Ethics and Politics Relationship

Politics has two faces—a smiling face that gives glad tidings of prosperity, power and authority, and a furious one that calls to mind power struggle, power worship, and injustice. It is owing to this that politics is likened to Janus,[329] the first mythological king of Latium.[330]

The gods had bestowed the king with such powers of clairvoyance that he would see the past and the future in unison. It is for this reason that they used to depict him as having two faces, portraying him as terrifying. In reality, politics has also two facets and faces: On the one hand, it is after securing the objectives and demands of the citizens and is a powerful tool for the establishment of public order and welfare—this is the favourable face of politics.

On the other hand, it is the means of rivalry, challenge, power struggle, dealing a blow to the enemy, and outstripping and outsmarting him—this gives a dreadful image of politics.

In our culture the latter face of politics is better known. Usually politics has been equated and associated with fraud, deception, and in slang, ‘chicanery’ [pedar sūkhteh bāzī].

A deeper analysis of this aspect of politics exists in Arabic and has taken the form of a proverb. It states, “To rule is mule-like (sterile)”[331] [al-mulk ‘aqīm]. It means that it show no mercy to anybody and recognizes no kinship and kinsmen.

History is replete with this attitude to politics. Nādirshāh[332] killed his own son merely because of a misunderstanding, and Shīraveyeh[333] murdered his own father Khusrūparvīz (Khosroe Parvez) in order to gain power.[334] Ferdowsī elegantly depicts the gloomy end of this unlucky king. After Shīraveyeh, who was himself a prisoner of his father, is released from the prison through the help of the soldiers, he dethrones his father, puts him behind bars, and goes in search of a person who would kill his father. But he has nobody to help to murder the king as such a deed would be inauspicious. However, he finally finds the person who accepts to shoulder the heavy responsibility.

يكى خنجرى تيز دادش چو آب بامد كُشنده سبک پرشتاب
چون آن بدكنش رفت نزديک شاه ورا ديد پابند در پيشگاه
بلرزيد خسرو Ú†Ùˆ او را بديد سرشكش ز مژگان به رخ برچكيد…
چو آن جامهﻫﺎ را بپوشيد شاه به زمزم همى توبه كرد از گناه
يكى چادر نو به سر دركشيد بدان تا رخ جانستان را نديد
بشد مهر هرمزد، خنجر به دست در خانه پادشا را ببست
سبک رفت و جامه از او دركشيد جگرگاه شاه جهان بردريد

He gave him a sharp dagger that shines like water,
And he was hastily directed to kill.
When the wicked person approached the king,
He saw him devoted to God.
When Khosrow saw him, tears flew on his cheek;
When the king wore those garments and repented from his sins.
A new chador he covered himself with
So as not to see his murderous face.
Mehr Hormozd took hold of a dagger
And closed the door of the king’s house.
He promptly approached the king and took away the chador from his head
And opened the king’s belly.[335]

This patricide does not end here. As a precautionary measure, fifteen other sons of Khusrū who are imprisoned are also butchered.
چو آگاهى آمد به بازار و راه كه خسرو برانﮔﻭنه برشد تباه
همه بدگمانان به زندان شدند به ايوان آن مستمندان شدند
گرامى ده وپنج فرزند بود به ايوان شاه آنک در بند بود
به زندان بكشتندشان بيگناه بدانگه که برگشته شد، بخت شاه

When the people of the street and market understood
How Khosrow became corrupted,
All the wicked were imprisoned
While the indigent were in the veranda.
All the fifteen noble sons (of Khosrow)
Were imprisoned in the castle.
They were innocently murdered in prison
As the king’s fortune returned.[336]

Shīraveyeh, too, did not remain unpunished for this patricide [and fratricide] for he was also murdered by others.

Well, the story of politics from this perspective is a tragic one and replete with patricides, fratricides and filicides. If politics is such, what will its relation to ethics be? Is it possible to build a bridge between the two? This question has occupied and challenged the minds of thinkers for the past two thousand years. Some believe that politics is a mixture of fraudulence and violence, and, as such, it cannot be rid of its abominations. This is while others do assert that politics can be ethical. But we are after finding out the place of politics in the ideological system of Imām Khomeinī and what connection it could have with ethics. In a bid to answer this question, we have no alternative but to discuss first the fundamental views on the subject under consideration. Then, we will examine the viewpoint of the Imām in this context.

Concerning the relationship between ethics and politics, there are four main views and they are as follow:

· View on the separation of ethics and politics;

· View on the subservience of ethics to politics;

· View on the duality of ethics and politics; and

· View on the oneness of ethics and politics.

View on the separation of ethics and politics

The principal claim of this view is that one should believe in the difference between ethical rules and political exigencies, and that one should take political measures on the basis of reality and by keeping in mind the interests and benefits. Anchored to this approach, which is also called political realism, is the consideration of ethics in politics ending in failure in this sphere.

It is because the pivot of ethics is truth and right while the motive of politics is interests and benefits. Ethics demands that we tell the truth even though it is against us, not to do injustice, not to take people as our instruments, to be advocates of justice all the time, not to lie, to abstain from deception, not to conceal the truths, etc. This is while politics necessitates the abandonment of some principles of ethics. Basically any step in politics begins with hostility against ethics and trampling upon moralities. Any political activity is impossible without ‘the dirty hands’.

Politics is nothing but an arena for the obtainment, expansion and preservation of power, which cannot be realized without sacrificing the principles of ethics. After every political step, the abundance of crushed moral virtues is conspicuous. Therefore, one must choose either ethics or politics, purity or defilement while discarding the other since combining the two is absurd. As a result, “All the interests of man who wants his soul to remain pure through piety lie in not doing anything.”[337]

According to a political realist adhering to ethics in the political sphere is not only unbeneficial but also means total loss since he knows that in this world, “In spite of the moral tales which are for children, virtue remains unrewarding. The real sovereign is power… and moral temptations are signs of weakness of designs.”[338]

Apparently, the first thinker who dwelt on this issue and elucidated it was Thucydides,[339] a Greek political thinker and historian. He precisely sketched out this viewpoint two thousand and four hundred years ago and decided to delineate the exact boundary between ethics and politics and to separate these two realms from one another. In the belief that politics is tied to interests while ethics is to truth, he narrates the dialogue between the representatives of Athens, which was then in a position of strength, and the representatives of the city of Melos, a former ally of Athens that was in a position of weakness. The dialogue strikingly shows the essence of this view.[340]

After the city of Melos fell under siege, the representatives of Athens went there to conduct a dialogue and talked with the elders of the city. An excerpt of the dialogue is as follows:

“What we want is to make it clear to you that we have come here for the expansion of our empire and are conducting this dialogue so as to maintain the safety of your city. To prevail over you is not difficult for us, but at the same time, we want your safety since this affair is beneficial to both of us.” [341]

The representatives of Melos replied, “How could it be just as good for us to be the slaves as for you to be the masters?”[342]

Representatives of Athens: “You, by giving in, would save yourselves from disaster; we by not destroying you, would be able to profit from you.”[343]

Representatives of Melos: “Hence, according to the people of your city, just behaviour lies in not differentiating between the cities that have nothing to do with you (neutral) and those that are either your puppets or have revolted against you, and you have gained control over them?”[344]
Representatives of Athens: “From the viewpoint of right and wrong, our people do not make any difference between them and they believe that the cities are still independent as they are strong, and the reason why we do not attack them is that we are afraid of them. So, by conquering you we shall increase not only the size but the security of our empire as well. We have mastery over the seas and you are a small and weak island. As such, it is only natural that you should surrender to us.”[345]

Therefore, since the people of Athens are more powerful than the people of the island of Melos, the power itself gives them the right to occupy the island and make its inhabitants their slaves. The view of the separation of ethics from politics is more explicitly associated with Machiavelli, the Italian thinker. He not only insists on this dichotomy but also recommends, in his concise and famous thesis named, The Prince, to the ruler or prince to trample upon every ethical consideration so as to fortify his power.

Although Machiavelli thinks of ethics as essential for the life of the individual and indispensable for the continuity of society and social life, he regards attachment to it as dangerous for the prince and he cautions him (the prince or monarch) against the danger of piety and says:

Anyone who wants in all conditions to be virtuous, in the midst of all this wickedness, has no destiny except disappointment. Thus, a prince who would not like to relinquish his crown should learn wicked methods and utilize them wherever needed.[346]

Even though in the view of Machiavelli the possession of virtues is good for the prince, it is so as long as it does not amount to the collapse of his rule.

Thus, since we think optimistically, we see it as an attribute which is regarded as a virtue. But its implementation will lead to annihilation [of the government]. This is while there is also another attribute which is viewed as callousness although it engenders security and success.[347]

Though the popularity of the prince is desirable, in case he cannot avoid either the people adoring or fearing him. It is then better if they fear him because in this way they could be controlled and guided better.[348]

No matter how desirable the faithfulness and fidelity of the prince are, it is regrettable that circumstances are not always compatible with the observance of pacta sunt servanda.[349]

Life experiences have taught us that the monarchs who have performed onerous tasks are those that have not given any consideration to doing good deeds and have manipulated the people through trickery. Finally, they have prevailed over those who have observed righteousness.[350]

Thus, one must always move in tune with reality, know the value of power and authority, and bear in mind that even among the prophets, those armed had been victorious and “all the prophets who were fighters triumphed and those who were armless remained unsuccessful.”[351]
There are two ways to gain victory: law and force. Law is peculiar to the human being. Force belongs to the animals, and since the first alternative is not always responsive, the monarch should also learn the second option. It is in this sense that the monarch ought to know how he could acquire the two temperaments as he will not remain faithful to one of them. So, if the monarch is supposed to learn the style of the wild beast and apply it, he ought to learn also the style (cunning) of the fox as well as that (brawn) of the lion as the lion cannot escape from traps (deception) and the fox from the clutches of the wolf (power)…

Therefore, the shrewd ruler is not supposed to be faithful to his promise when it is to his disadvantage and detriment, and there is no more reason to commit to it… From these circumstances, there are numerous instances that can be brought out and be shown that so many promises and commitments which have been violated through the infidelity of the princes as well as for without any basis. Those who have imitated the fox have come out more successful than the rest. But it should be known how to embellish the outward appearance and to cunningly perform deception and trickery. The people are so naïve and credulous such that a deceiver can always find those who are willing to be deceived.”[352]

The book is replete with such recommendations. Considering the psychological makeup of the masses, he regards them as inherently filthy and wicked, and believes that “anyone who leans on the people [actually] leans on water.”[353] His main proposal is that “the people should either be flattered or knocked down.”[354]

There is no middle way; it is either the stick or carrot. Reliance on Machiavelli and quotation of his statements are due to his importance in the history of political thought. There have been innumerable discussions on Machiavelli and his thesis which he dedicated to Lorenzo de Medici (1449-92), the ruler of Florence (in Italy). A group believes that Machiavelli expressed his beliefs in that book and that he believed in whatever he said; thus, he deserves curse and damnation.

But keeping in view his other book entitled, Discourses, another group believes that Machiavelli was actually describing the rulers of his time and not prescribing a particular method. At any rate, this discussion is still alive and the first view prevails over the second. Similarly, ‘Machiavellian’ is an attribute that signifies jugglery and cheating in the sphere of politics. In spite of this, he has been described as “the first modern political philosopher”[355] and nobody doubts the influence of his thinking and ideas.

So, it is fitting to claim that in the sphere of political thought, Machiavelli can be accepted; he can be denied as well. But, he cannot be overlooked. Machiavelli’s ‘crime’ was that he would expose whatever the princes were doing, and made clear the essence and consequences of such thinking. From then onward, this approach not only remained undiminished in matters of politics but also the rulers who were Machiavellian supporters commenced their rule by vilifying Machiavelli while observing all his recommendations. Even those who opposed Machiavelli’s thought would tread the same path once they obtained power, applying the same recommendations to such an extent that Frederick, the Great, the King of Prussia, at a young age while still a crown prince and enjoying the companionship of the French philosopher, Voltaire, wrote a book on the latter’s encouragement entitled, Anti-Machiavelli.

In it he criticized one by one the ideas of Machiavelli as being contrary to moral laws. But no sooner than succeeding to the throne that he found himself besieged by his rivals who, from all quarters, had cast covetous eyes on his country. Whereupon he followed to the letter the political principles enunciated by Machiavelli, particularly in The Prince. It is notable that there has been no political figure who observed so precisely and strictly the law of raison d’éstat[356] as he did. Finally, in his political will and testament, he acknowledged that Machiavelli was right; adding that among all those with boundless ambitions, anyone observing ethics would not survive.[357]

The perfect epitome of a person possessing such a mental frame, who instinctively applied all the above recommendations, was Mu‘āwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān. In a bid to obtain the caliphate and preserve it, he did many unofficial things and trampled on all moral virtues. After concluding a peace treaty with Imām Hasan al-Mujtabā (‘a), he trampled on the conditions that were not to his satisfaction.[358] He officially announced that his objective in waging war and concluding the peace treaty was nothing but obtainment of power and dominance over others, and that there being no further impediment in his way, he saw no reason to fulfill his promises and commitments. He performed congregational prayer in Nukhaylah and in his sermon he declared to the signatories:

By God, I did not wage war against you in order to let you say your prayers, observe fasting, perform hajj, or give zakāt [alms-tax], [It makes no difference for me] whether you perform these acts or not. I fought against you only for the sake of making myself your ruler and God granted my wish even though it is unpleasant for you.[359]

Prior to the birth of Machiavelli, Mu‘āwiyah applied his prescriptions on the temperamental duality of the prince and the lion-fox nature of the ruler. In his letter to Ziyād ibn Ubayyah, the then governor of Basrah and Kūfah, he wrote:
It is not fitting for you and me to guide the people uniformly through a policy of leniency as to make them experience inebriation, or to exert extreme pressure on them as to put them in a quandary. Instead, you have to adopt a policy of violence and rudeness while I will employ a policy of clemency and compassion.[360]

The adventurousness of Mu‘āwiyah, the war he imposed on Imām ‘Alī (‘a), the elected caliph of the people, and his Machiavellian ways are well-known to all and sundry. Some of the people at that time were so influenced by such an approach as to accuse Imām ‘Alī (‘a) of lack of political acumen, with which we will deal later. Relying on political realism, this group of people believed that Mu‘āwiyah should be dealt with in a Mu‘āwiyah-like fashion—something which Imām ‘Alī (‘a) was not at all prepared to do.

