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Alireza Sotakbar/ISNA/AP

Lie to me

In Islam it is expected

Issue: "Crackdown," July 18, 2009

Pity the broadcast journalists. Just this once. They bend earnestly forward to ask questions of the Iranian president, enunciating as though he were hard of hearing-Charlie Rose, Brian Williams, Scott Pelley, George Stephanopoulos, Mike Wallace-and he shreds them.

He says calmly that he is only interested in "the scientific approach" to whether or not the Holocaust happened. Returning question with question, he asks, "Did the Palestinians have anything to do with it?" and wonders why they must be "destroyed today under the pretext of the Holocaust."

To another he states, "I am not anti-Jewish at all," then goes on to explain that Israelis are not Jews ("but a bunch of corrupt criminals who abuse the name of Judaism"). Questioned about Iran's nuclear program, he says nuclear weapons are "outdated" and "useless" and asks (again, question for question) whether possessing nuclear weapons ever kept the Soviet Union from collapsing.

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When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes hash out of reality, he isn't only perfecting one of the wiles of a dictator. He's practicing his religion.

WikiIslam defines taqiyya as "sanctified hypocrisy." That's generous. At least a half dozen verses of the Quran instruct Muslims to practice deception, or to lie, when it serves the purposes of Islam. Taqiyya means "guard," as in guarding oneself against unbelievers, which can include lying to them or deceiving them. "We smile in the face of some people although our hearts curse them," according to authority Abu Al-Darda. In one passage (Sura 16: 106) Allah allows Muslims to go so far as to deny their faith when under "compulsion," as long their heart remains "firm in Faith."

The practice is so deeply embedded in Arab culture and the Muslim world that one has to wonder how Western leaders can negotiate with leaders like Ahmadinejad, steeped in taqiyya. "You go quickly to the bottom line, or the heart of the matter, or you ask for my gut reaction," a Pakistani friend once told me, "while we prefer to beat around the bush, to talk in circles, to redirect."

Daniel Shayesteh recently told me, "A Muslim cannot be a real Muslim if he does not use taqiyya." Shayesteh knows: Born in Iran, by age 9 he could recite the entire Quran in Arabic (Iranians speak Farsi, and just a fraction outside the clerics know Arabic). As a young man he joined Hezbollah and plotted against Westerners, but during an encounter with Iranian Christians in Turkey he became one. He says Iranian leaders are using taqiyya not only against the West but as a crowd-control device among their own people when they believe their religion is threatened.

In another prominent example a year ago, two members of Hamas pledged their support for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas over Hamas figures. They did it to win release from prison, which only Abbas could negotiate. Later, as one senior Hamas leader explained, "A Muslim is permitted to say things that oppose his beliefs in order to prevent damages or to be saved from death."

Examples are turning up in the West too, as so-called moderate Muslim groups put a gloss on the teaching of controversial topics like jihad. Even the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, whose senior analyst Dalia Mogahed has been appointed to the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, churn out data on "Islamaphobia" in the United States, angling Muslims as the next victimized minority. Such perceptions may be one factor that led President Obama to say on French television recently, "The United States is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world" (it ranks 38th) as his pretext for creating "a better dialogue." Obama also telegraphed his receptivity to the Muslim slant on history in his June speech in Cairo, when he referred to "the Holy Koran" and of coming to the region where Islam "was first revealed."

Christians are no strangers to practicing deliberate deceit. "Reverend Mother, I have sinned," says Sister Margaretta in The Sound of Music after removing the distributor cap from the SS car chasing the Von Trapp family. It's a light-hearted pointer to resistance movements where Christians have protected Jews, slaves, and other victims of authoritarian repression, and lied about it. But Christians are taught that bearing false witness-for good purpose or for ill-bears a cost sooner or later. Taqiyya, on the other hand, is a right that Muslims believe brings its own reward.
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