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Providence and America

From Salman Rushdie to Charlie Hebdo

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Let’s get a few things straight: The slaughter of eight satirical journalists in Paris last week was not a tragedy. It was an atrocity. And while you may have been shocked by the attack on Charlie Hebdo,anyone who was surprised has not been paying close attention to the events unfolding over recent decades.


In 1989, ten years after the start of Iran’s Islamic Revolution – always intended as a global revolution -- Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini began to set down the Islamic laws he expected both Muslims and non-Muslims to follow – not just in Iran but everywhere on Earth. He forbade criticism of the Koran and the Prophet and issued a fatwa calling for the execution of Salman Rushdie, a British subject, for having written a novel that, in his eyes, was “against Islam.”

European leaders had a choice: They could have stated forcefully that no foreign leader -- religious or political or, in this case, both – would be permitted to restrict European freedoms. They could have conveyed that message by suspending diplomatic relations, imposing economic sanctions or threatening military action. Instead, they advised Mr. Rushdie to lay low and employ bodyguards.

Such fecklessness soon became routine. To take but one example: A year ago, the 32-year-old Iranian poet, Hashem Shaabani, a member of Iran’s Arab minority, was hanged. He had not mocked Mohammad or made fun of the Koran. Indeed, it is not clear what he did to incur the ire of Iran’s rulers. All we know is that he was found guilty of Moharebeh: war against God, as well as “sowing corruption on earth.” We also know that his death sentence was approved by Iran’s president, the “moderate” Hassan Rouhani.

Though some human rights organizations issued strongly worded statements, Western apologists for the clerical regime were unmoved. Nor did Western diplomats revise their approach to Iran, their ardent quest to achieve détente with the Islamic Republic. Within months, President Obama was expressing confidence that “Iran can play a constructive role” in regard to the conflict in Iraq.


And, as I write this, Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian is rotting in an Iranian prison. Incarcerated since July, “the specifics of the charges are still unknown,” according to the Post. He has been denied access to an attorney and to diplomats representing American interests. What impact do you think his imprisonment is having on other Western journalists in Iran, on their ability to report without fear or favor?

There’s much more. And all of it should be weighing heavily on the minds of the members of the new Congress. A bill to be introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (a Democrat) and Sen. Mark Kirk (a Republican) would re-impose tough sanctions on Iran, if – and only if – Iranian intransigence continues to prevent progress in the long, drawn-out talks aimed at verifiably dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons program. President Obama does not want this legislation to appear on his desk and he is likely to issue a veto if it does – unless a supermajority in Congress is prepared to override him.

Congress also might consider the U.S. government’s negotiating track record over recent years. Talks aimed at stopping North Korea from developing nuclear weapons failed. The “reset” with Russia gave away much in return for little. Most recently, President Obama granted the Castro brothers the recognition they have long sought in exchange for nothing of significance. Iran’s negotiators do not expect to walk away from the table having achieved less for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.


The ubiquitous “Je suis Charlie” declarations and last Sunday’s “World Leaders March Against Terrorism” in Paris were heartening. Truth be told, however, any number of the leaders who participated are hostile to free speech and friendly to terrorists.

The massacre in Paris, like the continuing butchery in Nigeria, the “cleansing” of Christians from almost every corner of the Middle East, and the exterminationist war being waged against Israel, the only country in the region not ruled by Muslims – these are all dots that, when connected, form a bloodier picture of radical, revolutionary and supremacist Islam than any ever drawn by a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

In a not dissimilar context, Churchill said: “This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of the bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year, unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Will world leaders, the UN and the media take such a stand? Or, having shown solidarity on the streets of Paris for a day, will they revert to appeasement, prevarication, self-delusion and submission?

At the very least, the Charlie Hebdo attack should remind us how much damage can be done by even a small group of terrorists waging what they call a jihad. The Islamic Republic of Iran, designated by the U.S. government as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, identifies itself as a jihadi state -- dedicated, in the words of Ayatollah Khomeini, to “the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world.”


What will it mean if his successor, Ayatollah Khamenei, who continues to call America Islam’s “enemy,” achieves the capability to deploy nuclear weapons? That’s something members of the new Congress must now be considering – if they are paying close attention to the events unfolding in the world. 


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