Consequently, Mu‘āwiyah emerged triumphant. As such, their view, as they thought it, was proved that the path of politics is separate from that of ethics. The main critique of Imām ‘Alī’s (‘a) critics who have always believed in the great value of his ethical personality, pertains to the Imām’s (‘a) moral approach in politics. One of them is Shafīq Jibrī, an Egyptian contemporary, who regards the Imām’s (‘a) ethical approach as the reason behind his failure in the Battle of Siffīn.[361] He says:

The Imām (‘a) did not know that the main apprehension of the people concerned the vanities of the world. It was difficult for him to believe that the people were in pursuit of their own interests and benefits. So, he did not behave with them as a professional politician would; rather, he dealt with them as a professional man of ethics.[362]

Sayyid Qut*b, himself a Sunnī thinker, does not approve this assessment. He believes that the Imām (‘a) was familiar with the way to victories and defeats, and the methods thereof. But he was not willing to make use of any method at any cost. Instead, he was strictly committed to ethics. This is while

Mu‘āwiyah and his alter ego ‘Amr [ibn al-‘Ās], owing to being more acquainted with the psychological motivations of individuals as well as with useful attitudes in suitable conditions, turned victorious against ‘Alī. Nay, they became victorious since they regarded themselves free to employ any weapon; whereas he [Imām ‘Alī (‘a)] abided by his ethical principles in employing war weapons. Besides, Mu‘āwiyah and his alter ego used to resort to lies, deception, trickery, bribery, and buying commitments and loyalty. Therefore, it is not surprising that the two would triumph and he be defeated; a defeat that was nobler than any triumph.[363]

Such an approach to politics has led many religious individuals to turn their backs on it; the reason being that the notion that politics, in essence, necessitates separation from ethics has taken root. Expressions such as ‘to rule is mule-like’ [al-mulk ‘aqīm], ‘politics has no father and mother’ ‘politics is chicanery’ [siyāsat pedar sūkhteh-bāzī], and the like, are the products of such a notion. Even one of the contemporary jurists [fuqahā] who used to assail politics pessimistically and dissuade the Muslims from engaging in it, would say, “Politics is on one side while religion is on the other.”

In the words of Imām Khomeinī, the matter went to such an extent that most of the scholars [ahl-e ‘ilm] and holy men [muqaddasīn] had accepted the notion that “religion has its own boundary and so with politics”[364] and even if they wanted to backbite somebody, they would dub him as ‘political or politicized’ [siyāsī].[365] He himself narrates that Pākravān, the then chief of the State Organization for Security and Information (SAVAK)[366] approached him and said, “Sir, politics consists of telling lies, cheating, trickery, jugglery and, in short, chicanery of the highest order [pedar-sūkhtehgī]; leave all this to us.” Since the occasion was not appropriate, I decided not to argue with him and said, “From the very beginning we have not been engaged in the kind of politics that you mention.”[367]

In reality, this tenet has two premises. One is that ethics and politics belong to two distinct realms while the other is that political values are different from those of ethics. Proponents of this view propound that the realm of ethics is that of individual realm and his private affairs, while the realm of politics concerns the assurance of wholesome social life and regulation of social relations of individuals with one another, as well as with the government. In addition, moral value is a function of truth, whereas in politics the criterion of value judgment is interests and benefits.

A certain political act is good provided that it is beneficial and brings about a positive outcome, this not being so with ethics. Basically, ethics manifests itself when man is free of the shackles of his personal interests and considerations and moves beyond himself. This point indicates that the precept of separation of ethics from politics does not necessarily mean conflict between them. That is to say, it is not that political acts and movements of politicians are unquestionably repulsive to moral values.
Thus, this tenet is sometimes called the tenet of ‘amorality of politics’. It means that in politics we are up against different kinds of values and standards of measurement, and that politics should not be assessed on the basis of moral values or be judged within the framework of ethics. So, politics in this sense is neutral; it is not against ethics. However, since in practice, this tenet is not bent on either ensuring or negating ethics, and is only in pursuit of obtaining benefits; it does not refrain from trampling on all the principles and rules of ethics whenever necessary. Hence, this theory throughout history has been tantamount to the negation of ethics and etiquettes.

Criticism of the view

The conclusion of the claimants of this is that the principles of ethics should not be allowed to interfere in politics. The story of the followers of this tenet is that of the person who was cutting the root while unwary of the fact that he was approaching death by his own hands. The problem is that if the people realize that their leaders are not behaving morally, they will also wash their hands of ethics, just as Sa‘dī says:

ﺍﮔﺮ ïº¯ïº’ïºŽï»ïº®ï»‹ï»´ïº–ï»¤ï» ï®ïº§ï»­ïº®ïºªïº´ï»´ïº’ï»° ﺒﺮﺁﻭﺮﻧﺪﻏﻼﻤﺎﻦﺍﻭﺪﺮﺨﺖ ﺍﺯﺒﻴﺦ

If the monarch were to eat a single apple from the garden of a peasant,
The servants would pull up the tree by the roots.[368]

A government which permits itself to commit injustice and deceive the people cannot expect justice and truthfulness from them. A citizen, who realizes that his sovereign government tells a lie, prefers, for instance, to fill his tax declaration form with lies, too, and give wrong information. From the perspective, ‘The people are sovereign over the judgment’ [An-nās ‘alā dīn mulūkahum], such a citizen considers himself licensed to perpetrate all sorts of fraud and answers a lie with another lie.

The point is also certain that no government is needless of ethics. The government regards it necessary for its own citizens as they cannot always be asked to obey through force and violence. Instead, the social and government laws should be internalized; with ethics assuming the responsibility for this task. So, any government or ruler is in need of ethics. Even Mu‘āwiyah considered ethics as being necessary for the people and would feign to be a moral person abiding by ethical principles.

A government has hitherto not appeared in history which has permitted its citizens to behave immorally and claim that ethics is worthless. Even if there is a person who has, in practice, trampled on ethics, at least he has pretended to preserve it. Hitler, too, considered himself as a moral person, and Stalin, who set up those ceremonial and sham courts, did so as well and regarded for his people morals as being necessary.

Therefore, if ethics is needed for the people, it can only be kept when the people feel that the government is also faithful and committed to the principles of ethics. Otherwise, there will be no guarantee for the survival of ethics in society, and in turn, survival of the government.

That is why even Machiavelli stresses on the need for the government to behave morally. He views as oppressive the application of whatever he explains in The Prince, saying, “Of course, all these instruments are oppressive and destructive to civil life.”[369] He also states, “Just as good law is needed for the preservation of good morality, good morality is also necessary for the observance of law.”
In a nutshell, no government, no matter how powerful and versatile it may be, can exact obedience from the people only through police methods and by strengthening its own security system. It has no alternative but to benefit from ethics and its promotion. Instead of intimidation, it should persuade them and even pretend itself to be committed to morality. The importance of pretending to be moral is so great that all governments—even the immoral ones—try to make use of this cover-up to achieve their objectives.

Given all the evidence that is sometimes put forth to support this tenet, the reality cannot be denied that if one day the people realize the untruthfulness and immorality of the government and government policy, they will no longer follow them and will retaliate. The truth of the matter is that the moral man is the very same social and political man.

The exact demarcation between the public and private domain of individuals cannot be specified, and ethics cannot be assigned exclusively to a certain realm and politics to another. In practice, the life of every individual has acquired social forms, and every social dimension has individual manifestations. On the other hand, the influence of the government over the private sphere of the individuals is increasing daily. Actually, governments are also gradually taking up the supervision of the private realm and are implementing policies for it.

Thus, it is naïve to think that politics can be regarded as separate from ethics, and accordingly, expect people to behave morally in their relations with others and with the government. In his book entitled, Trust, the Japanese-American thinker, Francis Fukuyama, points to the issue on the legitimacy crisis of the American system and regards it as caused by the negligence of the society’s leaders of the principles of ethics, and their fraudulent conduct in political affairs. Deceitful conduct, moral disgrace and scandals such as ‘Watergate’[370] have provided the grounds for the mistrust of the people as regards the moral conduct of the leaders. The people have steadily lost their confidence and now the American society is facing a legitimacy crisis caused by the decrease of confidence. According to Fukuyama,

The organizational potentiality of economic establishments relies not only on the institutions such as trade law, contract, etc. Instead, it necessitates the aggregate of unwritten moral laws and principles which establishes the foundation of social confidence.[371]

Fukuyama believes that apart from enhancement of economic assets, the government should always endeavor to enhance and increase social assets (such as confidence).[372] In his opinion, confidence and moral commitments are society’s engine of stimulation.[373]

For that reason, nowadays almost everybody outspokenly advocates this tenet and tries to mitigate its extremism, modify it[374] and acknowledge, to some extent, politics as being ethical.

View on the subservience of ethics to politics

This tenet stems from the Marxist-Leninist theory on society, politics and ethics. According to the Marxist viewpoint, history is nothing but the arena of struggle among classes—classes that emerge out of the new mode of production, and after sometime, nurture their enemy (anti-thesis) in their midst and then wither away, relinquishing their position to the dominant class, which in turn nurtures its own anti-thesis. In this way, any class that moves in harmony with history is revolutionary while a class that stands in the way of progress of the forces of production is anti-revolutionary. Every class generates its own associations, which is the infrastructure of the society and manifestation of the condition of economic production. From this perspective, nothing is absolute and everything is class-based such as moral concepts, arts and even science.

The final stage of history is the period of capitalism in which the mode of production is collective while the ownership of the means of production is private. This contradiction leads to the emergence of a new class termed, ‘proletariat’ or working class, which is the agent of production but not owner of the means of production. So, through revolutionary means this class will take the reign of power and lead the society toward socialism—which is a passing stage—and finally, communism. At this juncture, class struggle comes to an end as the society is no more divided into two classes, and both the mode of production and ownership of the means of production are collective.
Marxism-Leninism considered struggle for the triumph of the proletariat as inevitable and revolution as certain, and reckoned any sort of reform movement to improve the living conditions of the workers as wrong. This viewpoint brought into being a particular sociology, which increased its ‘scientific’ attribute and claimed that it has proved three things:

(1) The absolute withering away of the present society is the only way of executing fundamental social reform;

(2) There is nothing needed or to be considered more than this violent action; so, any planning endeavor for the new society is impractical and unfeasible;

(3) In order to acquire the reign of power through a revolution, observance of any kind of conditions or limitations is uncalled for; so,

(a) Historically, this trend is certain and irreversible, and as such, beyond the control of man;

(b) Ethics, truth and the like are merely derived phenomena from the class interests, and thus, the only scientific meaning of ethics, truth, justice, and others, is the advancement of some class interests, which science has proved to be at the threshold of ascension and dominance.

The violent act of revolution involves any sort of ethics, sincerity, genuineness, and justice on the oneness of established scientific meaning.[375]

On the basis of this tenet, ethics and other social manifestations are unconditionally and categorically subservient to politics and revolutionary action― they derive their worth from them and are justified by them― while revolutionary action and politics themselves do not need the justification of ethics.

When discussing ethics, Lenin himself says, “Our morality is acquired from the benefits of the class struggle of the proletariat;”[376] “For us, ethics that stems from outside the society does not exist and such ethics is nothing else but pretence;”[377] and “when the people ask us about ethics, we say that for a communist, the totality of ethics finds meaning in relation to the iron order and discipline as well as in the conscious resistance against imperialism.”[378]

The tenet of the separation of ethics and politics regarded both ethics and politics as true and authentic, and reckoned both as acceptable and necessary for the society. But it emphasized that these two branches belong to two distinct and independent realms and the criteria of this branch should not be adapted to that realm, or that branch to this realm.
Thus, Machiavelli, who used to maintain so vehemently that brutal methods and fox-like cunning were essential for the ruler, would nonetheless lay stress on the necessity of adhering to ethics and believed that the ruler, as far as possible, should not trample upon ethical principles unless forced to do so. But this tenet basically reckons ethics, politics and the whole of culture as the superstructure of the society. It espouses that no clout of authenticity should be given to ethics and that the ‘moralness’ of behaviour of a certain class depends on its historical circumstances.

So, a practice can be an ethical one from the viewpoint of a certain class while the same is unethical and antirevolutionary according to another class. To cite an example, the crackdown on the peaceful demonstration rally of the Russian people perpetrated by Czar Nicholas II in 1905 was an antirevolutionary act. But the crackdown on the strikers and workers of factories perpetrated by Lenin, after the establishment of socialism, was considered a revolutionary act.

Hence, an act is ethical when it is revolutionary and progressive with historical trends determining the criteria of progress, and the Communist Party recognizes them. Therefore, this tenet does not regard any antirevolutionary act as contrary to ethics; it rather propounds that whatever the Communist Party, which is the representative of the proletariat, does is basically that which is morality and virtue. And it means fighting against morality and flaying ethics. Lenin himself announced the form of rule of the Communist Party in this manner:

‘Dictatorship of the proletariat’ is a scientific expression—denoting the class under discussion and the peculiar form of government authority that is deemed ‘dictatorship’—that connotes an authority which is not founded on law or election, but directly on the armed forces of a section of the masses.[379]

Criticism of the view

Based on this finding, the dictatorial government of the proletariat replaced the Czarist government of Russia, and under the name of revolution and interests of the masses, it committed crimes that surpassed those of the Mongols and the Czarists. The acme of these atrocities took place during the period of the bloody purges. Aimed at eliminating his rivals and anyone who possessed some intelligence, Stalin conducted a wide liquidation campaign from 1936 to 1938, setup numerous ceremonial courts, and obtained false ‘confessions’ from his opponents that they were agents of imperialism, foreign spies, reactionaries, and anti-people, and that they had no thought other than overthrowing the socialist system.

All these immoralities were reckoned as moral, because the interests of the [Communist] Party demanded so and these lies were considered true from the political standpoint. From this perspective, the difference between the atrocities committed by Stalin and Hitler was that since the conduct of Stalin was aimed at vouchsafing the interests of the emerging class of the proletariat, it was good and ethical. But since what Hitler does was aimed at serving the interests of the bourgeoisie, it was bad and immoral. Micklaus James, one of the Hungarian intellectuals, who found out the process of the reversal of this truth and lost his head in the bargain, states:

Slowly, slowly, at least at the greater and dominant part of its conception, we arrived at the conclusion that there are two kinds of truth. The truth of the party could be different from the truth of the people and can even be more important than the exact truth. Truth, in fact, is that very political expediency. This thought is awful. But one should openly confront its meaning. If there really exists a truth loftier than the exact truth and if political expediency is the barometer in gauging the truth, then even a lie can be true. For, even a lie can possibly be with what is expedient temporarily.

