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War and peace

Jan 25, 2013

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Juan Cole at Informed Comment draws attention to this very interesting story from last week: the Iranian government has gone to some lengths to stress the importance of the fatwa or religious ruling against nuclear weapons made by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

The Iranian spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, told a press conference that “There is nothing higher than the exalted supreme leader’s fatwa to define the framework for our activities in the nuclear field … When the highest jurist and authority in the country’s leadership issues a fatwa, this will be binding for all of us to follow.”

The ayatollah originally issued the ruling in 2005; you can read a version of it at his website, here. But the subject has only grown in importance since then, so some might be reassured to know that Khamenei says “it is not right for a country to use its knowledge to produce such weapons as nuclear bombs which annihilate armed soldiers, innocent civilians, children, babies and oppressed people indiscriminately once they are dropped somewhere.”

I’m no theologian, so I don’t know whether Khamenei’s view represents good Islamic doctrine. It certainly seems reasonable, but it also doesn’t seem very deep: it reads more like a historical and political survey than a rigorous examination of religious principle.

In any case, I think Khamenei probably takes the political side of his duties rather more seriously than the religious side. If he decides it’s in Iran’s interests to develop nuclear weapons, I’m confident that he’d find a way of reconciling that with his religion. That’s the view that Iranian scholar Mehdi Khalaji came to in a 2011 study.

But what really strikes me is the cognitive dissonance involved in simultaneously believing (a) that Khamenei and his colleagues are crafty tyrants who would ignore a religious edict if they felt like it, and (b) that they are crazed religious fanatics, confident of their reward in heaven, who would be willing to use a nuclear weapon even though that would mean certain destruction at the hands of the Israeli or American deterrent.

Yet that strangely contradictory view seems to be prominent among western policymakers.

(Incidentally, for those who are confused about the Benghazi controversy, Cole has an excellent roundup.)

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