Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fission and the fatwa

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated today the claim that nuclear weapons are forbidden in Islam. “Based on Islamic teachings and the clear fatwa [edict] of the Supreme Leader, the production and use of weapons of mass destruction is [sic] haram [forbidden] and have no place in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s defense doctrine”, AFP reported him as saying.

The “Supreme Leader” in question is, of course, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the cleric and absolute ruler of the country, who is said to have outlawed The Bomb several years ago (though no evidence has been made public), and who declared its possession to constitute “a major sin” in February this year.

Not nearly enough attention is paid to these remarks, if you ask me. After all, the Iranian regime is impugned for many things, but insufficient religious fanaticism is not one I can recall. The question begged by the fatwa is this: is the Iranian government an utter theocracy, horrified by “sin” and entirely servile to the dictates of the faqih? If so, whence the nuclear bomb? And if not – if, in other words, it is a rational, secular actor – then why should its nuclear arsenal be any more objectionable than, say, Israel’s?

Of course, even Supreme Leaders can make mistakes. The religious in general have a curious habit of producing “revelations” and revisions at strikingly convenient moments. One isn’t only thinking here of the comic fraudulence of, say, Joseph Smith, who couldn’t even convince his own wife of the tripe he peddled. I’m thinking also of Khamenei’s predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini, who in 1987 declared his war on Iraq a “divine cause” to be waged “until victory”, only to “drink the cup of poison” by making peace with Saddam a year later. The beauty of being God’s hand-picked vicar is exactly that every new rule is just as unchallengeable as the last one.

But the bottom line is those pushing for war on Iran can’t have it both ways. If the Iranians really are slaves to Khamenei’s fatawa, then as things stand there will be no bomb. If, on the other hand, they’re a pragmatic people amenable to reason, then a better excuse is going to have to be created for why they can’t have even one their regional rival’s estimated 200 warheads.

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