Tag Archives: Iran Supreme Leader

The Clerics vs. Modernity

Failure of the Islamic Republic’s Soft Power

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s greatest fear is neither a military attack on its shadowy nuclear program nor a forced suspension of Uranium enrichment, but a cultural invasion in the form of Western modernity. As much as Tehran’s regime takes culture seriously, it misunderstands its nature, mechanisms and dynamism. Therefore the government’s dissatisfaction with the cultural situation within Iran never ends. The political revolution in 1979 reached its goal by overthrowing the monarchy, but the process of Cultural Revolution never stops and the re-Islamization of Iranian society and culture has been an ongoing project. Every year there are new programs and plans for changing the culture and Islamizing it. The regime attempts the impossible and believes in the triumph of hope over experience.

An Iranian worker puts the final touches to a mural of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, adjoining a cinema


Militarizing the Cultural Arena

In a speech in 2003 Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that

“More than Iran’s enemies need artillery, guns and so forth, they need to spread cultural values that lead to moral corruption. They have said this many times. I recently read in the news that a senior official in an important American political center, said: ‘Instead of bombs, send them miniskirts.’ He is right. If they arouse sexual desires in any given country, if they spread unrestrained mixing of men and women, and if they lead youth to behavior to which they are naturally inclined by instincts, there will no longer be any need for artillery and guns against that nation.”

It is striking here how the government uses military literature, vocabulary and metaphor to speak about culture. Since Khamenei is the commander in chief of the Armed Forces he also regards himself as the commander in chief of Islamic culture. He is the one who defines it and he is the authority who implements it.

What Khamenei considers a cultural invasion should be seen as the broadest war in the history of mankind. In his eyes the enemy’s armies are innumerable and include all members of Western society who adhere to modern liberal values and cultural institutions—from art to tourism. Not only this, but the West has globalized its ideals in order to poison all foreign cultures—not only Muslim hearts and minds but also non-Muslim cultures like Japan. According to Khamenei the Muslim world is under particularly heavy attack. Western cultural colonizers are trying to destroy the cultural “authenticity” of Muslims and deprive it of its “originality” and there are colonized minds within Muslim community who are knowingly or unknowingly the West’s agents—who corrupt cultural territory and contaminate it with western cultural microbes. These agents—such as intellectuals, scholars, artists and writers—reproduce the same values that the colonizers want to spread all over the world. Therefore aesthetics are as dangerous as conventional politics: We may not easily be able to perceive its danger but we should be certain that it was not created by the West in vain.

The Islamic Republic has tried to transform Islamic tradition into a shield against modern culture.

As Islamist ideology believes Islamic government should manage all cultural affairs of the country, the rulers of Iran therefore believe that Western culture is under the tight control of the political powers—imperialists and Zionists. For them the capitalist world is not designed to function within a decentralized network but as a well-guided structure that exploits every citizen and dominates undeveloped nations.

In other words, everything is political and every member of the society ought to prove whether she/he is with ‘us’ or with ‘them’. The process of proving that one is with the ruling ideology is not easy. Totalitarian ideology is temperamental and moods can change swiftly, because in the end it is not principles which define the ideology but the whims of the ruler. Absolute loyalty to the ruling ideology can also be risky. The cult of personality of the leader trumps the ideology in such a way that he becomes the main criterion for measuring the fidelity to the ideology.

“The objective of a totalitarian system is to destroy all forms of communal life that are not imposed by the state and closely controlled by it, so that individuals are isolated from one another and become mere instruments in the hands of the state” wrote Leszek Kolakowski in describing why Joseph Stalin killed many more people who were sincerely loyal to the communist ideology than people who were opposed to it.

“Those who took the faith seriously wanted to interpret it for themselves and to consider whether this or that political step was in accordance with Stalin’s version of Marxism-Leninism. But this made them potential critics and rebels against the government, even if they swore fealty to Stalin; for they might always invoke yesterday’s Stalin against today’s and quote the leader’s words against himself” Kolakowski continues.

In Iranian contexts this picture seems very familiar: Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karrobi—the leaders of green opposition who have been under house arrest for more than 450 days at this point— never rebelled against Islamic ideology but instead criticized Khamenei. Both were former officials and sincere believers in the Islamic Republic but came to the conclusion that Khamenei had deviated from the initial path of the revolution. This is also true about intellectuals who were considered to be committed to Islamist ideology three decades ago, but now are seen by the government as Western agents who seek to penetrate Muslim society and corrupt it from within. The film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the late poet Qaisar Aminpoor and the intellectual Abdul Karim Soroush are among the best examples whose starting-point was within Islamic ideology but the government’s record disappointed them and made them its critics. In fact the true believers who abstain from becoming morally and economically tied to the regime are susceptible to become revisionists and reformists.

