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The Ayatollahs’ Final Solution? By: Andrew G. Bostom
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, July 05, 2004

There is burgeoning evidence of the Iranian mullahcracy’s steadfast pursuit of nuclear weapons1. Moreover, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, typically hailed as “moderate” or even a “progressive” by Western media and academic elites 2, has denounced U.S. and European Union demands that Iran sign an agreement to terminate such efforts, transparently and verifiably. Writing with informed candor and remarkable foresight, in March /April, 2002, Dr. Michael Rubin warned, 

“Nearly five years after his first election, Khatami has enacted few if any tangible reforms. Indeed, while many younger Iranians do enjoy some additional flexibility in dress, freedoms have actually declined under the Khatami administration.

Khatami has accomplished one important task, though. With a gentle face, soft rhetoric, and numerous trips abroad, Khatami has succeeded in softening the image of the Islamic Republic. No longer is Iran associated with waves of 14-year-olds running across minefields, nor do many Western academics and commentators dwell on Iran's export of terror, so long as Tehran keeps its assassination squads away from Europe. However, the fundamentals of the regime' behavior have not changed. Indeed, under Khatami, Iran has accelerated not only its drive for a nuclear capability, but also actively increased its pursuit of chemical and biological weapons, as well as long-range ballistic missiles.”3

Under continued pressure to be truthful about its nuclear activities and ambitions, Khatami has further suggested that Iran will withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.4 Regardless, Iran has just announced its intention to resume centrifuge production - a move that would facilitate the development of weapons grade nuclear material. 5 In light of these disturbing events, it is imperative to recall the “Al-Quds Day”, December 14, 2001 sermon of former Iranian President Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. During this “pious” address, Rafsanjani, who was also deemed a “moderate” while President, argued that nuclear weapons could solve the “Israel problem”, because, as he observed, “…the use of a nuclear bomb in Israel will leave nothing on the ground, whereas it will only damage the world of Islam” 6.

Visceral, even annihilationist animus towards Jews is a deep-rooted phenomenon in Shi’ite Iran, hardly unique to the contemporary post-Khomeini Shi’ite theocracy. The Safavid rulers, at the outset of the 16th century, formally established Shi’a Islam as the Persian state religion, while permitting a clerical hierarchy nearly unlimited control and influence over all aspects of public life.7 The profound influence of the Shi’ite clerical elite, continued for almost four centuries (although interrupted, between 1722-1795 8 ), through the later Qajar period, as characterized by the noted 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” 9


These Shi’ite clerics emphasized the notion of the ritual uncleanliness (najas) of Jews, in particular, but also Christians, Zoroastrians, and others, as the cornerstone of inter-confessional relationships toward non-Muslims.10 The impact of this najas 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”11, while another European travelogue notes, “…the great hatred (Ismail I) bears against the Jews…”12. During the reign of Shah Tahmasp I (d. 1576), the British merchant and traveler Anthony Jenkinson (a Christian), when finally granted an audience with the Shah,


“…was required to wear ‘basmackes’ (a kind of over-shoes), because being a giaour [infidel], it was thought he would contaminate the imperial precincts…when he was dismissed from the Shah’s presence, [Jenkinson stated] ‘after me followed a man with a basanet of sand, sifting all the way that I had gone within the said palace’- as though covering something unclean.”13


The latter part of the reign of Shah Abbas I (1588-1629) was marked by progressively increasing measures of anti-Jewish persecution, from the strict imposition of dress regulations, to the confiscation (and destruction) of Hebrew books and writings, culminating in the forced conversion of the Jews of Isfahan, the center of Persian Jewry.14 After a relatively brief respite under Shah Saf’i (1629-1642), the severe persecutions wrought by his successor Shah Abbas II (1642-1666), nearly extinguished the Jewish community outright. The pre-eminent historian of Persian Jewry, Walter Fischel, explains:


“Determined to purify the Persian soil from the ‘uncleanliness’ caused by the presence of non-believers (Jews and Christians in Isfahan) a group of fanatical Shi’ites obtained a decree from the young Shah Abbas II in 1656 which gave the Grand Vizier, I’timad ad-Daula, full power to force the Jews to become Muslims. In consequence, a wave of persecution swept over Isfahan and the other Jewish communities, a tragedy which can only be compared with the persecution of the Jews in Spain in the fifteenth century 15 …The sources 16 describe in great detail how the Jews of the capital were forced to abandon their religion, how the synagogues were closed.” 17


Mohammad Baqer Majlesi (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. By design, he wrote many works in Persian to disseminate key aspects of the Shi’a ethos among ordinary persons. His treatise, “Lightning Bolts Against the Jews”, was written in Persian, and despite its title, was actually an overall guideline to anti-dhimmi regulations for all non-Muslims within the Shi’ite theocracy. Al-Majlisi, in this treatise, 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 Qur’an 9:29. 18 He then enumerates six other restrictions 19 relating to worship, housing, dress, transportation, and weapons (specifically, i.e., to render the dhimmis defenseless), before outlining the unique Shi’ite impurity or “najas” regulations. It is these latter najas 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.”20 According to Al-Majlisi,


And, that they should not enter the pool while a Muslim is bathing at the public baths…It is also incumbent upon Muslims that they should not accept from them victuals with which they had come into contact, such as distillates , which cannot be purified.  In something can be purified, such as clothes, if they are dry, they can be accepted, they are clean.  But if they [the dhimmis] had come into contact with those cloths in moisture they should be rinsed with water after being obtained.  As for hide, or that which has been made of hide such as shoes and boots, and meat, whose religious cleanliness and lawfulness are conditional on the animal’s being slaughtered [according to the Shari’a], these may not be taken from them.  Similarly, liquids that have been preserved in skins, such as oils, grape syrup, [fruit] juices, myrobalan, and the like, if they have been put in skin containers or water skins, these should [also] not be accepted from them…It would also be better if the ruler of the Muslims would establish that all infidels could not move out of their homes on days when it rains or snows because they would make Muslims impure.”21


Far worse, the dehumanizing character of these popularized “impurity” regulations appears to have fomented recurring Muslim anti-Jewish violence, including pogroms and forced conversions, throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, as opposed to merely unpleasant, “odd behaviors” by individual Muslims towards Jews. Indeed, the oppression of Persian Jewry continued unabated, perhaps even intensifying, during both Safavid successors of  Shah Abbas II, Shah Sulayman (1666-1694), and Shah Husayn (1694-1722).22 Fischel highlights the prominent role played by the conception of najas in this sustained anti-dhimmi persecution:


“Day by day accounts of eyewitnesses establish beyond doubt how the notion of the ritual uncleanliness of the non-Muslims raged wildly all over the country, affecting Christians and Jews alike, and how the times of Shah Abbas II seem to have been revived.” 23


The overthrow of the Safavid dynasty was accompanied by an initial period of anarchy and rebellion.24A contemporary Jewish chronicler of these struggles, Babai ibn Farhad, lamented, “At a time when the Muhammadans fight amongst each other, how much less safe were the Jews”.25 However, beyond this early stage of instability, Fischel maintains,


“Only the downfall of the Safavid dynasty, through the successful invasion of the Afghans and the subsequent rise of a new tolerant [Sunni] ruler, Nadir Shah (1734-1747), saved the Jews of Isfahan and the Jews of Persia as a whole from complete annihilation.”26


The advent of the Qajar dynasty in 1795 marked a return to Shi’ite theocratic orthodoxy. Thus, according to Fischel,


“Since the religious and political foundations of the Qajar dynasty were but a continuation of those of the Safavids, the ‘law of apostasy’ and the notion of the ritual uncleanliness of the Jews remained the basis of the attitude toward the Jews.” 27


“The Jew being ritually unclean, had to be differentiated from the believer externally in every possible way. This became the decisive factor making the life of the Jews in the 19th century an uninterrupted sequence of persecution and oppression. They could not appear in public, much less perform their religious ceremonies, without being treated with scorn and contempt by the Muslim inhabitants of Persia.” 28


European travelers confirm that the najas conception was applied to Jews with fanatical rigidity throughout 19th century Persia. Rabbi David d’Beth Hillel, who traveled in Persia during the reign of Shah Fath Ali (1797-1834), provided these characterizations, based on personal experience:


