The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) - updated 4/23/2012

Sheila Musaji

Posted Apr 23, 2012      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)

by Sheila Musaji

The U.S. State Department Office of International Religious Freedom has given MEMRI $200,000.  Here is the State Department notice about this

Office of International Religious Freedom Funds Middle East Media Research Institute Project
Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
August 11, 2011

The Department of States Office of International Religious Freedom in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor awarded a $200,000 grant to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) to conduct a project that documents anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and Holocaust glorification in the Middle East. This grant will enable MEMRI to expand its efforts to monitor the media, translate materials into ten languages, analyze trends in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial and glorification, and increase distribution of materials through its website and other outlets.

Through translations and research, MEMRI aims to inform and educate journalists, government leaders, academia, and the general public about trends in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in the Middle East and South Asia, thus generating awareness and response to these issues. MEMRI is a non-governmental organization based in Washington, DC, whose research is translated into ten languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Hebrew.

The Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism (SEAS) advocates U.S. policy on anti-Semitism both in the U.S. and internationally, developing and implementing policies and projects to support efforts to combat anti-Semitism. The Special Envoy was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, and is a part of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

The key questions are:  - what qualifications does this organization have to carry out such a project?  - Is MEMRI a non-biased organization?  - Is the U.S. State Department providing funding to help an Islamophobic organization to “increase distribution” of their materials on anti-Semitism problematic?

Their impartiality, and the accuracy of their translations have been questioned for many years.  This support for MEMRI comes on the heels of the White House release of a “New” Counter-terrorism Strategy.  In my article about the release of that strategy, I noted that there is a disturbing trend of relying on known Islamophobes for training and input on issues relating to Islam and Muslims. 

Some background on MEMRI

Brian Whitaker the Middle East Editor of The Guardian newspaper questioned MEMRI’s impartiality.  Whitaker said “My problem with MEMRI is that it poses as a research institute when it’s basically a propaganda operation. As with all propaganda, that involves a certain amount of dishonesty and deception. The items you translate are chosen largely to suit your political agenda. They are unrepresentative and give an unfair picture of the Arab media as a whole.”

Philip Weiss went through Breivik’s Manifesto and counted 23 references to MEMRI **

Juan Cole has questioned MEMRI’s translation of a bin Laden tape.

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London disputed MEMRI’s statements supposedly representing the words of Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. more here

A Le Monde Diplomatique article about MEMRI was titled Gained in translation: Propaganda that widens the Arab-West divide  with a subtitle of “Why the Middle East Media Research Institute is a source of English versions of Arabic texts that are designed to mislead and disinform.”

Jim Lobe asks “Did they really do due diligence on MEMRI?” in his article titled Fighting Anti-Semitism, Promoting Islamophobia

Here is the Right Web Backgrounder on MEMRI [Please see original article which contains many links]

In early March 2007, Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born psychiatrist living in the United States, spoke at the Secular Islam Summit held in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she said: “I don’t believe there is any difference between radical Islam and regular Islam.” At the summit, Sultan received an award in recognition of her outspoken criticism of some Islamic practices, which first gained her global fame in early 2006 when she debated Ibrahim Al-Khouli on Al Jazeera’s weekly discussion program The Opposite Direction. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) quickly translated the interview, which since it appeared on YouTube has reportedly been downloaded more than a million times. During the debate, Sultan said: “Only Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down their churches.” Al-Khouli responded to Sultan’s criticisms by calling her a “heretic” (see Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2007; and MEMRI Special Dispatch Series, No. 1107, March 7, 2006).

The Al Jazeera translation is an example of the role MEMRI has played in popularizing differing aspects of Islam, with some arguing that because of MEMRI the public has a chance to hear moderate voices in Islam. As one letter writer to Right Web News argued: MEMRI has “opened my eyes to the conflict within Islam regarding modernity vs. tradition; the reformists’ calls for democracy in all the Middle East states; the calls for women to be educated, protected from spousal abuse, and obtain equality before the law; the incisive self-criticism regarding the decline of Arab culture and importance; as well as the ugly anti-Semitic news (of which there is no Western counterpart) and the violence of sharia law” (see Right Web News, January 5, 2007).

