Analysis of The Iran Primer’s “The Supreme Leader”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dr. Ali Abdullah-Khani


The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) has recently launched a project dubbed “Iran Primer.” The institute’s website claims that it is taking a scientific approach to study various issues related to Iran. Of course, anti-Iranian policy of the website which clearly shows up from the very outset of the research, casts serious doubt on scientific and research-based nature of its study. However, such an extensive focus on Iran-related issues can, at least, provide a good opportunity for discussion and exchange of scientific views in order to shed more light on political, economic and cultural realities of Iran. As such, I have analyzed an article entitled “The Supreme Leader” which has been written by Mr. Karim Sajjadpour and published on the website of the institute. The present critical article has been also sent to USIP to be published underneath Mr. Sajjadi’s article, of course, if they really believe in plurality of ideas. The critique has also been given to Iran Review website to be made available to interested readers.

Ali Abdullah-Khani
December 12, 2011

Article Critique

“The Supreme Leader” article can be analyzed from three angles:

1. The method used in preparing the text of the article;
2. Basic facts and data; and
3. Analyses and viewpoints

Method of Preparation

A scientific and research work is usually very much different from a report meant for political and propaganda purposes. A scientific research starts by positing questions followed by a methodological effort to gather necessary data through suitable data collection methods, analysis of those data through an argumentative and impartial method and, finally, rejection or confirmation of the main hypothesis of the research followed by answering the main question(s). On this basis, however, the website’s article is far from a scientific work and is based on presumptions and premises which have reduced it to a political statement and a propaganda campaign. Instead of looking like a researcher, the author appears more like a political activist for the following reasons:

1. Without posing the main question or saying anything about the goal of the study, the text abruptly beings with propositions which should be, in fact, the conclusion of that research. The final conclusion has been given at the beginning of the text where it says, “He (Ayatollah Khamenei) is the single most powerful individual in a highly factionalized, autocratic regime. No major decisions can be taken without his consent, and his top priorities are his own survival and that of the Islamic Republic.”

In the third paragraph, the author says, “(Ayatollah) Khamenei lacks the popular support, charisma and theological qualifications that Khomeini enjoyed….” Such naïve and thoughtless opinions are worthless in a scientific research and it is clear from these first few lines that the author is not trying to explore personality, theories, views or political conduct of Ayatollah Khamenei, but like many Indian movies, the end of the story is quite evident from the very beginning: to tarnish the image and personality of Ayatollah Khamenei.

2. Arguments are divided into correct and incorrect categories. Fallacy is the general description of erroneous arguments and denotes lack of logical link between introductory part and conclusion of an argument. It is usually divided into logical and linguistic varieties. Linguistic fallacy is more common in folkloric, non-scientific and colloquial texts because such fallacy is based on linguistic tricks aimed to make the addressee believe claims which lack a scientific basis. Close review of this text proves that it heavily suffers from this kind of fallacy, examples of which follows:

2.1. Irrelevant conclusion [or Ignoratio elenchi]: Undoubtedly, any claim should be hold up by suitable proof. If proof is commoner or more specific than the claim, or there is basically no logical relationship between the proof and the claim, then, it is called irrelevant conclusion. Examples of irrelevant conclusion in this text include:

“(Ayatollah) Khamenei lacks the popular support, charisma and theological qualifications that Khomeini enjoyed (proof), but his ability to stay out of the limelight contributed to his political resilience—until recently (claim).” Do you think that there is a logical relationship between the proof and the claim? That is, if Ayatollah Khamenei presumably lacks Imam Khomeini’s theological qualifications, can this be a reason for his political resilience?

2.2. Argumentum ad hominem: This form of fallacy has been translated as “against the man” and is used when a person is chided and insulted for expressing his/her opinion instead of analyzing their words. In fact, in this kind of fallacy, the author aims to create a negative atmosphere in order to have his say by using that negative atmosphere. This kind of fallacy is very common due to its reliance on a psychological process to convey its message. Various instances of this fallacy in the said article include:

• “He (Ayatollah Khamenei) is the single most powerful individual in a highly factionalized, autocratic regime;”

• “No major decisions can be taken without his consent, and his top priorities are his own survival and that of the Islamic Republic,”

• "With the help of Rafsanjani, (Ayatollah) Khamenei emerged as the default choice to become the new Supreme Leader;”

• “Today, his likeness—black turban, oversized glasses, Palestinian kaffiyeh, and untrimmed gray beard—is ubiquitous in shop and government offices, and on billboards;”

• “(Ayatollah) Khamenei has always been notoriously thin-skinned.”

Such propositions in the text are clear examples of Argumentum ad hominem. They aim to assassinate the character of a person on which the article is supposed to provide accurate information.

2.3. Fallacies of ambiguity: This kind of fallacy pertains to ambiguous words, phrases and structures used in a text. An example of this fallacy in the article includes:

“(Ayatollah) Khamenei’s vision for a just Islamic society translates as a form of religious socialism.”