Even a sham political trial, in this sense, can have ‘truth’. For, even in such a trial, crucial political advantages can be obtained. In this manner, we arrive at a viewpoint that not only defiled individuals to design the sham political trials but also, in most cases, it even was effective among the victims. It is a viewpoint that poisoned our entire thinking, blackened our view, dilapidated our critical power, and finally, took from us the intuition to discern the truth as well as the potential to understand it.

The situation was like this. To deny it is pointless.[380] According to one of the political analysts, “Perhaps, the corruption and self-centeredness prevalent in the Czarist courts could not match the one thousandth of what we witnessed during the succeeding periods of communist governments”.[381]
Such a tenet gained an unprecedented historical opportunity to test and prove itself lacking legitimacy and truthfulness in a vast geographical expanse, that is, Eastern Europe, for a long period of time, that is, two generations. The application of such a tenet led to the cracking of its own pillars and foundations, and the malady of immorality rotted its roots.

The social systems of the East disintegrated one by one over a short period of time and the people, in fascination, turned toward the West against which they fought for more than seven decades. This collapse could no longer be attributed to the foreigners and imperialists. Economic depression was also not the root of the problems. No, the correct reply should be found.

These systems had everything for ruling—ideology, military power, ruling party, strong allies, military pact, tribunal court, powerful defense system, complex security and intelligence apparatus, etc. Yet, they were lacking in one thing: legitimacy. These systems gradually lost their moral legitimacy, and the people, who realized that the ruling party was telling lies to, and deceiving, them, paid no allegiance anymore to the ruling authority and released themselves from the state of being under the yoke of the government, which made ethics as its plaything.

In an article, “What transpired in Eastern Europe in 1989,” Daniel Shiro gives a detailed report, interesting and shocking, on the disintegration of socialist systems. He regards the root of the collapse to lie in “the total moral and spiritual decay”[382] of these governments and concludes that what can cause revolutions and instabilities nowadays is the ethical-spiritual factor, and that this element should be seriously taken into account.[383]

In short, any system that renders ethics at the service of, and subservient to, politics will face a legitimacy crisis in the long run due to its anti-ethics approach, and the people severely condemn these lies of such a system. No matter how powerful this system may be, it is only for a short period of time that it can beguile the people and not all the time.

The only justification these systems had was that sometimes it is expedient to accept a bit of evil in order to obtain abundant good and for which they would cite the example of a gangrenous foot, claiming that at times the physician has no option in preserving the life of the patient but to cut his decaying and impaired foot, which is considered a danger for the entire organism. Accordingly, the same act can, and should, be done at the societal level, and in order to ensure the public welfare and justice, cruelty should to be done to some individuals.

In other words, the objective is so ‘sacred’ that it justifies and sanctifies such abominable acts. Yet, in practice, such means became the aim. They did not even achieve any noble aims and the little justice that the previous regimes provided was obliterated from the scene under the pretext of justice for all. “Under the name of justice, the communist regimes of Russia and China have slaughtered people. But up to now its outcome is more killing and less justice.”[384]

View on the duality of ethics and politics

This tenet, which is also called dualist or doubly-inclined ethics, endeavors to preserve moral values and some of the principles of ethics in politics. On the basis of this tenet, ethics must be studied on two planes: individual and social. Although these two levels have some commonalities, whatever is moral on the individual plane cannot necessarily be deemed as moral, too, on the social one. For instance, self-sacrifice of an individual is viewed as an ideal and moral act. This is while self-sacrifice of a state to the advantage of another state is not that moral since it is contrary to the national interests. An individual can endow his possession to others but the state cannot bestow its national income to another state.

From this perspective, individual morality can be gauged on the basis of absolute moral criteria while social morality is subservient to the national welfare and interests. In emphasizing this tenet, they have said that the scope of individual morality is morality of love and affection, but the scope of social morality is the objective- and result-oriented morality.
The consequence of such an understanding is the acknowledgment of two distinct moral systems. As an individual, man is subjected to a certain system of morality whereas society has another ethical system. The principles of these levels of morality can also be contradictory to one another. For example, Plato does not consider telling lies as permissible for an individual, and regards a liar as one worthy of punishment, while believing that the ruler of the society has the right to tell lies. He says,

If telling a lie for someone is permissible, it is only for the rulers of the city, because whenever the good of the city warrants he can deceive the people, whether enemy or city-dweller. Yet, this conduct is not permissible for anybody else, and if an individual from among the city dwellers tells a lie to the governors, his crime is equal to or even severer than the crime of a patient who deceives his own doctor.[385]

Bertrand Russell[386] also believes in such a duality in ethics, regarding the religious beliefs as the source of individual or private ethics and politics as the origin of other categories of ethics. He states,

Without civil ethics the society is incapable of sustaining its life; without the individual ethics, his survival is of no value. Therefore, in order for the world to be good and desirable, the existence of both the civil and individual ethics is necessary.[387]

Of course, what Russell is referring to as ‘social ethics’ and the existence of which is deemed indispensable for the survival of the society, is more indicative of the rules and regulations, which are mostly enacted for the proper administration of the society and not ethics in the sense of the totality of behavioural rules based on values. He has considered Martin Luther (founder of Protestantism), Paul Tilikh, Reinhold Niebuhr,[388] Max Weber, and Hans Morgenthau as advocates of this tenet.

Max Weber, the 20th century German sociologist and thinker and one of those having a far-reaching influence on contemporary thought, attempts in the course of a famous lecture entitled, “Politics as a Profession,”[389] to expound the nature of the political profession and endeavors to clarify the relationship between ethics and politics.

Initially, he poses the question, “Are the moralities that are valid for every action also valid for political interactions or not?”[390] In answering this question, firstly Weber acknowledges the need for politics to be moral and points out that politics cannot perform anything outside the domain of ethics: “Is it not so that the Bolshevik and Spartacus theoreticians, because of their having resorted to violence, reached the very same conclusion as every other military dictator had?”[391] “Moralities are not a carriage that, according to your wish and depending on the circumstances, can be stopped for mounting and dismounting.”

So, politics must, in a way, be ethical; but it is here that Weber establishes the difference between public morality and political morality and makes the two separate from one another. In his opinion, we are faced with two classes of ethics: One is ideological ethics while the other is responsibility ethics. Ideological ethics derives from absolutist moral teachings, Christianity in particular.

Such a morality urges us to perform whatever is decreed by ethics without paying heed to the consequence of our conduct and with the least attention to the outer conditions.

For instance, Immanuel Kant[392] urges us not to tell a lie at all whether to friends or foes. He similarly stresses that if a killer is in pursuit of an innocent person in order to kill him unjustly, and the innocent one hides in a certain place which is known to us, and the killer asks us whether we know where a certain person has hidden, we are duty-bound to tell him the truth and to refrain from lying. That which would possibly happen to the innocent person is not important. That the killer is in pursuit of realizing his wicked aim is not important.
What is important is that we have done our duty and abided by the decree of truthfulness, absolutely and unconditionally. Kant explicitly states, “Truthfulness in statements that cannot be evaded is an apparent duty of man toward everybody, no matter what dire consequences it would entail for him or for others.”[393]

He passionately stresses the principle of absoluteness of honesty and truthfulness, saying: “Every human being has not only the right, but is strongly obliged to be honest and truthful in the statements that he cannot evade, whether these statements are to his detriment or to that of others.”[394] Another example of the moral teachings of Christianity is abstention from violence such that, according to the Book of Matthew, the Holy Messiah (‘a) recommends to his disciples, thus:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.[395]

Weber labels this kind of ethics as ‘ideological ethics’, that is, ethics that urges us to perform our duty and not to mind its consequences. Well, imagine that a politician wants, for example, to implement these two tenets in the political arena; if he does so, catastrophe will begin, because at the time of negotiation with other governments, sometimes with the hostile ones, he has no option but to answer honestly whatever question, however evil and internal in nature it is, and to reveal his secrets.

Similarly, violence should not be answered with violence, and if an enemy attacks his country, he should not show a negative reaction; rather, it is better to relinquish another part of the country to the enemy. So, ideological ethics cannot, and should not, be employed in politics. Weber talks about the other ethics, which according to him, is ‘responsible ethics’. That is, it is here a tenet that is heedful of the particular results. The politician responsibly performs whatever is proper and fitting on the basis of circumstances and expediencies, always acts in pursuit of his country and society’s welfare, and never applies any absolutist tenet.

Weber thus concludes, “Conciliation between ideological ethics and responsible ethics is impossible.”[396] It is because “political activities necessarily resort to violent means and seek assistance from the principle of responsible ethics.”[397]

Therefore, he recommends that in the political arena absolute ideals of ethics should be abandoned while the appropriate ethics of politics should be applied realistically and responsibly. Hence, ethics is valuable and worthy. Yet, not every kind of ethics is appropriate for politics. These two should be studied on two planes and each of them put in its proper place.

If someone is totally committed to the ideological ethics, it is better for him to withdraw from politics and not to put his spiritual salvation in jeopardy, because politics involves defilement. However, it should not be concluded from this topic that politics means to behave immorally and to apply the dry logic of cost and benefit. “It is true that they engage in politics by means of the brain (reason and intellect); however, it is also correct that it is not only with the brain. In this case, right is totally on the side of the ideological ethics.”[398]

Criticism of the view

If the ideological ethics really compels us to blindly comply with its dictates without paying heed to the negative repercussions that they may possibly entail, then Weber is right and it is better to abandon the ideological ethics in the political arena and apply the ‘responsible ethics’. But does the ideological ethics really mean this and do the absolutist moral systems not pay any attention to the outcomes of the behaviour of the individual?
This claim cannot easily be accepted. Of course, morality emerges at the time when we are freed from the daily and petty shackles of cost and benefit and widen the horizon of our view. Morality urges us not to be self-centered human beings and to move beyond our self. In this sense, ethics is different from the law of give and take, or the belief, “Die for someone so that ‘he would have fever for you’.”

Morality enjoins us to give preference to truth over our interests. It encourages self-sacrifice and devotion. It views bravery, and in times of need, embracing death as a value and considers egotism and self-love as an anti-value. But none of these mean inattention to our aims and the consequences of our actions. No moral system allows its principles to be applied in such a way as to destroy its foundation. Even Kant himself who so passionately defended absolute honesty and truthfulness would not think ‘Kantianly’. In one of his classroom lectures he had said:

If a robber holds me up and, putting me under pressure, says, “Where is your money?” I can lie to him; for, he wants to take advantage of truth. This kind of lying cannot be deemed treachery and trickery as the robber knows that I will conceal from him what I am thinking, and he, on his part, has no right to expect me to tell him the absolute truth.[399]

The assertion of Kant is based on a principle that is open to debate and has been debated many times by his contemporaries as well as by present-day thinkers. Basically, the inclination of Kant to defend absolute truthfulness and honesty is not to let even a small leak to be made in this structure and even a single exception to be brought up that would weaken the essence of the rule.

So, by virtue of a general and absolute rule, which is among the most ancient of moral tenets and is known as the golden rule, it offers us this absolute rule and bids us to make it the general guide of our conduct. “Act in such a way that the rule of your conduct and your will become one of the general laws of nature.”[400]

The meaning of this statement is that whenever I tell a lie, I have, in effect, accepted that in similar circumstances, they tell me lies as well; however, as I do not like a lie to be told to me, I myself, must refrain from lying. So, for it to become a moral rule, it must be general and beyond transient circumstances. At any rate, we do not intend to criticize this Kantian view at this juncture. This task has been dealt with in detail elsewhere.[401]

It is worth saying that even on the basis of Kantian sources responsible ethics can be acquired and this is the task that Christine Korsgaurd has dealt with in his famous book entitled, Creating the Kingdom of Ends. Thus, ideological ethics is also not totally free from responsibility and the consequences of behaviour.

Similarly, the statement that has been attributed to the Holy Messiah (‘a) should be understood in its broad context. At the time when the laws and ordinances of the Torah were laying emphasis on retaliation and revenge, and summoning all to take an eye for an eye, Jesus (‘a) propagated the tenet that washing blood with blood is absurd and whoever lives with the sword will die by the sword. The statements of Jesus (‘a) are contrary to the logic that viewed vengeance, not forgiveness, as a value. The aim of Jesus (‘a) was that instead of obscurantist legalism and externalism, the spirit of faith should sprout in the heart of men.

His utterance is that the Divine Will cannot be confined to the law of indemnity. The commands of God are much higher than what this law stipulates. God wants to give his servants whatever they want—and even more—from Him, even if their wishes are unjustified.[402]

Hence, the issue is basically not that of abandoning one’s right, relinquishing power to the wicked, and heedlessness of the repercussions of one’s actions. Similarly, it is not so that Jesus (‘a) has decreed that we should absolutely desist from violence and to offer no resistance to aggressors; rather, he only wants to free us from superficiality.
We should not imagine that Jesus was saying that waging war is a sin. Essentially, he has no intention of presenting the criterion for all actions; he does not even (apparently) mean a specific thing. He stresses on the fact that God does not want mere observance of the law. Rather, He wants much more than this.[403]

Hence, as reported in the New Testament, we see the same Jesus (‘a) saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”[404] And when Jesus (‘a) saw that the temple, that is, the House of God in Jerusalem, had been transformed into a place of trading and commerce, and this holy sanctuary desecrated, he dauntlessly entered it and threw out the goods and furniture of the merchants,

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers’.[405]

So, the line of absolute demarcation between ideological ethics and responsible ethics cannot be drawn, nor these two juxtaposed against one another. Even Weber clearly states that the religion of Islam has a specific law for self-defense and resistance against invaders, and in such cases he declares war as permissible, saying: “Religious wars have been the life-giving element of Islam from the very beginning.”[406] And he again states, “All the religions have more or less successfully studied this issue.”[407] In such a case, how can Weber prove his claim?

Granting that the demarcation line between ideological ethics and responsible ethics does not exist and we, in effect, have acknowledged that ideological ethics is also result-seeking concerned with the outcome and deals responsibly with issues, then one cannot talk about the necessity of a particular kind of ethics for politics. Or, it should be stated that in politics ethics is necessary or it should be negated; not that we claim that the duality of ethics exists and that individual ethics is the ideological one while political ethics is the ‘responsible’ one. This distinction has no scientific and historical precedence, and in effect, concerns the negation of ethics and stripping politics of it; that is, the same thing that Machiavelli was after and Mu‘āwiyah used to put into practice.

Concerning the example of sacrifice, which is good from the viewpoint of individual ethics but wrong in the political arena, the issue can also be viewed in a more profound manner and the conclusion reached that sacrifice in both cases is moral and correct. Assuming that the representatives of the people, with their justification, decide to allocate a percentage of the national income of their country to a certain famine-stricken country, it will certainly be a moral act and will not be viewed as being against the national interests.

