Q. What are the characteristics of the phenomenon that has taken
shape in the Islamic Republic under Mr Mesbah-Yazdi's name and why
has it materialized?
A. Whenever I read and hear that Mr Mesbah-Yazdi is up to some new
trick and is making his presence felt and is being a mover and
shaker in politics, it really makes me both anxious and ashamed,
because I know Mesbah-Yazdi well and I know that, academically and
theoretically, he's not up to it. He's not a faqih [expert in
Islamic jurisprudence], nor does he know anything about the history
of Islam, nor about the history of Iran. He's neither knowledgeable
in this respect, nor does he have a good memory for it. He doesn't
know about literature, nor art, nor modern science, nor modern
politics. And he hasn't been studying anything for quite some time
now because the state of his nerves doesn't allow it. The only thing
he knows is classical Islamic philosophy; i.e. debates about the
potential and the actual; the essential and the accidental; primary
intelligibles, secondary intelligibles and the like. Now, when
someone with this level of learning wants to board the ship of
politics and play the captain, it's embarrassing; may God help us.
I'm worried because if someone with these defects takes charge,
he'll inflict a misfortune of such gargantuan proportions on the
people that it will take centuries to remedy and undo.
Q. But some people compare him to Ayatollah Motahhari.
A. I swear to God the comparison is inappropriate. It's like
comparing a snuffed out candle to the sun. Of course, Motahhari had
clerical fixations too, but when it came to fiqh [Islamic
jurisprudence], philosophy, history, literature, etc., he was
hundreds of heads and shoulders above Mesbah-Yazdi. In the early
days of the revolution, this same Mr Mesbah-Yazdi said to me that
Motahhari had been bitten by the Marxist bug. Apart from lacking
learning, Mr Mesbah-Yazdi is psychologically very intolerant,
irritable and ill-tempered. The people around him know him by these
traits. When, in 1981, the Cultural Revolution Committee was given
the task, by Mr Khomeini, to contact Qom, Mr Mesbah-Yazdi's name
came up. Dr Ahmad Ahmadi, who was a member of the committee, was
designated to be the committee's contact with Mesbah-Yazdi's
establishment. After a few weeks, he reported to the committee that
he couldn't work with Mesbah-Yazdi, because, as he put it, You can
only exchange a few sentences with Mesbah-Yazdi before things come
to blows. This remark was being made by someone who'd been
Mesbah-Yazdi's friend for 20 years. Everyone knows about
Mesbah-Yazdi's harsh treatment of Shariati, about how he went so far
as to call Shariati an infidel which made Ayatollah Beheshti react
and denounce Mesbah-Yazdi's judgment.
Hojjat-ol-Eslam Parvazi, who left the Ansar-e Hezbollah vigilante
group years go, spoke about Mesbah-Yazdi's links with them. More
recently, the judge in the case of the terrible murders in Kerman
revealed that the killers had Mesbah-Yazdi's religious sanction to
kill. It was this ill-tempered disposition and his profligacy in
denouncing people as infidels and issuing radical fatwas that made
some political groupings choose him as just the right person to
serve their aims and do their bidding. I never imagine that he is
the leader and the standard-bearer himself. On the contrary, he's a
henchman and he'll be forced into retirement at the appropriate
Q. Whose henchman is he?
A. For the time being, he's organizing things with the Basij and?,
and then he attributes his achievements to the Hidden Imam and to
God. Just like Mr Khaz'ali, who, when Khatami and Nateq-Nuri were
competing in the presidential race, said from the pulpit in a mosque
in Yazd that they had asked a young man who'd memorized the Koran to
say what God thought about the [right-wing] association of Qom
seminary lecturers and that the young man had recited a verse to
this effect: 'God has guided them; follow their guidance.' In other
words, vote for Nateq-Nuri, not Khatami. Khaz'ali then added (and I
heard this myself): It's not me who is saying this; God says you
should do as the association of Qom seminary lecturers tells you to
do. Now, this same Mr Khaz'ali whose remark on that occasion must
either be described as idiocy or cheating has become the firm
supporter of Mr Mesbah-Yazdi.
During his presidency, Mr Khatami, for his part, spoke on a number
of occasions about people who theorize violence and he meant Mr
Mesbah-Yazdi of course. Mesbah-Yazdi, in turn, replied in a
pre-sermon speech and said: 'Is there no room for my voice in your
pluralistic society?' As if his propagation of violence leaves any
room for other people's voices. On another occasion, speaking before
the Tehran Friday prayer sermons, he cited a verse from the Koran
which uses the word 'irhab' and exploited it to endorse terrorism.
