Summary: Mohammad Javad Ardeshir Larijani, has been one of the controversial personalities in Iran during the post-revolution years, always being under the spotlight of the press. His record of service include membership in the presiding board of the radio and television organization (IRIB), membership in the Supreme National Security Council, deputy minister of foreign affairs, a Member of Parliament in the second, fourth and fifth terms of the Majlis, head of the Applied Physics and Mathematics Research Center, of the Foreign Ministry’s Institute for International and Political Studies and of the Research Center of the Islamic Consultative Assembly. He is also among a few politicians known for their frankness.
Offering the theory of introducing Iran as the center of the Islamic world with an aim of preserving the Islamic Republic and its prominence over all other issues, the need to revise Tehran-Washington relations and to prepare the ground for resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries, strong presence in presidential elections and open support for Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri as one of contenders in the presidential elections are clear examples of the positions taken by Larijani. However, in the opinion of critics, satirical and acrimonious language used by Larijani in his speeches or his secret talks in London with Nick Browne is more important that his frank positions.
Despite insisting on being independent from political factions in Iran, under current political developments in the country, Larijani is among those known for their affiliation to the Jame-e Ruhaniat-e Mobarez (Militant Clergy Association) and its allies. The following is an interview with Dr. Larijani conducted by Ozra Dezham.
Q: The argument about the plan to amend the Press Law is one of the hot issues in the society. One of the reasons the Majlis Research Center which is chaired by you has come under fire is that why it had paved the way for submission to the Majlis of such a plan which is in contravention of the freedom of the press.
A: These three subjects should be separated from one another. In the first place, the Research Center has no right to offer any law bill to the Majlis. Rather, we can only offer our comments on the plans submitted to the Majlis. Therefore, the Research Center has never offered any plan on amendment of the Press Law.
In the second place, Members of Parliament can inquire about the center’s views on their amendment proposals and the MRC provide them with its expert views. The plan to amend the Press Law was initially brought up and discussed at the Majlis Joint Commission and Commission on Islamic Guidance and it is the MPs themselves who are after amending the Press Law. They reflected their views on the amendment of the Press Law to the Research Center and our experts at MRC evaluated each and every of those views. Our evaluation of the draft plan was that the existing Press Law was good and comprehensive enough but needed some structural amendments in some of its axes. For example, in order for the press jury to represent public judgment, it was necessary that its members be elected from various strata of the society.
The status of professional journalism in our country was another pivot which should be amended in the Press Law. The reality is that professional journalism in our country is very alone and without any supporter. I consider myself a journalist, being very fond of this career. At a time when it was not common for politicians to write articles, I wrote regularly for the Persian daily ’Ettela’at’ and other dailies and even for ’Gol Aqa’ satirical magazine under a nick name. It is due to such background that I claim journalism in Iran is alone and without any supporter. In fact, our journalists have no job security. For instance, a career journalist with 20 years of experiences is fired because of difference of opinion or taste. The problem is not confined to these cases.
In our country, each newspaper is expected to act as the mouthpiece of a group in the absence of political parties, something which is the biggest insult to the press. A newspaper, despite having certain tendencies, should never turn into the mouthpiece of any group whereas such an expectation from newspapers is very common in our country. When political factions support a newspaper, they consider it as their own mouthpiece and perhaps this is the most transfactional disease in our country.
Another point which happens to be very sensitive is press offenses. Of course, offenses are likely to be committed in any professions including the profession of journalism but the point in question was that when a press offense was linked with the national security, how could it be dealt with. The position of the constitution towards press offenses is quite clear and transparent.
In our report to the Majlis, we made mention of the article 9 of the constitution which has stipulated that there is a very sensitive border between the national security and the freedom of expression. According to this article, no one has the right to legislate laws restricting the freedom of expression, under the pretext of preserving the national security and accordingly no one can harm the national security under pretext of the freedom of expression. It is quite clear that this is a very sensitive point.
Q: What is your own opinion about the importance and necessity of freedom and democracy in our country?
