The President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, made remarks on Sunday that charged the Islamic world with repairing the negative image that Islam has come to have in much of the rest of the world. “It is our greatest duty today to correct the image of Islam in world public opinion,” he told a conference on Islamic unity, just before entering into a strong condemnation of Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorism and oppression.
“Did we ever think that, instead of enemies, an albeit small group from within the Islamic world using the language of Islam, would present it as the religion of killing, violence, whips, extortion and injustice?” Rouhani said.
That statement is worth parsing carefully.
The first three clauses, up to “using the language of Islam,” are intended to target his remarks at the Islamic State (ISIS). They suggest that this is a false interpretation of Islam, which is plausible, and that ISIS has advanced an interpretation that should be rejected by true Muslims.
Then we get to a list of things that are allegedly out of step with the true message of Islam: “killing, violence, whips, extortion and injustice.”
Each of these things is Iranian state policy, justified by appeals to Islam.
Killing: Iran executed over seven hundred people in 2014, up from over six hundred in 2013, and this year — 2015 — the United Nations expects Iran’s executions to top one thousand. The UN further added that the majority of Iran’s executions “violate international law.” This is because Iran executes children as well as non-violent offenders who commit violations of Iran’s interpretation of Islamic law through conduct such as adultery. It goes without saying that homosexuality is also a capital crime. Many of the executions are for drug crimes, which human rights activists charge is merely a cover for the execution of political dissidents. At least two thousand of the recently executed were political opponents of the regime.
Violence: In addition to the killing, Iran practices extreme judicial violence allegedly justified by appeals to Islamic sha’riah law. It has ordered the amputation of hands for thieves. It ordered the gouging out of both of a man’s eyes because he had accidentally blinded another man. Two prisoners were recently sentenced to the amputation of one hand plus one leg each. Once again the United Nations has been intensely critical of these practices, and points out that Iran has not kept its word to reform them according to previous diplomatic agreements. Iran also uses rape as a political weapon in its prisons. Sometimes, it orders women raped before their execution because Islamic law forbids executing virgins — and rather than forgo the execution, they add a rape to the sentence.
Whips: Two poets, both medical doctors, have been sentenced to more than a decade each in prison plus 99 lashes for shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex. Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousav were sentenced this week by an Iranian court. The harshness of their sentences is thought to be a reaction to the nuclear deal designed to dampen any hopes among the Iranian people that their society might open up. The use of whiplashes as a form of humiliating corporal punishment is currently in wide use by the Iranian regime in order to enforce its dire view of Islamic law. A group of young men and women were sentenced to be whipped for dancing to an American pop song. Iranian filmmaker Keywan Karimi was sentenced to 223 whiplashes for “insulting sanctities” in his work.
Extortion: Explaining why he had made no effort to win the freedom of American captives in Iran as a part of the recent nuclear ‘deal,’ American Secretary of State John F. Kerry said that he had made a decision “not to hold a nuclear agreement hostage to hostages.” These hostage-takings have been a feature of the regime from its very inception. The regime considers the day on which American hostages were taken at the embassy in 1979 to be a national holiday. The justification for these acts of extortion is that America is allegedly an enemy of Islam.
Injustice: As mentioned, a vast number of the executions of nonviolent Iranians is allegedly justified by their participation in the drug trade. Yet Iran’s own Praetorian guard, the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), is by far the leading figure in Iran’s narcotics industry. At least two thousand political dissidents have been executed by the Iranian government, many under cover of alleged violations of Iran’s draconian drug laws. The drug laws are also allegedly rooted in sha’riah according to Iran’s courts, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is supposedly extant for the purpose of realizing and institutionalizing an Islamic way of life. There could be no greater example of institutional injustice than the way it handles narcotics. It violates its own laws as a massive source of profit, while executing thousands on allegations of far smaller violations.
If Rouhani is serious about his words, he is in an excellent place to begin addressing the problem. Indeed, he is at the root of the problem.