(In modern-day Arabic, irhab means terrorism but this is not what it
But someone with a record of ideas of this kind was, of course,
useful to radical groups who could exploit him for their own ends.
At any rate, this amounts to inflammatory troublemaking at home and
is a source of embarrassment abroad. Although I'm not feeling very
fond of the clergy (because of their silence in the face of
injustice), they should at least try, for they sake of their own
self-respect, not to allow people of this kind to come into the
limelight and to turn into the symbol of what seminaries produce.
Q. They say that the Hojjatieh Society lies at the bottom of this
A. I don't think it's particularly correct to see a link between
Ahmadinejad or Mesbah-Yazdi and their ilk and the Hojjatieh Society.
Yes, people who belong to the Hojjatieh are devoted to the Hidden
Imam, but this devotion is not unique to them and you can find it in
any Shi'i believer. Moreover, the Hojjatieh people were and are
non-political. I want to point here to people who are taken less
notice of: the Fardid circle of people. I think that the bigger
share in all this belongs to someone called Ahmad Fardid, who was a
philosophy professor at the University of Tehran for many years.
And, even after he retired, he worked actively to spread his ideas.
Fardid was someone who loved to have disciples. Before the
revolution, some individuals who are well-known now, such as Mr
Ashuri and Mr Shayegan, were close to him and even promoted his
ideas. But, after the revolution, some of these individuals changed
their stances and Mr Ashuri wrote a devastating critique of Fardid
and was true to the intellectual tradition.
After the revolution, Fardid's demeanour changed overnight. That is
to say, before the revolution, religiosity and a sense of religious
mission did not figure in the slightest in his utterances. Far from
mentioning these things, students who were close to him used to say
that he didn't believe in anything. And he didn't abide by or
respect any religious injunctions in practice. I even heard Mr
Haddad-Adel, the current Majlis Speaker, likening Fardid to... Dr
Ahmad Ahmadi, who is now a Majlis deputy, used to call him a
monster. I heard Dr Karim Mojtahedi, a university professor at the
University of Tehran, describe him as malevolent. But, after the
revolution, he suddenly overtook even Mr Bazargan and Shariati in
piety, to the point where he used to condemn them for not being true
servants of God. In other words, a Fardid, who, following Heidegger,
believed that the era of metaphysics had come to an end, went back
to one of the most commonplace forms of metaphysics and, in doing
so, he was solely motivated by jealousy and love of power. God only
knows if there was anything more to it. This person, with these
characteristics, had to all appearances become a fervent - no rabid
- revolutionary. If I were to sum up his creed for you, I'd say it
consisted of exactly the sort of thing that you're hearing these
days from Mr Ahmadinejad and the people affiliated to Mesbah-Yazdi.
Q. What were the distinguishing features of Fardid's thought?
A. Fardid was a firm proponent of violence. I remember a time when
one of Fardid's students, who also used to attend my philosophy of
science classes, stood up and told me in so many words, You can't
always reason with opponents, sometimes you have to use a sword. And
this is exactly what the Ansar-e Hezbollah did, par excellence,
Fardid was also an absolute supporter of Mr Khalkhali. He approved
of all the executions that Khalkhali carried out and used to
describe him as Imam Ali's sword and the banner of Islam.
Khalkhali's son, too, was a Fardid devotee and he used to convey
Fardid's words of approval to his father. He also worked for a time
as an attaché abroad. Basically, one of the things that they did -
and I don't know who organized this - was that the people around
Fardid infiltrated some cultural institutions. An infiltration that
endures to this day. Some of these people infiltrated, in
particular, the production of the confidential bulletins that are
sent to the country's top leaders. In this way, they transmitted
their violence-prone ideas to the country's leaders. I'm certain
that some of the analyses against Bazargan and the people they
described as liberals - and later against the reformists - which
were produced and conveyed to senior officials were the malevolent
handiwork of these same people.