Re-Islamizing Islam

For Islamists, the golden age is not the period immediately before Western colonialism or the emergence of modernity in Europe. They idealize the time of Prophet Mohammed and his four succeeding Caliphs (in the case of Sunnis) and (in the case of Shi’ites) his fourth succeeding Caliph. They look at the history of Islam as a history of misunderstanding Islam. Islam deviated from its divine path a short while after its very inception. They reject not only the objective and concrete history of Islam but also its subjective history; Islamic theology and exegeses. They want to provide a ‘new’ interpretation of Islam which is supposed not to perfectly correspond to the period of prophet. Since interpreting is not possible without referring to a tradition, they take a very eclectic approach to Islamic traditions, books, authors, and customs. They arbitrarily choose what they need for their political agenda and leave what does not serve their ends—occasionally forcing people to forget it ever existed. Consequently they use force not only to fight with Western cultural influence but also to impose their own image of the past in the minds of Muslims—manipulating Muslims’ historical memory and identity. This is why they try to re-Islamize Muslim society; a process that never ends.

Islamists fight not only with the present and the future but also with the past. They fight time itself and want to replace it with mythological eternity.  Islamists’ historical pessimism does not have any cure. It just makes them exert more violence until their capacity of using force gets exhausted; something that is happening now in Iran after the brutal implementation of Islamic ideology for more than three decades. Interestingly their approach to modernity is also eclectic. They do not deny all of it. They choose technology and science and reject certain cultures and worldviews. The marriage of modern technology and ideological interpretation of Islam can generate the darkest forces in our time.

Cultural Ground Zero

The Islamic Republic has tried to transform Islamic tradition into a shield against modern culture. But the clerical establishment—the main factory for producing tradition and guarding it—was not equipped to do the job. Indeed, clerics themselves have not been effective guardians of tradition. The clerical mind has been closed for several centuries. Clerical discourse is a repetition of what has been said by Muslim scholars many centuries ago.  After the revolution the clerical establishment’s bureaucracy was not compatible with the requirements and expectations of the newly formed Islamic government, it was modernized structurally and bureaucratically but failed to modernize the foundations of its thought and to remedy the sclerosis of tradition. The government allocated billions of dollars to the clerical establishment and other religious institutions, so that they could take the place of modern cultural institutions.

Significantly, the intelligence ministry and the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) maintain de facto control over cultural production but the result is not satisfying for the regime. Islamist ideology, as in other totalitarian ideologies, ignores the spontaneous nature of culture. None of the religious cultures of the past could have been created as a result of social and cultural engineering by the ruling power. Culture evolves naturally, unconsciously and freely. Consequently, as the government has sought to intervene in culture in order to steer it in a specific direction, it has destroyed it. By censoring cultural production, bankrupting private publishers and cultural entrepreneurs, arresting writers and artists, laying off scholars from universities, eliminating humanity majors from academia and changing textbooks to religious books, the government has so far failed to produce its own brand of acceptable culture.

Islamist ideology defines itself as more ‘against’ modernity than ‘for’ building an authentic and functional society. Islamist ideology is now more than a century old, but still there is no clear vision of what a Utopian Islamist society would look like. Since its nature is more based on negation its power lies more in destruction. What is ironic in Islamist ideology is that it gives a pivotal role to culture and soft power, but in countering Western soft power it relies on aggressive hard power. Without a potential recourse to violence local society tends to become influenced by modern global culture rather than isolate itself from it.

Also Islamist ideology wants to replace culture with Shari’a or Islamic law. Therefore in its view, religious jurists become custodians of culture and they have the responsibility of imposing a juridical model on the society. An ideology that looks at individuals only from a juridical perspective would find all of them sinful.

Culture Saves the Nation

Islamists in Iran were lucky to take power in 1979 but not lucky enough in ruling a society already deeply modernized. Had Iran not been modernized for several decades before the Islamic Revolution, imposing an “Islamic model of society” would have been much easier. Women, young people and the urban middle class in Iran subsequently saved the country from going in a similar direction to Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. Despite all the daily systematic pressure on people in Iran, more than 40 percent of people watch prohibited satellite television and more than 20 million use the internet. Underground culture in Iran is not underground anymore; it is visible and widespread. The new generation stands against the government’s imposed cultural model. Even the religious strata of the society distinguish between state Islam and civil Islam and frequently prefer the latter. Clerics who do not have affiliation with the government feel closer to people than those who are in power.  Both the Islamic state and state Islam are losing their credit, even in the house of IRGC and the clergy.

The Islamic Republic did not take into consideration that the Islamization of a society has its limits. It has overstretched its political authority. Women and youth want to look to the future but the government wants to imprison them in a mythological past. Under the Islamic Republic the number of schools for foreign languages in Iran has enormously increased, because families are keen to provide their children with secular education. Despite censorship people are more eager to read Western books or watch Western movies or listen to Western music. If the Pahlavi monarchy was trying to modernize the society from above, the Islamic republic has unwittingly but successfully modernized the society from within. If modernity was a luxury for the upper and upper-middle class in the north of Tehran under the Shah, now every remote village can access the internet and satellite television and dream of a better life and a noble cultural interaction with global culture.