A: Personally, I am against any move aimed at restricting the freedoms that the constitution and the Islamic Revolution have granted to our nation. Unfortunately, democracy in Iran is sometimes looked upon with suspicion. In a book which I have recently written, I have discussed n details that according to experiences acquired by man over centuries, democracy is such a model of governance that can be very helpful for our goals and can be closer to Islamic ideals than other models can. Despotism is a deadly disease for governments whereas democracy can provide maximum protection against despotism. Democracy is able to create a suitable atmosphere for people’s contribution wherein people can raise their demands in a logical manner. Of course, there is a difference between democracy and `mobocracy’. That people suddenly take to the streets and demand something is not democracy.
Q: How do you assess the relationship between political factions and democracy?
A: I should say that inattention to democracy in our country is not confined to a single faction. Even those friends who are known for their leniency and open mind are not much interested in democracy. For instance, my dear brother Dr. Mohajerani is a good example of this. Although, he is referred to as one of the proponents of open free press, in my opinion, Mohajerani pays little attention to democracy. On the eve of the latest presidential election, Mohajerani clearly proposed that the constitution be amended in a such a way that Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani (the then president of Iran) could run for president for the third consecutive time. Of course, I am among those who very much like Mr. Hashemi, but at that time I strongly opposed this proposal and said that doing such a thing meant sealing the doom of democracy. I want to say that even the political elite in Iran do not appreciate democracy as much as they should and this is an important point.
Q: What is the reason for this, in your opinion?
A: The culture of collective life is something which like other things should develop. We think that only our economy should grow while a much important thing is the culture of living together or coexistence. I think we are backward in this regard from many points of view. I have sometimes observed that two persons who think very closely together in a very technical field, cannot work together for difference of opinion over – for example – the Niagara Fall. This is very strange. All political wings existing in our country are like this. If we are against someone, we want to crush him as if he is a criminal, corrupt, mean and one not suitable for competition. What kind of competition is this? This is while we should be smart enough to bring our rivals to such a high position that we can enjoy competing with them. In the May 23 presidential election, I myself became one of the controversial officials of the country. I do not care whether some people might not agree with me, but negotiations were held (in London) which had all features of diplomatic talks. In other words, the foreign ministry of a country made a request from our foreign ministry. Our foreign ministry studied the request. They recommended their own politician to do this. Various experts were present in the talks with one taking note, the other doing the job of analyzing… Suppose that there were some points in the talks that some people might not like, this by itself is not something strange. Under such conditions, it is naive of someone to accuse his rival of spying, seeking help from foreigners and so on in order to voice opposition to him. We should compete with our political rivals within a certain framework. I say that on behalf of everyone that culture of competition is very weak in us and for this reason I already said that we should learn how to live with one another.
Q: You mean in your negotiations you did not speak about the events that would take place in the aftermath of Mr. Khatami’s election as the president.
A: Not at all. In my opinion, what was published in this regard was a kind of political ill humor. In other words, instead of a clear and transparent competition, they wanted to libel their rival through any means and knock him out.
Q: In the presidential election, you supported Mr. Nateq Nouri. Do you still believe that had Mr. Nateq Nouri won the election, the situation would have been better than what is now?
A: It is very difficult to comment on this issue. Election or politics is like a game in which one wins and the other loses. What is important is holding the game. In my opinion, the fact that the election was held successfully and people participated in it enthusiastically was a victory for the Iranian nation. The election of Mr. Khatami as the president was a big achievement for our nation from various points of view. Firstly, democracy took roots in Iran and a mighty and popular president like Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani came down the legal ladder which he had already climbed. This was a test of democracy. In our country, none of the presidents except the first one have stepped down since the victory of the Islamic Revolution. They were either martyred and went to the heaven, or like the paramount Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) took over the leadership of the revolution. A strong personality climbed down this ladder and handed over power legally. This is the test of democracy. Secondly, there were people’s wish and confidence in the system. There were two rivals in the election. One was Nateq (Nouri) and the other Khatami. Nearly all influential political figures supported Nateq but people voted for another one who came to office. It was not like Turkey where Mr. Erbakan who was forced to leave office. Mr. Khatami could form his government and got his budget approved. He has had a record of successful cooperation with the Majlis. It is true that one of his ministers was impeached and received a vote of no confidence from the Majlis but another one received a vote of confidence and thus retained his post. As far as I remember about 93 percent of the law bills submitted by the Khatami administration to the Majlis have been successful and what has been approved by Majlis deputies were the same or close to the views of the government. Mr. Khatami can better work with the Majlis whose members do not belong to his faction and in my opinion, these are good things.
