April 14, 2015


An ancient imam at the center of Iran nuclear deal (Mohamad Bazzi April 13, 2015, Reuters)

By using the phrase "heroic flexibility" -- and repeating it several times since -- Khamenei reached back into Shi'ite history to provide theological justification for the possibility of a rapprochement with Iran's Western adversaries.

After the 2013 speech, Iranian journalists worked to decode the reference. They found that in 1969, when Khamenei was a 30-year-old junior cleric, he had translated a book, Imam Hassan's Peace, from Arabic into Farsi. It told the story of Shi'ite Islam's second imam, Hassan, who in 661 reached a compromise with a rival Muslim leader that prevented a new war between the emerging Sunni and Shi'ite sects. Khamenei subtitled the book, The Most Splendid Heroic Flexibility in History.

Khamenei has often said that his political decisions are guided by examples from early Islamic history. So his use of "heroic flexibility" signaled that, in negotiations with the United States and five other world powers, he would be guided by the actions of Hassan.

By echoing the supreme leader's comments, Zarif encouraged other Iranian officials to support the deal. On April 3, a day after the tentative agreement was announced, most of Iran's Friday prayer leaders, who are appointed by Khamenei's office, praised the pact. Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, Tehran's main prayer leader, applauded the negotiators for hewing to Khamenei's directive. "They have followed the supreme leader's advice on heroic flexibility," Emami-Kashani said.

More broadly, Khamenei's comments reflect two historical paths within Shi'ism: one that emphasizes compromise, the other, rebellion and martyrdom. The two paths define Shi'ite history.

Posted by at April 14, 2015 7:55 AM

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