Khatami: Heretic?

Mohammed Khatami has openly criticized the Guardian Council in Iran for ejecting over 1700 candidates from upcoming Parliamentary elections. The former president went farther than his usual criticisms of hard-liners in saying that the mullahs acted against the interests of Islam, and declaring that the Iranian people had a right to change the regime if they saw fit. This goes beyond the normal safety-valve “reformist” talk:

Former President Mohammad Khatami has sharply criticized Iran’s hard-liners for barring many reformists from running in parliament elections, saying they were misusing Islam.

The Guardian Council, a body of hard-line clerics and jurists tasked with vetting candidates, has barred more than 1,700 candidates — most of them reformists — from running in Friday’s election on vague charges of not being sufficiently loyal to Islam and the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Khatami, a reformist himself, told a large gathering of supporters in southern Tehran late Tuesday that “honest individuals” who were disqualified “are portrayed as deviant and supporters of America. This is deplorable. Worse is that it is done in the name of Islam,” according to the speech posted on his Web site. …

“People want freedom. The most important manifestation of freedom is the exercise of their sovereign right to determine their own destiny,” Khatami said. “Freedom means people be allowed to question the ruling system and change it without use of force if the establishment doesn’t respond to their demands.”

Khatami has often been called a “reformer”, but he has been as much of a member of the ruling clique as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  The ruling mullahs put Khatami in power to address their foreign- and domestic-policy goals at the time, and they booted him when those goals changed.  He serves as an approved symbol of reform — someone who can act as a rallying point for the disaffected but who will not challenge the standing of the ruling mullahcracy.

Either Khatami may have tired of that role or he doesn’t understand the power of these words.  His definition of freedom sounds very much like that of America’s founding fathers, who built that very concept into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  The “sovereign right of the people” form the legitimacy of any government, as Khatami notes, but that flies in the face of shari’a and the Iranian mullahcracy. In fact, it constitutes a form of heresy in Islam, where Allah is sovereign and mullahs rule in his name.  The “people” have no sovereign rights in Islamic theocracies.

Did Khatami mean to undermine the very concept that has legitimized the Iranian theocracy, or did his rhetoric simply get the better of him?   It’s hard to say, but it would be a mistake to assume a break from the mullahs without more evidence than this.  However, it may not take an actual break for these words to have an effect on the Iranian population.  Just having them spoken by a legitimate national leader could bolster an already passionate democratization movement, and Khatami may find himself an unwilling catalyst for massive change.