Q: With the explanations given by you, let me ask my question in the form of a presumption. Suppose that you were aware of all incidents taking place over the past two or three years and we were on the eve of May 23 presidential election, then would you still support Mr. Nateq Nouri or would you prefer to vote for Mr. Khatami?
A: Had my support for Mr. Nateq been able to cause such an enthusiasm for elections, I would not have withheld my support from Mr. Nateq. By the way, I should say that Mr. Nateq is a very good character.
In political rivalries we should never ignore virtues of people. Mr. Nateq has a very good record in connection with domestic relations. As you remember, there used to be demonstrations against improper dress code by women in summer time. When Mr. Nateq Nouri became the interior minister, he personally interfered in the issue and ordered the arrest of those attacking women. At that time, some people began to chant `death to Nateq’ slogan. Mr. Nateq is in practice a moderate man and an advocate of civic freedoms. He has very delicate sentiments but is very firm in his decisions although his rivals raised certain accusations against him during the presidential campaigns. He attaches much importance to advice of experts.
Given that I personally do not expect anybody to do miracle and am against the theory of superman, I want to say that had Mr. Nateq been elected president, or is elected president in the future, the Iranian nation would not have faced a strange thing or a negative development. However, I should confess that I am really happy with the state of affairs in our country. One of the reasons for this is that democracy is taking shape in our country and people are gradually getting to believe their civil rights. This is a very important issue. When one gets up in the morning and feels that he or she enjoys certain rights according to the constitution and that these rights are being defended, this is a very good feeling. The more people are aware of their civil rights and the more seriously they demand them, the better will be the ground for society’s progress.
Q: You referred to the issue of political ill humor. Were you informed in advance of the communique approved and released by the Jame-e Ruhaniat-e Mobarez? Would you have approve of those few sentences (in the communique) If you had been consulted? For example, would you agree to the following remarks: “People might reach a point to say we have no hope for your help, don’t do us harm, or Mr. Khatami, knowingly or unknowingly, only God knows, has an axe to grind?
A:Of course I am not a member of the Jame-e Ruhaniat-e Mobarez. Its members are a group of ulama (religious scholars). Sometimes some of the friends consult with me in certain cases but there was no consultation with me in this regard (communique) which is not, of course, a strange thing. Perhaps I did not agree with one or two sentences of the communique and if I had been consulted, I would have certainly proposed that those sentences be omitted. At the same time, none of our friends in the JRM bear grudge against Mr. Khatami. They may be among the opposition or feel worried but this in itself is a part of the process of political development in the country. To religious ulama, the most important thing is to safeguard religious and Islamic thought. Therefore, they feel alarmed by the expectation of a danger. We should expect such alarms from religious ulama over such issues. Factionalism in our country is such that we look at every religious alim (scholar) through political glasses.
Q: Have you really not reached this conclusion in practice in some of these position taking?
A: There is no problem with this but this does not change the nature of the religious alim. Some of the ulama might be one hundred percent political before being religious scholars, but the majority of them are not so. The sensitivity shown by the religious ulama to some phenomena appearing in our country should not be considered something strange. In the course of history, they have managed to preserve a large portion of Islamic thought thanks to such a sensitivity. Today, the Islamic thought is facing serious challenges. This does not mean that these challenges come from the government but rather they are international challenges and in turn the ulama’s feeling of danger is serious. It is not easy, but not impossible either, to respond to these challenges. Regardless of the communique, we should not interpret the ulama’s feeling of danger as a sign of their animosity with the government of Mr. Khatami. As a matter of fact, every Iranian, including the ulama, will feel proud if the government of President Khatami succeeds. In my opinion we should not expect our politicians to be supermen. Mr. Khatami does not claim to be a superman either. It is very good to take logical steps and I think that the government is moving towards this direction gradually. Of course, in the faction supporting the government there is not political harmony. This issue should be solved gradually. God willing, the government can do good jobs.
Q: To which section of the right wing do you belong?