Thus, sacrifice is ethical on the individual level as well as on the social and political one. Only in the case of the liberality of the state will it be contrary to interests, and as such, anti-ethical if done directly and without the people’s coordination and consent. The reason is, the state is the representative of the people and cannot act without the opinion of its clients. Juliano Puntara cites the same example and advances this point,

‘That realm of ethics which urges the individual to sacrifice his interests for others—in other words, all the things that are under the concept of magnanimity—has no functional capability in the political and social conduct.’ That is, one has no right to risk the interests of the people.[408]

Then, he himself criticizes this issue and cites the crime of Bentham,[409] the real founder of the utilitarian ethics, who used to ask: “‘Can a politician sacrifice the interests of his own people in favour of others?’ And he himself [Bentham] had replied, ‘Why not? It is only on the condition that the nation itself wants such actions and act of sacrifice.’”[410] This distinction, that individual conduct is based on the ethics of generosity and humanitarianism while political conduct is subjected to the national interests, is still debatable. Both the two features can openly be placed on both the two levels; there are so many instances wherein individual conduct is anchored to self-interest and welfare-oriented ethics while a political act is influenced by humanitarian motives. “As, such a contradiction, even in the sphere of individual ethics, is understandable and inferable.”[411]

Lastly, the citizen or subject cannot be urged to follow two different and distinct systems of ethics and be expected to profess honesty while accepting the dishonesty of the government and not mentioning it, and in the words of Plato, regard deception on the government’s part to be permissible. Apart from these mentioned problems, this tenet as what Puntara says is ambiguous and its limits and boundaries are not specified.[412] It seems that finally it should be delivered to one of the aforementioned two tenets, it having no validity and soundness itself.[413]
On the basis of this tenet, ethics and politics are both in quest of ensuring the prosperity of human beings and they cannot be at cross-purposes with one another. Among the duties of politics are spiritual nourishment of the citizens, making them sociable, teaching them to love others and observance of the rights of others, all of these being nothing but moral rules. An individual in private life is the same as in his social life.

Although the principles that are dominant in the collectivity and rules of collective life can be mentioned, it is not that these principles are contrary to the principles that are dominant in the individual’s life. To cite an example, a free person is always responsible of his conduct. This sense of responsibility also exists in the collective sense, though it could possibly be weaker, and no one can claim to have no responsibility in the collective state and not assume the consequences of his own conduct.

This tenet regards only one moral system as valid in the two spheres of individual and social life. It considers whatever is ethical on the individual level as ethical too on the social and political level as well as for the politicians; whatever is immoral for each of the citizens is also reckoned as immoral for the government. Therefore, it is bad for an individual to lie, it is so for the government as well, and if the citizens are supposed to observe honesty, so too is the government.

Thus, no government can view itself as authorized to perpetrate immoral acts and claim that such an act is a political necessity and has been part of the requisites of political moves. This rule knows no exception. From this perspective, ethics is considered as the rudiment of politics and its prelude whereas politics is the means for the realization and implementation of moral virtues. The view of Plato and Aristotle on the two realms of ethics and politics has been so, for they believed,

There is no difference between the government and the society, economics and politics, ethics and politics, religion and politics, or culture and politics. Human being means the citizen. Every activity of the society or the citizens of the society has a political implication. The citizen can only realize his potentialities through the path of political activity, and it is only with the blessing of politics that he can achieve the stage of humanity.[414]

In our philosophical tradition, the same relationship between ethics and politics has been observed to such an extent that Khwājah Nasīruddīn at*-Tūsī views politics as a technique that “has been undertaken for the realization of moral life.”[415]

So, ethics is the foundation while politics is its instrument and method for the emergence and deepening of moral principles.

To defend this tenet in the theoretical sphere is very easy. It justifies itself, and contrary to the mentioned tenets, it cannot be criticized. Because, no sort of internal contradiction can be noticed in it and it is also safe from the legitimacy crisis caused by the previous tenets.

The only critique that can be put forth against this tenet is this: In practice, will the politics based on ethics also succeed? Or, will political realism make the omission of some ideals and the overlooking of some moral principles inevitable? It is this point that we will deal with.
The most famous and greatest proponent of this tenet, both in theory and practice as well as in words and deeds, was Imām ‘Alī (‘a)[416] who did not neglect to explain it for a moment and lost his life for its sake. With the firm belief that politics ought to be ethical and that he should acquire his own legitimacy from the principles of ethics, Imām ‘Alī (‘a) never encroached on the ambit of ethics and suffered an apparent defeat but he did not allow himself to be overcome from the viewpoint of ethics.

The entire life of dignity and manliness of this great man is more widely acclaimed than that in which we would like to show the identicalness of ethics and politics. Nevertheless, we will briefly mention some cases, which are all understandable and defensible only on the basis of the theory of oneness of ethics and politics and, from the perspective of duality of ethics and politics fragments from which can be gleaned and taken:

1. The Imām, after the demise of the Messenger of God (s), and contrary to the expectation of many, was removed as caliph and in the course of the event that is proverbial for all; another person became the ruler of the Muslims. Abū Sufyān, who was among the defenders of the immorality of politics, suggested to the Imām (‘a) not to abandon fighting for the nascent caliphate and he himself committed to place the combatants at his (‘a) disposal. But the Imām (‘a) was not the kind of person who wanted to obtain power through immoral ways and the unwillingness of the people. So, he (‘a) rejected his suggestion and invited the people to sobriety and amity.[417]

2. After the assassination of ‘Umar ibn al-Khat*t*āb,[418] as the six-man council for selecting the next caliph suggested to the Imām (‘a) to accept the caliphate on the condition that he (‘a) follow the tradition of the two Shaykhs [shaykhayn] (Abūbakr and ‘Umar), he (‘a) declined the offer as he was not willing to tell a circumstantial lie and obtain power in an unethical manner. On the contrary, he (‘a) explicitly set the style and method of his policy in obtaining power on the basis of the Book of God and the Sunnah of the Prophet (s), saying: “The Book of God and the Sunnah of His Prophet (s) do not need the addition of style and tradition of others.”[419]

3. In the course of the insurgency against ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Affān[420] and the siege of his house, it was expected of the Imām (‘a) to take full advantage of the emergent opportunity and take the reins of the caliphate. But, contrary to expectation, he (‘a) did not welcome the situation that had arisen and tried to intercede. He invited the people to sobriety and ‘Uthmān to adopt a correct policy. To this end, he (‘a) made such headway and so defended ‘Uthmān that he told ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Abbās: “By Allah, I continued protecting him till I feared lest I become a sinner.”[421]

4. Since the people unanimously paid allegiance to him in assuming the office of the caliphate, the Imām (‘a) did not delay a single moment in removing the officials of the previous caliph whom he viewed as impious and unjust. He did not accept the recommendations of Ibn ‘Abbās and Mughayrah ibn Shu‘bah[42] on retaining them temporarily and then gradually removing them after consolidating his position (‘a).[423]

5. Again, when it was suggested to him (‘a) to let Talhā and Zubayr[424] share in power and win their support by allocating Kūfah and Basrah to them, he did not accede to this inappropriate demand.[425]

6. Since Talhā and Zubayr were among the first and pioneering Muslims in Islam, they took issue with him (‘a) as to why their share from the public treasury is equal to that of the others and not more, and they implicitly asked him for advantages and privileges for themselves. The Imām (‘a) said that equality was part of the Sunnah of the Messenger of God (s) and that they were not different from the others in this regard.[426]

7. As Talhā and Zubayr intended to fight the Imām (‘a) and prepare for war that later became known as the Battle of Jamal, they asked the Imām (‘a) for permission to leave Medina on the pretext of performing ‘umrah [unseasonal optional pilgrimage]. The Imām (‘a), who was aware of their intention, did not take security measures nor did he bar their exit. Instead, he (‘a) granted them permission to go and said to them, “By Allah! I swear that you are not after ‘umrah; rather, you are in pursuit of deception and are heading toward Basrah.”[427]

8. Since the Imām (‘a) triumphed over the insurgents in the Battle of Jamal, he forgave everybody. He (‘a) even excused Marwān ibn al-Hakam who was the root of all the seditions, the factor in the killing of ‘Uthmān, and one of the architects of the Battle of Jamal. When they told him (‘a) that Marwān was ready to pay allegiance anew, he (‘a) did not even accept his oath of allegiance and set him free;[428] although he (‘a) could have taken action against him, and by means of punishment and legal penalties, prevented his future activities.
9. When the Imām (‘a) saw his soldiers using foul language against those of Mu‘āwiyah in the Battle of Siffīn, he dissuaded them from such an unethical act—even though it was against an enemy and at the time of war—telling them: “Instead of abusing them you should say, ‘O’ Allah! Save our blood and their blood, bring about reconciliation between us, and lead them, who have strayed, to the right path.”[429]

10. When Mu‘āwiyah shut off water to the Imām (‘a) [and his army], the Imām (‘a) regained control of the water. But he (‘a) did not retaliate in kind; he (‘a) did not hinder Mu‘āwiyah’s troops from using the water.

11. Under the pressure of the Kharijites [khawārij],[430] the Imām (‘a) submitted to arbitration, but when they found out the ruse of ‘Amr ibn al-‘Ās, they demanded that the Imām (‘a) annul his pact with Mu‘āwiyah and fight him [again]. But the Imām (‘a) did not agree to violate the pact, even though it was to his advantage, and summoned the Kharijites to accept it.[431]

12. In the face of the troublesome and vexing movements of the Kharijites in Kūfah, the Imām (‘a) never resorted to any form of violence. He generally forgave them, their aspersions and abuse.[432] And, finally when he (‘a), on the deathbed of his martyrdom, asked his relatives not to let his killing pave the way for a widespread bloodbath.

“O’ sons of ‘Abd al-Mut*t*alib, certainly I do not wish to see you plunging harshly into the blood of Muslims, shouting ‘Amīr al-Mu’minīn [Commander of the Faithful] has been killed.’ Beware, do not kill on account of me except my killer.”[433]

Such cases are so many that enumerating them is beyond the scope of this book. Any political realist and believer in the tenet of the separation of ethics and politics, or political authoritarianism will subject the validity of the above mentioned decisions to criticism and will view them as being against the spirit of politics and interest-seeking.

This judgment also took place during the time of Imām ‘Alī (‘a) himself, and those who used to stress on the courage of the Imām (‘a) regarded him as being devoid of knowledge on warfare. Mu‘āwiyah was deemed smarter and more knowledgeable on the principles of politics than the Imām (‘a). The Imām had no option but to maintain his principles as well as to refute such imaginations. In his agonized and fault-finding remarks, he (‘s) said, “The people of Quraysh to the extent say, ‘The son of Abū T+ālib is valiant but ignorant of the knowledge of warfare.” In dealing with the notion that Mu‘āwiyah was more cunning than him, he also said:

By Allah, Mu‘āwiyah is not more cunning than I am, but he deceives and commits evil deeds. Had I not loathed deceit I would have been the most cunning of all men. But (the fact is that) every deceit is a sin and every sin is disobedience (of Allah), and every deceitful person will have a banner by which he will be recognized on the Day of Judgment.”[434]

The difficulty of the Imām’s task was that he (‘a) wanted to be ethical at all times and the political modus operandi to be based on ethics, and not acquisition of power at whatever cost. He too describes his internal impediment, thus:

“O’ people! Surely fulfillment of pledge is the twin of truth. I do not know a better shield (against the assaults of sin) than it. One who realizes the reality of return (to the next world) never betrays. We are in a period when most of the people regard betrayal as wisdom. In these days the ignorant call it excellence of cunning. What is the matter with them? Allah may destroy them. One who has been through thick and thin of life finds the excuses to be preventing him from orders and prohibitions of Allah but he disregards them despite capability (to succumb to them and follows the commands of Allah), while one who has no restraints of religion seizes the opportunity (and accepts the excuses for not following the commands of Allah).”[435]
The Imām (‘a) was so committed to ethics and observed its principles that he was not prepared to ignore them for the entire world, for even a minute, nor violate them on any occasion; he was not prepared to sacrifice truth for the sake of any expediency. He, therefore, states: “By God! If they give me the seven realms with whatever there is under the sky to make me disobey God or unfairly take the husk of barley from an ant, I would not do it.”

And so the government of the Imām (‘a) that could have lasted for years had it been somewhat expediency-minded and lenient with regard to ethical principles, did not endure for more than five years, thereby substantiating the opinion of the political realists. Yet, this government sowed the seed of its moral thought in the people’s minds, with the result that in the course of history, hundreds of movements based on it have taken shape, and so it is considered up to the present times as the standard for measuring and assessing the moral principles of governments. In this lies the true victory of this tenet whose validity becomes more vivid with the passage of time.

Undoubtedly, the implementation of this tenet is difficult but not impossible. It is possible that nowadays some would think of such a moral understanding of politics as quixotic, idealist and unrealistic, and while having conviction in the principles of ethics, believe that ethics cannot be applied in politics claiming that the complexities of politics and the difficulties of the governments of today have closed the path to ethics. In reality, there are thinkers nowadays who are moving forward to realize this ideal and for the sake of which they suffer but become successful.

During the twentieth century, at least four persons from the different parts of the world, convinced that politics is rooted in ethics, endeavored to act on the basis of their views and succeeded, too. These four persons were Vaclلv Havel,[436] Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Imām Khomeinī. Vaclلv Havel, the Czechoslovakian thinker, intellectual and combatant, who became president of his country after the collapse of the communist system, regards moralization of politics as the most urgent concern of today’s world. He writes, “My experience and observations affirm the fact that in politics, ethical practices are possible although I do not deny that treading this path is not always easy, and I have never claimed it to have been so.”[437]

After having obtained power he says,

One thing that seems certain to me is that my responsibility is to emphasize as much as possible on the moral source of all kinds of decent politics, and reliance on the importance of moral values and standards in all aspects of social life.[438]

Standing on the conviction that cheating never pays[439] and that “Truth cannot be attained through lying,”[440] he stresses that there is only one way to success and that is honesty[441] and “Ethics, in fact, is latent within everything and this matter is true; because, every time I face a problem and try to reach its depth, I always find a sort of moral aspect in it.”[442]

Havel stresses,

The point that the politicians should tell a lie has no validity whatsoever… The necessity of telling lies and intriguing on the part of the politician is a completely baseless statement which is propounded and propagated by those who want, for whatever reason, to discourage others from having concern and interest in social affairs.[443]

This utterance does not mean that the politician should divulge every political issue to anybody. Instead, it means that he should not tell a lie; that is all. Besides regarding commitment to ethics as a political necessity, he considers it as the foundation of success in this regard and lays emphasis on it.
The second personality, who entered the political arena with this viewpoint and was also killed for its sake but never trampled on his principles, was Mahatma Gandhi whose struggles led to the independence and sovereignty of today’s India.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), who belonged to the Brahman caste and was educated in England, relied only on truthfulness and the principle of non-violence in fighting against colonialism. It was by means of this weapon that he succeeded in obtaining the independence of India. Owing to his long-term political resistance and reliance on the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence), he was called, Mahatma (Great Soul) by the people of India. He never abandoned the principles of ethics nor assail ethical rules with those in vogue in politics, even in the face of the aggressor—England, the old colonialist.

