Hard-line cleric warns about Rouhani’s ‘moderation’ endangering Islam

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Hard-line cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi has warned that if President Hassan Rouhani’s administration pursues policies contradictory to Iran’s Islamic values, he and his followers would take matters into their own hands by entering the political scene.

In an interview with 9day weekly, Mesbah Yazdi said that he was one of the early people to recognize that when former President Mohammad Khatami came into power, a form of “secular Islam” was propagated by the administration and that he combated this form of Islam with all that he could. He warned that there were doubts about Rouhani’s “moderation” discourse that could lead to the same troubles as the Reformist era of Khatami’s presidency.

“Now if we feel that the cultural issues of Islam, meaning the beliefs and values of Islam, are exposed to danger,” Mesbah Yazdi said, “we know it to be our duty to enter the scene and follow it with the utmost seriousness.”

A former supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the former president and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had a falling out, Mesbah Yazdi is one of the most outspoken hard-line clerics in Iran with a following among the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He is member of the Assembly of Experts and the leader of the hard-line Endurance Front political group, which has been active in parliament in challenging some of Rouhani’s policies.

When Khatami’s administration came under attack from hard-liners, his ministers were sacked or jailed, many newspapers were closed and there was even an assassination attempt. Mesbah Yazadi, however, said it was too early to see where this administration was headed and that judging Rouhani’s “moderation” in the same manner as Khatami’s “secular Islam” was premature for now, but steps needed to be taken to test the administration to see where it stands on cultural and religious issues.

“In the beginning stages, it is not correct to show your sword and say ‘You are like them,’ because they might say that our meaning was something else, and you had no foreknowledge of our meaning,” said Mesbah Yazdi to those would compare Rouhani’s administration to Khatami’s. “The reciprocal encounter that first takes place must be a soft encounter so that the contents behind the curtains come out. Then we can take a clear position.”

Mesbah Yazdi continued, “Certainly, there are doubts about the slogans presented by the administration, and more or less we have spent time on this in our speeches. Some of our friends have been busy writing articles about the concept of ‘moderation’ and its relation to Islamic values and where this concept gets its values.”

Mesbah Yazdi said that his actions for now would be a “a simple and soft cultural endeavor” and there would not be any explicit encounter. He added, “But if things got to a place where the curtains are removed and it becomes clear that the interpretations [of moderation] are pursuing a confrontation with rooted Islamic values, we have no choice but to explicitly collide with that.”

Both during the campaigns and after the elections, Rouahani has promised to end the security atmosphere of the country and pursue a moderate path in all of his policies. Mesbah Yazdi, however, said that when someone has a tumor in their brain, it does not make sense to “operate moderately.” He explained, “When there is a matter that is right or wrong, that is either this or that, one side has to be chosen and acted upon. The middle has no meaning.”