Al-Majlisi (d. 1699), the Khomeini of Safavid Iran
Earlier this week Professors Moshe Sharon and Benny Morris both opined solemnly about an inevitable Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. These two respected Israeli academicians, despite holding very disparate political views, also concurred on the moral justification for such pre-emptive action—the annihilationist threat to Israel posed by a Shi’ite Iranian regime gripped with an apocalyptic, Jew-hating fervor. The pillars of this continuous modern campaign of annihilationist antisemitism are the motifs from traditional Islamic Jew hatred, including, most significantly, Islamic eschatology. These deep-seated Islamic theological motifs are further conjoined to Holocaust denial, and the development of a nuclear weapons program intended expressly for Israel’s eradication.
At the outset of the 16th century, Iran’s Safavid rulers formally established Shi’a 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 Shi’ite clerical elite, continued for almost four centuries (although interrupted, between 1722-1795, during a period of [Sunni] Afghan invasion, and internecine struggle), through the later Qajar period (1795-1925), as characterized by the Persianophilic scholar E.G. Browne:
The Mujtahids and Mulla 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
These Shi’ite clerics emphasized the notion of the ritual uncleanliness (najis) of Jews, in particular (but also Christians, Zoroastrians, and others), as the cornerstone of inter-confessional relationships toward non-Muslims. The impact of this najis conception was already apparent to European visitors to Persia during the reign of the first Safavid Shah, Ismail I (1502-1524). The Portuguese traveler Tome Pires observed (between 1512-1515), “Sheikh Ismail…never spares the life of any Jew,” while another European travelogue notes, “…the great hatred (Ismail I) bears against the Jews…”
Mohammad Baqer Majlisi (d. 1699), the highest institutionalized clerical officer under both Shah Sulayman (1666-1694) and Shah Husayn (1694-1722), was perhaps the most influential cleric of the Safavid Shi’ite theocracy in Persia. Indeed, for a decade at the end of the 17th century Majlisi functioned as the de facto ruler of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini of his era. By design, he wrote many works in Persian to disseminate key aspects of the Shi’a ethos among ordinary persons, including the treatise, “Lightning Bolts Against the Jews.” In this treatise, Majlisi describes the standard humiliating requisites for non-Muslims living under the Shari’a, first and foremost, the blood ransom jizya, a poll-tax, based on Koran 9:29. He then enumerates six other restrictions relating to worship, housing, dress, transportation, and weapons (specifically, i.e., to render the dhimmis defenseless), before outlining the unique Shi’ite impurity or “najis” regulations. It is these latter najis prohibitions which lead Anthropology Professor Laurence Loeb (who studied and lived within the Jewish community of Southern Iran in the early 1970s) to observe, “Fear of pollution by Jews led to great excesses and peculiar behavior by Muslims.”
Far worse, the dehumanizing character of these popularized “impurity” regulations fomented recurring Muslim anti-Jewish violence—including pogroms and forced conversions, throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, which rendered areas of Iran Judenrein—as opposed to merely unpleasant, “odd behaviors” by individual Muslims towards Jews.
The so-called “Khomeini revolution,” which deposed the secular, Western oriented regime of Mohammad Reza Shah, was in reality a mere return to oppressive Shi’ite theocratic rule, the predominant form of Persian/Iranian governance since 1502. Khomeini’s views were the most influential in shaping the ideology of the revitalized Shi’ite theocracy, and his attitudes towards Jews (both before and after he assumed power) were particularly negative. Khomeini’s speeches and writings invoked a panoply of Judenhass motifs, including orthodox interpretations of sacralized Muslim texts (for e.g., describing the destruction of the Banu Qurayza), and the Shi’ite conception of najis. More ominously, Khomeini’s rhetoric blurred the distinction between Jews and Israelis, reiterated paranoid conspiracy theories about Jews (both within Persia/Iran, and beyond), and endorsed the annihilation of the Jewish State.
