freedom. In this way, you hoped to quell the movement and to make an awakened nation go to sleep. And now you boast that, with the assistance of the Lord of the Age, you have locked up the seditionists, disappointed ill-wishers and brought the unrest to an end. Some of our land’s most worthy sons and daughters are being tortured in your dungeons. They are being made to pay for their quest for goodness and justice. They are being forced to endure the foulness and evilness of your debased flunkies so that the halo of your leadership is not dented.

Suffice it to say that you have created a situation in which the slightest reform will amount to a revolution, whereas intelligence and skill demanded instead that you make the administration strong and forbearing enough–as in any democracy–as to enable it to turn even revolutionary moves into reforms.

Was it not out of a dearth of acuity and because of a talent for misrule that you first embraced a duplicitous liar like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and described him as the pinnacle of competence only to order assaults on him as soon as you decided he was not entirely obedient?

Let me simply say that after reading Nourizad’s luminous letters, I embarked on a search on your news website. In one of your speeches, I had the good fortunate to find the following rare phrase which, in the current grim climate, I will try to assume was heartfelt: “Of course, the authorities must not be treated with enmity, but this is not to say that officials, including the leader, should never be criticized; for, it is possible to combine criticism with kindness and friendship.” (9 October 2007)

“Let any leader discipline himself before disciplining others”

I will now use your own meagre phrase to push my pen onwards; for, my truth-telling is no impudence and speaking out is my manifest right.

Years ago, I saw that, in the chamber where you receive visitors, you had placed an inscription bearing the following words from Imam Ali: “Let any leader discipline himself before disciplining others; for, teaching oneself earns more respect than teaching others.”

Now, I want to help you in this laudable endeavour. Believe me, I commiserate with you when I think of how hard it must be for you to emerge unscathed from the whirlpool of mindless adulation with which you have surrounded yourself. How can someone so deeply ensconced in the featherbed of eulogy endure the stiff plank of criticism?

I also feel compassion for subjects, such as Nourizad and myself, when I think of the amount of hardship and devilry we have had to endure before arriving at this point where we view your reluctantly-uttered listless words as a blessing from heaven and clutch at them in the hope that they might offer us some protection from your perilous wrath.

How strange! What has happened to the preacher from Mashhad as to make him so deaf to anyone else’s preaching? What has the magic of absolute dominion whispered in his ear as to make it impossible for him to hear anything?

You have said repeatedly in your speeches to dignitaries and officials and, especially, to ambassadors, attaches and preachers, “Take the message of Islam everywhere. We have a great deal to say to the world.” But do you not realize that words that are uttered in a vacuum, without any opportunity for criticism, are not worth uttering and will not endure? How can you and your allies who always speak one-sidedly, without listening to others, either face-to-face or from afar–and without even considering others worthy of listening to–have anything left to say? For four hundred years now, the world has been testing the theory of free criticism and the practice of criticizing freely, and benefiting from their blessings. Now, what can you possibly have to say to the world; you, who have refused to hear the message of the past four hundred years and still consider your untested, never-criticized words to be the cure for all the world’s ills?

It would even be cause for gratitude if you merely refused to listen to criticism without doing your utmost to crush the critics.

When it comes to accountability and openness to criticism, your record is far from brilliant. What example have you set for our young people? On what basis should they pay heed to your counsels? In the early days of your leadership, when you were trying to present yourself as a senior cleric, a brave faqih told you knowledgeably and sincerely that you should opt for modesty and not pretend to be a master of Islamic jurisprudence. The thunderbolt of your wrath crashed down upon his head so hard that every other senior cleric pulled his head into his shell and fearfully crept into some silent corner. What your lackeys did to that learned cleric and follower of the Prophet’s kin, the opponents of Ali never did to him and his kin. When such a small drop of resistance makes your tiny cup of tolerance flow over how will it be able to contain the relentless flood of criticism?

Of course, in the midst of all this, a cunning faqih wrote a dissertation on your absolute dominion. And you generously rewarded him with the post of head of the judiciary.

“Are you afraid of losing the power of life and death over everyone?”