If the newly elected Egyptian and Tunisian Islamist governments declare that they do not want to imitate an Iranian model, it means that the Islamic Republic of Iran is an example for no one in Muslim world. Iran needs to rely on its money and military strength to mobilize Muslims to its cause. While the Islamic Republic’s soft power fails, the Iranian people’s urge to integrate into world culture and economy is unprecedented. This leaves the door of hope for political change in Iran wide open.

Mehdi Khalaji

Mehdi Khalaji

Senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on the politics of Iran and Shi’ite groups in the Middle East. A Shi’ite theologian by training, Mr. Khalaji has also served on the editorial boards of two prominent Iranian periodicals, and produced for the BBC as well as the US government’s Persian news service. From 1986 to 2000, Mr. Khalaji trained in the seminaries of Qom. There he studied theology and jurisprudence, earning a doctorate and researching widely on modern intellectual and philosophical-political developments in Iran and the wider Islamic and Western worlds. In Qom, and later in Tehran, Mr. Khalaji launched a career in journalism, first serving on the editorial board of a theological journal, “Naqd va Nazar,” and then the daily “Entekhab.” In 2000, Mr. Khalaji moved to Paris where he studied Shi’ite theology and exegesis in the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. He currently writes a bilingual English and Persian blog, MehdiKhalaji.com.

More Posts

Iran planning to cut internet access to rest of world

Iranians are already used to censors blocking Facebook, Gmail and foreign news sites, and being spied on with surveillance software purchased from Western companies.

But the ambitious plans would go much further, blocking access to foreign-based social media sites and email. Instead, there will be an Iranian version of Facebook and a new email service, to be called Iran Mail. Users will have to register their home address and social security number with police.

The plans have received the backing of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, who has denounced the internet as sinful and a means for the West to wage “soft war” by invading Iranian culture.

But his real target is anti-regime activists who have relied on the internet since the failure of the “Green Revolution” which followed the disputed 2009 election. Since then security has been so tight on Iran’s streets that protests are broken up almost as soon as they start.

When the system, called Halal internet or National Internet by the regime, is introduced this summer only a few approved and carefully monitored businesses and government departments will have access to the World Wide Web. In effect Iran will have a giant, country-wide intranet, with cyber police blocking websites that are not approved.

The Iranian regime has been badly shaken by the use made of the internet by its own opponents and then by revolutionaries during the Arab Spring last year.

In particular mobile phone footage of a young woman called Neda Agha-Soltani, shot dead by government thugs in Tehran in 2009, spread rapidly on the internet, providing a powerful image to the world of the regime’s brutality.

Amir Bayani, of anti-censorship group Article 19, said: “The government doesn’t want video of another Neda going viral, so controlling the internet is a priority for them.

“People rely on the internet for information now. Nobody trusts official government news sources. The only uncensored information comes from blogs and Facebook, and that is under threat.

“Businesses are worried the new system may hurt their profits, and I can only hope that their opposition will be enough to shelve these plans.”By

Jihadist Junket

Three New York City sociology professors traveled all the way to Tehran earlier this year to badmouth their country in front of America’s Islamofascist enemies, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports.

All three are leftists who support the increasingly violent, anti-American, anti-Semitic Occupy Wall Street movement. The Iranian leadership and left-wing groups in the U.S. such as the terrorist-linked Code Pink also support the movement as a way of weakening America.

The teachers’ jihadist junket aimed ostensibly at teaching Iranians about the movement provides “living proof that although Communism for the most part is dead, useful idiots of tyrannies that do still hold power and endanger all of us still exist,” Ron Radosh writes.

The three academics participated in the Tehran University Occupy Wall Street seminar in February. In so doing these overeducated dupes gave aid and comfort to brutal fundamentalists who call America and its ally Israel the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan.”

As the country Islamists call the “Zionist Entity” contemplates attacking Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, these New Yorkers’ activism could foreshadow the rise of a pro-Iran movement stateside. After all, a pro-Saddam Hussein movement cropped up on the Left a decade ago as the U.S. government pondered the invasion of Iraq.

The trio consisted of Heather D. Gautney of Fordham University, Alex S. Vitale of Brooklyn College (City University of New York), and John L. Hammond of Hunter College (CUNY). They appear in a news report from Press TV, a propaganda arm of the Islamic Republic.

Although Vitale and Hammond, a contributor to Marxist periodical Monthly Review, said little of substance in the video itself, the hijab-clad Gautney said the Occupy movement would agitate stateside this election cycle and push politicians to grow government.

