Mamoun Fandy doesn’t discuss the Koranic roots of taqiyya (3:28; 16:106), which make this something that is sometimes used by Sunnis as well as Shi’ites, and he seems to continue to be a bit naive about trusting Iran, but this is nevertheless an unusually full discussion of a concept that the mainstream media usually ignores or denies outright.
“The real reason Iran can’t be trusted: As they confront Iran’s nuclear aims, negotiators must mind the Shiite doctrine of deceit called ‘taqiyya,'” by Mamoun Fandy for the Christian Science Monitor, November 20 (thanks to Joseph):
Can Iran be trusted?
In Iran, the teachings of Shiite Islam govern all aspects of society. And taqiyya – dissimulation and concealment – is one of the key elements of the Shiite faith. While many outsiders are surprised by Iran’s concealment of its nuclear installations, those who study the Shiite faith and recognize the signs of taqiyya are not.
Many governments lie about strategic secrets, especially secrets about nuclear weapons. Witness Israel’s concealment of its nuclear capabilities. And former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping counseled his country to “hide its brightness” – for strategic reasons.
Iran’s approach to its nuclear ambitions, however, is a different form of deception and denial. Certainly states do not need a religious edict to lie or obfuscate. But it helps if a state has one already in place.
What can the West do?
Western negotiators must be mindful, not only of the technical side of Iran’s nuclear program, but the historical evolution of taqiyya. Such context sheds critical light on the insecurities of the Iranian regime and that of the Shiite community at large.
Taqiyya doesn’t mean the West should give up all negotiations with Iran, or that Iran can never be trusted. Tehran’s concealment is a means to an end: It wants nuclear weapons to provide security for the clerical regime and the Shiite community. So long as Iran feels threatened, it will deceive. But if the West can ease Tehran’s anxiety with strong assurances, then negotiations will be more truthful.
How a doctrine of deceit developed
Taqiyya requires the faithful to be deceitful at times of weakness. The history of Shiites in their conflict with Sunnis is a history of the downtrodden. They have been the underdogs in Islamic history, and have had to protect both their communities and their faith from being overrun by the more numerous Sunnis. Taqiyya emerged as a response.
Taqiyya offers a license to violate the strict rules of the faith in cases of extreme pressure or threat of extinction – something not unusual in Sunni-Shiite history. The doctrine allows dissimulation in the service of self-preservation, practiced by the faithful.