He commenced his struggle against racial discrimination in South Africa and continued it in India. He even consented to the division of India and the formation of the state of Pakistan but never allowed himself to trample on the principles of ethics. He did not at all regard the ends as justifying the means, and believed that every means should justify itself, saying: “In my philosophy on life, means and ends are things that can be interchanged.”[444] To those who would consider means as means and nothing else, he used to say:

I say that means are, ultimately, everything and your ends will be just like your means, whatever they be. There is no wall to separate the means from the ends. It is obvious that the Creator has endowed us with the capability of putting the means under our control (and, that too, to a limited extent, of course). But to have control of the goals is not possible. The (extent of) realization of the goals will be proportionate to the means that are employed in attaining them. This case knows no exception.[445]

In his commitment to principles, Gandhi had gone so far as to stand fearlessly against the Hindu fanatics who were criticizing him for his supportive position with respect to the Muslims. It was for the sake of this that he was killed by one of the Hindu fanatics.

Nelson Mandela is also one of these figures. Since he launched his struggle against the ruling government’s policy of racial discrimination, he was deprived of his social rights. As he did not compromise, he spent almost thirty years in prison. His commitment as well as that of his comrades bore fruit; finally racial discrimination withered away in that country. When he became the president of the country, he announced that the crimes committed against the Blacks could not be forgotten, but they could be forgiven. During the course of his tenure, Mandela was committed to his principles of ethics. After the end of the normal tenure of his presidency, he resigned peacefully from politics and continued his social activities with dignity. A survey of Imām Khomeinī’s views in this regard is the subject of the next chapter.

Imām Khomeinī and Ethical Politics

In an article entitled, Politics and the Problem of Dirty Hands, Coady endeavors to prove the bitter reality that politics is incompatible with remaining innocent and pure, and anyone who enters the political arena should accept the veneer of infamy, meanness, defilement, and any kind of pollution. It is because political expediency and the human condition are such, and “If they mean dirty hands, then they are the mere offshoot of the human condition”[446] and one cannot escape from them.

The Imām’s approach to this issue is of a different kind: His stand is that politics can, and should, be ethical, for politics is nothing but implementation of ethics in a broader spectrum of the society as well as realization of religious ideals and goals. As such, he believes in the oneness of ethics and politics and in a bid to prove it, he puts forth certain points which are discussed in the content of the following:

· Universality of Islam;

· Meaning of politics and the status of power;

· Politics as indispensable for the realization of Islam; and

· Oneness of ethics and politics in Islam.

Universality of Islam

It was mentioned earlier that man has numerous existential realms and he should nurture and let all of them grow. Now, keeping in view this fact, all divine religions, especially Islam, have appeared so as to nourish these dimensions. The One who holds the reins of authority over the universe, with the knowledge of all the needs of humanity, has sent a prophet (‘a) to every community in every epoch in order to let man attain his perfection: “Because the human being is a multidimensional creature, with many needs, the prophets came to answer these needs and teach man how to act in order to attain true happiness.”[447]

As such, all religions in their respective times have been universal and all the prophets (‘a) have explained all the things needed by the people. “The prophets (‘a) have spoken of those things which concern the spirit, things which concern the different stages of understanding and which relate to the realms of the unseen.”[448] Thus, every religion has had its own particular time of universality until we reach Islam, which is the culmination and perfection of Abrahamic faiths. In this religion, all the needs of humanity have been anticipated and the ways of meeting them precisely specified.

The traditions and the Holy Qur’an have spoken both of issues which concern individual duties and which play a part in man’s development and maturation, and of political issues as well as economic issues; issues which concern society and have something to do with the regulation and moral teachings of the society.[449]

It is with this perception that we see, “We have such a book in which personal affairs, social affairs, political affairs, state administration, and all things are encompassed.”[450] The least doubt on the universality of Islam, and limiting its scope is tantamount to the negation of its principles.

Those who confine Islam to [merely] eating, sleeping, praying, and fasting while not interfering with the problems of this nation, and of the predicaments of this society are not Muslims, [451] [451] according to the narration of the Most Noble Messenger (s).[452]

In the opinion of the Imām, Islam is not a religion which is only concerned with the spiritual and personal needs; rather, “Islam is everything for the human being; that is, it has ideas and views on everything from nature to beyond nature to the celestial world; Islam has a thesis; Islam has a program.”[453] This program of Islam takes into account all the facets and dimensions of life: “Islam has rules and decrees for the entire life of man from the day he is born up to the moment he is delivered to his grave.”[454]
The meaning of politics and the status of power

Politics is inextricably intertwined with all the dimensions of our life and it is so palpable and conspicuous that its existence and influence cannot be denied. But, what is politics really? Innumerable descriptions of politics have been advanced. But one thing is certain: politics is related to the acquisition of power or the struggle for the acquisition of power. So, at the core of the concept of politics, ruling (over others) and attempts at exerting influence lie latent.

If such is the meaning of politics, then it cannot be evaded and must be accepted. It is because the requisite of social welfare and well-being of the society lies in the existence of power, and attainment of power is tied to politics. “What is politics by the way? It is the relations between the ruler and the nation, relations between the ruler and the other governments and, I should say, it is to prevent the corruption and mischief that exist. All of these constitute politics and it is so.”[455] If politics is such and forbidding corruption is deemed part of it, then Islam also has politics as it pursues the enjoinment of what is good and the preclusion of what is bad. Hence, the Imām describes Islam itself, thus: “Islam is governance along with its affairs and decrees.”[456] Similarly, the Infallibles (‘a) have always been involved in politics in this sense.

On what day was the Most Noble Messenger (s) concerned with political issues? He (‘a) used to establish a government; he (s) used to resist those who were anti-Islam and oppressed the people; he (s) used to wage war against them.[457]

It was not only the Most Noble Messenger (s) who used to engage in politics in this sense; the aspect of politics was there in all the prophets (‘a). Because, politics means ensuring the interests of the people, and the prophets (‘a) used to perform this duty in the best manner.

Politics means guiding the society and showing the way; it means considering all the interests of the society, and taking into account all aspects of man and society and guiding them toward the things that are best for them, for the nation and the individuals. This is exclusive to the prophets (‘a).[458]

Politics in this sense has been the principal axis of movement of all the prophets (‘a) and no religion can be regarded as alien and distant from it.

But, the most essential element of politics is power. However, power is something that is frightening. It misleads man as well as disenchants him, that the nature of power corrupts man. A person who feels powerful rebels, and forgets himself, as well as his being a servant of God, and nourishes an illusion of godhood. The story of Pharaoh is not a mere historical account.

Everybody has a ‘Pharaoh” within himself and awaits a favourable opportunity and situation to beat the drum of divinity for himself. François Mitterrand, the former President of France who spent his life in obtaining, preserving and extending power, says about this phenomenon, “I think that power is always a dreadful thing; the one who possesses power should—if not fear—be at least extraordinarily heedful of the nature and extent of his particular role.”[459]

Power is prone to excesses and does not stop at a certain point. If the instinct of power-seeking is given free rein, its expansion and spread, then, can no longer be prevented. Because of this, many people, the mystics in particular, have greatly feared and evaded power owing to its corruptive quality. The following story about an ascetic with the name of Ki Yuyu shows the depth of this fear and evasion:
One day, an emperor of ancient China said to a certain master of Zen named Ki Yuyu, “You are a very great man. I like to transfer the imperial throne to you after my death. Do you accept?”

Ki Yuyu was extremely annoyed and only said, “These words defiled my ears.”

Then, he left so as to wash his ears in the nearest river. While heading toward the river, he was talking to himself: “Today I have heard impure words.”

His friend, along with a cow, came to the river and asked him, “Why are you washing your ears?”

Ki Yuyu replied, “Today, I am very displeased. An emperor wants me to be his successor. He offered the imperial crown to me, and my ears have been polluted by these words. I have to wash them.”

His friend said, “I was supposed to let my cow drink from this limpid water, but now this water has been contaminated.”[460]

The view of our mystics on power has been usually a negative one. They consider the forestalling of power as the alternative to unbridled power. By reflecting on the spirit of men they have realized that only a few can withstand the enticement of power and not become its captive.

Mawlānā has a parable which speaks of this matter. A snake-catcher goes to a cold region in search of a snake. He finds an extremely dreadful, yet dead, dragon. He painstakingly drags it to Baghdad, which is a hot place, and tries to excite astonishment.

Due to the scorching heat of the sun in Iraq, the dragon gradually regains consciousness. It frees itself of its bonds, chases the spectators and the snake-catcher, and devours them.[461]

From this tale Mawlānā concludes that in the lifespan of every man, there exists a seemingly dead dragon. If a bit of the heat of power and wealth reaches it, it will corrupt man:
ﻧﻔﺴﺖﺍﮋﺪﺭﻫﺎﺴﺖ، ﺍو ﮐﯽﻣﺭﺪﻩﺍﺴﺖ؟ ïºïº°ï»ï»¢ïº’ï¯½ïºï» ïº—ï¯½ïºï»”ïº´ïº®ïºªï»© ﺍﺴﺖ

ﮔﺮﺒﻴﺎﺒﺪ ïºï» ïº–Ù ﻓﺮﻋﻮﻥ، ﺍﻮ ﮐﻪ به ﺍﻤﺮ ﺍﻮﻫﻤﻰ ﺮﻓﺖ ïºïºïº ï»®

ﺁﻧﮕﻪﺍﻮﺒﻧﻴﺎﺪﻔﺮﻋﻮﻧﻰﻜﻧﺪ ﺮﺍﻩﺼﺪ ﻤﻮﺴﻰ ﻮ ﺼﺪﻫﺎﺮﻮﻦ ﺰﻧﺪ

ﻜﺮﻤﮏﺍﺴﺖ ﺁﻦﺍﮋﺪﻫﺎﺍﺰﺪﺴﺖﻓﻘﺮ ﭙﺷﻪﺍﻯ، ﮔﺮﺪﺪ ﺰ ïº ïºŽï»© ﻮﻣﺎﻞْ ﺼﻘﺮ

The dragon is thy sensual soul: How is it dead?

It is (only) frozen by grief and lack of means.

If it obtain the means of Pharaoh,

By whose command the water of the river (Nile) would flow,

Then it will begin to act like Pharaoh

And will waylay a hundred (such as) Moses and Aaron.
That dragon, under stress of poverty, is a little worm,

(But) a gnat is made a falcon by power and riches.

Keep the dragon in the snow of separation (from its desires);

Beware; do not carry it into the sun of Iraq.

So long as that dragon of thine remains frozen (well and good);

Thou art a mouthful for it, when it gains release.[462]

In the words of the Imām, the Hitlerian makeup and his mania for power exist in the mind of everyone. “Hitler was ready to annihilate the whole of humanity and make himself stay in power in Germany. The superior race and that which was in the mind of Hitler are in the minds of all of you. You have made yourselves unwary.”[463] Can it be concluded from this matter that power is evil in itself?

In reality, the claim of those people is that since power has unpleasant repercussions such as excesses, injustice and insolence, it follows then that one must eschew it totally. This view has been propagated by many of the Muslim mystics and it has been one factor in the decadence of the Muslim societies. But if gluttony has dire consequences, it cannot be concluded that food must be absolutely discarded.

If abundant wealth is corruptive, one cannot reject it totally and abandon the same. As in the previous discussion on instincts, the way of approaching the insolence of instincts is not to uproot them, but to guide them. On the issue of power too, the same approach must be adopted. Keeping aloof from the detriments of power by giving it up cannot be realized.

The evils should be identified and their emergence prevented. Mitterrand who himself speaks about the dangers of power, regards the solution to lie in controlling and guiding it, and in his words, in acquiring anti-power. “If the one who is in power… is of sound reasoning, he will search for anti-powers.”[464]
This anti-power can prevent the excesses of power as well as the corruption of the power-holder. It can be within a person, and is called ‘conscience’ according to Mitterrand: “Some of my powers only rely on my conscience.”[465]

But one should not content himself with this anti-power; rather, “the society, likewise, ought to bring into existence anti-powers within the framework of its institutions.”[466]

In other words, power should be controlled through the mechanisms of distribution of power, the partnership of the people, and the supervisory bodies. Nevertheless, between these two types of anti-power, it seems that the internal anti-power has primacy. As, sometimes, the power-holder is in such a position of strength that he can neutralize all the social anti-powers. It is here that “the only brake that exists for his actions is the one within him.”[467]

Therefore, according to Weasel, it can be deduced that “the true power is that power which man exercises on his self.”[468] It is this point that can be regarded as among the axiomatic truths of Islamic ethics and mysticism. It is only through internal edification and dominance over the self that power can be properly handled and its perils avoided.

In the opinion of the Imām, the essence of power is an attribute of perfection and God also possesses this attribute in its absolute sense. “Power is a form of perfection in itself. God, the Sublime and Exalted, is powerful.”[469] As such, one should not shun power. Instead, he should understand it and benefit from it, in an optimal way, and the proper way of benefiting from something, in the view of the Imām, is internal refinement. Thus, he stands on the proposition that in case it is acquired by unrefined individuals, power is dangerous. In case power is obtained by corrupt persons, this same perfection will lead him to corruption.[470]

Yes, all the evils that are found in the world arise from egocentrism. Craving position, desire for power, love of riches, and the like—all of them spring from self-love, and this ‘idol’ is the biggest one, breaking which is also far more difficult than everything else.[471]

Therefore, in the intellectual code of the Imām, power ought not to be feared or evaded. Rather, it should be properly utilized, nourished and embellished; by means of relentless trimming of the extra branches of power, its possible centralization and absolutism can be parried.

Politics as indispensable for the realization of Islam

Imām lived at a time when, owing to the influence of extensive propaganda of the antagonists, and the ineffectual actions of the protagonists, serious doubts on Islam and its functioning has arisen in people’s minds. One of these doubts concerned the relationship between Islam and politics, and the duty of the religious scholars vis-à -vis politics.

