Oberlin Prof Under Fire For Allegedly Supporting Fatwa Against Salman Rushdie Issues Denial

Mohammad Jafar Mahallati was Iran’s UN ambassador when the fatwa was issued. Says 1989 quote in Reuters that “all Islamic countries agree with Iran” was out of context: “I have simply condemned blasphemous statements that have harmed many hearts, whatsoever the source.”

Posted by Johanna Markind Wednesday, August 17, 2022 at 07:00am

In May of this year, the Jerusalem Post uncovered a 1989 Reuters report suggesting that Mohammad Jafar Mahallati supported Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa against author Salman Rushdie. Mahallati was then Iran’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations and is currently a Professor of Religion at Oberlin College.

According to the 2022 Jerusalem Post report, Mallahati was asked in 1989 about the fatwa and whether Khomeini had the right to put a bounty on someone’s head. As reported contemporaneously by Reuters, Mahallati responded:

I think all Islamic countries agree with Iran. All Islamic nations and countries agree with Iran that any blasphemous statement against sacred Islamic figures should be condemned.

I think that if Western countries really believe and respect freedom of speech, therefore they should also respect our freedom of speech. We certainly use that right in order to express ourselves, our religious beliefs, in the case of any blasphemous statement against sacred Islamic figures.

Rushdie was stabbed multiple times in a barbaric attack on August 12, 2022, and remains hospitalized with reportedly life-altering injuries.

Khomeini issued the fatwa in 1989 after claiming Rushdie’s 1988 novel Satanic Verses was blasphemous. Declaring Rushdie an apostate, Khomeini’s ruling was a death warrant legitimating the murder of Rushdie and of all the book’s editors and publishers. Since then, at least one of the book’s translators has been murdered, others attacked and injured, and in Turkey at least 37 people were killed in a fire evidently targeting the Turkish translator. The price on Rushdie’s head is currently worth about $3.3 million.

In response to LIF’s inquiry, Mahallati did not deny making the above comments but claimed they’ve been taken out of context. Mahallati’s response, in full, was as follows:

Dear Johanna

Greetings! Thank you for asking the question before wrongful judgment about my position on this unfortunate episode and an out of context quotation from me more than 30 years ago. I am and have been fundamentally and strongly opposed to any physical or verbal violence against human beings, against people’s sacred beliefs and against harmless institutions. By implication, I do not believe in an absolute freedom of speech if it is abused to harm an individual or a group of people verbally or physically. I believe it is very unfortunate that an absolutist view of the “freedom of speech” has mutually harmed a large number of Muslims and Mr. Rushdi himself.

Again, I cannot find myself in any agreement with physical or verbal violence whatsoever the context. Belief systems cannot provide an excuse for irresponsible and immoral use of pen or arms on all sides of human relations.

Presently or in the past, I have never supported any act of violence, but I have simply condemned blasphemous statements that have harmed many hearts, whatsoever the source. Therefore even in my misquoted statements there is NO support for ayatollah’s fatwa.

In case you are truly interested in my diplomatic or individual stance and record regarding violence, I invite you to look into my entire activity records in the UN Security Council in the year 1988 when I served in the United Nations. The year began with the murder of 5000 unfortunate Kurdish people with Chemical Weapons and I pressed the UN Security Council to issue TWO resolutions condemning the use of chemical weapons. I went beyond my mandate to push for peace between Iran and Iraq and managed to play a major role in the ceasefire. I convinced the Iranian government to accept the UN Human Rights Representative to visit Iran for a close enquiry about human rights, an unprecedented development since the Iranian revolution of 1979. I worked with the UN Security Council to condemn the downing of the Iranian passenger flight by an American missile which killed 299 unfortunate innocent passengers.

As you see above, that specific year was full of international violence and Mr. Rushdi’s episode was just one amongst many. So I consistently worked with the UN system to condemn all kinds of violence through historic resolutions. In the following 30 years of my academic career, I continued my stance against violence through my teachings and writings. I have produced more than 20 books in three languages on promoting global friendship, forgiveness, tolerance, gratitude and observing ethics even in wars.

In the face of these undeniable records, accusing me of supporting violence is more than a mistake.

I hope this is clear enough.


Jafar Mahallati

Mahallati’s current endorsement of non-violence is commendable, but readers may compare his current comments with the 1989 statement and form their own opinion as to whether his earlier statement supports violence.

The question Mahallati was answering, according to the 1989 Reuters report (as reported earlier this year by the Jerusalem Post), was whether Khomeini had the right to put a bounty on Rushdie’s head. A fair interpretation of his 1989 response is that calling for and committing violence against a ‘blasphemer’ are ‘expressive activities.’

Tragically, this Orwellian claim that murder is an “expressive” activity is what passes for received wisdom among today’s left, particularly at universities. To Islamists and the woke left, words are violence, and violence is speech.

Mahallati has also come under criticism over the past couple of years as reports surfaced that he helped cover up some of the Iranian regime’s crimes against humanity.

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