In February 1989, Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, ordering and legitimizing the killing of author Salman Rushdie. Khomeini even rejected the possibility of Rushdie’s repentance, saying: “Even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and wealth, to send him to the lowest depths (of hellfire).”
In 2017, the current Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reiterated that Khomeini’s fatwa remained wholly in force and was in no way nullified by the passage of time, underlining that this issue — vilifying Rushdie and likeminded authors as unbelievers and ordering or legitimizing their killing — was central to the Iranian theocratic elite and had no time limit.
On Aug. 12, Rushdie was stabbed several times while preparing to deliver a speech at a literary event in New York. He was rushed to hospital fighting for his life. Reports suggest that the alleged perpetrator, a 24-year-old American man of Lebanese descent, was recruited by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The attempt to kill Rushdie, perpetrated more than three decades after Khomeini’s fatwa by a man not even born at the time, raises several questions, scenarios and significant points that should be examined.
First, the shocking attack demonstrates the systematic nature of the Iranian regime’s terrorism and the existence of terrorist sleeper cells that become operational whenever required by Tehran. This issue is not confined to the attempt on Rushdie’s life. Other examples include the recently uncovered plot to assassinate John Bolton, former US national security adviser to the Trump administration. This plot was discovered, in turn, by US security services after they detained a suspect involved in an attempt to kidnap or kill Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, a critic of the Iranian regime’s policy now living in the US. Other reports have emerged that Mike Pompeo, former US secretary of state under Trump, is also on Iran’s hit-list. All these reports confirm yet again that there are sleeper cells linked to Iran’s regime inside the US.
Additionally, there is no shortage of previous assassination attempts and plots by Iran’s henchmen, such as the attempt on the life of Adel Al-Jubeir, now Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs minister, while he was serving as the Kingdom’s ambassador to the US in 2011.
Iran has also targeted Iranian dissidents on European soil and elsewhere. In 2019, Iranian scientist Masoud Molavi Vardanjani was killed in Istanbul after threatening to expose corruption among Iranian officials, including senior military leaders. Turkish authorities subsequently arrested a diplomat at the Iranian consulate in connection with the murder. In June this year, Mohammad Baqir Muradi, a dissident Iranian journalist based in Turkey, disappeared.
As these cases and many others not mentioned here make it abundantly clear, the killing of dissidents or anyone who displeases Iran’s leadership is so common as to be standard policy for the regime and its religious elite, which employ religious edicts and straightforward sectarianism for their personal benefit.
Another aspect worth highlighting is the passivity of the West in the face of Iranian terrorism. Given the tools deployed by Western countries to combat other terrorist acts, including the use of drones in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria to target the leaders of terror outfits, this indifference toward Iran’s no less odious terrorism is frankly incomprehensible. Meanwhile, these same Western countries pay no heed to Iranian terrorism and the organizations linked to the IRGC, despite many of these groups being present on the US terror list.
Iran’s regime has its own perspective, repeatedly disseminating a narrative in which US opponents of the 2015 nuclear deal, particularly the Israeli lobby, are to blame for the murder attempt on Rushdie and the plot against Bolton. The tenuous plausibility of this narrative was short-lived due to the Iranian religious elite’s joy over and celebration of the assassination attempt. The targeting of Rushdie was a source of pride for Iranian officials and media outlets. They justified the attack and blamed the author for what happened to him, claiming he has been exercising what they refer to as “cultural terrorism.”
Mostafa Mir-Salim, an Iranian MP and member of the Expediency Discernment Council, voiced support for the attack, saying: “The Western judicial system should be condemned because it postponed the trial of this apostate who insulted the Prophet and Qur’an for 33 years. Supporters of Rushdie should take admonition of his grisly end.” Moreover, Tehran’s Kayhan newspaper praised the attacker. “Congratulations to this brave man who is well aware of his religious obligation, and who attacked this apostate evildoer Salman Rushdie.” The newspaper added: “Let’s kiss the hands of the one who sliced the neck of God’s enemy with a knife.”
After Khomeini’s fatwa, the authority of upholding and executing sentences shifted from the executive and judicial apparatuses and the state’s governing bodies to the masses. However, approved mainstream Shiite jurisprudence delegates the authority to uphold and execute such religious edicts to the ruler or his deputy — not the public. This undoubtedly foments resentment, sedition, chaos, infighting, assassinations and terrorism.
Although Iran claims to be fighting against Daesh, its policy of assassinations and shifting judicial authority mirrors that of radical outfits, such as Daesh, that override and trample over the rule of law, and create a breeding ground for lawlessness and extremism. None of those murdered or targeted by Iran have enjoyed fair or independent trials. Iran has refused to hold fair and independent trials for its adversaries and dissidents at home. Instead, the regime has them killed while they are walking down the street or driving along a road, just as it did in the 1990s when it embarked on a long chain of murders against writers, journalists, clerics, and politicians affiliated with political reformists and opposition figures. The regime also routinely imprisons dissidents after unjust trials that often last only a few minutes and take place without basic legal rights.
It should be emphasized, no matter how obvious it seems, that the employment, politicization and delegation of authority to issue fatwas from the Hawza (religious seminary) to the state is unacceptable, as well as the delegation of authority to the masses to take judicial matters into their own hands. In addition to being a gross breach of international and legal norms, it is ludicrous to expect the rest of the world to accept the outcome of rulings issued in the form of fatwas by an Iranian supreme leader who believes in and seeks to achieve global domination at the expense of modern laws and constitutions.
In summary, it could be said that the free world has no choice but to accept the heavy responsibility to act finally and decisively in putting the brakes on Iran and its terrorist actions. The current deeply unsatisfactory approach of passively turning a blind eye clearly does not work and simply serves as a green light for Iran, and probably others, to use the same extremist model. Accordingly, the regime will continue to pursue this policy of assassinations, which will inevitably lead to escalating confrontations and clashes in different parts of the world, as extremism generates counter-extremism in a cycle of undeterred violence.
Source » arabnews