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Contentions

A Response to Andrew Sullivan

In my article “The Case for Bombing Iran” (COMMENTARY, June 2007), in my book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, and in various public appearances (including a televised debate with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek), I quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini as having said the following:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

My source for this statement was Amir Taheri, the prolific Iranian-born journalist now living in London, who has also contributed a number of articles to COMMENTARY. Now, however, the Economist, relying on another Iranian-born writer, Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University, has alleged on its blog “Democracy in America” that Khomeini never said any such thing. “Someone,” says Mr. Bakhash, “should inform Mr. Podhoretz he is citing a non-existent statement.”

That “someone” has turned out to be Andrew Sullivan in his widely read blog, “The Daily Dish.” Linking to the Economist post, Sullivan accuses me of intellectual dishonesty for failing to admit that I have made an “error” in relying on a “bogus quotation” to bolster my argument that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would not be deterred from using them by the fear of retaliation.

I do not usually bother responding to Sullivan’s frequent attacks on me, which are fueled by the same shrill hysteria that, as has often been pointed out, deforms most of what he “dishes” out on a daily basis. But in this case I have decided to respond because, by linking to a sober source like the Economist, he may for a change seem credible.

The Economist concludes its piece by challenging Amir Taheri to produce “the original source for this quote.” In response to a query from me, Mr. Taheri has now met that challenge. He writes:

The quote can be found in several editions of Khomeini’s speeches and messages. Here is one edition:

Paymaha va Sokhanraniyha-yi Imam Khomeini (“Messages and Speeches of Imam Khomeini”) published by Nur Research and Publication Institute (Tehran, 1981).

The quote, along with many other passages, disappeared from several subsequent editions as the Islamic Republic tried to mobilize nationalistic feelings against Iraq, which had invaded Iran in 1980.

The practice of editing and even censoring Khomeini to suit the circumstances is widely known by Iranian scholars. This is how Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, the Director of the Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland and a specialist in Islamic censorship, states the problem: “Khumayni’s [sic] speeches are regularly published in fresh editions wherein new selections are made, certain references deleted, and various adjustments introduced depending on the state’s current preoccupation” (Persian Studies in North America, 1994).

In any case, Mr. Taheri continues in his letter to me:

Your real argument is that Khomeini is not an Iranian nationalist but a pan-Islamist and thus would not have been affected by ordinary nationalistic considerations, including the safety of any “motherland.” This is known to Iranians as a matter of fact. Khomeini opposed the use of the words mellat (“nation”) and melli (“national”), replacing them with Ummat (“the Islamic community”) and ummati (“pertaining to the Islamic community”).

Thus, Majlis Shuray e Melli (“The National Consultative Assembly”) was renamed by Khomeini as Majlis Shuray Islami (“Islamic Consultative Assembly”). He also replaced the Iranian national insignia of Lion and Sun with a stylized calligraphy of the word Allah.

Thus, too, when he returned to Tehran after sixteen years of exile, Khomeini was asked by a French journalist, who had accompanied him on the Air France plane from Paris, what he felt. “Nothing,” the ayatollah replied. He then rejected the suggestion by his welcoming committee to kiss the soil of Iran. That would have been sherk, which means associating something with Allah, the gravest of sins in Islam.

Finally, Mr. Taheri rightly observes:

What is at issue here is the exact nature of the Khomeinist regime. Is it a nationalistic power pursuing the usual goals of nations? Or is it a messianic power with an eschatological ideology and the pretension to conquer the world on behalf of “The One and Only True Faith”?

Khomeini built a good part of his case against the Shah by claiming that the latter was trying to force Iranians to worship Iran rather than Allah. The theme remains a leitmotif of Khomeinists even today. . . . Those who try to portray this regime as just another opportunistic power with a quixotic tendency do a grave disservice to a proper understanding of the challenge that the world faces.

But this is not new. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot also had their apologists who saw them as “nationalists” with “legitimate grievances.”

So much for the allegation that the Khomeini quotation is “non-existent.” But there is another quotation I have cited repeatedly in the course of showing why Iran would not be deterred by the fear of retaliation. This one is a statement by the supposedly moderate former President Rafsanjani:

If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.

In chiding me for using this statement as well, all the Economist can come up with is the feeble objection that “some say Rafsanjani was misleadingly quoted.” Well, some also say that it is on the basis of a mistranslation that Ahmadinejad has been quoted as calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” It is true that Ahmadinejad’s declaration can be translated in other ways. Yet the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), in its own English edition, reported that “Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map.’”

Since the case I make both in my COMMENTARY article and in my book rests on much more than the two quotations from Khomeini and Rafsanjani, it would still stand even if those quotations were in fact “bogus” or “fabricated.” But the truth is that Khomeini and Rafsanjani did say what I said they said. Not that this will silence the growing number of foreign-policy establishmentarians who—having finally recognized that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be stopped by diplomacy and sanctions, but having ruled out military force even as a last resort—are now desperately trying to persuade us that “we can live” with an Iranian bomb. God help us all if the counsels of these apologists and appeasers disguised as “realists” should in the end prevail.



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