Others, however, see a darker side to MEMRI’s work, arguing that the organization “cherry picks” the items it decides to translate, revealing a clear neoconservative-aligned bias. A case in point came in mid-June 2006, when discussions over the fate of Iran’s nuclear program were reaching fever pitch in Washington. MEMRI held an event on Capitol Hill titled “Must See Iran TV II.” The event, cosponsored by then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), was aimed at raising congressional awareness of Iran’s threatening posture toward the United States and its allies in the Middle East. The MEMRI presentation included translated clips from Iranian television that highlighted “themes associated with Iran’s nuclear aspirations, its acquisition of offensive weapons, anti-Americanism, and statements by leading Iranian government officials, including President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad,” according to an article in the New York Sun written by MEMRI Executive Director Steven Stalinsky (June 14, 2006).

Since its founding in 1998 as a 501(c)3 organization, MEMRI has been a key source of information on the Mideast region by providing what it calls “timely translations of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East.”

Its efforts, however, have been frequently criticized as providing a biased and distorted version of the region. In an op-ed for the Rocky Mountain News , Rima Barakat, a Denver-based Muslim activist, accused MEMRI of producing “unbalanced propaganda [that is] littered with inflammatory articles aimed to incite hate and bigotry toward any person whom MEMRI considers anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist” (March 27, 2006). MEMRI’s bias, claimed Barakat, is also apparent in its translations. In once instance, wrote Barakat, “Halim Barakat (no relation), a professor at Georgetown University, published an article in Al-Hayat Daily of London titled ‘The Wild Beast that Zionism Created: Self-Destruction.’ By the time MEMRI ‘translated’ it, the title had been distorted to ‘Jews Have Lost Their Humanity.’ Barakat objected, ‘Every time I wrote Zionism, MEMRI replaced the word by Jew or Judaism. They want to give the impression that I’m not criticizing Israeli policy, but that what I’m saying is anti-Semitic.’”

According to MEMRI—which maintains offices in Washington, Berlin, London, Tokyo, and Jerusalem—its main subjects of interest include jihad and terrorism, U.S. and Mideast politics, reform in the Arab and Muslim world, Arab-Israeli conflict, inter-Arab relations, economic studies, and Arab antisemitism. MEMRI’s slogan, “Bridging the Language Gap Between the Middle East and the West,” does not convey the institute’s stridently pro-Israel and anti-Arab political bias. MEMRI was previously more forthcoming about its political orientation in its self-description and in staff profiles on its website. But its website now offers no information about its staff, board of directors, or funding. Three weeks after September 11, 2001, MEMRI also deleted the following sentence from its “mission statement” on its “About Us” page: “In its research, the institute puts emphasis on the continuing relevance of Zionism to the Jewish people and to the state of Israel.” (See MEMRI’s “Mission Statement” page in the Web Archive, as well as “Media Myths: The Middle East Media Research Institute Is Objective and Independent,” Arab Media Watch, August 19, 2006.)

MEMRI’s founders, Meyrav Wurmser and Yigal Carmon, are both hardline pro-Israel ideologues aligned with Israel’s Likud party. Carmon is MEMRI’s president; Wurmser left her position as executive director in early 2002 to direct the Center of Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute . Stalinsky has been MEMRI’s executive director since Wurmser’s departure. Oliver Revell serves without compensation as a member of MEMRI’s board of directors, together with Carmon and Stalinsky. In 2001, MEMRI operated on a budget approaching $1.8 million, according to its 2001 tax year Form 990.

As an indirect result of 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terrorism” by the Bush administration, MEMRI has gained public prominence as a source of news and analysis about the Muslim world. Its translations and reports are distributed without charge, according to MEMRI, to “congresspersons, congressional staff, policy makers, journalists, academics, and interested parties.” Articles translated by MEMRI, as well as commentary by its own staff, are routinely cited in national media outlets in the United States, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. Analyses by MEMRI staff and officers are frequently published by right-wing and neoconservative media outlets such as National Review, Fox News, Commentary, and the Weekly Standard. Both critics and supporters of MEMRI note its increasing influence in shaping perceptions of the Middle East.