Fardid was also anti-Jewish. Anti-Jewish in the true sense of the
word. That is to say, anti-Semitic, something that we've never had
in Iran's cultural history. I made this point explicitly in an
interview at the time: in a country - i.e. Iran - that has never had
problems with Jews, saying anti-Semitic things is nothing but grist
to the mill of enemies, as well as being pointless, inappropriate
As far as Mr Fardid was concerned, philosophers fell into two
groups. Jewish philosophers and non-Jewish philosophers. Whatever
Jewish philosophers may have said and whatever they may have done,
they were out of the running and there was no need to think about
them or consider their ideas. And he'd learned this anti-Semitism
from his master, Heidegger, who was a supporter of Nazism and
fascism and no-one doubts this today. Books have been written on
this subject; although his Iranian supporters try to cover it up. If
these people attack liberalism, it's from the position of fascism,
not Islam or socialism or anything else. Their attacks on
freemasonry, too, is from the same position. Let us remind
ourselves: Mussolini, too, used to say that the freemasons were
Nazism's most hostile enemy. In other words, it's the negative and
reviled part of Heidegger's philosophy that has become the lot of us
Iranians. When I speak of the negative and reviled part, it's
because I want to highlight the fact that almost none of the people
who harp on Heidegger in Iran understand any German. Fardid himself
did not have very good German although he stayed in Germany for a
while. Neither he nor his student, Reza Davari, ever went over a
single paragraph of Heidegger's books in their classes and they
always spoke about Heidegger's philosophy without any textual
references; they were ultimately theorizing dictatorship.
Fardid was also opposed to human rights. Years after Fardid had
died, one of his students - i.e. Mr Reza Davari - wrote an article
in 'Bayan' newspaper - Mr Mohtashamipour was the paper's licence
holder - explicitly opposing human rights. Davari said that human
rights was a dirty trick used by the bourgeoisie against workers and
the underprivileged. In this way, in the heat of the time when
Ansar-e Hezbollah had just begun to rear its head and make things
difficult for thinkers and for cultural work, Davari conceded this
point to them, paid them this ransom so that he could climb the
ladder of power. He now heads the Islamic Republic's Academy of
Science and has reaped his reward.
Earlier, Reza Davari had, in the clear light of day, attached this
same false label - i.e. antagonism towards the underprivileged and
workers - to Popper. And when critics asked him to give the page
number for the relevant quote from The Open Society - which is, of
course, not to be found in the book at all - he prevaricated and
replied instead: I'm not a Popper to be accused of lying.
Another of Mr Fardid's teachings to his students was that he used to
tell them that all the things that are said in the world about
justice, human rights, democracy, tolerance and freedom are lies.
And that all the world's cultural and political organizations are
conspirators. And that the whole world revolves around insincerity,
duplicity and satanic power. And that, therefore, you, in Iran,
should not concern yourself at all with these pretty words and ideas
either; you should advance your aims with violence. He was of the
opinion that the world has one grand master - i.e. freemasons and
Zionists - and that all international organizations are their tools
and everything is a game and just for show. You recall how the
people involved in 'Kayhan' newspaper kept repeating these phrases,
simplemindedly and parrot fashion, in an interview with Ehsan
Naraghi nearly 20 years ago. And Naraghi answered them by saying,
Why don't you just go and blow up four bombs in the four corners of
the world and be done with it.
We could see the propagation of violence and the love of violence
very clearly in Fardid. And this also applied to his students. I've
even heard that Sa'id Emami was a student of Fardid from afar [Sa'id
Emami was the prime suspect in the 'serial killings' of Iranian
writers and political activists in the autumn of 1998.] The
propagation of violence and the love of violence were the kernel of
Fardid's school of thought.
The funny thing is that, after the revolution, Mr Fardid became a
full-blown devotee of the Hidden Imam. He expressed such a
duplicitous devotion towards the Hidden Imam as to far outpace any
member of the Hojjatieh Society. This is why, when I hear a lot of
the things that are being said today about devotion to the Hidden
Imam, I don't attribute it to the Hojjatieh; I feel instead that
what Fardid and his students wanted has come about in practice, and
all his words are now coming out of the mouths of Mesbah-Yazdi,
Ahmadinejad and others.
Q. Where's this thinking headed?
A. This whole thing bears signs of a calamitous degeneration in the
course of the revolution, especially so because Fardid's students
and acquaintances are occupying senior positions and have occupied
some places covertly and overtly; cultural offices abroad, cultural
bodies at home, confidential bulletins, newspapers, the Cultural
Ministry, 'Kayhan' newspaper in particular, and so on. His
anti-Semitism is now voiced by Ahmadinejad in an extreme (and
ignorant) form. The same thing holds true on the subject of the
Hidden Imam. They've infiltrated everything. About a year ago, I
heard the leader say something that was very disturbing . Mr
Khamene'i was addressing a group of young people in Hamadan. He told
the young people there - as reported in newspapers: 'Look for lofty
and new ideas, not outdated ones. For example, a philosopher by the
name of Popper has become outdated, but some people still follow his
path.' This remark was important to me not because it was incorrect
(there's no shortage of incorrect remarks in the world) but because
it was spoken by Mr Khamene'i. Everyone knows that Mr Khamene'i
neither reads philosophy nor knows philosophy (unlike Mr Khomeini).
