December 13, 2005
There is a current universal concern to understand Iran’s activities in the nuclear sphere and, at the same time, the declarations of the country’s president on the destruction of Israel. For the Western observer, these pose several difficult questions: How is it that the Iranians fail to hear the powerful voices demanding the termination of their nuclear program? How can they fail to see the progression of steps being taken against them? How can they fail to fear a fate similar to that of Saddam Hussein?
And if they do hear and see and understand all these developments, what is it that motivates them to persist in following this path in spite of their position which day by day becomes more problematic? And what motivates president Ahmadinajad of Iran, in such a complex situation, to voice declarations on “a world without Israel” and “the transfer of Israel to Europe”? Are these proclamations detached from Iran’s political situation in the world as related to its nuclear program? And, overall, how can one understand the Iranians at the present time?
The answers to all these questions are rather simple once we thoroughly understand the thinking of the Ayatollahs who have ruled Iran ever since Khumeinis’s revolution in 1979. To arrive at this understanding, we must preface an explanation of the Arabic concept Wilayat al-Faqih, meaning “Rule by the Man of the [true] Faith” and implying that the Man of Faith must dominate all areas of the life of the nation, including those without any apparent connection with religion, such as economics, foreign policy, research and development, health, education, finance, etc.
According to the principle of Wilayat al-Faqih, all these matters must be under the control of the Man of Faith in view of the fact that he enjoys divine illumination, granting him understanding of God’s ways in the world, whereby the Deity illuminates his path and guides his footsteps and his decisions. Thus, all decisions of the Man of Faith are correct, he is infallible, being endowed with ‘Isma (infallibility) which protects him from being in error and turns him into the perfect human being. It follows that all men, not only Moslems, must obey him and carry out his commands.
The idea of Wilayat al-Faqih became established in Iran with the Khumeini revolution of 1979. All proceedings in the country, in the internal as well as the external spheres, were shaped by this principle. In regard to the nuclear question, the Iranian logic is as follows: “If Allah gave us the ability to develop nuclear weapons, and if we decided that we must carry out this development, then this decision cannot be wrong, for Allah illuminates our path and guides us to the correct decision. The decision to proceed with the nuclear development is not our decision but a divine decision, our part being merely to carry it out. Were we to terminate the development of our nuclear capability, we would be guilty of violating a divine command.”
The Iranian Ayatollahs’ attitude toward the European and American pressure exerted against them is negative indeed. The Iranian constantly asks himself: “Who appointed these infidels to tell us what to do and what not to do? Since when have these defiled individuals the right to demand that we defy Allah’s decisions which we have accepted? By what right are they attempting, especially after having abandoned their own Christian faith, to impose their irreligious opinions upon us?”
And inasmuch as the diplomatic pressure exerted against Iran is not legitimate, Iran has every right to deceive the Europeans and Americans by whatever steps are necessary to conceal its nuclear program. This deception is not regarded as sinful, because the foreign pressure is directed against Allah and His decisions; thus Iran possesses a divine power of attorney to oppose their pressure in every way.
It is this utter disregard for the West, and in particular for Western demands directed against Iran, that prompted Ahmadinajad to make pronouncements which, as he well realizes, are in complete defiance of Western ethos. His latest declarations are directed against Israel which he regards as a European colony, an infidel implant in the heart of the Islamic world. He sees no difference between the establishment of Israel in violation of Allah’s decision and the anti-Iranian dictates which likewise oppose Allah’s commands. As a Shi’ite Moslem, he is obligated to do all in his power to eliminate the infidel Judeo-Christian presence in Palestine, just as it is his duty to do all that is necessary to build up the country’s power, seeing that Allah, in his grace and mercy, has endowed the Iranian Shi’ite Moslems with the ability to develop nuclear weapons.
In the Ayatollahs’ view, an Iran armed with nuclear weapons will be an instrument in Allah’s hand to impose Islam upon the entire world. And they, the Ayatollahs, have been chosen by Allah to carry out His mission.
To the Western mind, this Islamic logic is hard to comprehend, inasmuch as it brings Allah, His wishes and intentions, into the realm of political planning and into the very reactor of nuclear energy. The Iranian Ayatollah, for his part, cannot understand how correct decisions can be arrived at unless, at the helm of the pyramid of decision makers, Allah Himself is placed, speaking through the Koran and the oral tradition – the Hadith, as these sources are interpreted by the Faqih, the Man of Faith, (obviously of the Shi’ite persuasion). According to this approach, any decision opposed to Allah’s intent is null and void, is not legitimate and must not be followed. It should be borne in mind that there are indeed Shi’ite religious scholars who do not accept the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih, but the Iranians disregard their opinion.
This is the Iranian logic and this is what motivates the Ayatollahs at the present time. No negotiations, no pressure can change Allah’s decision as executed by the Ayatollahs. Unless the Western world succeeds in driving them to the brink of the abyss and threatens to push them beyond, will Allah authorize them to change their thinking. As yet another day goes by on which they succeed in pursuing their nuclear program is proof for them that Allah is still leading them on the correct path. How, otherwise, could it happen that they are progressing in their divine program?
Mordechai Kedar – Research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and lecturer in the department of Arabic Studies, Bar-Ilan University, Israel.