The background of MEMRI’s founders illuminates its political orientation. Yigal Carmon is a reserve colonel in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), having served in the IDF/Intelligence Branch from 1968 to 1988. In that capacity, Carmon, who was born in Romania, was acting head of the civil administration in the West Bank from 1977 to 1982. He served as counterterrorism adviser to premiers Shamir and Menachem Begin from 1988 to 1993. In 1991 and 1992 Carmon was a senior member of the Israeli delegation to peace negotiations with Syria in Madrid and Washington.

Meyrav Wurmser, an Israeli-born analyst of Mideast affairs, received her doctorate from George Washington University in Washington, DC, where she wrote on Zeev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky and the Revisionist Movement. According to Arab Media Watch , Jabotinsky “brokered the marriage between Zionism and fascism.” Wurmser, who has taught at Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Naval Academy, is a central figure in the right-wing’s web of Middle East policy institutes, as is her husband, David Wurmser. According to the Hudson Institute, “Through her work at MEMRI [she] helped to educate policymakers about the Palestinian Authority two-track approach to ‘negotiating peace’ with Israel: calling for peace in the English press and with Western policymakers while inciting hatred and violence through official Arab language media.” Before joining the George W. Bush administration as a State Department policy adviser under John Bolton, her husband was an American Enterprise Institute scholar and associate of the Middle East Forum.

Some current or former MEMRI staffers or contributors are Israelis, including Yotam Feldner, MEMRI’s director of media analysis. Like Carmon, Feldner worked in military intelligence while serving with the Israeli Defense Forces. Another MEMRI staff member, Aluma Solnik, also worked in military intelligence before joining MEMRI. Other MEMRI staffers come to the organization from various Zionist and Israeli organizations, including the World Zionist Organization.

MEMRI, which describes itself as “objective and independent,” has gained a reputation for cherry-picking the most virulent, anti-Israel, and anti-U.S. reports and commentary from the Arab media. Brian Whitaker of the Guardian observed: “Evidence from MEMRI’s website also casts doubt on its non-partisan status” (August 12, 2002). And a former CIA counterintelligence official, Vincent Cannistraro, said that “they [MEMRI] are selective and act as propagandists for their political point of view, which is the extreme-right of Likud ... They simply don’t present the whole picture” (quoted in Marc Perelman, “No Longer Obscure, MEMRI Translates the Arab World: But Detractors Say a Right-Wing Agenda Distorts Think-Tank’s Service to Journalists,” Forward, December 7, 2001). Ali Abunimah, vice president of the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network, cautions that there are sounder voices in the Arab and Muslim communities who try to challenge these kinds of statements, and that some of the language about Muslims and Arabs in the U.S. and Israeli press is equally vile. Yet, he added, “A lot of anti-Israeli sentiment is indeed mixed with anti-Semitic rhetoric imported from the West” (Public Eye, Summer 2002).

Although critics may be more concerned with the selectivity of MEMRI’s translations rather than their accuracy, instances of MEMRI’s political bias affecting the accuracy of its translations have on occasion been cited. The Guardian’s Whitaker took MEMRI’s president to task for mistranslating a question that included an implied criticism of Israel. The question was, “How do you deal with the Jews who are besieging Al Aqsa and are scattered around it?” But MEMRI translated this as: “How do you feel about the Jews?” (Guardian, January 28, 2003).

