Educating Conservatives About Modern 'Shi’ite Quietists'

The so-called “P5 +1” interim agreement with Iran was announced on November 24, 2013, amidst great fanfare, and giddy expectations of continued diplomatic success. Putatively, these negotiations were going to eliminate Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, and constrain the regime’s hegemonic aspirations, including its oft-repeated bellicose threats to destroy the Jewish State of Israel.


Less than three months later, punctuated by cries of “down with the U.S.”—and “death to Israel”—Iranians took to the streets en masse, February 11, 2014, commemorating the 35th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic putsch, which firmly re-established Iran’s legacy of centuries of Shiite theocracy, transiently interrupted by the 54-year reign (r. 1925-1979) of the 20th century Pahlavi Shahs.

Many alarming developments since the P5 +1 deal was announced epitomize the abject failure of a delusive and dangerous policymaking mindset I have dubbed, “The ‘Trusting Khomeini’ Syndrome,” in my new book Iran’s Final Solution For Israel. This “Syndrome” is named after infamous Princeton International Law Professor Richard Falk’s February 16, 1979 essay, “Trusting Khomeini,” dutifully published in the The New York Times. The parlous denial—born of willful doctrinal and historical negationism—evident in Falk’s February, 1979 essay, now shapes formal U.S. policy toward Iran, merely updated as “Trusting Khamenei,” Iran’s current “Supreme Leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini. I further maintain that the sine qua non of this crippling mindset—bowdlerization of Islam—currently dominates policymaking circles, running the gamut from Left to Right.

The late Islamologist Maxime Rodinson warned 40-years ago of a broad academic campaign—which has clearly infected policymakers across the politico-ideological spectrum—“to sanctify Islam and the contemporary ideologies of the Muslim world.” A pervasive phenomenon, Rodinson ruefully described the profundity of its deleterious consequences:

Understanding [of Islam] has given way to apologetics pure and simple.

A prototypical example of how this mindset has warped intellectually honest discourse about Iran by conservative analysts, was published February 17, 2014 in The Weekly Standard. The essayist decried what he saw as misguided appropriation of Cold War era paradigms—“wishful thinking built around imagined Cold War analogies”—even by members of the Israeli “security establishment,” let alone their Obama Administration counterparts. Although correctly dismissive of the sham notion that Iranian President “Rouhani and his crowd are moderates,” the essayist also insisted Iran’s “ayatollahs” have somehow “perverted Shia Islam with the state takeover of religion.” He then ads, “the older quietist school [ostensibly of Shiite Islam] still has many adherents.”

The Weekly Standard essayist’s authoritative sounding reference to the “quietist school” of Shiite Islam and its “many adherents,” expressed the accepted wisdom on these matters published in a flagship conservative/neoconservative journal, and shared by a broad swath of like-minded conservative analysts. But who are exemplar  modern Shiite “quietists” and what are their views (in writing and/or speech) on such critical matters as jihad, the imposition of the Sharia, including Shiite “najis,” or “impurity” regulations—and the Jews?

Decidedly hagiographic post-mortems written by American conservatives appeared immediately after the announcement of Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri’s death at age 87, on December 20, 2009. Neoconservative Michael Ledeen opined,

Some of us who have long fought against the terrible regime in Tehran were fortunate to have received wise observations from Montazeri over the years, and I am confident that, with the passage of time and the changes that will take place in Iran, scholars will marvel at the international dimensions of the Grand Ayatollah’s understanding and the range of his activities. 

Perhaps the most curious of these early assessments included a contention by Michael Rubin that  “…the real Achilles Heel to the Iranian regime is Shi’ism.” Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in October, 2010, ten months after Montazeri’s death, dubbed the Ayatollah, simultaneously, “the spiritual father of Iran’s Green Movement,” and the erstwhile “nemesis of Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ruler,” whom Gerecht derided (in contrast to Montazeri), as “a very mediocre student of the Sharia.”

These odd viewpoints were (and remain) merely the extension of a profoundly flawed, ahistorical mindset which denies the living legacy of Shiite Islamic doctrine and its authentic, oppressive application in Iran, particularly, since the advent of the Safavid theocratic state at the outset of the 16th century. Iran’s Safavid rulers, beginning with Shah Ismail I (r. 1501-1524) formally established Shiite Islam as the state religion, while permitting a clerical hierarchy nearly unlimited control and influence over all aspects of public life. The profound influence of the Shiite clerical elite, continued for almost four centuries, although interrupted, between 1722-1795 (during a period precipitated by [Sunni] Afghan invasion [starting in 1719], and the subsequent attempt to re-cast Twelver Shi’ism as simply another Sunni school of Islamic Law, under Nadir Shah), through the later Qajarperiod (1795-1925), as characterized by E.G. Browne:

The Mujtahids [an eminent, very learned Muslim jurist/scholar who is qualified to interpret the law] and Mulla [a scholar, not of Mujtahid stature] are a great force in Persia and concern themselves with every department of human activity from the minutest detail of personal purification to the largest issues of politics.

A gimlet-eyed evaluation of Montazeri’s recorded modern opinions—entirely concordant with traditionalist Iranian Shi’ism since the Safavid era—does not comport with the conservative eulogies of the late Ayatollah by Ledeen, Rubin, Gerecht, and their ilk.

Consistent with the institutionalized codifications  of Islam’s classical Sunni and Shiite legists, Montazeri’s written views (from his Islamic Law Codes [Resaleh-ye Tozih al-masael]) on jihad war reiterate the doctrine of open-ended aggression to establish global Islamic suzerainty, and the universal application of Sharia:

[T]he offensive jihad is a war that an Imam wages in order to invite infidels and non-monotheists to Islam or to prevent the violation of treaty of Ahl-e Zemmah [Ahl-al-Dhimma, the humiliating pact of submission binding non-Muslim “dhimmis” vanquished by jihad]. In fact, the goal of offensive jihad is not the conquest of other countries, but the defense of the inherent rights of nations that are deprived of power by the infidels, non-monotheists, and rebels from the worship of Allah, monotheism, and justice. “And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world].,” (Koran 8:39)…This verse includes defensive as well as offensive jihad. Jihad, like prayer, is for all times and is not limited to an early period of Islam, such as Muhammad, Ali, or the other Imams. Jihad is intended to defend truth and justice, help oppressed people, and correct Islam. In the Mahdi’s occultation period, jihad is not to be abandoned; even if occultation lasts for a hundred thousand years, Muslims have to defend and fight for the expansion of Islam. Certainly, if in early Islam the goodness was in the sword, in our time the goodness is in artillery, tanks, automatic guns and missiles. . . in principle, jihad in Islam is for defense; whether defense of truth or justice, or the struggle with infidels in order to make them return to monotheism and the divine nature. This is the defense of truth, because the denial of Allah is the denial of truth.

