During my vacation to a peaceful Swiss ski resort, my nightly dreams, while usually pleasant were convulsed one night when I found myself on a flight to Seoul, South Korea. On board, I heard the strange noise of a sheep bleating, but when I looked up; I noticed that it happened to be the Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. He had one too many drinks and seemed to be disturbing everyone on the flight. He even came over to have a chat with me, and discussed writing his Ph.D at the London School of Economics. I can assure all of you out there, that I am positive he has never set foot in that university. I woke up shortly after, not knowing what neurological or environmental stimulants brought upon such a bizarre dream.
The actual Ahmad Jannati was born in 1927 in the beautiful city of Isfahan. Jannati is a hardliner through and through, and never wants to throw a compromising bone. For him, the Islamic Republic, and all its trappings need to preserved just so. He has been the chair of the Guardian Council since 1988, which is responsible for scrutinizing legislation from the lower house or majlis, and also interpreting the constitution. In July, Jannati was reaffirmed as chair of the Council for another six years. Khamenei is keen to have a stalwart supporter close to him. Jannati firmly believes that anyone considering running for the presidency in the Islamic Republic must “first and foremost” have unwavering devotion for the Supreme Leader. In December 2010, Jannati even said that any form of opposition to the Supreme leader is tantamount to blasphemy and denying God’s existence. Newsweek magazine has called Jannati the fifth most powerful Iranian. Yet his aloof and inflexible nature is one of the reasons why this octogenarian is a favourite of Iranian bloggers and satirists who say that for him the Big Bang was a memory, and remembers when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Jannati is a founding member of the Haghani religious school based in Qom. The movement behind the school believes in the concept of the Hidden Imam or Mahdi’s appearance during a period of instability in the world. It propagates radical Shi’a doctrine, which is also averse to any suggestion that democracy and Islam can mix. It counts President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as one of its devotees. Many graduates of the school have gone on to become leading figures in the regime. Before rising to prominence after the Islamic Revolution, he remained cooped up in Qom, and was once photographed eagerly kissing the hand of the elegant Shahbanou Farah Pahlavi. After the revolution, his son Hussein, who was a member of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, was killed in a gun battle with forces loyal to the Revolution in 1981.
In the months and now years that followed Iran’s controversial presidential elections in 2009, Jannati has been vocal in calling for the executions of demonstrators and opposition activists. He supported the decision by the head of Iran’s judiciary to execute two members of a monarchist group, and called for more killings as a way to snuff out any opposition. In the late nineties, during the many student protests that would alert the world to the brewing social tension within the Islamic Republic, Jannati praised the closure of many reformist newspapers saying “you cannot save Islam with liberalism and tolerance”.
It is from on high, standing at the podium on Fridays, that Jannati likes most to stir the masses with his noxious words.
In February 2011, the Associated Press reported that during Friday prayers Jannati said opposition leaders had lost their reputation among the people and are practically dead and executed. He urged that both Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi be effectively kept cut off and isolated. They should not be allowed to send messages, emails or any forms of communication. His brooding contempt and loathing for any form of dissent, as defined by himself and Khamenei, seems one of the key reasons why even former upper echelons in the regime have moved away.
Naturally, pouring scorn on the west is a common occurrence. When an earthquake rocked the Iranian city of Bam in 2003, causing the deaths of 26,000 people, the United State reached out to offer emergency aid, and the Bush administration even agreed to suspend sanctions for ninety days to allow aid supplies into the country. Yet a week or so after the earthquake, during Friday prayers, Jannati responded by telling the crowd: “We slap them [the Americans] in the face and say, for your paltry aid you have sent, we cannot set aside our differences and extend the hand of friendship and relations with you. If you are so full of compassion, why don’t you go and help suffering Palestinians, whose earthquake you created?” Foreign officials are not spared a tongue lashing. Bill Clinton has been described s a “sexual sadist” and he has even said that every time he sees a picture of former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livini she wishes someone would shoot her.
The cleric believes foreigners had a hand in fomenting the demonstrations in summer of 2009. The British Embassy in particular was named as a base of sedition. He called for the arrest of the locally engaged staff, as he believed they were guilty of plotting the protests. The British according to Jannati are “the worst con men, the most devious people and they are foxier than everyone else”. In regards to the controversy over the surfacing of the film “Innocence of Muslims” Jannati described it as “the most unprecedented and impudent insult to Islam”. In his opinion, it was made in order to prevent an awareness of Islam from spreading in the west. I can only assume, on that basis, he has never seen the film.
Jannati is not a young man, and neither is Khamenei. Yet their clerical ordinances govern everyday life in the Islamic Republic. Public anger towards the encroachment of clerics and religious police who see fit to harass people on spurious charges of wearing “immodest” clothing and mixing with members of the opposite is on the rise.
The Times in the UK reported that two women recently beat up a cleric in the town of Shahmirzad after he ordered them to “cover up”. He was kicked to the ground by the women and later taken to hospital. In the capital Tehran two members of the Basij militia were beaten up by members of the public, and almost thrown into a canal after reprimanding a woman for listening to music in her car.
Don’t forget that Iran is struggling under the weight of sanctions, economic stagnation and now the government has even decided to prevent both men and women from studying certain subjects in universities. There has been almost no explanation, except that it is likely that the regime thinks this could help undermine campuses sprouting new protests.
If there is anyone within the fold of Iran’s ruling elite, who knows that unleashing more draconian legislation is not the solution to keeping the populace quiet, they obviously haven’t told or are afraid to tell the white bearded clerics at the top. Ayatollah Jannati is one of dozens of mullahs, who were once confined to Iran’s seminaries, but through the Islamic Revolution were given the chance to control an entire nation through the prism of theology. Yet, whether it is through religion or ideology, the manifestation of an insatiable appetite for power always looks the same.