In another case, MEMRI reinterpreted and circulated a 2004 speech by Osama bin Laden in which, according to MEMRI, he threatened to attack individual U.S. states if they voted for George W. Bush. At the end of the speech, bin Laden says, “In conclusion, I tell you in truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaida. No. Your security is in your own hands. And every state [wilayah] that doesn’t play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.” MEMRI argued that bin Laden’s use of the word wilayah signified U.S. states, like New Jersey or New Hampshire. But Juan Cole, University of Michigan professor and noted blogger, had a different interpretation: “Bin Laden says that such a ‘state’ should not trifle with Muslims’ security. He cannot possibly mean that he thinks Rhode Island is in a position to do so. Nor can he be referring to which way a state votes, since he begins by saying that the security of Americans is not in the hands of Bush or Kerry. He has already dismissed them as equivalent and irrelevant, in and of themselves.” After observing that MEMRI is closely aligned with the policies of Israel’s Likud Party and opining that it “cleverly cherry-picks the vast Arabic press,” Cole added: “I am not suggesting that the MEMRI report was an attempt on behalf of the Likud Party to intervene in the U.S. election. I suspect they just didn’t think through the issue and depended on a surface reference to modern standard Arabic” (, November 2, 2004).

A few weeks after Cole posted his article about the bin Laden translation, MEMRI’s Yigal Carmon wrote a letter to Cole threatening to sue him if he didn’t “retract the false statements” Cole had allegedly made in his piece. “If you will not do so,” wrote Carmon, “we will be forced to pursue legal action against you personally and against the University of Michigan, which the article identifies you as an employee of. We hope this will not be necessary” (, November 23, 2004). Carmon took issue with Cole’s assertion that MEMRI received $60 million a year and with what he interpreted as Cole’s arguments that MEMRI was affiliated with the Likud Party and presented a biased picture of the Middle East.

Cole responded publicly, urging Carmon to reveal MEMRI’s budget and it funders: “I think [Carmon] would find that in democratic countries, in any case, a dispute over an organization’s level of funding would be laughed out of court as a basis for a libel action. In fact, I am giggling as I write this.” Regarding Carmon’s charge that he unfairly accused the group of cherry-picking the news, he wrote: “On more than one occasion I have seen, say, a bigoted Arabic article translated by MEMRI and when I went to the source on the web, found that it was on the same op-ed page with other, moderate articles arguing for tolerance. These latter were not translated.” As for Carmon’s last complaint, Cole said: “I did not allege that MEMRI or Col. Carmon are ‘affiliated’ with the Likud Party. What I said was that MEMRI functions as a PR campaign for Likud Party goals. Col. Carmon and Meyrav Wurmser, who run MEMRI, were both die-hard opponents of the Oslo peace process, and so ipso facto were identified with the Likud rejectionists on that central issue” (, November 23, 2004).

At the same time that MEMRI circulates inflammatory comments found in the Arab media, its hardline, pro-Likud positions are equally evident. Carmon says that MEMRI is eager to highlight the role of the “good guys” in the Middle East—the democrats, or near democrats; the liberals, or near liberals—anyone who evinces the slightest interest in reform. According to an adulatory report on MEMRI in the right-wing magazine National Review, “Independence and objectivity are matters of pride here. Staffers work virtually around the clock, with an almost missionary spirit, feeling that their work is vital, that their moment is now” (May 6, 2002).

According to the National Review, 250 donors—foundations and individuals—fund MEMRI’s activities. Among these private donors is the right-wing Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, which gave MEMRI $100,000 from 1999 to 2000. In 2001, the Randolph Foundation gave MEMRI $100,000, and in 2004 the John M. Olin Foundation gave $5,000, according to Media Transparency.

Eli Clifton reported about MEMRI

MEMRI describes itself as “bridging the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu-Pashtu media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East”.

Critics say the group is a propaganda outlet, and accuse it of mistranslation and overstating the prevalence of anti-Semitism in Middle East media.

“My problem with MEMRI is that it poses as a research institute when it’s basically a propaganda operation,” wrote the Middle East editor for The Guardian, Brian Whittaker, in an email debate with MEMRI President Yigal Carmon.

“As with all propaganda, that involves a certain amount of dishonesty and deception. The items you translate are chosen largely to suit your political agenda. They are unrepresentative and give an unfair picture of the Arab media as a whole.”

The executive director of StandWithUs, Roz Rothstein, responded to IPS, “MEMRI is used by every news publication on the planet. People don’t look at MEMRI as right-wing. It’s just verbatim Arabic translation. They’ve never been cited for inaccurate translation.”