This introductory fallacy has been followed by these conclusions: (1) a quote from Ayatollah Khamenei about failure of capitalism due to denying justice; (2) claiming that Ayatollah Khamenei has championed privatization efforts in the country; and (3) claiming that Ayatollah Khamenei supports payment of subsidies. In this fallacy, firstly, the “religious socialism” suffers from ambiguity of meaning. What is religious socialism? He reaches ambiguous conclusions on the basis of an ambiguous claim. In addition, the whole proposition suffers from fallacy of ambiguity. The triangle of capitalism, championing privatization, and supporting payment of subsidies are three elements with little connection in-between which have been mentioned as the reason for Ayatollah Khamenei’s support of religious socialism.

Basic facts and Data

Data are raw material of any analysis. As a result, gathering documented, basic, and verifiable information is prelude to any analysis, argument or inference. Just in the same way that nothing can be produced in the absence of raw material, no analysis, argument, and inference would be valid without raw data. “The Supreme Leader,” unfortunately, is based on very poor data because its data base is also quite limited; that is, it has been built without adequate raw materials. Even some of the used data are also erroneous. Examples include:

• The author says, “After the Shah’s ouster, (Ayatollah) Khamenei briefly served as minister of defense…,” which is wrong. Ayatollah Khamenei has never served as minister of defense, though he was deputy minister of defense for a short period (in 1979). After the establishment of the Supreme Defense Council according to the first version of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution, he was chosen as Imam Khomeini’s representative to the Council (1980). Also, during two consecutive terms as president of Iran and in line with the country’s constitution, Ayatollah Khamenei simultaneous served as chairman of the Supreme Defense Council.

• He also writes, “Revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini introduced the concept of Velayat-e Faqih, or guardianship of the jurist.” This is totally wrong as the theory of Velayat-e Faqih is a political theory of Shia Islam (both in fiqh [Shia jurisprudence] and theosophy) which dates back to centuries ago. Sheikh Abu Salah al-Halabi (374-447 AH), Muhammad ibn Idris Helli (543-598 AH), Abu Qasim Jafar Bin Sayeed Helli (Muhaqiq-e Helli) (602-676 AH), and Ali Ibn Abdul Ali Karki (Muhaqiq-e Karki) (868-940 AH) were pioneers of this theory who clearly laid out its outlines between 1,200 and 700 years ago. Even later scholars like Allameh Naraqi, Allameh Naeini, Kashif ul-Ghita, Akhound Khorasani, Mohammad Hassan Najafi, aka Sahib Jawahir, and Sheikh Ansari have been its proponents. Such famous Iranian philosophers as Avicenna (370-428 AH) and Farabi (260-339 AH), who believed that philosophy was supplementary to the Islamic theosophy, had accepted Imamate, Velayat and Velayat-e Faqih within rational frameworks and had argued in its favor in their books. In his book, Shafa, Avicenna says that the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and Infallible Imams should require their followers to also follow their successors. That successor, he adds, should be either appointed by him (Prophet or Imam), or through consensus of prominent Muslim scholars of every era. It would be better for a ruler who has clearly proven to the people that he follows an independent policy, pristine wisdom, and such moral virtues as courage, chastity, and sound judgment and also knows the rules of religion better than others to appoint his own successor.

• Since the author tries to make readers believe that all powers end in the Supreme Leader (I will discuss this below), he writes, “(Ayatollah) Khamenei appoints half its (Guardian Council’s) members, as well as the judicial chief who appoints the other half.” This is wrong. The judiciary head does not appoint lawyer members of the Guardian Council, he just proposes them to the Islamic Consultative Assembly and it is for people’s representatives to choose lawyer members of the Guardian Council out of the candidates that are introduced by the judiciary (Para. 2, Article 191, Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution).

• The author claims, “(Ayatollah) Khamenei has the most authority over how the country’s oil revenue is spent.” This is not correct because according to the country’s laws, the Supreme Leader has no power over how the country’s oil revenue is spent. Such revenues directly go into the Treasury and the Islamic Consultative Assembly is the only authority to decide on how they are spent. The way such revenues are spent is decided according to bills and motions which are submitted to the Iranian parliament by three branches of the government (executive, judiciary, and legislature) after those bills and motions are passed by parliament deputies.

• The author has made indirect references to selection of the former leader in two places. In his conclusion, he writes, “(Ayatollah) Khamenei has the most authority over how the country’s oil revenue is spent.” Elsewhere, he writes, “Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989 just months after firing his heir apparent, leaving no designated replacement.” It follows that the next leader must be chosen by the existing leader, which is basically wrong. The current leader has no power to appoint the next leader. According to the Iranian Constitution, it is only for the Assembly of Experts to choose a leader and the leader can only delegate some of his powers to another person (Article 110 of the Constitution). Ayatollah Montazeri was suggested, and even somehow imposed, on the then Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, by the then members of the Assembly of Experts. Therefore, Ayatollah Khamenei had no power to choose his successor. Even Ayatollah Khamenei was chosen as the second leader of the Islamic Revolution by the members of the Assembly of Experts.

