Timothy R. Furnish: Rouhani May Not Go to Extremes, But He's Hardly "Moderate"

tags: Islam, Iran, Timothy R. Furnish, Hassan Rouhani, Shiites



Timothy R. Furnish holds a PhD in Islamic, World and African History (Ohio State), is a U.S. Army veteran and recovering college professor, and currently makes a living as an author, lecturer and consultant to the U.S. military. His website is www.mahdiwatch.org

The journalistic mob has spoken: the newly-elected President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hasan Rouhani, is a "moderate" (so says CNN, WaPo, GlobalPost, MSNBC, al Arabiya, The Guardian, and virtually every other news outlet in this quadrant of the galaxy; in fact I think Walter Cronkite has chimed in agreement from his post-mortal coil state).  But precious little corroboration of this adjective is adduced in any of these fawning articles, besides Rouhani's vague talk of "reforms" and "greater personal liberty." 

So great is the media's hatred for outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that journalistic groupthink has coalesced, almost instantaneously, around the trope that Rouhani must be an improvement.

But is he? First off, Dr. Hasan Rouhani (who may or may not have a doctorate from Glasgow Caledonian University), is a Twelver Shi`i cleric--a mujtahid, a "reinterpreter" of Islamic law -- albeit of lesser rank than than an ayatollah). Ahmadinejad, on the contrary, was a layman. Furthermore, Rouhani's biography clearly shows that he was one of Khoneini's first supporters and, to this day, has never disputed the vilayet-i faqih ("rule of the [Islamic] jurisprudents") set up in 1979 -- in fact, of course, no man could be elected to any post above dog catcher in Iran without manifesting unwavering support for that system.  Rouhani's former role as chief nuclear obfuscator, er, negotiator vis-a-vis the Europeans is also adduced as evidence of his "moderation" when, in fact, it simply proves his canniness in pulling the suf (wool) over diplomacy-needy European eyes. His ability to speak English, which of course also sets him apart from that eschatological rube Ahmadinejad, is taken as evidence of cosmopolitanism and flexibility -- by gullible foreign ministry and U.S. State Departmen apparatchiks.  Rouhani's (allegedly) published works include multivolume sets on Islamic political thought and monographs on fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), shari`a, Khomeini's political thought and the Shi`a Imams -- not exactly grist for reformist mills.

So what gauge, exactly, are media and analysts using to ascertain Rouhani's "moderation?" Belief in the imminent coming of the Mahdi, it would seem. Whereas Ahmadinejad often spoke of the 12th Imam al-Mahdi returning in short order to fix the world (by humbling "Arrogant Powers" led by the U.S. and Israel and establishing global Islamic rule), Rouhani is on record as having criticized this position -- and to journalists almost totally ignorant about Islam in general and Twelver Shi`i eschatology in particular, the enemy of Ahmadinejad and his apocalyptic arrogance must be our friend. Actually, however, belief in the return of the 12th Imam is no more an outlier in Twelver Shi`ism than belief in the Second Coming of Jesus is to Christians; it is, rather, a staple of the faith. Rouhani and Ahmadinejad are both totally in sync on this issue -- they just disagree, it seems, on the timetable. (As for those who claim that Ahmadinejad believes in "hotwiring the apocalypse" -- using nukes against, say, Israel to hasten the Mahdi's coming -- they need to read my article refuting that proposition). And Ahmadinejad differed, sometimes publicly, with Ayatollah Khameini -- trying to assert his rural-based lay populism over against urban clerical rule. Finally, in more prosaic terms, Ahmadinejad ran afoul of the senior clerics and the Supreme Leader for contravening the ayatollahs' Islamic fundamentalist views of male-female relations--kissing his former teacher's hand, for instance; and daring to hold hands with late Hugo Chavez's mother at his funeral. Who's the real moderate, then?



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