“We have elections coming up in November and I think that the movement is going to be incredibly active in pressuring politicians to start addressing issues of social inequality,” said the self-described “Occupy Wall Street activist.”

The media-savvy Gautney has been adept at getting exposure for her views.

In an impressive feat of self-deception, Gautney wrote at CNN’s website that “Occupy may be anti-corporate, but it is unambiguously pro-American.”

Gautney, whose absurd pronouncement suggests she has never graced an Occupy demonstration with her actual presence, claimed that the Marxist worldview promoted by the movement is somehow catching on in Iran.

“The discourse [in Iran] seems to be veering from ‘Down with America!’ to ‘Down with the 1 Percent!’” Gautney told Fox News on her return to the United States. “In my view,” the naïve left-winger explained, “this is quite a welcome development, and speaks to Iranians’ affection for Americans despite all the political conflict.”

The starry-eyed fellow traveler also reminisced about a visit with Zahra Mostafavi, daughter of the first Supreme Leader of Iran, the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Gautney romanticized the Iranian revolution, writing about the photographs detailing “dramatic scenes” from Khomeini’s life that she saw in Mostafavi’s house.

“I flashed back to my own childhood, to propagandistic images of Khomeini as an evil dictator, the terrible jokes about Muslims that circulated through my Catholic grade school, and the absolute support of the tyrannical Shah, who privatized much of Iran’s resources, turned it into a comprador regime, and committed unspeakable acts against his own people,” Gautney writes.

She faults her own countrymen for daring to cast Iranians “as fundamentalist monsters in American bedtime stories” when Islamic revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days from November 1979 to January 1981.

Oh, where to begin?

Of course the depiction in American culture of Khomeini about which Gautney complains was completely accurate. And although the Shah’s regime was repressive to an extent, it was comparatively benign when contrasted with today’s Islamic Republic. Unlike the Shah’s pro-Western regime, the current government terrorizes women with sartorial codes. It routinely persecutes and executes its own citizens for political dissent, religious nonconformity, and behavior considered deviant such as homosexuality. It is a brutal theocratic hellhole.

Like Gautney, Professor Vitale is also no fan of his own country.

Vitale, who is associated with the neo-communist National Lawyers Guild, criticized the New York Police Department last October as officers were trying to contain the violent mob occupying Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. “By penning people in, dividing people up, making it very difficult to get march permits, policing, making arrests for minor legal violations, they are denying peoples’ right to protest,” he whined.

Big Apple cops “are obsessed with order maintenance, this kind of zero-tolerance mentality about disorder,” Vitale told the Village Voice in 2007. “So they micromanage every aspect of a demonstration.”

It isn’t all that surprising that Vitale served on a panel called “Law and Obedience After Capitalism” with Lynne Stewart at a conference held at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2004. Vitale must have seemed comparatively moderate alongside Stewart, a Maoist firebrand serving a 10-year prison term after being convicted of aiding an Islamic terrorist group. The now-disbarred attorney once said, “I don’t believe in anarchist violence but in directed violence” against “the institutions which perpetuate capitalism, racism, sexism, and at the people who are the appointed guardians of those institutions and accompanied by popular support.”

It needs to be said that Gautney, Vitale, and Hammond are hardly outliers. Academia is utterly saturated with socialist misanthropes who want to find common cause with America’s enemies. As Jamie Glazov argues in his book United in Hate, the Left’s contemporary romance with militant Islam is entirely logical.

Both leftists and Islamists abhor Western culture and American-style market capitalism. Both embrace international chaos and upheaval aimed at creating a new world order built upon the ruins of the status quo. Both rail against Zionism and Jews’ alleged control of the world through the financial system.

While fanatical, belligerent Iranians foment war against Israel both groups perpetuate hoary anti-Semitic tropes like a Jewish cabal engineering unjust wars for the benefit of Israel.

Leftists and Islamists probably won’t abandon their twisted fantasies anytime soon.

Meanwhile, back here in America management at a downtown housing complex in Chicago is warning residents to flee to safety before Occupy demonstrators show up to protest the NATO summit next month. The Library Tower Condominium Association sent a letter indicating that management “is STRONGLY recommending that all residents find places to stay during the conference from May 18 through May 21.”

Maybe Professor Gautney should advise them to seek asylum in Iran.By Matthew Vadum

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

Article printed from FrontPage Magazine: http://frontpagemag.com 

URL to article: http://frontpagemag.com/2012/04/24/jihadist-junket/

An “expert” and a real expert on Iran’s anti-nuclear fatwa

(EoZ)A couple of days ago I noted that MEMRI stated that there was no written fatwa by Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamanei forbidding nuclear weapons, and MEMRI used that as evidence that the entire fatwa was a myth.