Since 1979, the restored Iranian theocracy—in parallel with returning, brutally, their small remnant Jewish community to a state of obsequious dhimmitude, through execution and intimidation—has always focused its obsessive anti-Jewish animus on the autonomous Jewish state of Israel. For current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the destruction of Israel is an openly avowed policy, driven by his eschatological beliefs. Mohammad Hassan Rahimian, representative of the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, summarized this annihilationist eschatology, redolent with Koranic Jew hatred (see Koran 5:82)—which pertains to Jews, generally, not “Zionists”—on November 16, 2006, stating: “The Jew is the most obstinate enemy (Koran 5:82) of the devout. And the main war will determine the destiny of mankind. . . . The reappearance of the Twelfth Imam will lead to a war between Israel and the Shia.”
Holocaust scholar Daniel Goldhagen has put forth the controversial argument that the Nazis melded centuries of annihilationist German Jew hatred to a state machinery capable of implementing the systematic mass murder of Jews. Citing the independent statements of Rafsanjani (from December 2001) and Ahmadinejad (from October 2005), Goldhagen, in a November 3, 2005 opinion editorial, cautioned,
Two Iranian presidents have now openly spoken about destroying Israel, with Ahmadinejad defiantly repeating his genocidal hopes again…despite the world’s condemnation of him.
Goldhagen’s visceral concern that “…it would be folly for the world to treat the Iranian leaders’ words as anything but an articulation of their intent,” remained oddly de-contextualized for an historian of antisemitism with his particular mindset. Yet four centuries of najis-inspired Jew hatred in Shi’ite Iran, accompanied by pogroms, forced conversions, and other less violent, but continuous forms of social and religious persecution—none of which are ever mentioned by Goldhagen—surely meets his own prior standard—regardless of its validity—of an established “annihilationist” mentality in Germany.
Irrespective of the controversy surrounding his earlier work on Nazi Germany, Goldhagen’s utter ignorance of Shi’ite Iran’s centuries old history of Jew hatred is pathognomonic of the current state of “scholarship” on Islamic antisemitism. Such ignorance may also explain the inability of our intellectual and policymaking elites to appreciate the prevalence and depth of support for such annihilationist views in contemporary Shi’ite Iran. Regardless, Iran must not be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, certainly now, under the current regime, and into the foreseeable future.
Today, Saturday July 19, 2008, despite optimistic expectations of “compromise”—which putatively justified the presence of United States Undersecretary of State William Burns at talks between diplomatic representatives of six world powers, and the Iranian regime—Keyvan Imani, a member of the Iranian delegation, expressing Teheran’s intransigence, made this brusque statement about his country’s uranium enrichment program: “Suspension—there is no chance for that.”
Earlier this week Professors Moshe Sharon and Benny Morris both opined solemnly about an inevitable Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. These two respected Israeli academicians, despite holding very disparate political views, also concurred on the moral justification for such pre-emptive action—the annihilationist threat to Israel posed by a Shi’ite Iranian regime gripped with an apocalyptic, Jew-hating fervor. While other Iranian officials simultaneously issued mendacious denials of the numerous unprovoked threats to destroy Israel by both Iran’s political and clerical leadership, on July 8, Ali Shirazi, Ayatollah Khameini’s representative in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps navy, warned against Israeli pre-emption:
The Iranian nation is a nation… that believes in jihad and self-sacrifice, and against such a nation warships and weapons are to no avail… Today, Iran’s military strength and capabilities have grown to such an extent that Iran cannot be disregarded in any regional or international balance of power… Tel Aviv (and the American warships in the Persian Gulf) would be the first targets to go up in flames as part of Iran’s crushing response.
The pillars of this continuous modern campaign of annihilationist antisemitism are the motifs from traditional Islamic Jew hatred, including, most significantly, Islamic eschatology. These deep-seated Islamic theological motifs are further conjoined to Holocaust denial, and the development of a nuclear weapons program intended expressly for Israel’s eradication.