Iranian truths, Iranian lies

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon Iran last week not to proceed with its nuclear weapons program, warning that deployment of atomic weapons by Teheran would destabilize the Middle East, a story prepared by AFP reported. Speaking at a dinner in Norfolk, Virginia Mrs. Clinton was quoted as saying:

There is no clear path. We know that a nuclear-armed Iran would be incredibly destabilizing to the region and beyond. A conflict arising out of their program would also be very destabilizing

The story continues in this vein: further warnings from the West, denials from Iran and so forth. It is rather a snooze in that this story has been written several dozen times before. I wrote a few of these for the Jerusalem Post at one time -- but the Secretary of State was Condoleezza Rice. Times, words and speakers change, but the same messages have been offered up by Obama and Bush Administration speakers.

What has this to do with GetReligion's mandate? Where's the hook, you ask? It comes towards the close of the story which the Telegraph entitled "Hillary Clinton warns nuclear-armed Iran would be 'destabilising'."

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in February that possession of a nuclear bomb "constitutes a major sin" for Iran, reiterating a fatwa – or religious edict – that he made in 2005.

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei's fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalised," Clinton said in Norfolk.

As this was a wire service story that reported a speech given by the Secretary of State, the opportunities for AFP to develop the leads offered by Mrs. Clinton's words are slight. However, I would have expected the Telegraph to have investigated this fatwa, which Commentary magazine called a "ruse" that had bought the Iranians five more weeks to develop the bomb.

Neither was the editor-in-chief of the London-based Arab newspaper, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat,  impressed by the U.S. government's study of the fatwa. In an editorial entitled "The Security Council for Fatwas," Tariq Alhomayed hammered Iran and stated Mrs. Clinton was naive and out of her depth --- not knowing that in Islam a believer may follow the principle of taqiyya to lie when facing danger.

it is absurd to talk about an Iranian fatwa when negotiating with Tehran, for countries – like individuals – have reputations and histories that cannot be ignored, therefore the reputation of a bad country, like the reputation of a bad individual, is not based on statements or fatwas, but rather past deeds! Therefore, when US Secretary of State Clinton talks about the Iranian fatwa, we can be certain that she has not heard about Iranian taqiyya [the practice of precautionary dissimulation emphasized in Shiite Islam whereby adherents may conceal their religion when under threat]!

... the claim that we can rely on a fatwa that prohibits the possession of nuclear weapons, reminds us of the famous Arab proverb: “the thief was asked to swear [his innocence], and he swore [falsely] and said “yes, this is the way out [of the predicament]!” If this fatwa is one of the merits of dialogue with Iran, then by God we are truly facing a disaster in the region!

I've written about the practice of taqiyya in GetReligion before, and have noted the Western press's seeming inability to comprehend this practice. It may not matter in the great scheme of things if the Telegraph or the New York Times is unaware, or loathe to report on taqiyya. But when governments are clueless -- that spells trouble.

As an aside, I had been thinking about the general question of fatwas before I read this article -- and perhaps I chose it for that reason. A contact in Pakistan sent me a copy of a fatwa released by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that called upon Muslims to combat the Baha'i faith. My friend (an Anglican bishop in Pakistan) translated the letter, written on stationary from Khamenei's office, as saying:

In the name of God All members of the Baha'i cult are guilty as being infidels and are regarded as "Najes" (an Islamic term for being inherently unclean/dirty), thus people are advised to avoid proximity in food and other things because of their contagious nature and it is paramount that the believers combat the schemes and devious nature of this misled cult.

I mention this in that the author of this Baha'i fatwa is the author of the no-nukes fatwa.

A wire service story is almost always limited by space and written for a general audience. I cannot fault AFP for not developing Mrs. Clinton's remarks. But it would have improved the story tremendously, changing it from just another in a list of worthy diplomatic stories (a polite phrase for tedious) if the press had asked some questions. Mrs. Clinton consulted religious scholars: which ones? She spoke with the prime minister of Turkey: what did he, an Islamist, tell her? What is the weight of a fatwa from Khamenei? Is he credible? Is it comparable to a papal encyclical that must be followed, or is it an earnest wish? What is the implication of a London-based Saudi-backed newspaper saying taqiyya is something "those Shi'ites" do?

It is a shame that these angles were not addressed in the news sections, but only picked up in opinion pieces.

This a classical example of a religion ghost. The outward subject is nuclear proliferation. But the DNA of this story is one of religious restraint over the production and use of nuclear weapons.

Perhaps the author was a aware of the concept of taqiyya, but chose not to address the subject? In Western eyes taqiyya is inherently dishonorable. Yet how does one report upon this subject through Western eyes in a Western newspaper without loosing sight of the cultural and religious environment that produced a moral teaching that holds that the ends justify the means and that lying can be a moral good? Is this even a fair question?

What say you GetReligion readers?

Addendum: MEMRI reports that the no-nukes fatwa never existed -- it was a propaganda ruse by the Iranian government. Curiouser and curiouser.

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