Juan Cole, who has been trying his hardest to pretend that Iran has no nuclear weapons program despite all evidence of how they are hiding both the development of nuclear weapons and the development of rockets that could deliver them, responded, saying that

A fatwa is not like an American law that has to be published in the Congressional Record and in official law books. It is just the conclusion to which a cleric’s reasoning leads him, and which he makes known, even in a letter. In Shiite Islam, laypersons who follow a particular ayatollah are bound by his fatwas. When an ayatollah such as Khamenei delivers oral remarks in public, these have the force of a fatwa and are accepted as such by his followers. That is, Khamenei’s recent statement forbidding nuclear weapons in a speech is in fact a fatwa.

I am no expert in Shiite jurisprudence, so although this seemed strange – that a fatwa could be issued without the legal logic behind it – I don’t know enough to argue.

And upon further research it looks like Cole is right in his definition. I found a fascinating paper on this very topic of Khamanei’s nuclear fatwa, written by Mehdi Khalaji. Khalaji is a true expert in Shiite law, having studied Shiite theology and jurisprudence for fourteen years in the seminaries of Qom and he further studied the topic in Europe. If he and Cole disagree on the topic, there is no question that Khalaji knows infinitely more. In this case, he agrees with Cole that Khamanei’s verbal nuclear fatwa is a real fatwa:

[E]ven though Ayatollah Khamenei has produced no written record on the religious prohibitions pertaining to nuclear weapons, his verbal statements on the subject are considered his religious opinions, or fatwas, and therefore binding on believers.

However, there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. Khalaji goes into great detail on how fatwas can and are regularly changed by the person who issued them, as well as about Taqiyya, which Cole downplays. He also talks about the interplay of politics and Islamic law in Iran. He describes how the Ayatollah Khomeini felt that Islamic law was not mature enough to run a modern government, and that the running of the government is actually more important that Islamic law! In Khomeini’s own words:

The government can unilaterally abrogate any religious agreement made by it with the people if it believes that the agreement is against the interests of the country and Islam. The government can prevent any Islamic law—whether related to rituals or not— from being implemented if it sees its implementation as harmful to the interests of Islam.

Khalaji concludes:

In sum, since the ruling jurist has absolute authority and exclusive control in defining regime expediency, he can suspend all Islamic and constitutional laws whenever he chooses to do so. This means that laws have no independent authority; they depend entirely on the Supreme Leader’s validation. In such a system, politics never become normalized through the stable functioning of state institutions. Instead, every situation has the potential to be interpreted as extraordinary and manipulated to the liking of the Supreme Leader, possibly against the decisions of parliament, the president, and the judiciary. Thus what might be called the “politics of the extraordinary” concentrates enormous power in the hands of the ruling jurist and defines the essence of the Islamic Republic.

Supreme Leader Khamenei has stated that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam. But his recent language on the subject has become more equivocal, emphasizing only the prohibition on their use and not on their production or stockpiling. And should the needs of the Islamic Republic or the Muslim umma change, requiring the use of nuclear weapons, the Supreme Leader could just as well alter his position in response. This means that, ultimately, the Islamic Republic is unconstrained— even by religious doctrine—as it moves toward the possible production and storing of nuclear weapons.

In principle, at least, the emergence of maslaha or raison d’état in the ideology of the Islamic Republic represented a step forward in recognizing the realities of running a modern state. The principle might have been channeled toward allowing the parliament and president to establish a shared understanding of the “national interest” that could strengthen those institutions and foster nascent democratic processes. In practice, however, maslaha has become a means of freeing the political system from the hold of Islamic law, further undermining Iran’s democratic institutions and consolidating the Supreme Leader’s control over state politics, in effect laying the foundation for a clerical/military dictatorship in Iran. Iranian nuclear decisionmaking, therefore, bears the significant imprint of one man’s personality and politics—an imprint that may be unaffected by the will of other men, the decisions of other institutions, or, most ironically, the legal scruples or moral dictates of his own religion.

(Maslaha sounds a little like the Jewish concept of hora’at sha’ah, but the latter is meant to be used in only truly extraordinary and unique circumstances, while Maslaha seems to be much broader and less constricted in how it is used.)

ayatullah khamenei
ayatullah khamenei (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What it boils down to is that Khamanei truly is the Supreme Leader, and he can do whatever he wants – suspend Islamic law, change his mind, lie, bypass all government institutions – if he believes that it is necessary to help run the country.

Which means that his fatwa, while apparently legitimate, is literally meaningless. There is literally nothing that binds him to even his own legal rulings. Actions are the only way that he can be judged, because he has no moral reason to keep his word.

Iran: Tehrans attempts to deceive U.S.

Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec’y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei (MEMRI)By: A. Savyon and Y. Carmon*



An important element in the renewal of nuclear negotiations with Iran in the talks in Istanbul April 13-14, 2012 was an alleged fatwa attributed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, according to which the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons. Indeed, U.S. leaders – among them Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even U.S. President Barack Obama – along with 5+1 representatives to the talks,[1] the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors, and even highly respected research institutes considered the fatwa as an actual fact, and examined its significance and implications for the nuclear negotiations with Iran that were renewed in Istanbul.