In 2007, CNN correspondent Atika Shubert and Arabic translators accused MEMRI of mistranslating portions of a Palestinian children’s television programme.

“Media watchdog MEMRI translates one caller as saying - quote - ‘We will annihilate the Jews,”’ said Shubert. “But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says ‘The Jews are killing us.”’

Ali Gharib reports that

In 2006, Rima Barakat, a Palestinian and Muslim activist and one-time Republican candidate for the Colorado state assembly, wrote in the Rocky Mountain News:  “Halim Barakat (no relation), a professor at Georgetown University, published an article in Al-Hayat Daily of London titled “The wild beast that Zionism created: Self-destruction.” By the time MEMRI “translated” it, the title was distorted to “Jews have lost their humanity.” Barakat objected, “Every time I wrote Zionism, MEMRI replaced the word by Jew or Judaism. They want to give the impression that I’m not criticizing Israeli policy, but that what I’m saying is anti-Semitic.” It seems obvious that MEMRI is adamant on stigmatizing anyone who criticizes Israel and/or Zionism as being anti Jewish.

This week MEMRI released a report Shari’a Movement Struggles to Globalize Campaign for Islamizing Western World which focuses on Anjem Choudary, and Omar Bakri’s groups in the U.K.  The American Muslim has written about these lunatic extremist Muslims in the past, as have many other Muslim publications.  Mainstream Muslims consider them the Muslim lunatic fringe.  The conclusion of the report states

The global shari’a groups have succeeded in attracting the support of some Muslims for their cause and in grabbing some media attention, with members appearing on TV shows and in other media reports. However, it seems that so far, the attempt by radical Salafi circles in the U.K., led by Anjem Choudary, to globalize the campaign for the Islamization of Western countries has failed to gain momentum. This can be attributed to several reasons:

1)    Lack of support for this type of activity among respected scholars, even in radical and/or Salafi circles.

2)    Firm action on behalf of governments to monitor and stop inflammatory activities, i.e. France’s prevention of the demonstration against the niqab ban in April 2011.

3)    Questionable leadership, such as in the case of Shariah4usa, whose main activist is an ex-convict. Abu Imran of Shariah4belgium is wanted by the Moroccan government for drug-trafficking, while Sharia4australia is run by the Hitler-admiring Ibrahim Siddiq Conlon.

In spite of their relatively small presence on the ground, these groups should not be totally ignored. Their inflammatory rhetoric and support for global jihad represent vis-à-vis Muslim youth a potential stepping stone to active engagement in global jihad.

Exactly, they are a small group of disreputable idiots and must be countered however possible within the law.  That being said, why would the focus of this MEMRI report be on such a group?  There are certainly much bigger fish to fry.  And, because MEMRI maintains a veneer of respectability, what they write gets a lot of traction, expecially among the hard-core Islamophobes. 

For example, Pamela Geller reposted this MEMRI report on her site with this introduction MEMRI does an excellent report on the sweeping global movement to Islamicize the world and compel all peoples to live under Islamic law—the sharia (the imperialistic goal of Islam).  However, she did not reprint the entire report.  She stopped after the section “Links to the global jihad movement”, and did not include the conclusion.  This MEMRI report without that important information was then easily used as anti-Muslim propaganda.

UPDATE 8/29/2011

A report by the Center for American Progress, titled “Fear, Inc. The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” lists MEMRI as promoting Islamophobic propaganda in the USA through supplying selective translations that are relied upon by several organisations “to make the case that Islam is inherently violent and promotes extremism.”

UPDATE 3/30/2012

Rightweb has just published a backgrounder on Meyrav Wurmser, one of the founders of MEMRI.  The entire article is worth reading, but the first few paragraphs provide important information

Meyrav Wurmser, the Israeli-American director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the neoconservative Hudson institute, is a longtime proponent of hawkish views on the Middle East and, along with her husband David Wurmser (a Middle East adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney), a member of an elite clique of policy wonks who heavily influenced the George W. Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks.

