By Majid Mohammadi
Translated by ISICRC staff
During the year and a half that I worked at the Strategic Research Center in Iran, I was head of an extensive project studying the behaviorology of the various social strata in Iran. This project was set up to investigate the behavior of workers, academics, merchants, military personnel, farmers, clerics, bureaucrats, teachers, and various other social groupings.
Implementing this sort of scientific study is important. The project, however, was not completed, because the first reports from researchers, during in the early 1990s, stated that the Shi’a clergy were losing credibility and trust. Meanwhile, other groups, such as teachers and workers, were gaining in credibility.
In the late ‘90s, several polls were conducted, and in one of them, the regime leader, Ali Khamenei, had the lowest approval rating of anyone, only a 3 percent popularity rating.
In the 2000s and 2010s, with the increasing corruption within the regime, and their continued repression of the people, this lack of trust gradually turned into disgust. People did not simply distance themselves from the clerics, but began to regard them as the source of their misery and hardships. They saw the clerics disrupting the people’s everyday lives, holding special privileges, and as the prime factor contributing to Iran’s problems with foreign countries.
This trend continued into the late 2010s. Now, we see Iranians killing, beating, and confronting clerics, daily. Over the last four decades, the Shi’a clergy sold away the whatever trust they had from Iranian society for power and money.
Disinterest or hatred?
Although no research has been done on how Iranians perceive various social groups during the 2010s, it can be said with certainty that the Shi’a clergy are currently the most hated people in Iran. Here are a few examples proving this:
1) Jafar Shojooni, head of the Tehran Preachers Association, said, “Today, the clergy are constantly cursed at, everywhere they go” (December 2011). Mohsen Ghara’ati, head of the Nationwide Prayer Organization, said: “Many members of the new generation are not as interested in us as the previous generation used to be” Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi has spoken repeatedly on the lack of a social base for clerics among academics. Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, the minister of the interior in Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s cabinet, said: “When I walk on the streets, sometimes there are those who come to me and despise me, only because I am a cleric. They don’t even know me; they only treat me disrespectfully because I am a mullah”
2) On the Internet, there are a huge number of film clips of Shi’a clerics’ speeches and behaviors, showing their ignorance and backwardness. While it is common across cultures for people to make jokes about groups such as lawyers or government officials, in Iran, it is the clergy who are most often lampooned.
3) The Shi’a clerics are usually satirized as dunces. Since the advent of the Islamic Revolution jokes have been told though not as widely as they are today. No other social group has been the target of so many critical and pointed jokes in contemporary Iran.
4) Even religious websites have reported that people are distancing themselves from the clergy, for reasons such as the clerics’ lack of presence in the community, their lack of clarity on economic issues, and the lack of transparency in their activities. These reports also mention the street violence and attacks against clerics. The hatred that Iranians feel towards the clergy is real, and is the result of the clerics’ policies and actions. Hatred solves no problems, but societal elites cannot ignore it and sweep it under the rug.
The main reasons for the hatred
Corruption, deceit (justified by Taqiyah, the Shi’a belief of telling lies when necessary), fraud, their superstitions, misogyny, uncivilized behavior, parasitic life, and brainwashing have all been cited as reasons for why Iranians hate the Shi’a clergy, but the main reason is because of what the clergy have done to Iran over the past four decades.
The Shi’a clerics took a country that was respected internationally, developing, expanding with modern science, advancing in line with contemporary civilization; and turned it into a ruin, isolated from the rest of the world, infamous as a terrorist state and proliferator of weapons of mass destruction, infected with institutional corruption, inefficiency, warmongering, a source of instability in the region, sponsor of one of the most nefarious butchers in the world (Bashar Assad), and a place where people live in hunger and poverty. In one common joke, the Shi’a clerics are dubbed the “Reverse Alchemists”, turning gold into garbage!
Every single cleric has contributed to this. Even those who disagreed with Khomeini or Khamenei, and their system of government, were not opposed to the regime’s policies of implementing sharia, their anti-Western stance, the special privileges granted to the clergy, and the hostility towards science and technology.
Clerics opposed to the idea of the Islamic Republic have always been a minority, and those who express this view are rare. Additionally, all of these clerics, either directly or indirectly, enjoyed the privileges given to them by a religious government.
Other social groups in Iran, such as merchants, doctors, bureaucrats and military personnel, work with the Shi’a clergy in order to survive, or gain benefits. However, none of these groups are as hated as the clergy, because the clergy are seen as the fountainhead of the poison that is Sharia Law, Islamism, enforced religion, totalitarianism, and religious authoritarianism.
If today the Revolutionary Guards share the crimes, suppression, backdoor politics, corruption, and privileges of the clergy, it is because they are the ideological students of the clerics.
If we look at the background of the Guards, we can see that most of them started their careers by protecting clerics, and learned everything they know about religion from them. The ideological-political training of the Guards is based on the teachings of clerics such as Khomeini, Motahari, and Mesbah Yazdi, who regard religion as a handmaiden of power.
The future of the clerics
Today, the Shi’a clergy are only prominent because they control the government. After the regime falls, the clerics will not be subsidized with public resources and will have to proffer their services in a free and competitive market, where supply and demand will dictate the rules of the game.
The clerics maintain a stronghold on power, and are able to keep people dependent on them. Their livelihoods, however, depend on the oil and gas pipelines and related industries, as well as on their security and propaganda forces. The day these pipelines are cut off, the Shi’a clerics (approximately 400,000 people) will start to change their clothes and names, and try to deceive people in other ways.
There are more clerics in Iran today than doctors and lawyers, because becoming one entails access to public and governmental resources. The Shi’a clergy did not become rich in a free and competitive market.
In a free society, religion serves three functions: healing, promoting spirituality and connection with the sacred and creating a sense of belonging.
The Shi’a clergy have abandoned these functions over the last four decades. Instead, the clerics are exploiting Iran’s oil, mines, forests, and rangelands. All occupations related to religious ceremonies have also become state-run.
If the clergy were completely removed from Iranian society, there would be no disruption in peoples’ lives. The mosques are virtually empty, and are kept open only with the aid of state subsidies. After the fall of the religious state, and the cutting of state funds to religious centers, they will close one by one. The Shi’a clergy are part of the regime, and with the collapse of the regime, they will disappear unless they return to a purely religious role and give up their present lifestyles.
The claim some clerics make of being independent of, and opposed to, the Islamic Regime would be more believable if they rejected the free clerical insurance, or the monthly salaries for holding prayers in government centers (merely the least of their privileges). If the Shi’a clergy wants to continue to exist, after the fall of the Islamic Republic, they should try to change the image they have created for themselves with their behavior over the last four decades.