The outcome of these doubts was the preponderance of the notion of separation of religion and politics, which the Imām used to attack severely, viewing it as an offshoot of the imperialist designs. At various places, he used to speak of the role of Islam in politics and also about the duty of all Muslims to be involved in politics and that the two were inseparable.
On various occasions he would point to the episode of Pākravān, the Head of the State Organization for Security and Information (SAVAK) of the Shāh’s regime, and his (Pākravān’s) views on the nature of politics and on the clergy keeping away from this chicanery [pedar-sūkhtegīh][472] saying that it was an imperialist design which a number of religious people believed.[473] And ‘politically-minded’ clergyman [ākhūnd-e siyāsī] in our religious culture was more a fault-finding [term], and even a term of vilification. “Once they find a fault with a particular cleric [ākhūnd], they say that he is a politically-inclined clergyman.”[474]

This is while if we do not take the social precepts of Islam into account, nothing will be left of this pure religion except a spiritless skeleton. The principal part of Islam is concerned with its social aspect; giving effect to this depends on having power and being the ruler. As such, Islam cannot be regarded as merely a personal religion and the private matter of an individual. This notion that politics can be separated from religion is either the outcome of the misconception of the principle of religion, or the effect of the propaganda of the ill-wishers. If man is a social and political being, and if we accept that Islam is all-embracing and has a plan for every dimension of man, the logical implication of these premises is that religion is not separate from politics. So, all this talk about religion and politics being separate is suspicious.

This slogan of the separation of religion from politics and the demand that Islamic scholars should not intervene in social and political affairs have been formulated and propagated by the imperialists; it is only the irreligious who repeat them. Were religion and politics separate in the time of the Prophet (s)? Did there exist, on one side, a group of clerics, and opposite it, a group of politicians and leaders?

Were religion and politics separate in the time of the caliphs—even if they were not legitimate—or in the time of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a)? Did two separate authorities exist? These slogans and claims have been advanced by the imperialists and their political agents in order to prevent religion from ordering the affairs of this world and shaping Muslim society.[475]

According to the Imām, [Islam] is a school of thought which, contrary to non-monotheist schools of thought, has function and jurisdiction in all aspects of the individual and society, material and spiritual, culture and politics, military and economy. It has not neglected any point including the most trivial one, which has a role in the nourishment of man and the society as well as in the material and spiritual advancement.[476]

With such an approach, basically, one who speaks about the separation of the two categories has indeed not understood the function and nature of neither of the two. “The meaning of ‘What have we to do with politics?’ is that we should totally put Islam aside; Islam ought to be set aside; Islam must be buried in our chambers; Islam must be buried in our books.”[477]

In the view of the Imām, “Basically, the foundation of Islam is in politics.”[478] “The Messenger of God (s) has laid the edifice of politics in piety.”[479] “From the time of the Messenger of God (s) up to the period when there was not yet any deviation, politics and piety were in tandem.”[480]

These topics have been repeated time and again, and are more understandable and acceptable particularly in light of the definition of politics that he gives. As stated in the previous discussion, in his view, “Politics is meant to guide the society and take it forward. It should take into account all the interests of the society; it should consider all the dimensions of man and society and lead them to whatever is to their good, the good of the nation and of the individuals. This is specific to the prophets (‘a).”[481]

With this perspective, all the decrees and laws of Islam have a political facet and “The religion of Islam is a political religion; it is a religion in which everything is politics, including its acts of devotion and worship.”[482] In this view too, “The moral precepts of Islam are political as well.”[483]

Oneness of ethics and politics in Islam

The Imām believes that if man is left to himself he will fall under the sway of his carnal desires and material needs and any type of educational and political system, even the correct one, will be incapable of nourishing his spiritual dimensions, whereas the foundation of everything is spiritual and by reforming and nourishing this dimension in man, all other problems will be solved.

In his opinion, the enigma of today’s world is a moral one and if it is not solved, the world will head downhill toward destruction. “The things that are threatening the world are not arms, bayonets, missiles, and the like… What is leading these people and these countries to perdition and decadence is the degenerations among the heads of countries and in the actions of the governments, which is emerging from the moral decadence.”[484]

According to the Imām, “The school of thought of Islam is not a materialist school; it is a material-spiritual school… Islam has come for the edification of man. The mission of Islam and the goal of all the prophets (‘a) is this—to nurture man.”[485]

Therefore, the source of every political approach should be ethics. Attention to spirituality is inevitable because “the foundation is spiritualities.”[486] Basically, without ethics, politics is incapable of guiding the people and securing their true interests and if we assume that there is a person who implements a correct policy… this policy is just one dimension of the politics which had been for the prophets (‘a), the saints [awliyā’], and now for the scholars [‘ulamā’] of Islam. Man is not one-dimensional.

The society too is not one-dimensional. Man is not a mere animal whose affairs only concern food and eating. If there were both satanic policies and correct policies, they would guide and lead the community in one dimension and that is the animal dimension and material-social dimension. Such is of politics which in Islam is fixed for the prophets (‘a) and for the saints. They want to guide the nation, the nations, the society, and the individuals, and to pave the way for all the conceivable interests of man and the society.[487]

This point is the kernel of Imām Khomeinī’s moral-political thought. As such, we are not dealing with two independent types of knowledge and realms. Politics is the extension of ethics while ethics is the underpinning of politics. By reflecting on the above-mentioned pivots, this point becomes very clear. Since its goal is the growth of man’s material and spiritual dimensions and as these dimensions are supposed to be nourished concordantly and harmoniously, Islam has enacted laws for mankind.

These laws, although concern the individual, while some others concern the society, and some have educational aspects while some others have political ones, all are in pursuit of a single goal. So, these laws ought to have various features. First of all, they should cover all the dimensions and aspects of man’s existence. The other is that they should be comprehensive in scope. Finally, they should not be defective. Instead, they should complement one another. In reality, such are the laws of Islam.

From the viewpoint of the Imām, “Islam has rules and regulations covering the entire life of man, from the day he is born up to the moment he enters his grave.”[488] Similarly, these laws are comprehensive and versatile. “Islam is everything for this man; that is, it has facts from nature to beyond nature to the celestial world; Islam has a thesis; Islam has a program.”[489] And finally, all the laws of Islam have a single framework.

The religion of Islam is not only a devotional religion… Neither is it a mere political sect and religion. It is both devotional and political. Its politics is identical with its devotion. Its devotion is indistinguishable from its politics. That is, its very devotional aspect has also a political facet.[490]

The Imām even goes to the extent of explicitly considering religious ethics and politics as one. Anchored to the notion of unity of the two, he emphatically says:
Islam’s ethical precepts are also political. That precept in the Qur’an that all believers are brothers is an ethical precept, a social precept, and a political precept as well. If the believers of the different schools of thought existing in Islam, and who are faithful to God and the Prophet of Islam (s), be as brothers to one another, just as one has love for his own brother, and that all segments have love for one another, apart from being a great Islamic morality with far-reaching moral effects, it is a great social precept with great social effects.[491]

To sum up, the core of the Imām’s view and the quintessence of his thought on ethics and politics is the unity of the two, and its being obvious and needless of argumentation. Now that ethics and politics are interwoven, and that lying, oppression, injustice, mischief, etc., both in the individual and social spheres are bad, the Islamic ruler should try to always abide by the principles of ethics and not overstep its limits. Although this task is difficult, it is possible. The only way of preserving political authority and guaranteeing the real interests of the Islamic system in the long term is to abide by the principles of ethics and keep aloof from any form of deception at all costs. Not a single Muslim statesman can overlook this principle. The last statement of the Imām on the preservation of political authority and his emphasis on ethics should always be our motto:

Through Islamic behaviour; preservation of the movement; advancement of the movement; paying heed to the fact that God, the Sublime and Exalted, approves of us; and Islamic conduct and morality, you can preserve this power which has taken you to victory.”[492]

In conclusion, not only politics could, but should be, ethical. Through these moral standards, politics should be cultivated since the basis and essence of the Islamic teachings is such. History bears witness to the prominence of this tenet. If this tenet has failed elsewhere, it cannot be concluded that it will always fail and that it is an impossible venture.

Nowadays, most of the political thinkers have arrived at the conclusion that it is only through ethical politics that the chance for survival exists. Even Machiavelli, who would stress so strongly on the independence of politics from ethics, believed that this immorality is more dependent on the type of government, not on the principle of politics. He used to say that the possibility of ethical politics is more in the republican form of government than in absolute and dictatorial governments.

Then, in order to substantiate his view he used to narrate an interesting story. While discussing the drawing up of a contract, he poses this question: “Which pact of alliance is more reliable—alliance with a republican government or with an absolute monarchy?” Then, he stresses the fact that there are various reasons for violation of contracts, one of which is the state’s expedience.

But even in this case, republican governments remain faithful to their contracts and promises for a longer period of time than the monarchies do. There are abundant instances wherein a very minute gain has induced a monarch to violate a treaty while profuse interests have failed to compel a republican government to infringe an accord.

Themistocles said before the national assembly of Athens, “I have a suggestion, which entails a great gain for Athens… The assembly appointed Aristides to hear his suggestion on the basis of his recommendation and decide. Themistocles said to Aristides, “All the warships of Greek cities which have trust in their pacts of alliance with Athens, have all collected in a certain place where they could all be easily destroyed, and by destroying them, the Athenians could gain control over the whole of Greece. After listening to this suggestion made to the assembly, Aristides said, “The suggestion of Themistocles is extraordinarily beneficial and extraordinary contrary to dignity. The assembly voted against the suggestion.[493]

Thus, immorality and informality is not a political necessity; it is, rather, a function of the form of rule and government, its goals and officials.

Three Ethical Pillars of Politics

By giving nobility and validity to ethics and with the belief in the oneness of ethics and politics, Imām Khomeinī (r) endeavored in the course of various admonitions to the employees and officials of the [Islamic] system, to present a portrayal of his ideal ethical politics, or in other words, the Islamic politics.

During the first decade of the Islamic Revolution in Iran it rarely happened that he did not emphasize, in his speeches and messages, the centrality of ethics in politics. In fact, this ethical view on politics is the continuation of the same tradition he had in his Sharh-e Chehel Hadīth—that is, reformation of the society is only possible through inner reformation and it is only through self-purification and constant supervision of the self that a righteous society can emerge and the foundation of authentic politics be laid down.

He used to point out to the statesmen on various occasions that every one has a ‘Pharaoh’ within him and there is a kind of dictatorship in one’s inner self. But one should always be vigilant not to let this ‘Pharaoh’ acquire power and this dictator to gain in strength. All these emphases that man is always in the presence of God stem from his view on the place of ethics.

He used to enumerate innumerable moral attributes and qualities for the statesmen, and reckon them as requisites for ethical politics. Among them, we will selectively identify three features here and discuss them so as to find out the Imām’s outlook on them. Of course, this choice does not imply inattention to the importance of other moral features of ethical politics; it is, rather, merely a selection among many other choices. These three features are as follows:

· Sincerity;

· Openness to criticism; and

· Simple living.


As a moral virtue, truthfulness [sidāqah] has been always cherished and lauded among all the peoples throughout history. There is hardly a place where this virtue has been spoken of unfavourably.

When mentioning one of the prophets (‘a), the Glorious Qur’an points to this same truthfulness as one of his characteristics, stating: “And make mention in the Scripture of Ishmael. Lo! He was a keeper of his promise [as-sādiq al-wa‘d].”[494]
Similarly, the Glorious Qur’an identifies the truthful ones along with the prophets (‘a).[495] But, what is truthfulness? Truthfulness means honesty but in reality it is beyond that. Truthfulness is the opposite of lying but it is the opposite of treachery as well. Indeed, truthfulness [sidq] and treachery [khiyānah] are diametrically in opposition to one another.[496]

In this sense, truthfulness is synonymous with trust [amānah]. Hence, truthfulness in politics means veracity, being honest with the people, abiding by contracts and promises, and trustworthiness. The truthful statesman is he who moves in the direction of truth and righteousness, for truthfulness [sidq] means concordance and harmony with the truth.[497]

The truthful statesman is true to his commitments, shows himself to the people as he really is, and refrains from any sort of deceit. Anyone who nourishes this moral quality and attribute in his self never exploits the people’s confidence in him and is not afraid of acknowledging his mistakes. He views this [acknowledgment] not as a sign of weakness but as the result of self-confidence. The concept of truthfulness [sidq] itself embodies the meanings of uprightness, perseverance, tenacity, and power, and it is far higher than mere honesty. After a precise analysis of this term, Tuchihiko Izutsu says:

The term truthfulness [sidq] takes the implicit meanings of sincerity, perseverance, uprightness, and trust. As such, we encounter so many cases of the real function of the term sidq in the Glorious Qur’an as well as in other places all of which can never satisfactorily be substituted by the word ‘truthfulness’.[498]

The broader meaning of the word, sādiq, in the lexicon of the Qur’an is such that at times it is used in contradistinction to the words munāfiq [hypocrite] and kāfir [disbeliever].[499]

Well, the truthfulness that is discussed in politics is this general meaning of the term. Therefore, the truthful politician should possess all these qualities in order to be deemed ethical. In the practical aspect this truthfulness goes to the extent of the politician regarding himself as the servant of the people—not their administrator—and wherever he commits a mistake, he fearlessly and courageously expresses it.

So, if we had committed a mistake before, then we should explicitly say that we erred. Deviation [‘udūl] among the jurists [fuqahā] from one edict [fatwā] to another has exactly the same meaning… The jurists of the Council of Guardians[500] [Shūrā-ye Nigahbān] and members of the Supreme Judicial Council[501] [Shūrā-ye ‘Ālī-ye Qadayī] should also be like this so that, in case they erred in any matter, they should say so categorically and recant their views; we are, after all, not infallible.

Before the Revolution I used to imagine that once the Revolution triumphed there were pious people who would do the works in accordance with Islam… Later I found out that it was not so; most of them were impious individuals. I realized that what I had said was not true, and so I explicitly announced that I had made a mistake.[502]

According to the Imām, therefore, confession of one’s mistake, apart from not being considered a flaw, is a value and a form of the politician’s truthfulness in relation to himself as well as to others.

Karl Popper[503] describes his ideal democracy in the following manner: At the time of the election campaign, instead of enumerating the list of his accomplishments the candidate for a seat in the parliament courageously announces that the previous year he has discovered thirty-one mistakes committed by him, and has tried to compensate for thirteen mistakes while his election rival has only discerned twenty-seven of his mistakes.[504]
That is, it is a value in itself that the politician, before letting others find out his mistakes, himself, steps forward, and dauntlessly and truthfully enumerates his own faults one by one. From the Imām’s viewpoint dictatorship starts when man commits an error and after realizing it, instead of admitting and rectifying it he importunately sticks to it and continues with his crooked ways.