How would non-Muslims fare under the Shiite Islamic order—forcibly imposed by jihad—as  envisioned by Montazeri?

The late Professor Sorour Soroudi, and Professor Eliz Sanasarian, have analyzed Montazeri’s views on najis (“impurity”), Sanasarian noting:

Montazeri saw nejasat [najis] in twelve items including blood, dogs, pigs, wine, and kafirs [i.e., primarily, non-Muslims]…A kafir’s body, including hair, nails, and body fluids was to be avoided. The purchase, sale, or receiving of meat and fat from either non-Muslim countries or a kafir were forbidden.

Montazeri further argued that a non-Muslim’s (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 political Weltanschauung was articulated in his 4 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.


Montazeri also adhered—quite rigorously—to the traditionalist Shiite dogma regarding punishment for the offense of “sabb,” or blasphemy. Kamran Hashemi’s 2008 study summarized the relevant Shiite jurisprudence:

… according to the majority of Shiite jurists, in cases of sabb, instant punishment [i.e., killing] of the offender, either Muslim or non-Muslim, is not only permissible, but also a religious obligation for any Muslim who realizes the offense, or any who comes to know about it. In this sense, as soon as the offense takes place, the offender must be killed immediately by any one who does not fear for his own life to be endangered.

Hashemi goes on to illustrate the “consensus among contemporary Shiite jurists on the instant punishment of an offender in cases of sabb,” 172 by referring to Montazeri’s opinion, specifically:

For example, in response to a question Ayatollah Montazeri [d. 2009] makes a reference to this issue: “In cases of sabb al-Nabi [blasphemy against a prophet, in particular Islam’s prophet, Muhammad]…if the witness does not have fear of his or her life and also there is no fear of mischief [mafsadeh] it is obligatory for him or her to kill the insulter.”

The practical consequences of Montazeri’s bigoted Shiite Islamic authoritarianism—which Ledeen, Rubin, and Gerecht all ignored—were highlighted by Iranian Studies Professor Jamsheed Choksy. In an essay (written with Nina Shea), published July 22, 2009, Choksy observed,

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 with a reminder especially apposite for those who share the opinions of Ledeen, Rubin, and Gerecht:

Iran’s political dissidents are defended by the West. Its diverse non-Muslim minorities ask why they’ve been forgotten.

And following Montazeri’s death, Choksy made this sobering observation:

[T]he religious minorities in Iran see little theological difference and only a marginal pragmatism among the various Shiite views. Montazeri’s opinion was characterized by one Iranian Christian clergyman as “…rubbing salt into our wounds.” Ultimately, Montazeri’s tolerance of differences, especially religious ones, was far from acceptance.

Ze’ev Maghen, Professor of Persian Language and Islamic History, during an online symposium published October 9, 2012, made this trenchant reference to Montazeri’s alleged “moderation,” in the context of Iran’s dogged quest for nuclear weapons capability:

Now the Jewish state is facing a regime the most moderate elements of which regularly threaten to wipe Israel off the map and repeat citations of the following sort: “His Excellency [the sixth Shi‘ite Imam Ja’far] al-Sadiq affirmed thrice that those who will ultimately exterminate the Jews will be the clerics of [the Iranian Shiite shrine city of] Qom” (cited approvingly in a public forum by supporter of the “Green Movement” Ayatollah Ali Hosayn Montazeri, Memoirs). Now those clerics are enriching uranium at a dizzying pace just outside of Qom at Fordu [Fordow].[Emphases added]

Without doubt, the most instructive illustrations of modern Shiite “quietism” are manifest in the writings of Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai (d. 1981), specifically, his glosses on important Koranic verses addressing jihad, and Islamic Jew-hatred. A brief biographical introduction to Tabatabai is in order to appreciate the unique significance of his doctrinal interpretations. Also known as Allamah Tabatabai, he was a prolific writer whose influential Koranic studies, and philosophical works, remain widely read. Tabatabai’s monumental twenty volume Al-Mizān fi Tafsir al-Qur’an (“The measure of balance in the interpretation of the Quran”), is generally regarded as the most important 20th century Shiite Koranic commentary. Jane Dammen McCauliffe, an internationally recognized scholar of Koranic exegesis, is editor of both the six-volume Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an, and The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’an. Noting Tabatabai’s Koranic commentary, “included with some frequency…excerpts from hadith collections and from previous commentaries, particularly those of al-Ayyashi (d. 932), al-Qummi (d. 939), and al-Tabarsi (d. 1153),” McCauliffe concluded that the massive work

… testifies to his [Tabatabai’s] broad scholarly background and abiding interest in comparative religion and philosophy. In addition to etymological and grammatical discussions, it combines his own thoughts and elucidations of the passage under consideration with discourses on its moral implications or mystical-philosophical ramifications. [emphasis added]

Renowned Iranian Professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, and prominent contemporary Muslim philosopher, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, translated and wrote the preface to Tabatabai’s treatise, Shi’ite Islam. Professor Nasr referred to Tabatabai as, “a man who has devoted his whole life to the study of religion, in whom humility and the power of intellectual analysis are combined,”  a “celebrated Shi’ite authority,” who produced the “monumental Quranic commentary, al-Mizan.”And Nasr reverently summarized Tabatabai’s purported unique combination of scholarship and spirituality, as follows:

Allamah Tabatabai represents that central and intellectually dominating class of Shi’ite ulama who have combined interest in jurisprudence and Quranic commentary with philosophy, theosophy, and Sufism and who represent a more universal interpretation of the Shi’ite point of view. Within the class of the traditional ulama, ’Allamah Tabatabai possesses the distinction of being a master of both the Shari’ite and esoteric sciences and at the same time he is an outstanding hakim or traditional Islamic philosopher (or more exactly, “theosopher”).

Allameh [Allamah] Tabatabaei [Tabatabai] University, named in honor of this celebrated Shiite authority and “theosopher,” is the largest specialized state social sciences university in Iran and the Middle East, with 17000 students and 500 full-time faculty members. Affirming his continued lofty stature, and relevance, an Iranian national conference was held on May 3, 2012, in Qom, dedicated to “recognizing the interpretative methods and principles used by Allameh [Allamah] Tabatabaee [Tabatabai] in [his] Al-Mizan exegesis.”