“They (the Shi’ites) do not eat with anyone of another nation, even touching their bread and liquids or fresh fruits; they consider it as defiled and will never eat it…[It is their belief] that all the other nations are unclean, that no one who believes in Mohammad ought to be well acquainted with them and ought not to touch their victuals- and only to be acquainted with them in trade…[Arriving one night at a village near Bashaka] nobody would receive me into their houses for any money I offered them, saying that the house would be defiled by my coming in, because they knew me to be a Jew and the same night was a very cold one and abundance of snow had fallen and it was impossible to sleep in the street. After many supplications, I gave half a rupee to be allowed to sleep in a stable among their cattle” 29


Rabbi d’Beth Hillel also described incidences of violent persecutions, including murder and forced conversions, directed at Persian Jews in Urmia and Shiraz:


“[From Urmia, 1826] A Mohammedan child being missing, the Persians accused the Jews of having murdered him in order to use his blood for the coming Passover (which was, however, a full five months away). Consequently, they rounded up all the Jews and removed them to prison, with the exception of their chief [Rabbi], he being a very old man and much respected…His children, however, were taken prisoner. One of the Jews was hewn in two in the gate of the town and the others were nearly beaten to death.”

“[Forced conversions in Shiraz]…some years ago a number of Jews turned Mohammedan owing to great oppression from the Mohammedans. They are not, however, connected with them in marriage, but with their own people, and it is the same in many parts of Persia where Jews have become Mohammedan by reason of great oppression.” 30


Fischel offers these observations based on the narrative of d’Beth Hillel, and other confirmatory eyewitness accounts:


“Due to the persecution of their Moslem neighbors, many once flourishing communities entirely disappeared. Maragha, for example, ceased to be the seat of a Jewish community around 1800, when the Jews were driven out on account of a blood libel. Similarly, Tabriz, where over 50 Jewish families are supposed to have lived, became Judenrein towards the end of the 18th century through similar circumstances.” 31


“The peak of the forced elimination of Jewish communities occurred under Shah Mahmud (1834-48), during whose rule the Jewish population in Meshed, in eastern Persia, was forcibly converted, an event which not only remained unchallenged by Persian authorities, but also remained unknown and unnoticed by European Jews” 32


During the nearly 50 year reign (1848-1896) of Nasr ad-Din Shah, reform efforts to improve the plight of non-Muslims, in particular Jews, were opposed strenuously and effectively by the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy. Accordingly,


“Under Nasr ad-Din Jews continued to suffer, not only in consequence of the deep-rooted hatred against them and the conception of ritual uncleanliness, but also as a result of legal discrimination of a most severe nature. Thus the entire community of Jews was held responsible for crimes and misdemeanors committed by its individual members; the oath of a Jew was not received in a court of justice; a Jew converted to the Muslim religion could claim to be the sole inheritor of family property, to the exclusion of all relatives who had not changed their religion, thereby causing the greatest possible distress to those Jews who preferred death to apostasy. In many towns the Jew was prohibited from keeping a shop in the bazaars, while in addition to the legal taxes the local authorities levied arbitrary exactions on the Jews. Although the Jew had the nominal right of appeal to a superior court of justice he did not exercise that right because of the fear of vengeance of the lower tribunal. The life of a Jew was not protected by law, inasmuch as the murderer of a Jew could purchase immunity by payment of a fine.” 33


And despite a number of direct, hopeful meetings between the Shah and prominent European Jews and Jewish organizations throughout Western Europe in 1873, Fischel concludes,


‘The intervention of European Jewry in favor of their Persian brothers did not bring about the hoped-for improvement and scarcely lessened the persecution and suffering of the Jews after the return of the Shah from Europe.” 34


“After his visit to Europe Nasr ad-Din issued a number of decrees and firmans which brought about some social and administrative changes in favor of the Jews, but the government was apparently too weak to prevent the recurrence of public outbreaks against the Jews. Even the law which provided that a Jew who turned Muslim had the right to claim the entire property of his family, although abolished in Teheran in 1883, was still in force in some provinces in the Persian empire as a result of the opposition of the clergy. In 1888, a massacre of the Jews occurred in Isfahan and Shiraz, which brought about intervention and investigation of the British consulate.” 35


