In comments contrasting what he had said earlier, Ayatollah Khamenei has tried to tone down his recent remarks on “Fire at will” that caused extensive controversy and debate.
Khamenei had mentioned "Fire at will" in a speech on June 7, in what was widely interpreted as targeting Hassan Rouhani’s centrist government.
“Sometimes the central think tanks and cultural and political institutions fall into disarray and stagnation, and when that happens, commanders of the soft war should recognize their duty, make decisions and act in a fire at will form,” Khamenei had said.
But now, in his Id Fitr sermon celebrating the end of Ramadan, Iran’s supreme leader today said: “Fire at will does not call for anarchy, it does not mean giving opportunities to those making thoughtless claimants against the country’s revolutionary movement.”
Khamenei’s comments engendered widespread reaction. Several lawyers warned that using the military term can easily lead to breaking law and the violation of civil rights.
“Khamenei’s call for fire at will is [practically] shooting at the law,” said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.
Meanwhile, several media and military institutions under Ayatollah Khamenei’s direct supervision tried to defuse his controversial remarks. “Fire at will means encouraging people for cultural activities,” they argued.
“Fire at will calls for spontaneous and upstanding cultural work,” Khamenei himself clarified in his latest sermon. “It does not call for anarchy, it does not mean giving opportunities to those making thoughtless claimants against the country’s revolutionary movement,” he added.
Khamenei once again called on his followers to be alert and vigilant in confronting the enemy’s soft war against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iranian officials often refer to Western cultural influences as a “soft war” against their national and religious values.
Despite the gravity of the words, several experts said the phrase is nothing new in Iranian politics.
“Iran’s leader spoke about firing at will only recently, but as a matter of fact, this policy has been in place and enforced for many years,” said Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi in a recent interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI). “Fire at Will” against presumed enemies of the state is an established policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, argued Ebadi.
Moreover, there are analysts who believe the Supreme Leader’s target in his previous speech was Hassan Rouhani’s centrist government. Khamenei’s comment on the military term was apparently reflected in Quds Day ceremonies where tens of angry protesters attacked Rouhani’s car and bombarded him with negative slogans.
Parliament deputy speaker, Ali Mottahari, described “Fire at Will” as a two-way street where the opposition is also free to fire back.
Government’s spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht cautioned against “abusing Ayatollah Khamenei’s comment on Fire at Will.” Rouhani, himself, preferred to stay away from the Ayatollah’s controversial remark.
Rouhani’s message to celebrate the end of Ramadan did not make allusion to it. “Enlightening the foundations of justice, reason, and peace in Islamic thought is the responsibility of Muslim intellectuals,” said Rouhani.
Khamenei’s speech today might come across as conciliatory – whatever the word means in the Islamic Republic. But the track record shows that despite his later softening of tone, his followers within the Basij Militia, the Islamic Revolution Guards’ Corps and security organizations tend to follow his first remarks as a directive.