Analyses and Views

According to the above facts, there are few basic propositions, information and data and even a large part of that scanty data is erroneous. However, analyses provided in the text can be divided in three groups: leader’s powers, leader’s influence, and leader’s views and positions.

1. Through his fallacies, the author tries to make the readers believe that everything (legislation, execution, supervision, and judicial rulings) are directly or indirectly in the power of Ayatollah Khamenei. In reality, however, Ayatollah Khamenei’s powers in some respects are even more limited than those of the presidents of the United States or France as the highest authorities of their respective countries. For example: 1) the US president can veto the Congress’ decision and in France, the president can dismantle the parliament. In Iran, the leader has no power to dismantle the Islamic Consultative Assembly or the Assembly of Experts or even to veto the parliament’s decisions. 2) Presidents of the United States and France can be only ousted through unanimous votes of both houses of parliament, but in Iran, the Assembly of Experts alone can oust the leader and also enjoys permanent supervisory powers over the leaders conduct and behavior. 3) In the United States, the president enjoys both the powers of leadership and the executive, but in Iran, a large part of the executive powers have been invested in the president. Therefore, executive powers of the Iranian leader are much less than those of the United States president. Since the Iranian parliament is independent and the presidency also enjoys relative independence, they practically are counterweights to the power of the Iranian leader and this issue has been frequently observed in practice during the past 32 years. Even the author of the article has owned up to this fact in his article. 4) On the other hand, both the Iranian leader and president are held accountable with regard to their powers and duties. They are under constant supervision of the Assembly of Experts and the Islamic Consultative Assembly. In France, however, the president is not accountable before a specific authority unless he commits treason against the country.

The above facts clearly prove that the Iranian leader’s powers are no more than those of the US of French presidents, if no less. Therefore, if the Iranian leader enjoys absolute powers despite the above facts, then it would be logical to assume that the powers invested in the presidents of US and France are more than absolute. In reality, however, neither of these presumptions is correct.

2. In a section of his article, entitled “Four Foreign Policy Themes,” the author has reviewed Ayatollah Khamenei’s viewpoints on four important issues of Iran's foreign policy: the United States, the peace process, the nuclear program and the Islamic world. Here, the author has offered judgments, instead of analysis, and since judgments are too brief, the result is incomplete, weak and erroneous propositions about the viewpoints of Ayatollah Khamenei. Consider the following examples:

• As for the United States, the author’s opinion that Ayatollah Khamenei sees the United States and Israel as two sides of the same coin is mostly his own viewpoint. Ayatollah Khamenei has clearly noted that recognizing Israel and establishment of political relations with that entity is impossible, but his approach toward the United States is quite different. Ayatollah Khamenei has specified that lack of relations between Iran and the United States will not be permanent and in case of suitable conditions, those relations will be reestablished in due time. Ayatollah Khamenei’s main condition for détente with the United States is that the Islamic Republic of Iran should achieve a certain level of national power where the country will be less vulnerable in dealing with the United States. He has also noted that the United States should change its mind about interfering in Iran's internal affairs.

• In the same section on the US, the author’s notion that Ayatollah Khamenei’s “…primary concern is not a US military invasion, but rather a political and cultural campaign to undermine theocratic rule through a ‘soft’ or ‘velvet’ revolution,” is the fruit of his own imagination. Ayatollah Khamenei considers the United States as a major international military threat. Waging wars, military attacks, threat to military attack, and deploying troops in all parts of the world are major feature of the United States’ political behavior. Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei’s concerns about the United States have been reduced to Washington’s political and cultural struggles against Iran's religious government. This aims to divert the readers’ views on Ayatollah Khamenei’s opinion about the soft war. His views on the soft war follow a global formula which has been preoccupation of many contemporary thinkers and intellectuals such as Seyyed Qutb and Seyyed Jamaleddin Asadabadi, among Muslim thinkers; and Walerstein, Noam Chomsky, Ben Bagdikian, and Antonio Gramsci among western thinkers. In addition, reducing Ayatollah Khamenei’s concerns to merely protecting what the author calls a religious government is also inaccurate. He is certainly concerned about US plots against the Islamic Republic of Iran, but his main concern is the threat posed by US against Iran's national values and the progress of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei is concerned that the United States aims to prevent Iran from achieving historical, geopolitical and cultural position that it rightfully deserves; that is, to turn into a regional superpower.

The author’s judgments about viewpoints of Ayatollah Khamenei on the Middle East peace process and the Islamic world are also flawed. However, I slur over them here in order not to make this article any longer. There is no doubt that conducting research on the positions and viewpoints of world leaders especially leaders with universal viewpoints, ideals and opinions, is a global imperative. However, scientific research and analysis based on correct, well-assessed, documented, and creditable data are the main requisites of such research.

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