Iran plays Team O for suckers
- Last Updated: 12:10 AM, May 12, 2012
- Posted: 10:23 PM, May 11, 2012
Somewhere deep in the State Department, experts are hard at work putting the final touches on the Obama administration’s strategy for the forthcoming talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
Their deliberations center on the meaning of a fatwa supposedly issued in 2005 by Iran’s “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said a full interpretation of the fatwa could have a major bearing on the outcome of the talks, set for May 23-24 in Baghdad.
Some explanation is required to understand how comical this is.
In Islam, a fatwa is a religious opinion issued by a mujtahid (senior theologian) in response to a question from believers. Why should this bear on Iran’s nuclear program, which is at the center of an international dispute? Because Iran’s recent propaganda claims that, in the supposed fatwa, Khamenei declared nuclear weapons to be unacceptable in Islam.
Set aside the minor comedy of a supposed superpower basing its policy on an issue of national security and international peace on an archaic practice in the hands of an obscure cleric. Ignore, too, that the issue with Iran is that for decades it has violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and that it refuses to abide by four mandatory UN Security Council resolutions.
One might even understand that, focused on his re-election campaign, President Obama might want to cool down the Iran issue.
Yet, even then, the fatwa story is full of holes.
To start with, no one seems to have seen the text of the supposed fatwa. Khamenei’s own Web site has no trace of it in any of the dozen languages it uses. Nor has anyone seen the text in any of the many propaganda outlets controlled by the “supreme guide” inside and outside Iran — which is even stranger because Khamenei’s every utterance, even the most trivial, gets headline treatment in the state-controlled media.
All anyone has seen is a series of partial quotes — which only complicate the matter. The earliest indirect quotes in 2006 had the fatwa stating that manufacturing nuclear weapons was not allowed in Islam. By 2010, the “quotes” had been massaged to state that producing nuclear weapons was “forbidden” (haram).
Last month (after Tehran noted that Washington had risen to the bait), the indirect quotes were massaged further to claim that even the use of nuclear weapons was “forbidden.”
In sum, there’s no text of a fatwa, and the various references to it often contradict each other, adding to the confusion.
Now, if Iran isn’t developing a nuclear arsenal and doesn’t intend to do so, a clerical opinion is hardly relevant. It could take a clear stand by passing a law to that effect in the Islamic Majlis, its parliament. But the issue has never been debated in the Majlis, which also has never been officially informed of the fatwa’s existence.
Another important point: Khamenei has never been recognized as a mujtahid and thus isn’t qualified to issue fatwas.
To become a mujtahid, he’d have to publish a risala (dissertation), which he hasn’t, and receive a public endorsement by at least one grand ayatollah, which he also hasn’t.
In any case, a fatwa can be canceled. The late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1979 banning the consumption of caviar; in 1983, he issued another one authorizing it.
Of course, thousands of fatwas ban music in Islam — yet there’s plenty of music in every Muslim country.
Then, too, Pakistan’s ulema (religious leaders) have issued several fatwas endorsing nuclear weapons as long as they’re intended for use against the kuffar (infidel).
A nonexistent fatwa supposedly issued by an unauthorized cleric can’t be the basis for settling a major international dispute. To claim otherwise could set a dangerous precedent, telling despots everywhere that their fatwas can substitute for international law.
Secretary Clinton and President Obama, both lawyers, should certainly know that.Follow @NYPostOpinion