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It’s Just Like Ayatollah

November 20th, 2007 · No Comments

Last week, The Economist noted that Iran scholar Shaul Bakhash had come up blank in a search for one of Norman Podhoretz’s favorite Ayatollah Khomenei quotations:

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

Now, Podhoretz responds, saying that his own source, Amir Taheri, has both a citation and an explanation for Bakhash’s trouble in turning it up:

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).

If that’s true—and should Taheri prove unreliable on this point, it would not be the first time, but let’s suppose—then it seems to win Podhoretz the immediate point while undermining his larger argument. Because the broader question is whether Iran should be treated as a potentially suicidal nation run by apocalyptic madmen, or as an aggressive but ultimately familiar sort of antagonist, motivated by raison d’État and therefore deterrable. And if we’re looking for insight into that question, then the fact that Khomenei may have uttered the quotation given above in revolutionary days strikes me as far, far less significant than the fact that Iran’s “Khomeinist” government has since seen fit to toss it down the memory hole.

Tags: War