In recent years, organizations linked to Wurmser have been particularly active in propagating a number of right-wing narratives about both Muslim majority countries and Muslims living in the United States. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an organization cofounded by Wurmser in 1998 that offers translations of Arabic, Farsi, and other Middle Eastern publications for Western audiences, has been accused of “cherry picking” sources and providing misleading translations that heighten the impression of anti-Semitic or anti-American rhetoric in the Middle East. The Center for American Progress has called MEMRI “the Islamophobia network’s go-to place for selective translations of Islamist rhetoric abroad.”

Wurmser has also sat on the board of advisers of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a right-wing “pro-Israel” lobbying group directed by Sarah Stern that is composed primarily of U.S. neoconservatives and former Israeli diplomats. The group made headlines in 2008 for working with the controversial Clarion Fund to coordinate the election-season distribution of Obsession, an anti-Islamic documentary that some observers describe as “‘hate propaganda’ which paints Muslims as violent extremists and, among other things, explicitly compares the threat posed by radical Islam to that of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.”[1]

UPDATE 4/23/2012

Prof. Juan Cole has just published an important article Yes, MEMRI, there is a Fatwa from Khamenei forbidding Nukes on the latest MEMRI misrepresentation:

I’m told that MEMRI, which has its origins in Israeli military intelligence, has put out a statement doubting that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ever issued a fatwa forbidding nuclear weapons.  (MEMRI claims to be a 501(c)3 non-profit but is actually an effort to cherry-pick Middle Eastern news to present the most negative face of the Arab world to Americans so as to prejudice them in favor of Israel; in this case it is just doing propaganda).

  A contributor has effectively answered this piece of disinformation.  This posting points out that the official IRNA news agency said in 2005,

“The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the Fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons.”

That this old posting has gone into the deep web and isn’t at the IRNA site is irrelevant.  The fatwa was announced by IRNA and has been repeatedly reaffirmed by Khamenei.

Here is the US government transcription, published in 2005, of the relevant portions of the IRNA publication of the official Iranian statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Interestingly, the statement points to hydrocarbon-fueled global warming as one reason for which countries such as Iran need to turn to nuclear energy production:

“Iran Issues Statement at IAEA Board of Governors Meeting
Corrected version: added additional material after IRNA update
Wednesday, August 10, 2005 T11:39:36Z
Journal Code: 2736 Language: ENGLISH Record Type: FULLTEXT
Document Type: FBIS Transcribed Text
Word Count: 1,962

Vienna, Aug 10, IRNA — Iran is a nuclear fuel cycle technology holder, a capability which is exclusively for peaceful purposes, a statement issued by the Islamic Republic at the emergency meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) read here Tuesday evening.

The Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued the fatwa (religious decree) that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that Iran shall never acquire these weapons, it added…

“Madam chair, colleagues…

“The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the fatwa that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office just recently, in his inaugural address reiterated that his government is against weapons of mass destruction and will only pursue nuclear activities in the peaceful domain. The leadership of Iran has pledged at the highest level that Iran will remain a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT and has placed the entire scope of its nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol, in addition to undertaking voluntary transparency measures with the agency that have even gone beyond the requirements of the agency’s safeguard system.

“Nuclear energy is expected to become once again a primary source of energy, with the rising demand for oil and gas and the ensuing increase in the prices, which incidentally can sharply accelerate for any political provocation. We should add to this the concerns about the environment, and the world will have no alternative but to revert back to nuclear energy, at least for decades to come… ”
(Description of Source: Tehran IRNA (Internet Version-WWW) in English — official state-run news agency) …

Note also that among the major followers of Khamenei’s fatwas are Shiites of South Lebanon, especially Hizbullah.  Hizbullah’s al-Manar news service carried on 13 April 2005 a repost of an item about official Iranian negotiator on nuclear issues, Hassan Rowhani, who met with the the Danish FM and:

“Rowhani stressed during his meeting with the Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller that obeying the fatwa of Khamenei ‘is more important for us than the articles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its additional protocol.’  He explained that the fatwa of the Guide forbids the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons, and that the fatwa is, in the Islamic Republic, an obligatory law.”