Below are extracts from Tabatabai’s “monumental” Koranic commentary revealing how this learned Shiite paragon of the “mystical-philosophical” implications of the Koran, interpreted Koran 2:193/8:39, and related verses, especially 9:29, pertaining to jihad. Tabatabai’s glosses merely reiterated the traditionalist Islamic supremacist Weltanschauung which sanctions aggressive jihad to impose an Islamic order on all “unjust” disbelievers in the Muslim creed.

Koran: “And fight with them until there is no more mischief (disbelief) and the religion be only for Allah.” This defines the time-limit of the fighting. Fitnah (translated here as ‘disbelief ’ and ‘mischief ’) means here ‘ascribing a partner to Allah and worshipping idols’, as was the custom of the polytheists of Mecca, who compelled others to do likewise. This meaning is inferred from the next sentence, and religion be only for Allah. This verse is similar to the verse: “And fight with them until there is no mischief (disbelief), and the religion be only for Allah; but if they desist, then verily Allah sees what they do. And if they turn back, then know that Allah is your Master; The Most Excellent Master and the Most Excellent Helper” (8:39-40). This verse shows that it is obligatory to call them to the right path before the war. If they accept the call, there will be no fighting; but if they reject it then there is no Master except Allah, and He is the most excellent Master and the most excellent Helper ;He helps his believing servants. It is known that fighting is prescribed so that the religion be only for Allah. Such a fighting cannot be started until the adversaries are first invited to come onto the right path, i.e. the religion based upon monotheism. Some people wrote that this verse was abrogated by the verse: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, from among those who were given the Book, until they pay the jizyah (tributory tax) with their hand while they are in a state of subjection” (9:29). But there is no question of either verse abrogating the other, because they deal with different subjects. The verse under discussion is, as explained earlier, about the Meccan polytheists and does not cover the People of the Book who are referred to in verse 9:29. And the religion be only for Allah means that idol-worship be abolished and the oneness of Allah be accepted. The people of the Book do believe in One Creator. We know their belief is in reality disbelief as Allah says that they: do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth. But Islam is content with their mere profession of monotheism. Fighting with them was ordained not to make them believe in monotheism, but simply so that they might pay tribute to the Muslims, thus raising the true creed above their creed and making Islam victorious over all religions.


Islam proceeds by degrees in these three methods. First comes good exhortation and peaceful invitation. If it fails to repulse the unjust people and to remove their corruption and despotism, then the second method is adopted, and that is peaceful boycott, passive resistance and noncooperation with them, withholding all assistance from them. If this too proves ineffective, then the only alternative is the third one, that is, armed confrontation, because Allah is never pleased with injustice; and he who silently agrees with an unjust person, is his partner in injustice. Even when Islam drew sword and took up arms against the unjust people (who had disregarded the divine communications and proofs), it used the force only to remove those who had become like stumbling blocks in the way of the Call of the truth. In other words, it used the arms to repel the enemies’ mischief, not to make them enter the fold of Islam. Allah says: And fight with them until there is no more mischief [2:193].

Tabatabai’s exegesis on 9:29 merits particular consideration because this verse is not only the eternal jihad directive against Jews, Christians, (and Zoroastrians), but the ultimate rationale for the discriminatory system of governance imposed upon the survivors of these creeds vanquished by fighting, or those groups of these “real infidels” who submit without a fight. His gloss opens by identifying the specific “People of the Book,” i.e., those with “revealed” scriptures, who nonetheless must be subjected by jihad:

These verses speak of battling the People of the Book, namely those who managed to withhold the jizya, and it recalls matters pertaining to ways in which they deviate from the truth, both in belief and in action.

As for the words of the Almighty: “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have declared unlawful and who do not apply the religion of truth among those who were given the Scripture,” [i.e., Koran 9:29] these ‘People of the Book’ are the Jews and the Christians to whom many verses in the Holy Quran are dedicated, as well as the Zoroastrians who are mentioned or alluded to by the words of the Almighty [Koran 22:17]: “Indeed, those who have believed and those who practice Judaism and the Sabeans and the Christians and the Zoroastrians and those who associate with Allah – Allah will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Indeed Allah is, over all things, Witness,” where they are listed among the other representatives of heavenly [inspired] creeds…

Tabatabai then elaborates, at some length, why despite being “People of the Book,” they are ultimately considered “real infidels”:

The Almighty does not differentiate in His Word between belief in Him and belief in the Last Day.  Therefore disbelief in one of these two things constitutes disbelief in God, and disbelief in God constitutes disbelief in these two things together.  So the rule about someone who differentiates between God and His messenger, and believes in one without the other, is that he is [considered] an infidel, as it says [Koran 4:150-151]:  “Indeed, those who disbelieve in Allah and His messengers and wish to discriminate between Allah and His messengers and say, ‘We believe in some and disbelieve in others,’ and wish to adopt a way in between; Those are the disbelievers, truly. And We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment.”

The People of the Book are counted, like [others] who do not believe in the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), as real infidels, even though [in reality] they do have belief in God and in the Last Day.  The formulation is not that they only deny one of God’s wonders, namely the wonder of prophecy, rather the way it is formulated is that they reject belief in God [Himself].  Therefore [the Quran states that] they do not believe in God and in the Last Day, in the same way as the polytheists who have idols deny God, since they [too] do not see Him as one but instead they see one godhead above [other] multiple gods. Even though they establish as a principle [belief in] creation and resurrection [their belief system] does not agree with the truth at all, like their claim that the Messiah is the son of God or that Ezra is the son of God.  They resemble in this the words of those infidels who worship statues and idols, namely that among the gods this one is a god who is the father of a god, and that one is a god who is the son of a god

Therefore is it obvious that belief in God and in the Last Day is banished from the People of the Book.  Verily they cannot see the truth of the matter concerning the Oneness of God and the resurrection, even if they acknowledge that the Word has a divine source.  It is not that some of them [openly] deny that the Word is divinely inspired by God, praised be He, or that they would deny the resurrection.  They actually confirm what the Quran tells about them even though in reality, the Torah as we have it today does not have any information about the resurrection.

[Let’s] now [look at] their second feature [as described] in the text:  “who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His messenger have declared unlawful”.  This is like what the Jews said to allow things [that are really forbidden] which the Quran enumerates and recalls about them in Surah 2, 4 and others, and what the Christians say to allow wine and pork.  Surely the prohibition of these two things is established in the laws of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them), and [also] for them to consume the wealth of the people unjustly.

What is meant with the [term] “messenger” in the phrase “what Allah and His messenger have declared unlawful” is a messenger from among themselves spoke  through his [own] prophecy, like Moses who addressed the Jews, and Jesus who addressed the Christians.  The meaning thus is that none of these communities is upholding the prohibitions that their messengers had imposed on them (while speaking) through prophecy.  They [theoretically] acknowledge his validity and therefore [should put] an end to daringly challenging God and His prophet, and playing around with truth and verity. As for the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who they can find described in their Scriptures, the Torah and the Gospel, he allows them what is good and forbids them what is bad.  He takes away their burden [covenant] and their shackles that were on them.

Tabatabai elucidates the “purpose” for the permanent designation of the Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians as genuine infidels: objects of chastisement, the Muslims are to be incited against these reprobates, and violently subject them to an Islamic order, which features, prominently, enforced payment of the blood ransom, jizya.

So then the purpose for describing them as not forbidding what God and His messenger forbade, is to rebuke and defame them, and to arouse the believers and incite them towards battling them for not submitting to God’s and His prophet’s prohibitions in their religious practice, and for allowing themselves to fall into Divinely forbidden practices and violating [dishonoring, raping] what is sacrosanct.

However one who contemplates the overall objectives of Islam should not be confused thinking that the purpose of battling the People of the Book until they pay the jizya is for the pleasure of the supporters of Islam… Rather the goal of [our] religion in this [respect] is for the religion of truth [Islam], and the enactment of righteousness, and the word of godliness to triumph over falsehood, iniquity and immorality… As far as the jizya is concerned, this is a financial donation [i.e., blood ransom!], taken from them and allocated towards upholding their protection [i.e., “protection,” from, primarily, the resumption of the jihad against them!]  and towards their proper management.  An independent government cannot annul this kind of practice, either in an overt or in a concealed manner… they [the Muslims] should battle them [only] in order to bring them [Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians] under the dhimma so that they will no [longer] openly practice any immorality and evil will be contained among them.

The concluding summary of Tabatabai’s gloss on Koran 9:29 enumerates three key points of  (re-)emphasis, which all hinge on this overarching principle: Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians—People of the Book—must be fought, subdued, and humbled because they constitute a chronic danger to an Islamic, Sharia-based society, and its mores.

Firstly, What is meant with the People of the Book not believing in God and in the Last Day is that they do not envelope themselves in the faith [i.e., Islam] that is acceptable for God, and that they do not forbid what God and His messenger forbade, that they are inconsiderate by publicly committing these forbidden things and by doing so they demoralize human society and undermine the current rightful government1.  Also, [it means] that they do not profess the religion of truth, and they do not follow the true practice that conforms to creation and with which creation and the universe are consistent.

Secondly, the phrase “who do not believe in God… (until the end of their three characteristics),” comes to explain the wisdom in the commandment to fight them, and from this follows the moral benefit of instigation and incitement to do so.


Thirdly, the intention is to battle all People of the Book, not just some of them, as [would be the case] by taking [the word] “among” in the phrase “among those who were given the Book” as a differentiation.

Considering the word of the Almighty “…until they give the jizya from their hands while they are humbled”, Al-Rāghib said in [his book] ‘Al-Mufradat’: “Jizya is what is taken from the Ahl adh-Dhimma, and it is called this way because of being a reimbursement for sparing their lives” [literally, “blood’]. It is a special [obligatory] donation [that works] as a penalty for holding on to unbelief, i.e. as a punishment…

Relying on what Al-Rāghib mentions, this supports what we brought forward before namely that this financial contribution is allocated towards upholding their protection [again, from resumption of the jihad] and saving their lives and towards their proper management. Al-Rāghib also says: “Smallness (or insignificance) versus greatness are opposite terms used to qualify one [concept] or the other.  Something can be small in one aspect and great in another.”  He continues:  “There is a saying: ‘He is small’ (ṣaghura ṣaghiran, [the second word] first with an ‘a’ and then an ‘i’) as opposite to great.  And another expression: ‘He is small and despised’ (ṣaghura ṣagharan wa-ṣaghāran, with two times ‘a’ in both words), referring to [a low level of] gratification.  The acceptable kind of [being] humiliated in terms of a religious status is:  “…until they give the jizya from their hands while they are humbled”… The “hand”: A human limb that aims at power and pleasure.  Therefore it says: :  “…until they give the jizya from their hands…” which refers to its first meaning, namely ‘until they give the jizya which is passed from their hand into your hand’, while there is a reference to a  second meaning namely ‘until they give the jizya because of your power and authority over them’, while they are humbled and cannot rise above you nor become haughty towards you.

Regarding their characteristics that necessitate fighting them, as mentioned in the beginning of the verse, followed by them giving the jizya to uphold their protection, it informs [us] that the purpose  of humiliating them is their submission to an Islamic lifestyle and to a righteous religious government within an Islamic society.  They shall not be equal to Muslims nor stand out against with them as an independent identity, free to express anything their souls feel like, nor to publicize the doctrines and activities invented by their lunacies that corrupt human societies.  This all relates to them handing over money from their hands out of a contemptible position.

So the meaning of the verse (and God knows best) is: Fight the People of the Book who do not [truly] believe in God or in the Last Day, with a faith that is acceptable and uncorrupted from being proper, and who do not forbid what is forbidden in Islam namely those [crimes] that, when committed, corrupt human society, and who do not abide by a religion that conforms with the divine creation. Fight them and persist in fighting them until they are humbled  among you, and submit to your rule.  In this [condition] they shall give a defined financial contribution signifying their humbled position which is allocated towards upholding their position and sparing their lives and towards the necessary expenses for managing their affairs.

Tabatabai’s gloss on Koran 5:5 adds a related caveat in discussing the possibility of allowing Shiite Muslim men to marry women from among the subjected “People of the Book,” which validates the jihad-related concepts of “harbis,” and collecting jizya:

the Prophet…said, “Verily the marriage is allowed with only those People of the Book who pay jizya; marriage with others is not lawful”  The author [Tabatabai] says: It is because without payment of jizya they will be counted among kafir harbi [infidels in “lands of war,” whose lives and property are licit for the Muslims].

Allamah Tabatabai, modern doyen of Shiite Koranic exegesis, and “theosopher,” provides this general description of the Koranic portrayal of the Jews, beginning at Koran 2:40 to 2:44, and continuing for over a hundred verses thereafter:

Now begins the rebuking of the Jews that continues for more than a hundred verses. Allah reminds them of the bounties bestowed, of the honors given; contrasting it with their ingratitude and disobedience; showing how at every juncture they paid the favours of Allah with disregard of their covenant, open rebellion against divine commands and even with polytheism. The series reminds them of twelve events of their history — … all of which shows how they were chosen to receive the especial favors of Allah. But their ingratitude runs parallel to it. They repeatedly broke the covenants made with Allah, committed capital sins, heinous crimes and shameful deeds; more despicable was their spiritual poverty and moral bankruptcy — in open defiance to their book and total disregard to reason. It was all because their hearts were hardened, their souls lost and their endeavors worthless.

Tabatabai’s gloss on Koran 2:75 emphasizes the Jews alleged hostility to Islam’s prophet, and his new creed:

The pagan tribes of Aws and Khazraj lived with the Jews of Medina, and they knew that the latter followed a divine religion and a revealed book. Thus it was not too much to expect them to believe in the latest in the series of divine religions and books. This was the basis of their hope that the Jews would accept the Apostle of Allah as the true prophet, and would strengthen the cause of religion, and actively participate in the propagation of truth. But no sooner did the Prophet migrate to Medina than the Jews showed their latent hostility. The hope was shattered and the expectation turned to disappointment. That is why Allah addresses the believers, saying: “Do you then hope that they would believe in you?” Concealment of truth and alteration of divine words was their deep-rooted life pattern. Why wonder if they go back on what they used to say before the advent of Islam?

Tabatabai also offers a traditionalist gloss on Koran 2:61, 2:88-2:93, and 3:112-3:116, which accuse the Jews of “prophet-killing,” “disbelief” in, and “disobedience” to, Allah, engendering His wrath, “hatching conspiracies” against Islam and the Muslim prophet Muhammad, and therefore, deserving permanent abasement, which was indeed “stamped” upon them.

[2:61] Their disobedience and perennial excesses caused them to reject the signs of Allah and kill the prophets… Needless to say that murder, and especially of the prophets, and rejection of the signs of Allah cannot be termed as mere disobedience. It should be the other way round. But if we take the disobedience to mean disclosing the secrets then it would be perfectly right to say that they killed the prophets, because they (disobeyed them and) did not keep their secrets and thus delivered them into the hands of their enemies who killed them.

[2:89-2:93] They knew that Muhammad was the awaited Prophet, because all the attributes and particulars mentioned in their books fitted on him perfectly. And yet they denied his truth… [T]hey returned doubly enraged. It may also mean that they invited double wrath of Allah upon themselves — the first because they disbelieved in Torah and the second because they disbelieved in the Quran. The verse says that they were partisans of the Prophet long before he was born; they prayed to Allah for victory by his name and his Book. When the Prophet was sent and the Quran was revealed, they very well recognized that he was the Prophet in whose name they used to pray for victory, and whose coming they awaited. But they were overwhelmed by envy and arrogance. No sooner did the Prophet begin his call then they denied his truth, and forgot all that they used to tell about the awaited prophet. It was not surprising as they had earlier disbelieved in Torah too. Thus they committed disbelief after disbelief, and invited the wrath of Allah upon themselves, not once but twice…“We believe in that which was revealed to us”. If this claim of yours is correct then why did you kill the prophets of Allah? And why did you disbelieve in Musa [Moses] by taking the calf for a god? And why did you say, “We hear and disobey”, when We took a promise from you and lifted the mountain over you?… “Evil is that which your belief bids you . . .”: It is a derisive expression ridiculing them for their killings of the prophets, their disbelief in Musa and their arrogance in committing sin after sin and then claiming that they were the true believers. The verse tauntingly asks them: Is this what your belief bids you?

[3:112-3:116]  The verses, as you see, now revert to the original theme, describing the behavior of the People of the Book — and particularly the Jews —exposing their disbelief in the Divine Revelation, their going astray and their hindering the believers from the way of Allah… Abasement is stamped on them as a design is stamped on a coin, or it encompasses them as a tent encompasses a man. Anyhow, they are either branded with, or overwhelmed by abasement and humiliation — except when they get a protection or guarantee from Allah and a protection or guarantee from men. The word ‘‘protection’’ is repeated when referring to Allah and then to men, because the connotation differs from one place to the other. Protection* given by Allah is His decree and command, either creative or legislative; and that provided by men is their decision and action. Abasement is stamped on them; it means that Allah has ordained a law affirming their abasement. This meaning is supported by the proviso ‘‘wherever they are found’’. Obviously, it means that wherever the believers find them and subjugate them; this proviso is obviously more appropriate to legislative abasement, one of whose effects is the payment of the jizya. The meaning of the verse therefore is as follows: They are abased and humiliated, according to the law of Islamic Sharia…‘‘those who disbelieve’’ refers to the other groups of the People of the Book which did not respond to the call of the Prophet; those were the people who used to hatch conspiracies against Islam and had left no stone unturned in extinguishing the light of the truth… Obviously it describes the Jews’ behavior with the Muslims


In his gloss on Koran 3:181-185/189, Tabatabai reiterates these interpretations, (again) labeling the Jews as “prophet killers” who acted “knowingly and intentionally.” He also repeats the accusations of their “upsetting the Muslims affairs, rejecting the evidence of messenger-ship, and hiding what they had been enjoined to make known.”

Koran 5:64 is an overt, ancient Koranic warning of “Jewish conspiracism.” Tabatabai, adding a deliberate and transparent pejorative reference to the Jews of modern Israel, and their alleged promulgation of “ethnic supremacism,” glosses this verse as follows:

“whenever they kindle a fire for war Allah puts it out”: To kindle a fire is to inflame it, and to put it out is to extinguish it. The meaning is clear. There is another possibility that the clause: “whenever they kindle a fire,” explains the preceding clause: “and We put enmity and hatred . . .”  Thus the meaning will be as follows: Whenever they kindled a fire of war against the Prophet and the believers, Allah puts it out by reviving their internal discords and differences. The context points to the divine decree that their endeavors in kindling the fire of war against the divine religion and against the Muslims (because of their belief in Allah and His signs) are bound to fail. However, it does not cover those wars, which the Jews might wage against the Muslims, not for religious motive, but because of politics, or because of ideas of racial or national superiority.

Tabatabai’s gloss on Koran 5:71 continues his rhetorical assault on the stubborn, vain, and ultimately (and deservedly!) self-destructive behaviors of the Jews, because of their inherent—“Jewishness”:

This blindness and deafness have been caused by their delusion that there would be no affliction; and apparently that delusion had emanated from their vanity and conceit that they had a special status before Allah because they were from the seed of Israel, and they were sons and beloveds of Allah. Therefore, no evil would fall to them no matter what they did and what they indulged in. The meaning of the verse then is as follows – and Allah knows better: They, because of their vanity that they enjoyed the prestige of Jewishness, thought that they would not be afflicted by any evil, and would not be put on trial no matter what they did; this thought and delusion blinded their eyes – so they cannot see the truth – and deafened their ears – so they cannot listen to their Prophets’ [i.e., Muhammad’s] call which would have benefited them. This interpretation favors what we have said earlier that these verses are a sort of proof of the verse: Surely those who believe and those who are Jews . . . It shows in short that names and titles are not to avail anyone anything. Look at these Jews who thought that they had a special prestige because they were Jews; yet this delusion did not do them any good, rather it made them blind and deaf and led them to perils of destruction and tribulation when they called the Prophets of Allah liars and murdered them.

Koran 5:78, a Koranic curse upon the Jews,  is glossed by Tabatabai in this straightforward manner:

It adversely alludes to the Jews who were cursed by their own prophets, and it was because they exceeded the limit, and continued in this transgression generation after generation. The words: “They used not to forbid . . . evil was that which they did,” explain that transgression.

Koran 5:82, arguably the central Koranic verse defining Islam’s eternal attitudes towards Jews and Judaism, is glossed by Tabatabai, thusly:

[T]he Jews, although they had the same alternatives as the Christians, and they could retain their religion with payment of the jizyah [Koranic poll tax, per verse 9:29], yet they continued in their haughtiness, became harder in their bigotry, and turned to double dealing and deception. They broke their covenants, eagerly waited calamities to befall the Muslims and dealt to them the bitterest deal…[T]he enmity of the Jews…toward the divine religion [Islam] and their sustained arrogance and bigotry, have continued exactly in the same manner even after the Prophet… These unchanged characteristics…confirm what the Mighty Book [the Koran] had indicated.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Features Editor Robert Pollock interviewed Husayn Fadlallah less than 4-months before the Grand Ayatollah’s death. Pollock utterly ignored Fadlallah’s theological Jew-hatred (described below), but did note the Shiite cleric was possessed of a “disarming twinkle in his eyes,” and closed his “Dialogue” with Fadlallah as follows:

The interview is over. We pose for pictures and the Ayatollah presents me with an English translation of one of his books:“Islam: The Religion of Dialogue.” He signs it for me in Arabic: “With my affection and prayers.”

When Fadlallah died in early July, 2010, the Associated Press affirmed the Grand Ayatollah’s mainstream influence, notably with the leaders of the U.S. “ally” regime of al-Maliki in Iraq:

Among his followers are many of Iraq’s Shiite leaders, including al-Maliki. In Iraq, a prominent leader in al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, Ali al-Adeeb, said Fadlallah’s death was a major loss to the Islamic world and that it “will be hard to replace him.”

Hezbollah’s, most senior clerical authority, the late Husayn Fadlalah, stated:

We find in the Koran that the Jews are the most aggressive towards the Muslims … because of their aggressive resistance to the unity of the faith.

Fadlallah repeatedly referred to anti-Jewish archetypes in the Koran, hadith, and sira: the corrupt, treacherous, and aggressive nature of the Jews; their reputation as killers of prophets who spread corruption on earth; and the notion that the Jews engaged in conspiratorial efforts against Muhammad. 383

Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq Husayni Shirazi (d. 2001), was an author and religious leader revered by millions of Twelver Shiite Muslims worldwide. Hagiographies of Shirazi extol his broad ranging contributions in various fields from jurisprudence and theology, to politics, economics, law, sociology, and human rights. Iranian expatriate history professor Reza Afshari, who forthrightly chronicled the human rights abuses in “post-Revolutionary” Iran, from 1979 to 2000, described Shirazi as follows:

Perhaps the least political among the Grand Ayatollahs was Sayyid Muhammad Shirazi, who enjoyed a considerable Shiite following. He stayed clear of political involvement during the Khomeini era. However, he became indignant over [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s attempt to gain recognition not only as Supreme Leader but also as an eminent marja taqlid (source of emulation), a position reserved only for Grand Ayatollahs. Shirazi seemed to have favored a committee of Grand Ayatollahs to provide leadership for the country.

Despite his alleged “ecumenism,” and  “quietist” approach to politics, Shirazi’s Islamic law manual simply confirms (ad nauseum) the traditionalist Shiite (and overall Islamic) viewpoint on jihad:

The jihad against the non-believers—according to its criteria—is “wajib kifai” “collective obligation” or “obligatory as per sufficiency” in that it is not obligatory for the rest of the people if sufficient number of individuals take it up; if those who could execute this duty do not do so, then all those who are able to do jihad are considered to have committed disobedience… Before the start of the battle the non-believers of the people of the book are given the choice between three: 1) Islam, which is to embrace Islam through declaration of the two shahadah (testimonies of faith); to testify to the oneness of Allah and to the Prophethood of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad peace be upon him and his pure family, and adhering to the laws of Islam.;  2) jizyah, in that they pay tax for the protection they receive. 3) Combat [note from original: “The late Imam Shirazi adds a fourth category: or whatever the Council of the ‘fuqaha maraje’(i.e., being both expert in Islamic law and recognized rulers) deems appropriate.”] These options are also given to the unbelieving who are not people of the book, if the just religious scholars with knowledge of war issues consider it to be in the general interest.

Shirazi’s doctrinally sound, authoritative discussion on najis from his Islamic law manual was an unequivocal re-statement of the traditionalist understandings, replete with a detailed, illustrative example “scenario” about the marriage of a Shiite Muslim woman to a non-Muslim man:

The unbeliever (Kafir) is najis. The unbeliever is he who denies the existence of God, or associates a partner for Him, or denies the prophethood of the Seal of the Prophets Muhammad peace be upon him and his pure family. Furthermore [an unbeliever is] anyone who denies any one of indispensable aspects of the religion [i.e., Islam] such as the [obligatory] prayers and fasting, which the Muslims consider as part of the religion, provided that he knows these are indispensable aspects of the religion, and provided that his denial leads to the denial of the prophet. This is also applicable if one denies the resurrection and the great sins such as adultery and drinking of wine. All of the Kafir’s body is najis, including hair, fingernail, and moisture, on the basis of an obligatory precaution. If the father of the non-adolescent child, and his grandfather, mother and grandmother were all unbelievers, then the child would follow them in being najis too.


Q: A Muslim woman has married a kitabi [Jew, Christian, Zoroastrian] or a polytheist {Hindu, Buddhist, Animist] man. What is the ruling regarding this marriage? If she is to divorce her husband or leave him, does she need to observe the iddah or the divorce waiting period, or is it sufficient to observe istibra which is to wait for the start of her next menstruation period? What is the ruling regarding her children with respect to the issue of being mahram to her? A: 1. The marriage is invalid.; 2. She must observe iddah for divorce, as a precaution, for shubhah intercourse.; 3. If she was ignorant of the ruling, her children are deemed to be children of shubhah and they are mahram [to her], and other rulings of children who are of legitimate birth apply to them. [accompanying note: shubhah literally means ‘erroneous’, and this status concerns any action or transaction that involves a possible or unintended prohibited (haram) act. Amongst the other scenarios, shubhah marriage is when a Muslim woman marries a non-Muslim man; such a marriage is not permissible, and they must separate immediately, and the marriage and intercourse between the Muslim woman and the non-Muslim man is referred to as shubhah. The children from such a marriage are referred to as shubhah children – they are not referred to as illegitimate children, but they are not referred to as legitimate either.

Political scientist, and expatriate Iranian, Eliz Sanasarian, documented a striking example of the practical impact of this renewed najis consciousness in contemporary Iran:

In the case of the Coca-Cola plant, for example, the owner (an Armenian) fled the country, the factory was confiscated, and Armenian workers were fired. Several years later, the family members were allowed to oversee the daily operations of the plant, and Armenians were allowed to work at the clerical level; however, the production workers remained Muslim. Armenian workers were never rehired on the grounds that non-Muslims should not touch the bottles or their contents, which may be consumed by Muslims.

The final contemporary Shiite “quietist-reformist” whose opinions on najis, for example,  warrant illustration is Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (b. 1930). Hagiographic assessments of Sistani abound, transcending the ideological “right-left” chattering class, and policymaking divide.

Writing in March, 2005, liberal New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, opined:

As we approach the season of the Nobel Peace Prize, I would like to nominate the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for this year’s medal. I’m serious.

Less than a year later (i.e., in February, 2006), mainstream conservative bastion, The National Review Online, echoed this sentiment:

In a better world, Sistani would have a Nobel Peace Prize.

Fouad Ajami, Director of Middle East Studies at John Hopkins University for three decades (1980-2011), and present Co-Chair of the Hoover Institution’s “Working Group on Islamism and The International Order,” during a June, 2007 interview, gushed,

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani living in a simple house, a rented house; he owns no property, by the way, and a man of exquisite moderation, a man who abhors violence, a man who believes in liberty, a man who believes in Democracy, a man who rarely speaks in public. He has his pronouncements; he has his agents speak for him. On every issue that came up in the last so many years, whether within Iraq or in the Muslim world, he has been forthright in his defense of liberty, in his defense of peace, in his defense of modernity.

Neoconservative “Iran expert,” Reuel Marc Gerecht, wrote in October 2010 that Sistani was,

the most revered Shiite thinker in the world, and one who tried desperately and selflessly to keep his country from descending into internecine savagery…

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. diplomat who oversaw the initial reconstruction of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq for 14-months, beginning in May, 2003, provided a more sobering and realistic perspective on Sistani:

Ayatollah Sistani operated on a different rational plane than we Westerners. From his austere quarters in Najaf, Sistani viewed Iraq and the wider world through the perspective of Shia Islamic theology, as well as hardnosed politics. He had issued thousands of fatwas on a bewildering range of issues, even on how and when the faithful should drink water. And despite his cloistered image, the Grand Ayatollah was determined to influence the political process…

Bremer’s memoir of his experiences in Iraq confirms that he never met in person with Sistani, despite numerous indirect exchanges. Sistani insisted, in Bremer’s words,

he [Sistani] would forfeit some of his credibility among the [Shiite] faithful were he to cooperate openly with Coalition officials

I wrote a brief February, 2004 essay which placed Sistani’s refusal to meet directly with Ambassador Bremer in  a doctrinal context readily discernible to the “Shiite faithful,” if not the good infidel Ambassador.

Thus far, the influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, has refused to meet with the U.S. Civilian Administrator in Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer. At al-Sistani’s website, the Grand Ayatollah summarizes his views on “najis,” or sources of “pollution.” These items would pollute Muslims simply by touching them, and they include non-Muslims themselves. While the Grand Ayatollah’s writings equivocate regarding which non-Muslims are “officially” najis, al-Sistani’s failure to meet with Ambassador Bremer may reflect his true, unstated sentiments. Clearly, al-Sistani and Ambassador Bremer are engaged in a political dispute over the timing and conduct of elections in Iraq. However, the Grand Ayatollah’s refusal to even meet with the U.S. Civilian Administrator (in stark contrast to al-Sistani’s meetings with the Muslim UN Representative Lakhdar Brahimi) suggests that a more profound dynamic may be operative: the Ayatollah may fear becoming “polluted” by a non-Muslim.

Below are Sistani’s views on najis—specifically enumerated—which remain posted online at his website (see screenshot, below).

107. An infidel, i.e., a person who does not believe in Allah and His Oneness, is najis. Similarly, Ghulat who believe in any of the holy twelve Imams as God, or that they are incarnations of God, and Khawarij and Nawasib who express enmity towards th e holy Imams, are also najis. And similar is the case of those who deny Prophethood, or any of the necessary laws of Islam, like, namaz and fasting, which are believed by the Muslims as a part of Islam, and which they also know as such. As regards the people of the Book (i.e. the Jews and the Christians) who do not accept the Prophethood of Prophet Muhammad bin Abdullah (Peace be upon him and his progeny), they are commonly considered najis, but it is not improbable that they are Pak. However, it is better to avoid them.

108. The entire body of a Kafir, including his hair and nails, and all liquid substances of his body, are najis.

109. If the parents, paternal grandmother and paternal grandfather of a minor child are all kafir, that child is najis, except when he is intelligent enough, and professes Islam. When, even one person from his parents or grandparents is a Muslim, the child is Pak.

110. A person about whom it is not known whether he is a Muslim or not, and if no signs exist to establish him as a Muslim, he will be considered Pak. But he will not have the privileges of a Muslim, like, he cannot marry a Muslim woman, nor can he be buried in a Muslim cemetery.

111. Any person who abuses any of the twelve holy Imams on account of enmity, is najis.

Conservative political scientist, and former University President John Agresto, wrote a poignant, and sympathetic, yet brutally honest memoir of  the 9-months (September 2003 to June 2004) he spent in Iraq working as then Ambassador Paul Bremer’s senior advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Agresto, who had indirect dealings with Sistani, remained  “more skeptical of the Ayatollah al-Sistani and his partisans than so many of my colleagues in the Coalition.” He highlights one astonishing fact about Sistani that has received scant attention, let alone comment, in light of legitimate concerns over undue Iranian influence on Iraqi affairs:

The Ayatollah Sistani is…Iranian by birth, Iranian by religious training–he still retains his Iranian citizenship in preference to accepting Iraqi citizenship.

But Agresto’s more immediate and tangible concerns with Sistani derived from the Ayatollah’s deeply rooted Islamic religious bigotry, and his illiberal, theocratic vision of the governance of Iraqi society.

I do not believe that parties that demand that all public legislation be based on Islamic law as interpreted by Shiite imams are liberal. I do not believe that a religious leader who refused even once to meet with Ambassador Bremer, or any American, but would gladly meet with every anti-American antagonist and criminal, from Muqtada al-Sadr to Ahmed Chalabi, is a “moderate” I do not believe that the same Sistani who condemned the interim Iraqi Constitution because it protected the rights of the Kurds and secured property rights to Jews should be thought of as terribly tolerant. Indeed, the very first time I heard, in all my months there, an Antisemitic diatribe was from the Grand Ayatollah.


Agresto lamented that comforting, if corrosive delusions about Sistani and “Iraqi democracy”  persist, oblivious to concrete, readily discernible evidence.

We insisted that the Ayatollah Sistani was surely a “moderate” and a friend to civil and religious liberty despite all the hard evidence to the contrary. Let me repeat my previous observations and predictions: The Ayatollah Sistani is an Islamist bent on establishing a theocracy not far removed from that found in Iran. He is an open antisemite and a not-too-subtle anti-Christian. He threw his support behind democratic elections because they were the handy vehicles for imposing religious authority all over Iraq…[W]e only see what we want to see, not what’s visible.

Sistani’s views on najis were—and remain—quite visible, if not to the willfully blind.

During the summer of 2009, much ink was spilled over the alleged “secular” revolution occurring in Iran by the same conservative analysts who promote their grotesquely warped “understandings” of “Shiite quietism,” and “quietists.” Indeed, President Obama has been excoriated ever since by these conservatives for his failure to unabashedly support the so-called “Green revolution,” which I argued at the time (here, here, here, and here)—and still maintain—was not a mass movement of true Western freedom aspirants against Sharia totalitarians (i.e., in their Shiite incarnation), but merely a power struggle between rival Sharia supremacist factions—including “quietist” factions.

Despite such overwrought conservative hyperbole, a very staid assessment (published June 29, 2009)  by A. Savyon, Director the Middle East Media Research Institute’s Iranian Media Project, noted that the “Green” protest movement’s leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohammad Khatami, were “not interested in a change of regime in Iran, and have never called to topple Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.” Furthermore, Savyon reported that Khatami and Rafsanjani, who operated behind the scenes of the protests, proved unable “to recruit the support of any senior ayatollah against Khamenei.” Savyon added, that former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, at that time, the second most powerful figure in the regime, who then headed two of its most important bodies (the Experts Assembly and Expediency Council), never, 

… purported to lead a movement presenting an alternative to the regime. Despite his blatant disagreements with the Supreme Leader, he hasn’t openly challenged the latter’s decision to accept the [2009] election results, though, according to reports, he has sought to recruit senior ayatollahs to join his camp within the regime.

Savyon’s June 29th, 2009 report concluded, “…the protest movement leaders never advocated a regime change in Iran; their campaign is part of a struggle between two streams within the regime.”

Politically expedient hypocrisy compounds the deliberate intellectual blindness  of conservative/ neoconservative analysts who persist in their misrepresentations of the 2009 Iranian “Green Movement,” while continuing to chastise President Obama for his refusal to assist this alleged “freedom movement.” These same conservative “experts” conveniently ignore the George W. Bush Administration’s abject failure to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat while the U.S. had more than one hundred thousand troops (and all forms of supportive military air, sea, and land firepower) strategically positioned in neighboring Iraq, for the five years between 2003 and 2008. Specifically, conservative Obama Administration critics of this ilk are silent about the following:

  • The George W. Bush Administration negotiated a November, 2008  “SOFA” (status of forces agreement) with our “Iraqi allies” which, as per Article 27, paragraph 4 (“Iraqi land, sea and air shall not be used as a launching or transit point for attacks against other countries.”) prohibited the US from attacking, for example, Iranian nuclear production facilities, from Iraqi bases and airspace.
  • Revelations from former Bush and Obama Administration Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ recently published memoir (as reported by the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus), about President Bush being convinced by Gates to forestall a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and the (absurd) “geo-strategic rationale” for this executive decision—“Gates writes that his most effective argument was that an Israeli attack on Iran that overflew Iraq would endanger what the surge had achieved with Baghdad. Bush then ‘emphatically said he would not put our gains in Iraq at risk,’ according to Gates.”

Iran’s backward “revolution” in 1978-1979 simply returned Iranian society to its longstanding status as a Shiite theocracy, following a relatively brief flirtation with Westernization and secularization under Pahlavi rule from 1925 to 1979. In addition, as my colleague, journalist Alyssa Lappen and I discovered in early July of 2009, upon interviewing the leader of a genuine Western-oriented, secular (and non-Communist)  Iranian political party, Roozbeh Farahanipour, this courageous man and his followers unfortunately represent only a small minority of Iran’s overwhelmingly traditionalist Shiite Muslim masses.

Yet after more than three decades of strict re-application of the Sharia in Iran (which has included stoning to death for adultery, execution for homosexuality, abrogation of freedom of conscience and religious minority rights, etc.), and notwithstanding wishful arguments that these phenomena had spawned mass public rejection of Islamic Law, Pew polling data released June 11, 2013 (from face-to-face interviews with 1,522 adults, ages 18 years of age and older), revealed a sobering reality. When asked, “Do you favor or oppose the implementation of  Sharia law, or Islamic law in our country?”,  83% favored its application. A largely concordant finding demonstrated that only 28% of Iranians were at all concerned (i.e., 9% “very,” and 19% “somewhat” concerned) about “extremist religious groups” in the nation.

These data provided the context in which the June, 2013 Presidential election of Hasan Rouhani—an unabashed Ayatollah Khomeini-supporting Shiite cleric, and long term political apparatchik of the theocratic regime—must be viewed. Simply put, Rouhani is not “moderate” by any objective, Sharia non-compliant standard. The conundrum is that while center to left U.S. (and other Western) policymaking elites insist upon Rouhani’s “moderation,” their conservative counterparts rigidly uphold the equally destructive fantasy that this modern avatar of traditionalist Shiite Sharia supremacism—an ideology also embraced by Iran’s greatest modern “quietists”—is somehow unrepresentative of the Iranian populace’s abiding beliefs, and mores, indoctrinated for a half millennium.


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