The reigns of Muzafar ad-Din Shah (1896-1907; following the assassination of Nasr ad-Din) , Shah Muhammad (1907-1909), and Shah Ahmad (1909-1925), included a nascent constitutional movement, which again aroused hopes for the elimination of religious oppression against Persian Jews and other non-Muslims. However,


“…neither the Jews nor the Armenian Christians or Parsee Zoroastrian minorities were yet permitted to send a deputy of their own group to parliament. At first the Jews were compelled to agree to be represented by a Muslim…Unfortunately, three months after the convening of Parliament Shah Muzaffar ad-din died, and under Shah Muhammad (1907-1909) the constitutional movement very quickly disappointed the high hopes which the liberal elements of the Muslims and the Jews in Persia had entertained. Anti-Jewish riots became common, particularly in Kermanshah in 1909…” 36


Reza Pahlavi’s spectacular rise to power in 1925 was accompanied by dramatic reforms, including secularization and westernization efforts, as well as a revitalization of Iran’s pre-Islamic spiritual and cultural heritage. 37 This profound sociopolitical transformation had very positive consequences for Iranian Jewry. Walter Fischel’s analysis from the late 1940s (published in 1950), along with Laurence Loeb’s complementary insights three decades

later, underscore the impact of the Pahlavis’ (i.e., Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah) reforms:


“In breaking the power of the Shia clergy, which for centuries had stood in the way of progress, he [Reza Shah] shaped a modernized and secularized state, freed almost entirely from the fetters of a once fanatical and powerful clergy” 38


“The rebirth of the Persian state and the manifold reforms implied therein tended also to create conditions more favorable to Jews. It enabled them to enjoy, along with the other citizens of Persia, that freedom and liberty which they had long been denied.” 39


The Pahlavi period…has been the most favorable era for Persian Jews since Parthian rule [175 B.C. to 226 C.E.]…the ‘Law of Apostasy’ was abrogated about 1930. While Reza Shah did prohibit political Zionism and condoned the execution of the popular liberal Jewish reformer Hayyim Effendi, his rule was on the whole, an era of new opportunities for the Persian Jew. Hostile outbreaks against the Jews have been prevented by the government. Jews are no longer legally barred from any profession. They are required to serve in the army and pay the same taxes as Muslims. The elimination of the face-veil removed a source of insult to Jewish women, who had been previously required have their faces uncovered; now all women are supposed to appear unveiled in public…Secular educations were available to Jewish girls as well as to boys, and, for the first time, Jews could become government-licensed teachers…Since the ascendance of Mohammad Reza Shah (Aryamehr) in 1941, the situation has further improved…Not only has the number of poor been reduced, but a new bourgeoisie is emerging…For the first time Jews are spending their money on cars, carpets, houses, travel, and clothing. Teheran has attracted provincial Jews in large numbers and has become the center of Iranian Jewish life…The Pahlavi era has seen vastly improved communications between Iranian Jewry and the rest of the world. Hundreds of boys and girls attend college and boarding school in the United States and Europe. Israeli emissaries come for periods of two years to teach in the Jewish schools…A small Jewish publication industry has arisen since 1925…Books on Jewish history, Zionism, the Hebrew language and classroom texts have since been published…On March 15, 1950, Iran extended de facto recognition to Israel. Relations with Israel are good and trade is growing.” 40


But Loeb concluded on this cautionary, sadly prescient note, in 1976, emphasizing the Jews tenuous status:


“Despite the favorable attitude of the government and the relative prosperity of the Jewish community, all Iranian Jews acknowledge the precarious nature of the present situation. There are still sporadic outbreaks against them because the Muslim clergy constantly berates Jews, inciting the masses who make no effort to hide their animosity towards the Jew. Most Jews express the belief that it is only the personal strength and goodwill of the Shah that protects them: that plus God’s intervention! If either should fail…” [emphasis added]. 41