A:I have no affiliation to any political group of faction. This is because I want to be free and be myself before being affiliated to a certain wing. Of course, I am not afraid at all to voice my support during elections or on other occasions as I have done before. This shows my personal views not my affiliation to any organization or grouping. It is very important to me to have a free hand in political issues. It is very likely that a section of the right wing does not agree with my opinions. For instance, when Imam Khomeini was alive, I wrote an article on our relations with the West and the United States in which I mentioned that rapprochement with U.S. would serve our national interests in certain junctures. Even some of the friends who are now a member of the government, accused me of liberalism and siding with the West at that time.
Q: Of course, you do not look to be much upset about being accused of liberalism.
A:I am not a liberal as far as the technical meaning of the world is concerned. In other words, I prefer moderate approaches in various cases. If this is what you mean by liberalism, I am a liberal and I think moderation to be a very good thing.
Q: You have time and again commented on relations with the U.S. Some experts go as far as conditioning solution to many problems of the country on resumption of diplomatic ties with the United States. How do you evaluate this issue?
A: First of all, we should tune up our mentality to some degree. In other words, in our foreign policy, we should not attach importance to the United States more than we really should. It is not such that the United States holds the key to all our problems. It is very unlikely that relations with the U.S. can have more impacts on our country’s situation than relations with Europe can. The second point is that discussion on relations with the United States should no longer be considered a taboo. There was a time when someone dared to speak of resumption of ties with the United States, he would be accused. Today, there are some political circles which are ready to accuse people of belonging to certain factions as soon as they voice opposition to reestablishing of ties with the U.S. We should be able to speak freely about ties with the United States whether positively or negatively. It does not make sense that taking a position in this regard be regarded token of westernization.
The third point is that we have a good yardstick for assessment of this issue and that is our national interests. We should see to what extent ties with the United States will serve our national interests and should work on the ties accordingly. Of course, in the language of diplomacy, establishing relations, having warm ties, downgrading or severing ties are all considered diplomatic moves. In other words, we have not sworn to be friend or enemy with anybody for ever. We should be servants of our own interests. Our politicians should move in the same direction as our national interests are.
The last point is that you may ask me where exactly our national interests lie. This cannot have a certain rule. I believe that easing tension with the U.S. is in our interest and I am also of the belief that we and the U.S. share joint interests in a host of issues. For example, one of the main dilemmas of the American society and the West is narcotic drugs and one of the important centers of drug production is Afghanistan. This is an important axis in the issue of Afghanistan, or the security of the Persian Gulf. Of course, I do not regard the presence of the American forces in the Persian Gulf legitimate. However, the Americans are there. The security of the Persian Gulf can be provided solely through a collective effort (by the regional states). This is even to the benefit of countries in the southern part of the Persian Gulf and to our Arab brothers. Or insecurity in Iraq… I want to say when we negotiate with the U.S. we should not necessarily speak about each other or find fault with each other… Of course, the Americans should recognize our difference from theirs and set no preconditions. By no means we want the Americans to tell us how we should live in Tehran or how we should act on international scene or how to improve our trade… These issues are not their business. I even have told some Western politicians that it is not necessary for us to speak about ourselves. The Americans are in a special psychological mood in connection with Iran and this is a big problem facing politicians in Washington. In turn, we should maintain moderate position and refrain from going to the extremes. We should adopt a strong policy. We should respond to the ill treatment of the Americans but in a logical manner. However, negotiations with any country will not affect our commitment to our principles.
Q: Even with Israel?
A: Yes even with Israel but we have a major problem with Israel. We do not recognize the Israeli government to hold negotiations with it. At the same time, Israel poses a serious danger to our national interests and those of the world of Islam and the region. There are two arguments in our policy towards the Zionist regime. Some believe that we bear such grudge against Israel that we believe that all Israelis should be thrown into the sea. One should speak correctly on the international scene. Our problem is that we can not express our opinions exactly. The Palestinian nation is an entity recognized by the United Nations and the whole world at large. According to the Charter of the United Nations, every national whose identity has been recognized by the United Nations should be regarded a first class citizen in the international community, enjoying equal civic and social rights with other members of the community, or has the right to be the first class citizen of his or her own homeland.
