President Hassan Rouhani's public battle with hard-line clerics over Iranians' route to heaven is symptomatic of the broader war he faces over his reform efforts.
In the last two weeks, the tit-for-tat exchanges between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his hard-line opponents have grabbed the headlines, not only inside Iran but around the world. Triggered by the arrest of six young Iranian men and women who had created a video of themselves dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy,” Rouhani remarked May 24 in a speech, “Do not interfere so much in people’s lives, even out of compassion. … Let people choose their own path to heaven. We cannot send people to heaven by force or a whip.”
According to Al-Monitor, the statements seemed a departure from the paternalistic approach, including the imposition of religious codes of conduct that the Islamic Republic establishment has adopted since its inception. Rouhani’s comments are less about the philosophical approach to enforcing cultural norms as they are about accepting realities of Iranian society and preserving and expanding his own political base.
Rouhani’s statements provoked fierce reactions from the conservative camp. The war of words peaked when the outspoken and ultraconservative senior cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi stepped in. Addressing Rouhani as “some individuals with official authority who wear a turban,” he asked, “Where did you get your religion from? From Feyziyyeh [a seminary school in Qom] or England?”
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