However, an investigation by MEMRI reveals that no such fatwa ever existed or was ever published, and that media reports about it are nothing more than a propaganda ruse on the part of the Iranian regime apparatuses – in an attempt to deceive top U.S. administration officials and the others mentioned above.

Iranian regime officials’ presentation of statements on nuclear weapons attributed to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as a fatwa, or religious edict, when no such fatwa existed or was issued by him, is a propaganda effort to propose to the West a religiously valid substitute for concrete guarantees of inspectors’ access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Since the West does not consider mere statements, by Khamenei or by other regime officials, to be credible, the Iranian regime has put forth a fraudulent fatwa that the West would be more inclined to trust.

This paper will review Iran’s attempt at deception with regard to the existence of such a fatwa.

U.S. Officials Laud Nonexistent Fatwa  

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clarified that she had discussed the fatwa with “experts and religious scholars” and also with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. At the NATO conference in Norfolk, VA, in early April, she stated: “The other interesting development which you may have followed was the repetition by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that they would – that he had issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, against weapons of mass destruction. Prime Minister Erdogan and I discussed this at some length, and I’ve discussed with a number of experts and religious scholars. And if it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized, which means that it serves as the entryway into a negotiation as to how you demonstrate that it is indeed a sincere, authentic statement of conviction [emphasis added]. So we will test that as well.”[2]

During his visit to Tehran in late March, in an interview with Iranian state television IRIB, Prime Minister Erdogan said, “I have shared the Leader’s [Khamenei’s] statement with [U.S. President Barack] Obama and told him that in face of this assertion I do not have a different position and they (Iranians) are using nuclear energy peacefully.”[3]

On April 7, 2012, Kayhan International reported, citing Press TV, that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had told the Turkish Kanal D TV that there is no possibility that “Khamenei’s fatwa forbidding the possession and use of nuclear weapons might be disobeyed in Iran.” According to the report, Davutoglu “said that since the fatwa against the possession and pursuit of nuclear weapons was issued by Velayat-e Faqih (the rule of the jurisprudent), it is binding, and obeying it is a religious obligation.”[4]

Also according to the report, also citing Press TV, Khamenei said on February 22, 2012: “There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

The report went on to state that “Davutoglu also said that if the Western powers are really interested in interacting with the Middle Eastern states, they should deepen their understanding of religious discourse, adding that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously instructed U.S. President Barack Obama on the issue.”

American Iranian Council (AIC) president and dual Iranian-U.S. citizen Hooshang Amirahmadi, who is close to elite regime circles in Iran, said: “Fortunately, President Obama has decided to tentatively trust the Supreme Leader on his words that ‘[the] nuclear bomb is forbidden in Islam.'”[5]

However, MEMRI’s investigation reveals that no such fatwa ever existed or was ever issued or published, and that media reports about it are nothing more than a propaganda ruse on the part of the Iranian regime apparatuses – in an attempt to deceive top U.S. administration officials and the others mentioned above.

What does exist are Iranian reports starting in 2005, on statements by an Iranian representative, Sirus Naseri, at a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors on August 11, 2005 that Khamenei had issued such a fatwa (See Appendix II for documents.)

After 2005, there are additional statements by senior regime representatives about the existence of the fatwa, for example on April 12, 2012 by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in an op-ed in the Washington Post on the eve of the talks. He wrote: “We have strongly marked our opposition to weapons of mass destruction on many occasions. Almost seven years ago, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a binding commitment. He issued a religious edict – a fatwa – forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.”[6]

Also, the Iranian news agency Mehr reported on April 11, 2012, that Iranian judiciary head Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani had said: “The fatwa that the Supreme Leader has issued is the best guarantee that Iran will never seek to produce nuclear weapons.” Mehr itself also noted in the same report that Khamenei had issued a fatwa banning the use of nuclear weapons: “Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are all haram (prohibited in Islam).”[7]

In contrast, a review published April 8, 2012 by Iran’s official news agency IRNA giving in detail Supreme Leader Khamenei’s past mentions of the ban on the use of nuclear weapons does not mention any fatwa by him.[8] This, even though in August 2005 IRNA had already reported that Iran’s special representative to the IAEA Board of Directors had handed a report on Khamenei’s alleged fatwa, and that this report – though not the fatwa itself – had been submitted to the IAEA board as an official Iranian document (see Appendix II). It should be noted that this August 2005 IRNA report on the fatwa was reported by other websites, such as mathaba.net[9] but that the original report in IRNA, at http://www.irna.ir/en/news/view/menu-236/0508104135124631.htm, can no longer be accessed (see Appendix III).[10]

These reports were designed to, and apparently did, elevate Iran’s status vis-à-vis the West, despite Iran’s refusal to allow inspections of its nuclear sites. Iranian regime officials’ presentation of statements on nuclear weapons attributed to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as a fatwa, or religious edict, when no such fatwa existed or was issued by him, is a propaganda effort to propose to the West a religiously valid substitute for concrete guarantees of inspectors’ access to Iran’s nuclear facilities. Since the West does not consider mere statements, by Khamenei or by other regime officials, to be credible, the Iranian regime has put forth a fraudulent fatwa that the West would be more inclined to trust.