And it may well be that, having studied at a religious school in
Mashhad, he does not believe in philosophy at all. More to the
point, he knows nothing about modern European philosophy and I'm
sure he doesn't know what Popper's philosophy consists of. But why
do these words against Popper come out of Mr Khamene'i's mouth? I
have no answer, apart from the influence of Fardid's school of
thought at senior levels. One of the things that Fardid did - and
that his student, Davari, continued - was to engage in a kind of
hysterical anti-Popperism in Iran. They attacked Popper so that,
through him, they could attack democracy and the pursuit of freedom.
The position from which they were speaking was fascism, as I said.
Fardid's argument against Popper was not a philosophical argument;
his argument was that Helmut Schmidt, the German chancellor, had
written an introduction to Popper's book! And Davari's argument was
that Popper had no sense of the authority of a guardian-leader
[wilayat]. This is the kind of stuff that students were fed by way
of philosophy in the Philosophy Department.
Q. Maybe they were trying to convey a message to you in this way.
A. Yes, of course, that's true. But why was the message conveyed in
a Fardid mould? This is the point I'm trying to make. If it was a
question of opposing philosophy and Western philosophy, there are
dozens of atheistic and non-atheistic philosophers that one can name
and condemn. Was the philosophy of Bertrand Russell, Sartre, Carnap
and the like sound and Islamic? Do they not have readers? Or how
about Heidegger himself and his opposition to metaphysics? Is it in
keeping with Islam? Mr Davari has said something in the midst of all
this that shines like a flash of lightening in the history of
philosophy. In order to defend the notion of a guardian-leader, he
suggested that Plato was a proponent of this idea and Mr Popper
opposed it. And he was granted the reward he was seeking in saying
Q. What a concoction. Fardid and Mesbah-Yazdi and -
A. Yes. This idea that the people amount to nothing and their vote
is worthless, which is the heartfelt view of Mesbah-Yazdi and his
ilk, is exactly the sort of thing that Fardid used to say. In line
with the Nazis and Hitler, he used to ridicule democracy and voting
at all levels and only believed in the cult of the leader.
Q. A hidden government. The economic interests of various gangs.
Taliban-like groups. What a complicated phenomenon we face.
A. Yes. You might as well say a hidden fascism. A very complicated,
ugly, offensive and repulsive phenomenon has come into being. I
really think Fardid is to the current government what Strauss is to
the Bush Administration.
Q. Leo Strauss?
A. Yes, it's well known that the neocons base themselves on him and
are indebted to and inspired by him. Fardid is more or less playing
the same role, with this exception: Strauss was a regular
philosopher with coherent and weighty works. What did Fardid have
apart from a befuddled mind, hallucinatory ideas and a foul mouth?
The least of his insults against his opponents was to call them
Q. And Mesbah-Yazdi is following his path?
A. Yes. Mesbah-Yazdi does not, of course, serve as the theoretician
of the propagators of violence but as their henchman. The one who
propagated the main ideas, theorized violence, spread anti-Semitism
in society or at least among some people, taught an extremist and
incorrect use of belief in the return of the Hidden Imam and,
basically, exploited religion for his own purposes, disparaged the
people and their views, presented all the world's organizations as
conspirators against the Islamic Republic, ridiculed Western
democracy, denigrated and scorned human rights, condemned and
rejected all of humanity's good achievements under the banner of the
meaningless term 'Westoxication' and dismissed tolerance as
effeminate was this same Fardid and his tribe. Everyone who knew
Fardid and his circle knows that they absolutely do not believe in
religion and God. The only thing that matters to them is to be in
the limelight and to win power. And some of them have achieved their
aim. Now that this evil phenomenon has occurred before our eyes in
society, we must understand its roots.
Q. And the discussions about Islamism versus republicanism -
A. It's all a hollow brawl. Mr Khomeini wooed the people, he did not
involve the people. You can find things in Khomeini's utterances
both in support of Mesbah-Yazdi's arguments and against them. Hence,
quoting Khomeini won't get anyone anywhere. The time has come for
the wise ones in society to reassess things and to examine the
pathology of this phenomenon in order to restore things to their
rightful place. Of course, if such a thing is possible. Bearing in
mind the collective's interests, they must base things on reason and
scientific management and desist from all this reliance on emotions,
ignorance and, at times, even religious trickery. They must use
humanity's good achievements with confidence and courage.