I will not speak about Saeedi-Sirjani, the writer, who was entrusted to “Saeed [Emami/Eslami]”, the henchman; was made to bear what no one should have to bear; and did not come out alive. Alas, many others have been similarly done away with or mistreated: the Forouhars, Puyandeh, Sohrabi, Tafazzoli, Zeidabadi and Ahmad Qabel to name but a few. And never did we hear any explanation or any plea for forgiveness from you.

Why do you treat your critics and opponents in this way? Are you afraid that your absolute power may be curtailed? Are they saying anything more than that you must play the game of politics according to its rules and that you must cut the garb of leadership down to the appropriate size? Are you afraid of losing the power of life and death over everyone? After all the times you have invited people to observe piety, can you never invite them to criticize?  Criticism is the piety of politics and, without any demands or criticism, piety is a hollow drum. Did Ali not say to his people: “Do not hesitate to counsel me and to apprise me of the truth; for, no self is beyond error.”

Why do you spend so many evenings listening to and fostering courtier poets? Do you ever allow a Hāfez into their midst? Have you even left the country any poets with Hāfez’s trenchancy?  Dull, verbose and unfeeling wordsmiths are never hard to find. But Hāfez had the courage to criticize the sanctimonious and duplicitous faqihs and Sufis, the corrupt officials, the bloated moneyed men and the heartless constables of the religious society of his time. He did not pen odes about roses and tulips or well-shaped eyebrows, well-placed moles, bewitching eyes and flowing tresses.

You must allow our society to foster its own sharp-witted Hāfezs, who can criticize and expose duplicity, even if they stand up to you and say: “You may strut and you may sneer, but self-satisfied leaders never please.”

You say, “The Assembly of Experts is at hand and its members convey to me what I need to hear,”, but they are your obedient servants, not your sincere critics.

And why do you use religiosity as an excuse for violence? You say, “Islam has lashes too,” but does it have nothing else? Was Islam’s honey so unpopular as to make you reduce it to vinegar? I know that you are fond of Hāfez. So, put your fondness into practice and reap the benefits. Create a society that Hāfez would have approved of, with frank, smiling people. Look at your overfed cronies and see how they have immersed the country in grief, superstition and affectation. They have robbed the smiles from people’s lips, emptied their minds of learning and stolen courage from their hearts. They sell pretentiousness and buy obsequiousness. They teach the people to be servile and sorrowful. They promote imitation and artifice.

State radio and television, too, abets their affectations, tricks and hyperbole, and disseminates ignorance, sycophancy, pomposity, verbosity, toadying and calumny. The nation waits in vain to hear a word about tolerance and magnanimity; to be given the opportunity to air their demands and criticisms; to have a platform for raising questions and holding the authorities to account. In the meantime, radio and television serve up servility and remove courage. They promote slander and spread lies. They have nothing to say against violence, but in freedom they find a thousand faults. They never shy away from destroying reputations, but are too shy to let a strand of a woman’s hair show.

Take pity on us subjects  and replace these toadies with broadcasters who dare to speak harshly to you but are kind to the people; who address you coldly but are warm to the people.

Sit high enough so that the blade of your powers does not slit the robes of the three branches of power, but not so high as to make you deaf to the cries of the wronged and the voices of critics. You have been endowed with the art of speech-making to enable you to tell the truth and you have been robbed of the use of your hand to prevent you from transgressing and overreaching.

Do not turn the legislature and the judiciary into your servants. Do not force them to tailor their judgments to your whims. The judiciary has to be able to stand up to the leader and to hold him to account for his misdeeds.

With such a wretched parliament and judiciary, how can anyone expect justice and rule by the people? And which of the nation’s many problems will elections solve? Have you appointed the paradigms of might, mammon and duplicity–viz., the three Larijani brothers–in the hope that they will divest you of any need for justice, laws and human rights? Rid the nation of his unholy trinity and strive for honesty without fear. Wipe the dirt of wretchedness from the visage of the judiciary and the law, and dismount the steed of elections so that the people can take its reins.