No Such Fatwa On Official Websites of Supreme Leader

An exhaustive search of the various official websites of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei turned up no such fatwa, either on his fatwa website or on his personal website.

Khamenei’s websites post fatwas issued by him in response to questions submitted to him. Online submission of questions is an accepted and official means; all his websites offer readers options for doing so. Fatwas are issued by jurisprudents in standard question-and-answer format, and are published publicly in writing. They can also include the reasoning behind them, but not always. Today, fatwas are generally concise and limited to a yes or no answer – but always in question-and-answer form, including a summary by the jurisprudent, as follows: “I was asked a question on a certain matter. My answer is such and such.” This can be seen in the following.

On March 15, 2012, the following question on the possession and use of nuclear weapons and referring to the alleged fatwa was submitted to Supreme Leader Khamenei, via Facebook, by a group called The Light of Freedom (Cheragh-e Azadi): (for image, see Appendix IV).[11]

“Q: Your Excellency has announced a ban on the use of nuclear weapons, and considering that nuclear weapons are a requirement for deterrence and that the aim of obtaining them is to intimidate the enemies in order to prevent them from acting aggressively, and in light of what is written in Surat Al-Anfal, Verse 60… is it also forbidden to obtain nuclear weapons, as per your ruling that their use is prohibited?

“A: Your letter has no jurisprudential aspect. When it has a jurisprudent position, then it will be possible to answer it.

“Summary: No answer was given.” 

This particular question and answer on Facebook do not appear on Khamenei’s fatwa website or on his personal website. It is notable that in his response he did not confirm, or even mention, any fatwa that he allegedly issued in the past – and that his summary notes that no response was given.

This question-and-answer format is mandatory for fatwas, so that any position on a particular religious question will be recognized as a fatwa. Even if the jurisprudent refers to an issue verbally, his words do not constitute a fatwa unless it is later issued in this format. Any expression of a position in any matter that is not issued in writing in the format of “I was asked a question on a certain matter. My answer is such and such…” is not a fatwa and does not carry the religious significance of one; it is merely a statement.

Report On Fatwa Stating “Shari’a Does Not Prohibit the Use Of Nuclear Weapons” 

On February 16, 2006, the Rooz website reported that Mohsen Gharavian, a disciple of Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi had noted the existence of a fatwa stating that shari’a did not prohibit the use of nuclear weapons and in fact even calling to obtain such weapons (see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1096, “Reformist Iranian Internet Daily: A New Fatwa States That Religious Law Does Not Forbid Use of Nuclear Weapons,” February 17, 2006 http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/1614.htm). The website reported that, for the first time, extremist clerics from Qom had issued what the daily called “a new fatwa,” which states that “shari’a does not forbid the use of nuclear weapons.”

Could Iranian Regime Officials Lie? The Principle of Taqiyya

Iran’s efforts to deceive the West about the alleged Khamenei fatwa raises the question of whether Khamenei and the rest of the senior regime officials could actually lie about this matter to world leaders.

One of the foundations of Shi’ite Islam is the principle of taqiyya –“the obligation to be cautious” – as manifested in the use of lies for self-defense purposes. Doing so is completely legitimate in Shi’ite Islam, and has been employed throughout Shi’ite history.

The website of the Vali-e Asr Research Institute, which was founded 20 years ago in Qom by Ayatollah Khazali and which deals with answering religious questions on various matters, is considered an important research institution in the Shi’ite religious establishment. The institute explains the principle of taqiyya and sets out the categories of circumstances under which its use is required. One of these categories deals with taqiyya by (Shi’ite) Muslims towards non-Muslims.[12] The publication of a false report on the alleged existence of such a fatwa by Khamenei, and Iranian officials’ use of such a fatwa for the purpose of Iran’s self defense, is an example of the application of the principle of taqiyya.

Appendix I: Images From MEMRI Investigation on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s Fatwa

MEMRI’s investigation of websites of the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (leader.ir) turned up no results about a fatwa on the subject of nuclear weapons. The highlighted phrase in the image says “The term ‘nuclear weapons” was not found.”


MEMRI’s investigation of farsi.khamenei.ir for the term “nuclear weapons” also produced no fatwa.


It should be noted that the term “nuclear weapons” did show up in searches of Khamenei’s declarations and statements in meetings with Iranian and foreign elements – but not in fatwas.

