21 Sep 2011
Nuclear Fatwa: Religion and Politics in Iran’s Proliferation Strategy
by Michael Eisenstadt and Mehdi Khalaji
As the various threats posed by Iran’s nuclear efforts become increasingly clear to the international community, most published assessments of the regime’s strategy continue to overlook the role of religion. Because Iran is a theocracy, any attempt to fashion an effective policy toward its nuclear program must account for the religious values, beliefs, and doctrines that shape the country’s decisionmaking. In this Washington Institute report, Michael Eisenstadt and Mehdi Khalaji scrutinize popular assumptions regarding Ayatollah Khamenei’s longstanding fatwa banning nuclear weapons. Examining the process by which fatwas are issued and modified, they discuss the often contrary forces that could pull Tehran in unexpected directions as the nuclear program advances: the pragmatic doctrine of regime expediency, which often trumps religion, and the less-flexible doctrines of resistance and Shiite messianism that have been embraced by certain hardline factions.