Theory of ‘dominion of the faqih’ has no validity

The dominion of the faqih [the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ruling system] clearly has no validity, either religiously or rationally, and many faqihs and thinkers oppose it. But even as it stands, it means political–not spiritual–dominion, and it amounts to nothing more than rule by a faqih. Try, for once, to state this clearly. On my honour, you will suffer no harm. Allow those who are unacquainted with this theory to understand that your “dominion” is not spiritual and sacrosanct. Take the initiative and pull down the shutters on this fallacy yourself. Do not coat political leadership in a celestial gloss. Tell state radio and television, which operate under your command, to speak henceforth of rule by a faqih, not of the dominion of a faqih, so that no pious person needs, hereafter, to try to dissolve themselves in your dominion, to kiss the ground beneath your feet or to fear for their conscience and faith whenever they think that you have made a mistake. Undo this great fallacy in people’s minds so that they can better understand what has befallen them, whether by force of history, by misfortune or by a misguided choice.

If your words carry any force, it is only in the realm of politics, not in the realm of knowledge. Why, then, do you feel that you have to deliver speeches on every subject and try to teach lessons to everyone, whether they be faqihs, philosophers, scholars, officials, economists, artists, students, clerics, poets, filmmakers or absolutely anything else? Not considering oneself perfect is a kind of perfection. Do you not agree?

Most astounding of all are your inappropriate pronouncements on the human sciences which display poverty of knowledge and impiety of thought.

Piety in politics which is criticism, piety in thought which is silence and piety in action which is tolerance are lacking from your words, deeds and thoughts. In politics, you sit above criticism; in your speeches, you talk about more than you know; and, in your actions, you demand submission and servility from your rivals.

“Tyranny is bad by its very essence”

I ask myself wherein the difference between you and I lies. We are both Iranians and Muslims. We both claim to follow the dear Prophet of Islam. And we consider the betrayal of our homeland and the killing of living things to be the gravest of sins. It did not take much thought for me to realize that our deep difference lies in the fact that I believe that tyranny is bad by its very essence, whereas you believe that tyranny is fine as long as it is at the service of religion and that tyranny can be combined with religiosity. All your actions as ruler testify to this view. (I will not speak about the temptations of wealth and power, and I will not question your motives here; nor will I bring into consideration your conception of religion which harks back to Sayyid Qutb.) It is not surprising then that you have no qualms about jeopardizing a person’s life, property and reputation with your words (and I have been a victim of this tyrannical form of utilitarianism myself and there have been many, many more like me); interfering in and tampering with elections; belittling parliament when it is holding important debates; depriving groups and parties of the freedom of assembly; attacking newspapers in the name of countering the West’s cultural invasion; punishing and incarcerating opponents with complete disregard for the judiciary; being incapable of even keeping faith with dervishes “who keep faith and endure hardship with good cheer”; not allowing anyone to criticize you; bringing the Revolutionary Guards into the political arena and the economy; bridling radio and television; creating a security-military atmosphere in universities and in the realm of culture; bringing seminaries, mosques and pulpits under state control; crushing critics even when they are senior clerics who have many followers; unleashing your powers of brute force in the streets and in people’s houses; placing the Ansar-e Hezbollah zealots above the law and granting them judicial immunity; etc. etc.

“A country is not a garrison”

Just think! If this land is confronted with a crisis and becomes the target of foreign greed, what miracle do you expect wretched parliamentarians, wronged academics, stifled and heart-broken writers, silenced thinkers, intimidated and enfeebled parties, yes-men, ineffectual officials, mendacious media, affronted clerics, impoverished labourers and corrupt upstarts to be able to perform?

You say, “The Revolutionary Guards are at hand.” Yes, any king would envy you your guards and troops. But a country is not a garrison and it cannot be run by brute force alone. Where is the goodness and skill in following the Syrian or Libyan model; entrusting the country to security, military and extra-judicial forces; and surrounding yourself with troops in the hope of reaping victory by sowing fear?

Believe me, tyranny is bad by its very essence and it cannot be combined with religion. Its evil is greater than any other evil. Drive away this vice with virtue, not with further vice! “Repel thou the evil with that which is fairer.” (Al-Mu’minun, 96) Submit to criticism; for, this is how you can frustrate enemies.

Criticism of the leader is the first step towards national reconciliation, strength and humility. It marks the start of civic life and modernity. It is a way of practising courage and free-mindedness, and driving away sycophancy and servitude. Why do you persist in depriving us subjects of something that will bring you such blessings?


