Lee Smith on the anti-nuclear “Fatwah” that no one seems to be able to find anywhere, but must exist somewhere, right?
Consider, for instance, the New York Times account of the anti-nuclear fatwa: “[S]ome analysts say that Ayatollah Khamenei’s denial of Iranian nuclear ambitions has to be seen as part of a Shiite historical concept called taqiyya, or religious dissembling. For centuries an oppressed minority within Islam, Shiites learned to conceal their sectarian identity to survive, and so there is a precedent for lying to protect the Shiite community.”
Yes, taqiyya—or deceiving nonbelievers in order to protect yourself—is a significant concept in Shia Islam, but so what? If, say, a Shia burglar is caught with stolen goods in Brooklyn, and he tells the NYPD that he actually just found the TV and toaster, is he practicing taqiyya, or is he simply lying? When we’re dealing with Muslims and the Middle East, Americans have proven virtually incapable of seeing matters clearly. There’s always some exotic interpretation on offer when the more mundane explanation seems politically incorrect.
In effect, this country’s intellectual and political elite—including policymakers from the Bush and Obama Administrations—consistently entertain Orientalist conceits. The Muslim world, in their view, is a region of surpassing strangeness that can only be comprehended, and even then only dimly, by familiarizing ourselves with alien concepts, like taqiyya and fatwas.
Similarly, we seem incapable of grasping how Muslim leaders are motivated by the sort of mundane desires that consume their Western counterparts, like power and wealth. No, that’s banal, and insufficiently Oriental. The Iranians don’t really care about becoming the hegemon in the oil-rich Persian Gulf and lording it over their Sunni Arab neighbors; all they’re really interested in is the return of the 12th imam. After all, they’re so different from us; they write fatwas!