Appendix II: IAEA Documents


Appendix III – 2005 IRNA Report Of Fatwa No Longer Accessible

Appendix IV: Question to Khamenei on Nuclear Weapons

*A. Savyon is director of the Iranian media project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI*



[1] Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said that during the Istanbul talks the 5+1 members had referred to Khamenei’s fatwa as important. http://www.resalat-news.com/Fa/Default.aspx?code=97702

[5] American-iranian.org, accessed April 13, 2012

Khamenei: The Nuclear Decision-maker

This commentary appeared on PBS FRONTLINE on February 23, 2012.

The fate of Iran‘s alleged nuclear weapons program—which now threatens yet another Middle East conflagration—rests in the hands of a single man: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

ayatullah khamenei

Iranians are now gripped by a sense that their nation stands at a precipice. The Islamic Republic faces potentially devastating new international sanctions as well as possible Israeli military strikes on its nuclear facilities. Normally inured to insecurity, war and endemic crises, Iranians are now hoarding foodstuff and dollars, ready for the worst.

But where Iranians sense disaster, Khamenei may see opportunity.

During his February 3 Friday prayer speech, the supreme leader said that Tehran would not stop its nuclear program despite growing sanctions and other pressures. He chastised the United States for keeping “all options on the table,” and warned that any attack on Iran would be “ten times worse” for the United States.

His bold assertions reflect his unique calculations, which are critical in understanding how the growing crisis could play out. As supreme leader for almost a quarter century, he will ultimately make the final decision over whether to weaponize a program that Tehran claims is simply for peaceful nuclear energy.

For Khamenei, Iran’s crisis with the West is not the moment to back down. The reasons have as much to do with domestic politics as foreign policy. To him, the nuclear crisis represents a test of survival for the Islamic Republic—and even more for his own faltering leadership. How Khamenei fights this battle will not only determine Iran’s nuclear future, but possibly the fate of the entire revolutionary regime.

Khamenei is not an irrational actor, however. His possible intent in developing a nuclear weapons capability almost certainly is not to destroy Israel, but rather to guard against a foreign attack or counter an internal challenge. Acquiring a nuclear weapons capability might boost the regime’s image at home, a political benefit rarely taken into account in understanding Iran’s motivations.

Like most Iranian leaders, Khamenei may feel that a nuclear weapons capability is worth pursuing as long as the costs do not outweigh the benefits. He has acknowledged the pain of sanctions. His regime certainly feels the effect of Iran’s currency depreciation and Europe’s embargo of Iranian oil.

But the supreme leader may believe that other factors alleviate pressures on Iran. In his anniversary speech, Khamenei said that the West, specifically the United States, is in economic and geopolitical “decline.”

Khamenei also apparently believes that the Arab uprisings—which he described as an “Islamic Awakening”—have weakened America’s position in the Middle East. Despite evidence to the contrary, he also appears to think the uprisings have strengthened Iran’s influence as an alternative model for the region.

More basically for Khamenei, resistance to the United States has been a key pillar of the Islamic revolution since 1979. Iran’s suspected nuclear program may not merely be a form of military deterrence; it could also serve as a measure of Iran’s success as a revolutionary state and even a scientific achievement that can restore the country to international power. To him, compromising now, especially under intense pressure, would undermine the Islamic Republic.

The supreme leader rarely reveals the full extent of his thinking. His views can also be opaque. He is not known for scholarship or extensive writing, unlike his predecessor, revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Understanding his calculations is limited to his occasional sermons, public statements and the regime’s actions, over which he has near absolute authority.

Based on all three, however, Khamenei has implied that at least he may be willing to stand up to U.S. and international pressure on grounds that Iran can absorb the pain of sanctions—and that time is on its side. He may even believe that his regime could benefit from an Israeli attack by rallying nationalist fervor.

At the same time, costs are beginning to grow. His leadership is increasingly questioned not only by ordinary people, but also reportedly by members of the elite, including the Revolutionary Guards. Khamenei may be ready for battle, but the army behind him may be much smaller than he believes.

Khamenei’s greatest vulnerability may be his reputation for stubbornness. His predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, was more inclusive in his decision-making and more willing to make tough choices. After eight years of war with Iraq, he opted to drink from a “poisoned chalice” and accept terms of a U.N. ceasefire to end a conflict in which more than 100,000 Iranians died.

But Khamenei is widely viewed as unwilling to take advice from anyone outside his shrinking inner circle. He has excluded the reformists from the political system and has slowly marginalized former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is considered more pragmatic and cautious on foreign policy. Many Iranians are increasingly concerned that the supreme leader is taking Iran down a dangerous path and is unwilling to turn back, whatever the pressures.

Alireza Nader, co-author of Coping with a Nuclearizing Iran (2011), is a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution for research and analysis. This article is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as part of the Iran project at iranprimer.usip.org.