Astute people know and are certain that all the suffering, all the chains, all the pillaging and rapes exist and occur with your knowledge and consent. Hence, the sin is your; for, who would have dared do all these things without a nod from the sultan? There have been numerous accounts of the wickedness and injustices of your henchmen.  Can you shoulder the retribution for all these crimes? If all that is good in the land is the product of your wise and prophet-like leadership, is all the ugliness not your doing too? Absolute power brings absolute responsibility.


A grim land


Historians have written that Agha Mohammad-Khan Qajar not only played music and diligently performed Ashura pilgrimages, but also beheaded and gouged people’s eyes out himself. Why must you behave in such a way as to bring him to mind? Was it from the fiqh of the Safavi era that you learned to behave so cruelly and to create such a grim land? Try combining that fiqh with morality and showing respect for people’s lives and reputations. Your prisons tell the tale of a bloodthirsty god, who is unconcerned about murder and rape, and easily degrades his servants. Turn away from this god and towards a god who is compassionate and put an end to all these crimes.


You can see that I am citing Al-Ghazali, Saadi and old advice to kings, and appealing to the sultan to show justice and compassion to his subjects. And is it any surprise? Our system has no affinity with rule by the people and the people are not viewed as citizens who have rights. Instead, we still have a sultan and his subjects.


Instead of being hurt by the words of quick-witted enemies, you should be hurt by the words of friends who deceive you by not telling you your faults.


I am not your quick-witted enemy. But I am your audacious critic. And I see many faults in your conduct. If I were to list them all here, my letter would become a heavy tome. In penning this risky missive, I am buying myself humble dignity and contentment, and hoping for blessings and a good name. Truth beckons me to this dangerous endeavour of offering you the bitter medicine of criticism instead of the sugary syrup of praise.


Take pity on the angelic subjects who are still in the clutches of the ogre of tyranny. They have no smiles on their lips, no faith in their hearts, no bread on their tables, no learning in their books, no opportunity for pleasure and no cure for their sorrows. Constables have robbed them of their smiles and officialdom-minded preachers have robbed them of their faith. And know-nothings have torn up their books of learning. They see no glimpse of justice or freedom. They are weighed down by duties and bereft of rights. Their leaders deliver unending declamations on the subject of justice and profess to teach the world about compassion and kindness, but these same leaders have filled the country’s prisons with cruelty and infected society with mendacity and duplicity. They teach people servility and drape them in the fetters of servitude. They are never slow in finding fault with others, but are quick to fault any criticism of themselves. They use God and religiosity as a shield for their incompetence and present themselves as God’s chosen tribe. To them, any counsel is an enemy voice and any opposition is the devil’s call. They are fearless killers of decency and cunning robbers of liberty.


Take pity on the land’s fettered servants, who are prisoners of your dominion like sorrowful slaves and so they will remain until the locks and chains of their slavery and sorrow are broken, and the light of courage and joy flashes in their tear-filled eyes.

Oh God! Who in the world will hear our plaint that a people who sacrificed their lives, their children and their livelihoods were not allowed to protest or criticize, and were imprisoned and tortured if they ever made any demands? Who can we tell that a hard-hearted man even answered the most senior clerics with sticks and stones, and declared war on all his critics?

Let your stateliness crack


My serious proposition to you is that you should take your own statement seriously. Now that you speak of criticism, do not back down halfway; take it all the way. Open yourself up to criticism so that your subjects can testify to your sincerity and benefit from its blessings. What are you afraid of? That your grandeur and stateliness may crack? And where is the harm in that? A thousand blessings will emerge from the crack: safety for the homeland, felicity for your subjects, the elevation of culture, a good name for you, the breaking of the curse of servitude, the blossoming of courage, the righting of deviations and crookedness, the correction of mistakes to name but a few. What more could you hope for?


Take a leaf out of Rumi’s book and be the smiling face of Islam. Do not allow your name to appear alongside the founders and proponents of the fascistic reading of Islam.


All I hope to achieve with this well-meant missive is to nudge open the door to criticism. Otherwise, a hundred such letters would not suffice to say all that needs to be said. I will leave it to others to come along and ask you why our homeland is so deformed; why is the brook of culture so sullied; why is the sky of freedom so overcast; why is religion’s visage so stony; why has justice’s back been broken; why are art’s eyes tearful; why is learning’s heart so fretful; why are lives and reputations so cheap; why are the propagators of the ‘Neither East, nor West’ slogan so determined to build another Soviet Union; why is the climate of politics so deadly; why is the economy’s belly so distended with ill-gotten gains; why is the ship of the revolution veering this way and that; and why is a secular Turkey more appealing than a religious Iran?