The so-called “Khomeini revolution”, which deposed Mohammad Reza Shah, was in reality a mere return to oppressive Shi’ite theocratic rule, the predominant form of Persian/Iranian governance since 1502. Conditions for all non-Muslim religious minorities, particularly Bahais and Jews,  rapidly deteriorated. Historian David Littman recounts the Jews' immediate plight:


“In the months preceding the Shah’s departure on 16 January 1979, the religious minorities…were already beginning to feel insecure…Twenty thousand Jews left the country before the triumphant return of the Ayatollah Khomeini on 1 February…On 16 March, the honorary president of the Iranian Jewish community, Habib Elghanian, a wealthy businessman, was arrested and charged by an Islamic revolutionary tribunal with ‘corruption’ and ‘contacts with Israel and Zionism’; he was shot on 8 May.” 42


The writings and speeches of the most influential religious ideologues of this restored Shi’ite theocracy- including Khomeini himself- make apparent their seamless connection to the oppressive doctrines of their forbears in the Safavid and Qajar dynasties. For example, Sultanhussein Tabandeh, the leader of a Shi’ite Sufi order, wrote an “Islamic perspective” on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 43. According to Professor Eliz Sanasarian’s important analysis of religious minorities in the Islamic Republic, Tabandeh’s tract became “…the core ideological work upon which the Iranian government…based its non-Muslim policy.” 44 Tabandeh begins his discussion by lauding Shah Ismail I (1502-1524), the repressive and

bigoted 45 founder of the Safavid dynasty, as a champion “…of the oppressed”. 46 It is critical to understand that Tabandeh’s key views on non-Muslims, summarized below, were implemented “…almost verbatim in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” 47. In essence, Tabandeh simply reaffirms the sacralized inequality of non-Muslims relative to Muslims, under the Shari’a:


“Thus if [a] Muslim commits adultery his punishment is 100 lashes, the shaving of his head, and one year of banishment. But if the man is not a Muslim and commits adultery with a Muslim woman his penalty is execution…Similarly if a Muslim deliberately murders another Muslim he falls under the law of retaliation and must by law be put to death by the next of kin. But if a non-Muslim who dies at the hand of a Muslim has by lifelong habit been a non-Muslim, the penalty of death is not valid. Instead the Muslim murderer must pay a fine and be punished with the lash” 48


“Since Islam regards non-Muslims as on a lower level of belief and conviction, if a Muslim kills a non-Muslim…then his punishment must not be the retaliatory death, since the faith and conviction he possesses is loftier than that of the man slain…Again, the penalties of a non-Muslim guilty of fornication with a Muslim woman are augmented because, in addition to the crime against morality, social duty and religion, he has committed sacrilege, in that he has disgraced a Muslim and thereby cast scorn upon the Muslims in general, and so must be executed”. 49


“Islam and its peoples must be above the infidels, and never permit non-Muslims to acquire lordship over them. Since the marriage of a Muslim woman to an infidel husband (in accordance with the verse quoted: ‘Men are guardians form women’) means her subordination to an infidel, that fact makes the marriage void, because it does not obey the conditions laid down to make a contract valid. As the Sura (‘The Woman to be Examined’, LX v. 10) says: ‘Turn them not back to infidels: for they are not lawful unto infidels nor are infidels lawful unto them (i.e., in wedlock).” 50


And Sanasarian emphasizes the centrality of this notion of Islam’s superiority to all other faiths:


“…even the so-called moderate elements [in the Islamic Republic] believed in its truth. Mehdi Barzagan, an engineer by training and religiously devout by family line and personal practice, became the prime minister of the Provisional Government in 1979. He believed that man must have one of the monotheistic religions in order to battle selfishness, materialism, and communism. Yet the choice was not a difficult one. ‘Among monotheist religions, Zoroastrianism is obsolete, Judaism has bred materialism, and Christianity is dictated by its church. Islam is the only way out’. In this line of thinking, there is no recognition of Hindusim, Buddhism, Bahaism, or other religions” 51


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Andrew G. Bostom is a frequent contributor to Frontpage Magazine.com, and the author of The Legacy of Jihad, and the forthcoming The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism.

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