Center for Strategic Communication

[ by Charles Cameron — I believe this is the first time a US President — perhaps even a senior US official — has affirmed the existence of Ayatollah’s Khamanei’s previously disputed so-called “nuclear fatwa” ]

Here, from the Washington Post‘s full transcript of President Obama‘s address to the UN General Assembly, is the relevant section — I’ve emphasized his reference to the fatwa in red:

Since I took office, I’ve made it clear in letters to the supreme leader in Iran and more recently to President Rouhani that America prefers to resolve our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program peacefully — although we are determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy. Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the supreme leader has issued a fatwah against the development of nuclear weapons. And President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic republic will never develop a nuclear weapon. So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful. But to succeed, conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable.


Further reading:

I believe we tend to underestimate the significance of religious and apocalyptic influences in international affairs, since the development of Iranian nuclear weaponry is a potential casus belli, and since the use of nuclear weapons has a distinctly apocalyptic aura, I’ve tried to take an interest — here’s my lengthy overview of “religion and nukes” in religion and myth worldwide, from 2008.

  • I catalogued my own understandings about the fatwa here on Zenpundit in a 2011 post, Striking Iran — response to Cheryl. I lack access to both Iranian language and classified sources, however, so that post represented a best effort to corral what I could find, but kis far from definitive.
  • Cheryl Rofer has also been following this discussion with interest, and her two posts for Nuclear Diner, The Fatwa Against Nuclear Weapons of January this year and The Nuclear Fatwa of March present her latest understandings — Cheryl, please correct me if you have written anything more recent or more comprehensive.
  • Selfscholar claims to be a “portal for unique, pertinent research on law and human rights in the Middle East”. I cannot speak to the particular interests, influences, credentials or biases of those who posts there, but the materials on our topic, that I have found there — in English but with extensive citations of original texts — will surely provide any researcher who possesses the appropriate language skills with many further pointers to track down… My starting point would be a search of the site for the keywords “nuclear fatwa”. The most recent post there would be Radioactive Fatwas: The Growing Islamist Legitimization of Nuclear Weapons from the 17th of this month. And Go, Learn About Atoms: Iranian Discourse on Nuclear Weapons, 1962-Present, at 32 pp. and posted in June 2013, would appear to offer a detailed historical presentation.
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    And for further context:

  • Yesterday’s Financial Times brought us a piece by Najmeh Bozorgmehr titled Words of seventh-century imam signal Iran’s change of approach, which begins:

    The Iranian regime’s sudden focus on a seventh-century Shia imam may be the strongest indicator yet that Tehran is serious about negotiating on its nuclear programme. Imam Hassan, grandchild of the Prophet Mohammed and the second of 12 Shia imams, is famous for negotiating a peace treaty with those opposed to the principle that only descendants of the prophet could rule over Muslims. In Shia texts, his actions are defended as a compromise for the greater good of the religion, rather than a defeat.

    When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top decision maker, called last week for “heroic flexibility” in talks over the nuclear programme, he was echoing the title of a religious text about Imam Hassan that he translated decades ago: Imam Hassan’s Peace: the Most Glorious Heroic Flexibility in History. The comment boosted hopes in Iran and the west of a possible nuclear deal, even though the ayatollah added that any flexibility was simply a tactic, presumably to deal with a difficult period and head off more economic sanctions or the possible threat of military confrontation with Israel or the US.

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    I’d particularly welcome a post or comment from Selfscholar responding to Pres. Obama’s remarks today, and informed commentary on the Selfscholar site from those with appropriate skills to set it in religious, political, and scholarly context — as well as the usual fine interplay of views in the ZP comments section.