“Taste the violence of criticism; it brings many benefits”


I could have sent this letter secretly, but I considered it more appropriate to speak openly and to tell officialdom loudly and clearly that “the Sufis are drunk”. I will swallow my rage as best I can and, despite my anxiety about Iran’s future and the devastating incompetence that is destroying our land, I will hold back my pen and I will not mingle truth-telling with harsh words. I will address you without fury. I will speak softly in order to warm a heart to my counsels and to rescue a sultan from misrule.


Whether leadership is your right or not, criticizing the leader is unquestionably the people’s right and listening to their criticism is your duty, and in the open, not in secret.


You have, on countless occasions, received hordes and multitudes to confirm your dominion; just once, let someone come and criticize you. You have eulogists by the hundreds in state-controlled media; now, tolerate just one critic. No, do not only tolerate, but encourage them to tell you your faults openly. You will suffer no loss. Taste the violence of criticism; it brings many benefits. Allow universities to function properly as places of learning. Do not allow unholy thugs to break the bones and teeth of university students and to gouge their eyes out. Do not send a dagger into battle with reasoning. Let ideas fight ideas. Do not fear that young people’s faith will diminish. Tyrants, not critics, are faith’s worst enemies. Look at the West! For three centuries, religion has been and continues to be the target of the most biting and pounding opposition, but knowledge-oriented religiosity has continued to thrive. Churches’ lights are lit. Thoughtful books on theology and the history and philosophy of religion are published in greater numbers and better than in Iran. In the end, enduring things will last and passing things will disappear like foam on a wave.


Do not treat society like an infant. Do not silence it with the pacifier of your dominion. Do not play god, let God in instead! Wherever there is justice, creativity, compassion and free-mindedness, there, God is too. The God that we know and worship has these traits. Fill society with justice, compassion and creativity; it will become godly. Do not gladden yourself with pretence and superficialities. Do not sell truth for representation.


“Take the step over the threshold”


You and I will become distant memories, but these letters will remain for all eternity; like a window towards the future and like a mirror reflecting your rule and your leadership for future generations to see.


Take the step over the threshold and, as a first step, allow everyone to read this letter, and with ease of mind, not with anxiety; in newspapers, not in clandestine tracts; in the open, not in secret. Begin a two-way communication with your subjects, answer them openly and defend ‘your religious tyranny’. Read the letter to the people yourself; otherwise, the people will read it over you. Do not worry about the number of such letters and the amount of criticism. If justice grows, the number of letters will decrease. Even if it does not, if you have a clear conscience, what is there to fear? The minimum respect due to your subjects is that their words be heard and assessed. Keep this door open for it leads to a hundred openings. Appreciate these writers who demand no payment and, before destiny delivers its slap, digest all the freely-offered criticism.


It is no credit to you or to the Islamic Republic for those who give you counsel to be unsafe. But if, by the thunderbolt of zeal or the propulsion of interests, your functionaries in the courts are nudged into locking up these writers, ask them not to cook up other charges for them; not to find other labels for the crime they have not even committed; not to stich them up in spies’ garments; and not to question their morality and family ties. Do not have their relatives tormented. Do not have their spouses and children taken to your dungeons. Do not make them sit next to dead bodies in freezing morgues, and spare them rape and humiliation. You crush the valour of youth by sending its bearers into early graves. Would you like your own children treated in this way?


Let me conclude by appealing again to the caring words of Saadi, who gave the sultan the following counsel like a good subject: “A king who takes care of his subjects deserves the poll tax like a good shepherd deserves his wages / But woe unto him if he fails to protect his people and taxes Muslims as if they were infidels.”


“Say: Obey God and obey the Messenger; then, if you turn away, only upon him rests what is laid on him, and upon you rests what is laid on you.” (Al-Nur, 54)


“This is a Message to be delivered to mankind that they may be warned by it, and that they may know that He is One God, and that all possessed of minds may remember.” (Ibrahim, 52)


Abdulkarim Soroush

22 December 2011


Translated from the Persian by Nilou Mobasser


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