Therefore, if a government comes to power in Palestine that can provide equal rights to Muslims, Jews and Christians, such a government would be acceptable to us and to the international community. But the Zionist regime has declared itself a Jewish government, denying Muslims and Christians their basic rights. It is not even ready to allow the Palestinians to live in their homeland. Israel has in fact established a large prison, keeping Palestinians and to some extent Palestinian Christians behind bars. A Jew who comes from Manhattan of New York to the Palestinian land, finds himself provided with all civic rights while, the Palestinians who lived there for centuries are denied even the citizenship right. This situation runs counter to the Charter of the United Nations. The Charter says in part that any nationality whose guaranteed rights are trampled upon has the right to use any means to restore its rights. Therefore, resistance is an undeniable right of the Muslim people of Palestine. Of course, I am not saying that killing people is a good thing but it is an undeniable right of the Palestinians to resist through whatever methods and demands their denied rights. This is a quite principled position which, unfortunately, has not been explained to the world. As a matter of fact, one of our main problems over the past 20 years has been our assumption that the world is not required to understand what we say.
We thought that when the world is listening to our radio, it was enough for it to understand our stances. It is the duty of our diplomacy machine to offer our ideas in such a way that world peoples can touch them. Our position has been reflected in the world in such a way as if we are against peace. This is very bad. Our position does by no means concern peace or war. We have pointed our finger at a very principled subject: What Israel is doing now is ethnic cleansing and denying a nation its civil rights. In my opinion, our position towards the Zionist regime is a quite legal and defensible one at international level. The Arab world is sympathetic to our position.
Q: Let us to return to the first question. What is your idea about amendment to the Press Law?
A: I gave a yes vote to the generalities. Details should be discussed note by note. As I said before, we should predict more democratic methods for election of jury members and give it a wider range. The vote of the jury should be a strong backing for the judge. Of course, I am not saying that the judge should always accept the vote of the jury but it is common in the world that a judge most often accept the vote of the jury. I think that the presence of the jury in the press court should be generalized to other courts. For example, had our judicial system allowed a jury to be present in the trial of (Gholamhussein) Karbaschi (former mayor of Tehran), the people would have had much more trust in the judiciary. However, the jury might have issued a more severe verdict on Karbaschi. I really wished that Karbaschi had been acquitted. I am really sorry that a good friend like Karbaschi is now facing such a problem. What I mean is that if there had been a jury representing various factions and ordinary people, the verdict could have been much better for the judiciary.
Q: You spoke of the performance of the judiciary. Over the past one and two years, many controversial cases have been examined at courts of law. Among these, the three cases of Mr. Karbaschi, Mr. Kadivar and Salaam daily were perhaps more controversial than others. What vote would you have given if you had been a member of jury for these cases?
A: I do not know much about these cases while at the same time I have never looked at them as a member of jury. I cannot judge about Mr. Karbaschi because he is a friend of mine. Of course, he is my friend and I would like him not to have a problem while at the same time I highly respect the judicial system of the country. I think when one does not like a verdict and may not even accept it, one should accept it because of one’s respect for the system. For this reason, I do not agree to certain approaches to the judicial system aimed at casting doubt over a verdict. To accept a judicial ruling is a practice of civil society. To comment on the case of Mr. Kadivar is very difficult. I have known Mr. Kadivar for long. He was one of my colleagues at the Center for Strategic Researches for long years. Of course, the researches conducted by him three and four years before the May 23 presidential elections, had some problems and for this reason the center did not deem it advisable to publish them. However, those works as research works were good ones. Kadivar is a talented and learned man and it is difficult for me, as a friend, to see him in such a situation. I hope that such conditions will not have negative impacts on him. Perhaps, it would have been better for him to distance himself from some events like the one taking place in Isfahan and the likes in order to find more opportunity to expand the scope of his thought. At any rate, I am looking forward with keen interest to the time when Kadivar’s problem is solved and he is reunited with his family.
But as for the case of newspapers, I personally believe that it is not good to close a newspaper. Closure of newspapers in our country is an ugly phenomenon. I am of the belief that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance can function much better than now in this regard. The ministry should not allow a newspaper to be closed. Why is a newspaper closed? In any cases, if the Ministry of Islamic Guidance acts more dynamically, no newspaper will be closed. In our country, a newspaper should be closed every 50 years. But now every day when one gets ups, he sees a newspaper being tried at the court or closed down. This is a very bad phenomenon. Of course, there is a key point in this case to which, I believe, the Ministry of Islamic Guidance is not sensitive.