Q. I'm sure you know what Mr Khatami has been saying, expressing
concern about obscurantism and the danger of merging with the ranks
that Bin-Ladin heads. But what I find interesting is: where were
A. The ones that I spoke about were always there but they were
scattered individuals and weak.
They couldn't find the water to swim in, so to speak. After the
revolution, they gradually found the water to swim in. Revolutions
usually lift up pathological and abnormal people. It also happens to
be the case that, when a democratic and reformist movement fails, it
opens the way to violent tendencies. In other words, radical people
come forward to take their turn and views that were in the margins
before can move centre stage. There are also those who opt for
silence because they're intimidated by these people. It would be
unfair, at the same time, to suggest that the bulk of our society
favours these ideas or supports these people. Without a doubt, they
don't. The educated sections of society, in particular, are not well
disposed towards these radical tendencies. But, unfortunately, they
have no power and their views are going unheard for the time being,
until there's a suitable opportunity.
Mr Khatami is kind to call them obscurantists. They don't deserve
any name other than fascists. They have all the signs and
characteristics. This is not something that I'm saying only now. In
1986, I delivered two lectures at the University of Tehran on the
subject of the theoretical foundations of fascism and I gave
adequate warning then. But did anyone listen?! At the time, Mr
Khatami did not like what I said and sent me a harshly-worded
message. But he fell victim to them himself later and now the entire
country has fallen victim to them. The interesting thing is that Mr
Ahmadinejad's Municipality has promised a venue and funds to the
Fardid Foundation so that it can pitch up its tent and dish out more
Fardid stew. You see the web of links?
Q. Where is all this going to take our Iran?
A. Believe me these people are going to take us even further back
than the Taliban. The Taliban that we saw and knew were at least
sincere in their Islamism. They thought that they were performing
their religious duty. But I see no religious sincerity in many of
the people who are involved in the Fardid circle. There's only love
of gain and love of power. And this is far more calamitous. At a
sensitive moment, they'll neither defend the homeland, nor defend
religion. The Taliban were, at any rate, really radical and even
when the US asked them to hand over Bin-Ladin, they didn't and they
submitted to war and ruin. But you won't find this steadfastness in
these people. If the going gets the least bit tough, they'll be the
first to abandon everything and to turn their backs on the nation.
Would that they had brilliant revolutionary records. Would that
their religious sincerity had been proved. Would that they loved
their homeland. None of these things holds true and this makes us
very pessimistic about the future.
Q. So, it's not surprising that they're in cahoots with economic
mafias, people with no love for their homeland
A. Exactly. A host of interests lie latent therein; whether
interests relating to power or interests relating to wealth. This is
why the tale of the battle against corruption will never get
anywhere either. They'll only expose and disgrace some individuals
who belong to the opposite political camp. That's all. I know that
these interests have so hardened hearts that the words of the likes
of me won't have any impact. But let me say to the religious
believers: for the sake of your religion, if for nothing else, be
wary of these unbelieving, religion-peddling crooks. Now, if your
questions are finished, I'd like to add a final point.
Q. Please do.
A. My main worry and concern is this: not everything that our
country is experiencing under the name of tyranny should be blamed
on believers and faqihs. And 'the religious personality-type'
mustn't be considered the main offender. In the midst of all this,
there were and are also some unbelieving pseudo-philosophers who
theorized tyranny for the sake of their passing, material interests
and in order to move closer to power. They used Plato and Heidegger
and so on and fed these things to some clerics, who, glad to have
philosophical and intellectual backing, sat back in comfort on the
seat of tyranny and ravaged freedom. And they were assured that
freedom, tolerance and human rights were all manifestations of
Western decadence and were therefore to be shunned. This is the
tragic tale of philosophy in our country. Never in Iran's history
has philosophy been so political. And in a negative and
reprehensible sense at that. Look at the names: Mesbah-Yazdi,
Haddad-Adel, Ahmad Ahmadi, Ahmad Fardid, Reza Davari, Ali Larijani
and? They all have weak foundations in philosophy and strong
foundations in political tyranny.
During the hajj period, I was thinking about Islam's rites and about
its founder Muhammad Bin-Abdallah who was the most merciful person
in the world. And how mercilessly and cruelly they treat people in
his name! It occurred to me that it's not fair. We face
philosophy-spouters from whose evil we must take refuge in faqihs.
May God protect us from Satan the Rejected One.
Translated from the Persian by Nilou Mobasser