You mention an issue and in case you realize that it is a mistake, you are ready to say that you erred, you committed a mistake, or you want the same mistake to be carried out to the end. Among the corruptions that dictatorship has and with which the dictator is afflicted, is that he opens a subject and then he cannot, that is, he has no power over himself that this subject he has opened if it is against expediency… He cannot renounce his statement… This is the greatest dictatorship with which man is afflicted.[505]

From this aspect, admitting one’s fault, apart from not being a sign of weakness, is a sign of power over one’s self and occasions one’s greatness and increase in popularity. “If you realize that you have erred in something, you must admit it. This confession of yours makes you great in the eyes of the nation; not that it humiliates you. Persisting in one’s mistake greatly debases a person.”[506]

Hence, confession of one’s fault which is the result of truthfulness is a human virtue and excellence and is considered a manifestation of ethical politics. Thus, the Imām emphatically says:

You should know and do know that man is not free from fault and error. As soon as you commit a mistake, turn away from it and admit it. In this lies human perfection, whereas justifying and persisting in a wrong action is a defect and the work of Satan.[507]

The point worthy of consideration is that some politicians think that if they express their faults, the people’s confidence in them will diminish and the people will think them to be incapable. So, instead of admitting their faults they prefer to cover them with yet another mistake, and under the excuse of preserving the people’s confidence and by relying on them they commit other errors. But the answer to this illusion is that the justification itself, in the words of the Imām, is of the guiles and tricks of Iblīs (Satan) and is considered as part of the defense mechanism of internally inept individuals in avoiding facing the truth.

On the other hand, people’s confidence itself stems from truthfulness and does not exist absolutely; rather, it depends on the observance of truthfulness and sincere practices of the politicians. Once the people notice a degree of untruthfulness in them, their confidence in them diminishes twofold. Confidence is, indeed, a tree that matures and grows by means of the water of truthfulness of the rulers, and dries up by their lies and untruthfulness. So, one cannot rely too much on the withered confidence since it is fragile and, in the words of Bertolt Brecht,[508] “People’s confidence wanes once it is relied upon.”[509]

The confidence of the people is no excuse for the rulers to commit mistakes and take refuge in it. It is, in reality, a kind of emotional reserve which should always be augmented and not spent indiscriminately and without any backing.

A truthful politician is one who remains in the political sphere so long as he feels that he is useful. But whenever and for whatever reason he feels that he can no longer perform his duties, then, instead of continuing with his previous ways and concealing his impotency, he relinquishes his responsibility heroically. In doing so, he adds another golden page in his record and places another virtue alongside his other ones.

Anytime anybody feels that he is inadequate for whatever position he holds—be it inadequacy in management or will-power—he should, with courage and dignity, submit his resignation to the competent authorities which is, in itself, a pious and devotional act.[510]
Therefore, truthfulness is not a mere individual moral virtue. Rather, it is a social and political value and has various facets. The truthful politician presents himself to the people as he really is; he knows himself, his capabilities well and makes proper use of them. He talks to the people truthfully and fulfills his commitments. Just as he views political tasks and activities as values, in times of necessity he views resignation as a value as well. He tries not to commit a mistake. Once he commits a mistake, instead of concealing or justifying it, which is itself another mistake, he courageously admits it. He regards this as an indication of the greatness of his soul and the reason for his courage; not weakness and lethargy.

Openness to criticism

The truth of the matter is that we have dual attitudes with respect to the term ‘criticism’. We like it and regard openness to criticism a kind of perfection and value, while at the same time we are very afraid of it. So, usually we invite our friends to criticize us and our actions.

But we immediately put up a shield against the flood of criticisms and reject them one by one in various ways. For this purpose we usually first make it clear as to what type of criticism we wish to face.

Through the addition of such modifiers as ‘constructive’, ‘guidance-giving’, ‘reformative’ and the like, we specify the type of criticism we have in mind.

Finally, if the criticism leveled against us was not to our liking, we practically neutralize its effect and protect our personality through the use of such clichés as bias of the critic, weakening motive, falsity of the criticism, and others.

An anecdote of this type of facing criticism and reacting to it calls to mind the story of man who, pretending to be a champion, went to a tattooist and asked him to tattoo his shoulder with the image of a lion. As the tattooist started his work, the man became restless due to the intensity of the pain of the needles that penetrated his body. He asked the tattooist which part of the lion he was tattooing. He replied that he had started from the tail. The ‘champion’ said that there was no need for the tail and that he should start with another part. The tattooist started again from the other part, but the pain persisted. Again the question was asked and the answer was that he had started from the mane. Again the request of the ‘champion’ was to abandon the mane and to start with another part. These questions and answers, and complaints about the pain thus continued until finally the tattooist got angry over this situation, flung the needles to the ground and said:

شير بى دمّ و سر و اشكم كه ديد اينچنين شيرى خدا هم نافريد

Who (ever) saw a lion without tail and head and belly?

God Himself did not create a lion like this.[511]
Our attitude toward criticism is more than this. We welcome criticism and sometimes insist on it. But once we experience its sting, we evade from it and in order to cover up our evasion, we assign various labels to it. We brand it as the venting of complexes, vengeance, accusation, and injustice.

This duality in words and in deeds is so vivid to obviate the need for description. Criticism is looked upon as a gift in our religious culture, and to present an ‘offering of faults’ is deemed a value and, at times, a duty so much so that Imām as-Sādiq (‘a) says: “The most beloved of my brothers is he who presents me an offering of my faults.”[512]

However, in cultures, there is practically nothing worse than criticism and unethical than criticizing, the reason being that we try not to criticize and, in case we have no alternative, we strive to make it very mild and practically ineffective; while leveling it apologetically and reticently. Even then, instead of thanks, an immediate storm of wrath, calumny and misunderstanding confronts us in that motive, purpose, malice, envy, and the like have compelled us to make this criticism. In short, criticism is not welcome in our culture.

Nevertheless, the truth must be accepted that, in life, we cannot escape from criticism. Even supposing that we promise ourselves not to criticize anybody and to be true to our commitments, we cannot prevent the flood of criticisms of others to be cast on ourselves. So, another option must be sought and our view on criticism be changed since there is no absolute way of eliminating criticism. “The reality is that so long as you have relations with others, that is, so long as you are alive, you will hear criticism and need it.”[513]

This fact is more vivid in the political arena and political function is always subject to criticism. Therefore, anyone who enters the political arena must learn how to confront criticisms and make good use of them. Criticism, particularly in the political arena, is the most basic channel of communication between the citizens and government officials, and through which they realize the effectiveness or otherwise of their policies and their repercussions. As such, criticisms are a mirror in which the politicians see the impact of their actions and the strengths and weaknesses thereof.

In spite of this, individuals and organizations practically dodge criticism and see it as a personal attack on them. Consequently, in most cases, instead of accepting the purport of criticism they rebut it in a sense and consider it unfair. It is because criticism is undertaken on the presumption that the characteristic, attitude, action, or speech of the person being subjected to criticism is not correct. This for some means bringing into question their entire existence and the shattering of their personalities.

As if to say the critic has come to wage war against the personality of the person being criticized and he, in turn, has no alternative but to fight and protect his integrity. The reason for this is that the nature of man is such that he deems himself, his attitude and intellect as perfect and flawless. In as much as it is possible for anybody not to complain about the scarcities in his life, it has, however, not been seen for a person to whine over his own imperfection and lack of intelligence. Sa‘dī describes this mental condition in this manner:

ﻫﻤﻪﻛﺲ ﺮﺍ ﻋﻘﻞﺧﻮﺪ ﺒﻪﻛﻤﺎﻞﻨﻤﺎﻴﺪ ﻮﻓﺮﺰﻨﺪ ﺧﻮﺪﺒﻪ ïº ï»¤ïºŽï»ž.

Everyone thinks his own wisdom perfect and his child beautiful.[514]

Then, he slyly concludes:

ﮔﺮ ﺍﺰﺒﺴﻴﻃ ﺰﻤﻴﻦﻋﻘﻞﻤﻨﻌﺪﻢﮔﺮﺪﺪ ﺒﻪ ﺧﻮﺪﮔﻤﺎﻦ ﻨﺒﺮﺪﻫﻴﭻ ﮐﺲﮐﻪﻨﺎﺪﺍﻨﻢ

If wisdom were to cease throughout the world,

No one would suspect himself of ignorance.[515]

Descartes,[516] the French philosopher, describes this state in a satirical manner thus: “Among the people intellect has been divided better than anything else, although every person thinks he has such a complete portion of it that the people who are hard to please in anything, do not wish to have an intellect more than they already possess.”[517]

This is the reason why everybody, immediately upon hearing a criticism, imagines that his wisdom and intellect has been insulted, and so he tries to dispel this insult through the use of weapons and answer his critic or rival; the beginning of the fall of man from the ethical aspect being this very attitude. As was discussed before, man is a mixture of good and bad dispositions and is in need of inner nourishment and spiritual purification. Therefore, apart from not being fearful of criticism anyone yearning for perfection also seeks it earnestly.

Dodging criticism means claiming perfection and flawlessness; this is peculiar only to God. Anyone with such pretensions is claiming partnership with God and, as a result will, all at once, be expelled from His Presence. It is through this approach that the Imām admonishes thus:

Nobody, no establishment and no individual can claim, ‘I have no defect whatsoever.’ If one claimed so, his gravest flaw then, is this very claim. No one can say, ‘I have no flaw anymore …’ We do not have a flawless one in this world. We should always pay attention to these flaws of ours.[518]

Basically, from the viewpoint of the Imām anyone who is in pursuit of advancement and perfection should be pessimistically and critically in search of his flaws and faults, and not see what virtues he has. In our ethics and ethical literature it is propounded that man should refrain from critical observation and should have an optimistic view of others. Hence, Hāfiz says:

كمال سرّ محبت ببين نه نقصِ گناه كه هر كه بى هنر افتد، نظر به عيب كند

Look well with love, and not at the filth of sin.

He who is artless (always) looks at the defects (of others).[519]

But this issue is different from the one we are currently discussing. The first issue is that we should refrain from pessimistic and critical views on others while the other issue is that we should judiciously, critically and meticulously evaluate ourselves. This is not only ethical, but also a requisite for man’s growth and perfection.

In the view of the Guardian of the Pious and Commander of the Faithful [‘Alī ibn Abī T&ālib] (‘a) one of the attributes of the pious is that they always indict and scrupulously call themselves to account. According to Karen Harney, a contemporary psychoanalyst,

As long a person is proud of a certain state, propensity and attribute, and considers them as virtues, it is natural for him not only to exert no efforts for their elimination, but also, because he feels himself worthy due to them, he defends it and tries to preserve them.[520]

Thus, the first condition for seeking perfection is that man should consciously strive for his exaltation, and critically assess himself.

The man who would like to work for God and reach the station of humanity should constantly be in pursuit of uncovering his own shortcomings. He should not be after identifying his virtues. As a person wants to know his faults, it might make him think of eliminating them, while being in pursuit of finding out his virtues veils his eyes by which he cannot see his faults.[521]

In this manner, offering criticisms constitutes the grounds for the growth of individuals, particularly the politicians who seek to secure the interests of the public.

Another point is that reforming the society is basically dependent on making criticisms and their assessment. So as to know whether the state organizations are functioning properly, or have had shortcomings at times, everybody should put forth whatever criticism he has to offer and, in doing so, participate in the reformation of the society.

Hence, from the Imām’s viewpoint, “There should be criticism; without criticism a society cannot be reformed. This is also true with faults. Man is defective from head to foot and these defects must be stated. Criticisms must be stated so as to reform the society.”[522]

It is true that the nature of man is such that he does not like being criticized. But if man goes beyond the level of instincts and nurtures himself, he welcomes criticisms with open arms no matter how acrimonious and harsh they may be. “If man builds himself, he will not dislike a peasant criticizing him. He does not dislike it at all. He does not mind being criticized.”[523]
In spite of this, since most men have not yet reached this extent of perfection to welcome criticism and take advantage of it, they have an inappropriate attitude toward it and prevent it in various ways. The totality of these reactions that the individual shows in protecting himself against the reality of criticism can be classified under the general heading of ‘defense mechanisms’. “Defense mechanisms are unconscious strategies through which the person preserves himself from the more unmerciful aspects of reality.”[524]

Thus, when facing the bitter reality of criticism man engages in self-deception. Through falsification of reality and ignorance in relation to it, he conceals the reality from himself. If this act happens rarely it is perhaps admissible. But if man, particularly in the political arena, makes it a habit of always adopting one of these mechanisms vis-Ã -vis criticisms, it is then that his relation to reality is completely severed and he will pass his days in the cocoon of his illusions.

Some of these defense mechanisms, which, unfortunately, most of the people including the politicians utilize, are the rejection of criticism, reading the critic’s motive, corresponding criticism, humiliating the critic, coining justification, belittling the criticism, evasion and reversion, blaming others, and classifying criticisms as ‘constructive’ or ‘destructive’.

Sometimes, in facing the criticism against him, the person denies the basis of criticism and deems it a calumny. At other times, instead of reflecting on the concept of criticism and its acceptance, he tries to uncover the treacherous motive of the critic, defaming him and proving that the critique stems from the malevolence and bad faith of the critic. Sometimes also, instead of answering the criticism the person reciprocally criticizes the critic and answers blow by blow.

On occasion, he humiliates the critic and does not consider him to be qualified to offer criticism. Every so often instead of sincerely acknowledging the criticism he reckons it a trivial and worthless issue, needing no investigation at all. Sometimes, he becomes furious and since his worth has remained unrecognized and his kindness has been reciprocated with criticism, he is offended and is indignant of the ‘ungrateful’ people. At times, he attributes to his critic whatever is in his own heart as well as his motives and ideas, and unbelievingly thinks of him based on his own religion.

Occasionally, he acknowledges the basis of criticism but instead of assuming his accountability in this context, he blames the circumstances and time, and shows himself as being entirely innocent. Finally, he sometimes classifies any criticism as constructive or destructive, true or false, justifiable or unjustifiable. These mental classifications relieve him of acknowledging the criticism and reforming himself, and he leaves the matter unsolved.

All the above mechanisms are, in reality, the promptings of the carnal self and delusions of Satan. They are the curtains that blind the truth-seeing eyes of man, prevent him from understanding himself correctly and impede his growth and perfection. Anyone wanting to enter the arena of politics and ethically practicing it should listen sincerely to all criticism, evaluate it dispassionately and utilize it for his reformation.

