The dehumanizing character of these popularized “impurity” regulations fomented recurring Muslim violence against Iran’s non-Muslims — including pogroms, forced conversions, and expropriations — throughout the 17th, 18th,19th, and early 20th centuries.
The so-called “Khomeini revolution,” which deposed Mohammad Reza Shah, was in reality a mere return to oppressive Shiite theocratic rule, the predominant form of Iranian governance since 1502. Conditions for all non-Muslim religious minorities, particularly Bahais and Jews, rapidly deteriorated. Writings and speeches of the most influential religious ideologues of this restored Shi’ite theocracy — including Khomeini himself — make apparent their seamless connection to the oppressive doctrines of their forbears in the Safavid dynasty. Most notably, the conception of najis, or ritual uncleanliness, of the non-Muslim has been reaffirmed. Ayatollah Khomeini stated explicitly: “Non-Muslims of any religion or creed are najis.” Khomeini elaborated his views on najis and non-Muslims as follows:
Eleven things are unclean: urine, excrement, sperm, blood, a dog, a pig, bones, a non-Muslim man and woman, wine, beer, perspiration of a camel that eats filth … The whole body of a non-Muslim is unclean, even his hair, his nails, and all the secretions of his body … A child below the age of puberty is unclean if his parents and grandparents are not Muslims; but if he has a Muslim for a forebear, then he is clean … The body, saliva, nasal secretions, and perspiration of a non-Muslim man or woman who converts to Islam automatically become pure. As for the garments, if they were in contact with the sweat of the body before conversion, they will remain unclean.
The same late Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri championed by Gerecht was Khomeini’s close ally. Montazeri further indicated that a non-Muslim (kafir’s) impurity was “a political order from Islam and must be adhered to by the followers of Islam, and the goal [was] to promote general hatred toward those who are outside Muslim circles.” This “hatred” was to assure that Muslims would not succumb to corrupt, i.e., non-Islamic, thoughts. Montazeri’s Shiite Islamic Weltanschauung was articulated in his four volume treatise on the “Vilayat al-Faqih” (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists), a key rationale for the post-1979 Iranian Shiite theocracy. These views — openly antithetical to Western conceptions of individual liberty, religious freedom, and democracy — were aptly summarized by Montazeri’s student, Iranian Sociology Professor Mahmood Davari, in 2005:
According to Montazeri, Islamic rule differs from Western democracy in two matters. While the people in a democratic system are supposedly free to elect any person as their ruler, in a Shi’i society Muslims may not choose any other ruler except a just faqih. In a democratic society, people are free to legislate any law according to their collective wishes, whereas in an Islamic regime the legislation must be in accord with Islamic laws and ordinances. Therefore, according to Montazeri, Islamic rule is essentially different from democracy in the West.
The practical consequences of Montazari’s bigoted Shiite Islamic authoritarianism — which Gerecht ignores — have been highlighted by Iranian Studies Professor Jamsheed Choksy. In an NRO essay (“Religious Cleansing in Iran”) co-written with Nina Shea, Choksy noted:
Iran’s constitution requires that laws and regulations be based on Islamic criteria, which mandate inferior status for three non-Muslim faiths, while withholding all rights and protections from all other faiths. Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian (specifically, Assyrian and Armenian) live in a modern version of dhimmi status — the … subjugated condition of “people of the Book” dating back to medieval times. While these three groups are allotted seats in the legislative assembly (a total of five out of 290 seats), they are barred from seeking high public office in any of the three branches of government. … Non-Muslim communities collectively have diminished to no more than 2 percent of Iran’s 71 million people. Forty years ago, under the Shah, a visitor would have seen a relatively tolerant society. Iran now appears to be in the final stages of religious cleansing. Pervasive discrimination, intimidation, and harassment have prompted non-Muslims to flee in disproportionately high numbers.
Choksy concluded his July 2009 essay with a reminder especially apposite for those who share Reuel Gerecht’s views:
Iran’s political dissidents are defended by the West. Its diverse non-Muslim minorities ask why they’ve been forgotten.