أكد روحاني خلال لقائه وزير الخارجية الدنماركي ستيغ مولر أن الأخذ بفتوى خامنئي «اكثر أهمية بالنسبة الينا من بنود معاهدة حظر انتشار الأسلحة النووية والبروتوكول الملحق بها». وأوضح روحاني أن فتوى المرشد تحرم إنتاج وتخزين واستخدام الأسلحة النووية، والفتوى في الجمهورية الإسلامية قانون ملزم.

As I said, the fatwa not only was issued, widely acknowledged by high officials of the Islamic Republic, and considered by them to be binding law, but it has been reaffirmed numerous times.  Here is an item from the conservative Iranian news agency Mehr dated April 11, 2012:

“The fatwa that the Supreme Leader has issued is the best guarantee that Iran will never seek to produce nuclear weapons, Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani said on Wednesday.

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that the production, stockpiling, and use of nuclear weapons are all haram (prohibited in Islam).”

I think the head of the Iranian judiciary knows a little bit better whether Khamenei issued a fatwa than does a project of Israeli military intelligence.

But let me just add that it is important to understand what a fatwa is.  In Islam the laity ask their clerics about how to follow Islamic law.  The cleric replies with a considered opinion on the purport of the law, which is called a fatwa.  In the Usuli school of Shiite Islam, deriving the law from the relevant sacred texts is achieved in part through the application to them of legal reasoning.  That is, the law in some senses inheres in the mind of the jurisprudent.  If he reconsiders a case and comes to a different, more mature conclusion later on, he is bound to reverse himself.  His followers are bound to follow his most recent conclusions.

A high-ranking cleric appointed as a jurisconsult to the state, who gives official fatwas, is called a mufti.  But any trained clerical jurisprudent can issue a fatwa.  (The system is virtually identical in Judaism, where rabbis answer the questions of the faithful about halakha or Jewish law with responsa.)

So a fatwa is not like an American law that has to be published in the Congressional Record and in official law books.  It is just the conclusion to which a cleric’s reasoning leads him, and which he makes known, even in a letter.  In Shiite Islam, laypersons who follow a particular ayatollah are bound by his fatwas.  When an ayatollah such as Khamenei delivers oral remarks in public, these have the force of a fatwa and are accepted as such by his followers.  That is, Khamenei’s recent statement forbidding nuclear weapons in a speech is in fact a fatwa:

“the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

There is another consideration.  Since Khamenei is not only an ayatollah but also the Supreme Leader, it may well be that this statement is actually more important than a fatwa.  It may be considered a hukm or decree of the Supreme Jurisprudent (Vali-yi Faqih), who is charged with setting the legal framework of the Islamic Republic in accordance with revealed Islamic law.  That may be what Rowhani meant when he told the Danes that the fatwa is a qanun or law.

(By the way, I wanted to say that my blog post refuting the charge by some analysts that Khamenei might be practicing ‘taqiyya’ or pious dissimulation was not intended as a slam against the NYT correspondent James Risen who reported that this argument was being made by some in the US intelligence community.  Mr. Risen was just doing his job in giving us a description of the debate.  He has done very brave reporting on, e.g. the Bush administration’s misuse of intelligence in the Iraq War, and has been targeted for legal reprisals by the government, and is admired by those of us who care about the integrity of US intelligence.  I was just trying to show that those government analysts who took the taqiyya argument seriously were mistaken.)





America’s Middle East Policy Think Tanks:  What Went Wrong?, Institute for Research on Middle East Policy

Another MEMRI attack on Qaradawi

Distorted MEMRI

MEMRI is propaganda machine, expert says

MEMRI lawsuit against Prof. Juan Cole

MEMRI plays let’s pretend MEMRI plays let’s pretend

MEMRI stitches up Azzam Tamimi

State Department Grants $200K To Discredited Neocon-Aligned Middle East Media Watchdog, Ali Gharib

State Department beneficiary, MEMRI, is dedicated to bringing Israeli ideas about Arab world and Iran into U.S. establishment, Philip Weiss

Wikipedia entry on MEMRI