According to the constitution, people can hold different views but propagating various ideas is different from holding those ideas. An example of this, is having a secular interpretation of government in Iran which is, of course, against the Islamic system. In my opinion, should the Ministry of Islamic Guidance be a little sensitive to this issue and should it brief the press on the issue, there would be fewer problems. I am not saying that people should not believe this. A person may conduct research and reach the conclusion that religion must be separate from politics. It is his or her own idea, but propagating this idea is something else. I cannot accept this idea that some of our fellow countrymen with whatever inclinations publish a newspaper or a magazine with a goal of opposing the constitution. Of course, some people are likely not to agree to some parts of the constitution and this is quite natural, but anti-system propaganda is contrary to the whole constitution. Otherwise, there might be, for example, confidential letters that should not be published. In my opinion, the daily Salaam should not have been closed. Of course, I do not intend to challenge court verdicts. I am of the belief that a milder sentence could have been issued for the daily even if it had been found guilty. Today, strong press with enough facilities do not exist in the country yet. These are like young sprouts and it is very bad to close them one after the other.
Q: Dr. Larijani, you have taken over presidency of three research centers. On the rooftop of this building in which we are talking now, there are several satellite dishes for establishment of contact with (domestic and foreign) networks. This applies to the Nation’s Home Network, run by the Majlis Research Center. You look to be an open man and advocate of dialog in your talks and interviews. Would you please tell us why are you basically in a faction which speaks more of limitations and closures?
A: Should you ask this question from me or others?
Q: Please admit that you faction has some excesses in some cases and employs unnecessary methods or moves towards some limitations which often backfire.
A:My assessment of positions taken by every faction is based on three indices. First, the interpretation of the religion of Islam by that faction; second its interpretation of collective life particularly structure of government; and third its interpretation of development, progress and modernization of Iran.
My own interpretation of the religion is closer to that of our own religious ulama. I do not consider everybody wearing turban or cloak to be an alim and I am very stern in this respect. I believe that the mind of an alim should be equipped with accurate methods for understanding the religion. Distracted minds are unable to understand the religion. As for Iran’s development, I am an advocate of a relatively free market economy and believe that as long as we look at capital as something bad, our economy will not improve. This has caused my thoughts to come closer to certain factions in various periods of time. At any rate I am strongly against state or controlled economy and think that an economy based on market logics (market economy) is both closer to Islam and much better for our country.
As for the government, I believe that the legitimacy of the government has been determined by the Islamic system. In short, the legitimacy of the system is a very important issue. It explains why we should accept this system of government, Islam and a series of values. As for the government structure, in my opinion, democracy of representation is a very good structure though it may have some shortcomings. We should be moderate but should not seek absolute goodness or a government free from any flaws. On the contrary, flaw is a very good thing which would prompt us to try to remove it. We should have faith in democracy both in our family, social life and work places. For instance, when I see an expert not daring to express his views in the presence of his boss but at the end of the meeting he whisper with me that his view was quite different from that raised at the session, I am annoyed very much. Why we should be like this. Why we do not want our deputies or colleagues to criticize us. I want to say democracy is a culture whose enforcement is not limited to the ruling officials alone. Democracy has a secret and that is we should believe in ourselves as an individual. I am of the belief that an individual is the main factor in Islam. I have been told sometimes that I am extremely individualist. Basically, based on Islam we cannot look at people as a herd. No one is tried instead of the other. Each and every one of us has our own record paper. This feeling of being an individual is a very important issue. When one walks, one feels that it has some depth on the ground and has some presence in the sky. The feeling that it is me and the feeling of being an individual is the key for appreciating democracy. You can compare the collection of my thoughts with those of any faction and then determine how close they are to each other or how far they are from each other. I am not telling you my ideas now. I have written them in various books or told them frequently.
Q: What is obvious from your remarks is that Mohammad Javad Larijani, as an individual, has paid the price in lieu of a faction on many occasions.
A: Yes this is true. This has happened many times while I have not joined any faction on my own. I was afraid to say falsely that I was with this or that faction which might result in telling lies to myself and others. I feel more comfortable this way. Of course I have no fear of taking a position. I am against a politician who adopts double standard stances.
Source:Payame Emruz (Monthly) .