He should not adopt any of the aforementioned mechanisms, and instead of classifying criticism as proper or not, should entertain every criticism and make good use of it for his development. It was with this view that Imām, in addressing Dr. ‘Alī Akbar Wilāyatī, the then Foreign Minister, said: “You and our friends in the Foreign Ministry should bear criticism, whether justified or not.”[525]

In this context, Imām goes to the extent of saying that, basically, criticism from the enemy should be heard and heeded. It is because friends are usually indifferent to our flaws, and even if they do notice, they do not mention them. So, for us friends are not good teachers; whereas our enemies who inconsiderately notice our shortcomings and mention them unsparingly—albeit with spiteful motives—can be our best teachers. Therefore, that man should not only expect criticism from friend and foe alike, but should also be prepared to receive and solicit it from everybody.

Man should come to a person who is his enemy and see what his judgment on him is so as to enable him to realize his faults. He cannot learn from his own friends; he should learn from his enemies. When he says something, he should know what the enemies say and should think that the enemies understand his faults. Although you and I might have flaws, friends…say: ‘How eloquently you delivered your speech!’… Man’s friends are his real enemies while his enemies are his real friends. Man should learn from those who find his faults. He should know that those who extol him, this tongue, the tongue that admires an affair which is supposed to be criticized, is the very tongue of Satan.[526]
Therefore, from the viewpoint of the Imām one of the fundamental values and pillars of ethical politics is the element of the politicians’ openness to criticism. As far as they can, they should make use of the enemies even for understanding their own flaws and treat them as their own teachers. This element of openness to criticism not only leads to the spiritual loftiness of the politicians but also makes them more successful in the political arena. It is because they will recognize better the strength and weakness of their own actions, and on the basis of the criticisms that have been expressed they can reform their own policy and give direction to it.

Besides, the channels of communication between them and the people will remain open. Indeed, these criticisms, however bitter they are, are the best expression and exhibition of the people’s notions on the political practices of the politicians. If a politician is responsibly in pursuit of improving his own practice and function, he should regard their existence as booty and make use of them for the reformation of the society. The existence of criticism, from the Imām’s viewpoint, makes the concerned officials perform each of their duties and no one would go beyond the ambit of their prerogatives.

In other words, the existence of the spirit of criticism and openness to criticism hinders the growth of dictatorship. “If I did something wrong, all of you would rush to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’ [Thus] I will sit in my own place (I will perform my duty properly). All of you are responsible; all of us are responsible.”[527]

It is possible for some people to imagine that criticism is incompatible with compliance and wherever criticism is offered the pillars of compliance are weakened. Because of this, criticism must be avoided as far as possible especially in religious governance. This notion is based on the proposition that compliance implies blind allegiance and adherence, whereas criticism connotes noticing and mentioning faults and defects. In answer to this notion it should be stated that in Islamic governance there is no place for absolute compliance.

Compliance must be conscious and based on accountability. Every citizen is duty-bound to comply with the authority while at the same time he is obliged to check its deviation. The Imām’s slogan, ‘All of you are responsible; all of us are responsible,’ refers to this point. In reality this saying is a paraphrase of the statement of the Most Noble Messenger (s) who said: “All of you are responsible and you will be asked about the things you have been in charge of.”[528]

Thus, we cannot speak of unrestrained, unconditional and absolute compliance in the political arena and prevent criticism from being made. The consequences of whatever happens in the Islamic society involve both the citizens and rulers. So, all are equal and accountable with respect to social responsibilities. It is from this perspective that Shahīd Mut*ahharī says: “Laudable and legitimate imitation does not mean allegiance and turning a blind eye. It is opening the eyes and being watchful. Otherwise, it is accountability and participation in crime and sin.”[529] He goes beyond this point and believes, “Islam does not allow for deafness and abstention from sin for anybody even for the person of the Most Noble Messenger (s).”[530] Then, in a bid to express his opinion he narrates the story of Hadrat Mūsā (‘a) and a pious servant who, based on our tradition, has been identified as Prophet Khidr (‘a), and concludes:

The story of Moses and the pious servant which has been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an is an amazing one.[531] One point of the story that can be utilized is that the follower and adherent is submissive, obedient and compliant so long as he does not break and violate the principles, bases and law. If he notices that the act of obedience is performed contrary to the principles and bases, he cannot remain silent… Why did Moses not remain patient and kept on objecting although he would promise and suggest himself not to object, and again kept on raising objections and criticizing? Moses’ fault was not in objecting and criticizing. It was because he was not conscious of the absolute secret and essence of actions… Some have said that if the practice of the pious servant is repeated up to the Day of Resurrection, Moses will also not cease objections and protestations.[532]

Basically, if one day criticism and openness to criticism is to be forgotten on the excuse of obedience, the Islamic society will experience a crisis and all will become afflicted with irreparable flaws. As such, Mut*ahharī strongly emphasizes the necessity for criticism at all levels: “I did and do believe that every non-infallible position which is not liable to criticism is dangerous to the holder of the position as well as to Islam.”[533]

Hence, obedience and compliance with the religious rule and following the authorities do not imply indifference to their policies and non-criticism.

Of course, undoubtedly, there are individuals who use criticism as a means of settling their personal accounts, and instead of criticizing they are actually taking revenge. There are also those who, in the name of criticism give vent to their inner complexes as well as those who, again in the name of criticism, intend disgracing others. But nothing can justify improper behaviour of politicians toward these people and such criticisms. Here we are facing two separate issues. One is those who take unfair advantage of the weapon of criticism.
By way of advice, the Imām emphasizes to such people that the language of criticism should be polite and courteous, and it is in this context that he says, “If they have criticism, they should have a brotherly criticism; it should be prudent and sensible.”[534]

Or he stresses that the language of admonition is different from that of disgracing individuals. “The language of admonition is different from the language of disgracing and damaging the reputation [of others].”[535] From the viewpoint of the Imām as a neutral observer, most of the criticisms made in the political arena and encountered by politicians stem from resentment, self-love and injustice, and they cannot be doubted.

But the second issue is that none of these realities can be the grounds for the politicians to evade criticisms or to decide on determining which criticism is justified or not; in good faith or hostile. It is because his nature will persuade him in a bid to preserve his personality and prevent its destruction, to reject whatever he does not accept as done in bad faith, destructive, detrimental, unfair, and the like. Thus, in order to distinguish the honest from the spurious from among the criticisms, we need a third party, which is actually the public opinion. The politician performs his task while the critic criticizes. It is the duty of the politician to listen to criticism and to heed it as much as possible. But with regard to their correctness or otherwise, it is the public opinion that determines and classifies them.

In the final analysis, from the Imām’s viewpoint openness to criticism is among the human perfections. It draws man from the existential sphere of instinct and egoism to the status of the lofty and God-loving human being, and obliterates his flaws.

This is due to the fact that the God-loving man removes his weaknesses by means of these criticisms and makes good use of this effective tool. Instead of asking for the basis of criticism he pays attention to its spirit, and it is in this context that he is grateful for the criticisms of his enemies and considers them as his sympathetic teachers. This kind of attitude calls to mind a story that Mawlānā narrates: Contrary to convention, a preacher would pray for his enemies every time he ascended the pulpit. Because the people found fault with this practice—of his praying for the bad ones in place of the good ones,

گفت: نيكويى از اينها ديده ام من دعاشان زين سبب بگزيده ام

خُبث و ظلم و جور چندان ساختند كه مرا از شر به خير انداختند

He replied, “I have seen (experienced) goodness from these folk:

For this reason I have chosen to pray for them.

They wrought so much wickedness and injustice and oppression
That they cast (drove) me forth from evil into good.[536]

We will read a more explicit one in the poem of Abū Hayyān Andalusī, an Arab poet, who considers himself beholden by, and debtor to, his own enemies, deems their existence as necessary, and says:

ﻋِﺪﺍي ï» ï»¬ï»¢ï»”ïº¿ï»žÙŒ ﻋﻟﻰّ ﻮﻣﻧّﺔُ ﻔﻼﺍﺬﻫﺐﺍﻟﺭﺣﻣﻦ ﻤﻧﻰﺍﻻ ﻋﺎﺪﻴﺎ

ﻫُﻢ ïº‘ïº£ïº›ï»®ïºï»‹ï»¦ïº°ï» Ù‘ïº—ï»²ï»”ïºŽïº ïº—ï»§ïº’ïº—ï»¬ïºŽ ﻮﻫﻢ ï»§ïºŽï»”ïº³ï»®ï»§ï»°ï»”ïºŽï»œïº—ïº³ïº’ïº–ïºï» ï»¤ï»ŒïºŽï» ï»³ïºŽ

For me enemies are favour and grace.

O God, take not these enemies from me.

They are so painstakingly in search of my slip.

Thus, I evaded it.

And they are in competition with me.

As an outcome, I attained excellent qualities.[537]

Therefore, instead of wasting time in finding out the motive of the critic and adopting the unscrupulous defense mechanisms, it is better for us to consider every type of criticism as a favour, blessing and in the words of Imām as-Sādiq (‘a) a gift, and to benefit from it in the political arena.

Simple living

Simple living in the individual’s life is a moral virtue. But in the political arena and for the Islamic statesmen, it is, apart from this, a political necessity. What is meant by simple living is what has been referred to in our religious culture as zuhd [asceticism].

Of course, throughout history this term has been laden with negative connotations and usually the term zāhid [ascetic] gives the impression of a disheveled man, impudent, crowd-evading, anti-social, reclusive, narrow-minded, and without activity. Even now, if one is asked to describe a zāhid man, most probably he will describe him in this manner: a thin and pale person, clothed in a patched garment, wearing disheveled hair, dirty body, detached from social responsibilities, indifferent toward the fate of his fellow human beings, and lurking in the corner of prosperity.

Although this notion is not much to our liking, numerous historical testimonies affirm it. The truth of the matter is that zuhd at the advent of Islam, and in the words of the Infallibles (‘a) was described in a certain manner while in the our Sufi culture, it has been expressed in yet another fashion, which is actually a metamorphosis of the real meaning and function of this term.

Negative Asceticism

Here, in order to substantiate these remarks, we will first mention instances of what have been introduced as asceticism and ascetic. Then, we will deal with the correct and original conception of this term. They said to Dāwūd at*-Tā’ī who was one of the disheveled Sufis and notable ascetics, “Comb the end part of [your] beard.” He said, “Have I remained disengaged that I should do it?”[538]

Of course, the occupation of Dāwūd was not of the social occupations. Rather, it was a sort of ecstasy. A part of Kīmyā-ye Sa‘ādat [The Alchemy of Happiness] is allocated to asceticism and its etiquette such as indigence and seclusion. It is mentioned therein that there was someone who said to Dāwūd at*-T&ā’ī, “Give me a piece of advice.”

He said, “Keep aloof from the world of all-embracing subsistence and the people until the time of death, just as they run away from the lion.”[539]

Likewise, al-Ghazzālī narrates, “Sa‘d ibn al-Waqqās and Sa‘īd ibn az-Zayd who were among the great Companions lived near Medina. It was a place which they called ‘Aqīq; they did not use to attend the Friday,[540] and they did nothing else until they died there.”[541]
Similarly, the ascetics would think of marriage as one of the signs of non-asceticism and the cause for attachment to the world. So, most of them refrained from it and preferred a bachelor’s life to it. According to these ascetics, seclusion and indigence was superior to social life and wealth. The dispute of Sa‘dī with a claimant on the issue of riches and mendicancy is an exquisite attempt to express the logic of those who view indigence as superior to fortune, which is very interesting.[542]

This anti-social and narrow-minded approach of the ascetics has taken an extensive form in our literature and has been subjected to severe criticism. According to these men of letters ascetics are clad in wool, hollow persons, intolerable, insensible, idle, self-indulgent, pretentious, and worthless who, wearing sackcloth and wool, seek to gain a reputation for themselves. In reality, they have portrayed asceticism as a snare of guile. For instance, Hāfiz says:

پشمينهﭙوش تندخو، از عشق نشنيده است بو

از مستىاش رمزى بگو تا ترک هوشيارى كند

The wool-clad hot-tempered has not heard of love;

Talk to him of its (love’s) intoxication that he would abandon soberness.[543]


Likewise, according to Hāfiz these people wear patched and mended clothes as a symbol of asceticism, and keep their sleeves short as a sign of simplicity and abstinence from luxury. But all of these are tricks to deceive the people:

به زير دلق ملمّع كمندها دارند دراز دستى اين كوته آستينان بين

There are tricks under the patched-clothes;
See how deceitful the short-sleeve wearers are.[544]

Sa‘dī also narrates a wholesome story concerning this which is very interesting:

An ascetic was the guest of a king. He was invited for a dinner. He ate less than what he wanted to take, and since the time for prayer had come, he prayed more than what he used to do…As he returned to his place, he again asked for the spreadsheet of food so as to eat. He had a son… He said, ‘O father, have you not eaten at the invitation of the sultan?’ He said: [According to him] I have eaten nothing that would be useful. [The king said: ‘Perform also the compensatory prayer as I have performed nothing that would be useful.’][545]

Mawlānā who was one of the great mystics and ascetics of his time also mentions, bitterly and disparagingly, the ascetics and their narrow-mindedness. In the course of the story of an ascetic who had intrusively broken the jug of wine of an emir and had then run away, Mawlānā narrates the story thus in the words of the ascetic’s neighbors who had come to intercede on his behalf:]

اوچهداندامرِمعروفازسگى طالبِمعروفىاستوشهرگى
تا بدين سالوس خود را جا كند تا به چيزى خويشتن پيدا كند
كو ندارد خود هنر الاّ همان كه تسلّس مىكند با اين و آن

What should he know about enjoining (others) to do right?

He is currishly seeking notoriety and fame,

In order that by means of this hypocrisy he may make a position for himself

And somehow make himself conspicuous;

For in truth he has no talent save this alone,

That he plays the hypocrite[546] to all and sundry[547].[548]

At any rate, much has been said about asceticism and ascetic in our mystic and critical literature which we shall pass over. The only important point is that from this perspective, ascetics have not been quite popular. Nowadays, asceticism in this sense is also not acceptable. It is enough for us to imagine that one day all the people of the society decide to become ascetics. That is, family units would disintegrate, social life would be deranged; economic activity would stagnate; everyone would be heading toward the mountains and jungles, lurking in the corner of prosperity, and in pursuit of managing his own affairs.

Undoubtedly, asceticism in this sense is not only unethical at the individual level but also a defect, and in the political arena, it is baseness and a source of societal backwardness. Then, what is meant by asceticism and simple living which has been much mentioned in the speeches of the Infallible Ones (‘a) and which Imām Khomeinī also used to repeat so often while addressing the government officials?






































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