The Hill: For the last several years, Iranian diplomats have been dangling a “fatwa,” or religious decree, in the face of western governments, as if to hypnotize them further into the abyss of negotiations.
By Ali Safavi
For the last several years, Iranian diplomats have been dangling a “fatwa,” or religious decree, in the face of western governments, as if to hypnotize them further into the abyss of negotiations. The Iranians allege that the fatwa has been issued by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and that it bans the development and use of nuclear weapons.
At a minimum this should sound bizarre to the assiduous mind, if not outright farcical and ludicrous. Does the Iranian regime expect to fool the West into thinking that it will not seek nuclear weapons with a pinky swear?
Yet Washington’s top diplomats have surprisingly added to the glimmer of the mysterious fatwa. The culmination of this bizarre saga was a declaration by President Obama. “I do believe that there is a basis for a resolution (because) Iran’s supreme leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons,” he said at a White House briefing after calling his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani.
This is ironic and peculiar.
It is ironic because there have been lots of fatwas issued by Khamenei and his predecessor, as well as other regime clerics, which patently endorse cold-blooded murder, terrorism, religious discrimination, abuse of women, torturing political prisoners, draining the blood of dissidents, and many other horrendous acts, including the massacre of 52 Iranian dissidents, members of the main Iranian opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), in neighboring Iraq on September 1. Why not use those as a basis to abandon engagement with a barbaric regime?
And, it is peculiar because the fatwa is a hoax. The list of nearly 500 fatwas, reported to have been issued by Khamenei, makes it clear that despite all the hype over the years, there is no credible evidence that such a fatwa even exists. In July, Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), published the list, dating back to 2004. None mentioned banning nuclear weapons.
Khamenei was even pointedly asked if it is “forbidden to obtain nuclear weapons,” and answered in writing that such a question has no ‘jurisprudential aspect,” and so it is not even possible to answer it. In other words, it cannot be the subject of religious decrees in the first place.
Two unsettling questions remain:
First, in the summer of 1988, Khamenei’s predecessor, Khomeini, issued a fatwa ordering the killing of all political prisoners across Iran who opposed the regime. In contrast to Khamenei’s hoax, Khomeini’s original hand-written fatwa was published by his designated successor Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri. As a result, according to Amnesty International, “largely secret, summary and mass executions” ensued. Tens of thousands perished, the overwhelming majority were MEK members and sympathizers. It is now the 25th anniversary of that massacre, which the Parliament of America’s neighbor to the north, Canada, recently described as “genocide.” Since Obama has now relied on Khamenei’s fatwa for a major policy decision, will he use Khomeini’s real fatwa as a basis to stand up for American Constitution’s core values, end 25 years of silence, and finally ask Iranian regime authorities, including Rouhani’s Justice Minister, who was a member of a three-man Commission which implemented the fatwa, to appear before an international tribunal to respond to charges of genocide? If not, why?
Second, in January 1988, the Islamic Republic’s arch-patriarch, Khomeini, defined the basis of the “absolute guardianship” of the clerics – known as the principle of velayat-e faqih – and said in no uncertain terms that nothing, not even Islam’s “primary decrees” (let alone Khamenei’s decrees), supersede the imperative of preserving the regime. Chastising his eventual successor Khamenei, who had stepped out of line by questioning the Supreme Leader’s absolute rule, Khomeini wrote, “The vali-e-faqih [Supreme Leader] is empowered to unilaterally abrogate the religious commitments he has undertaken with the people should he find them contrary to the interests of the nation and Islam. He can ban any religious or non-religious matter contrary to the interests of Islam.”
Is President Obama really prepared to stake the highest priority foreign policy issue of his presidency on what is at best a hoax, and at worst a deceptive tactic to lure him into another series of prolonged and fruitless negotiations? Is he prepared to leave office while leaving the world with a nuclear-armed fundamentalist regime in Iran?
Safavi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which seeks to replace Iran’s ruling theocracy with a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic.