For now, let us believe that the claims in the report are supported and verifiable. Indeed, part of the firestorm around this issue is that the IAEA is a generally trusted institution; their lack of support for the American position on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was a massive obstacle for the Bush Administration’s goal of garnering international support for the invasion of Iraq. But beyond the news that Iran may be working towards a weapon of mass destruction, there’s another important consequence.
In 2005, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa, a binding religious ruling, forbidding the production and stockpiling of nuclear weaponry. As far as I know a Farsi text of the fatwa has never been released, though it has been reported on in Persian since 2004.
…The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the Fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office just recently, in his inaugural address reiterated that his government is against weapons of mass destruction and will only pursue nuclear activities in the peaceful domain. The leadership of Iran has pledged at the highest level that Iran will remain a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT and has placed the entire scope of its nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards and additional protocol, in addition to undertaking voluntary transparency measures with the agency that have even gone beyond the requirements of the agency’s safeguard system.
The core issue is this: If Khamenei did indeed issue a fatwa declaring the production of nuclear weapons to be forbidden, the IAEA report shows that he has unilaterally acted against his own religious law. The report would therefore demonstrate that he undermined his own authority as the ruler of Iran.
Some background on Khamenei’s position: Iran is effectively governed under the system of velayet-e-faqih. Under this system, complete trust in governance is placed in a learned scholar of Islamic law, called the vali-ye faqih. Coming from the corrupt, Western-oriented leadership of Shah Mohammed-Reza Pahlavi, Iranians at the time of his fall in 1979 widely accepted this system as a means of rooting out injustice and corruption. However, it should be noted there has always been a degree of resistance to this arrangement, notably during the 2009 protests in Iran which was highly charged with anti-theocratic rhetoric.
The claim here is not that Khamenei is infallible, or that he has never lied. Indeed, under Shi’a theology, the vali-ye faqih is simply a mortal scholar who has earned the right to rule due to his education. As politicians, the Ayatollahs lie as well as anyone else. However, this issue is on a different level due to the religious dimensions involved. Khamenei, as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, would be the driving force behind nuclear weapons production. Issuing a religious ruling and then unilaterally undermining on a personal level would be an issue of massive implications with little precedent in modern Iranian history. There have been other clerics in Iran weighing in support for nuclear weapons, but their position is minor relative to Khamenei’s authoritarian control over Iran.
If the IAEA report is true, it throws the entire question of Khamenei’s commitment to international obligations into disarray on a very fundamental level. If Khamenei is willing to abrogate his own religious rulings (an issue of sacrosanct and divine proportions) for the sake of deceiving the West, how far is he willing to go?
About MeNews producer. Blogger on politics and culture of the Middle East, specializing in issues of public diplomacy.
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