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Dr. Mordechai Kedar: Iran’s Culture of Deception Marks its Policies

The Shi'a religious tradition of pretending to be Sunni in order to avoid violent attack, even death, has resulted in a culture of deception which continues today, especially in Iran.
Mahmoud Agmadinejad tells Columbia University students "We don't have homosexuals in Iran," September 24, 2007.

Mahmoud Agmadinejad tells Columbia University students "We don't have homosexuals in Iran," September 24, 2007.
Photo Credit: Daniella Zalcman

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Since the dawn of Islamic history, the conflict between the Shi’a and the Sunna has been the axis around which public and political conduct in both sides has turned . The Shi’a challenged the legitimacy of the rule of the Sunni Caliphs, and in places under Shi’a control the Sunnis challenged their right to rule. The struggle was for “the whole jackpot” and when the government seized a person and suspected that he belonged to the other side, his fate was usually death.

Over the years the Sunna and the Shi’a developed different religious systems: the Shi’ite Qur’an includes two chapters which establish the Shi’ite claim to rule, while the Sunnis claim that these chapters are a forgery. The Hadith (the oral tradition that describes the words of Muhammad and how he related to various matters) of the Shi’a side glorifies and elevates Ali bin Abi Talib, the founder of Shi’a, and his right as well as that of his descendants to rule, while the Sunni Hadith represents the Shi’a in a totally negative light. The Shi’a and the Sunna differ from each other in theology, religious law, in the names of men and women, in the calendar, in traditions and customs, etc. The differences are so marked that there are many Sunnis who see Shi’a as a sort of heresy, and the Shi’ites see the Sunnis in a similar light.

Due to the political conflict and religious differences, it was very dangerous for a Shi’ite to live in a Sunni environment, and therefore in order to survive, Shi’a permitted its faithful to engage in taqiyya- concealment in order to survive – one of whose components is khud’a - deception. According to the principles of taqiyya, a Shi’a is permitted to pretend to be a Sunni, to pray like a Sunni, and to act in accordance with the Sunni calendar, as long as in his heart he continues wilaya - fidelity to Shi’a and its leaders.

Thus the Shi’ites became accustomed over the generations to pretense, deception, lying, and among many of them this phenomenon has become almost innate. They learn it from their parents, from the environment and from their social tradition. Lying does not affect the physiology among many Shi’ites and as a result, police departments in many parts of the world know that it is very difficult to detect a lie among Shi’ites by using a polygraph.

Political Ramifications

The culture of Shi’ite deception has been evident in recent years in a concrete way. The first Iranian emissaries who came to Lebanon in 1980, approximately one year after the Iranian Revolution, were represented as educators, teachers and counselors whose mission was cultural and religious only, and therefore the government of Lebanon agreed to their presence and their activities.

Today, looking back, it is clear that this was when the Revolutionary Guard – an actual army – began penetrating into Lebanon, taking control of the Bekaa Valley and establishing training bases where the military strength of Hizb’Allah, a party that has a militia with tens of thousands of missiles, was consolidated. Today there are many in Lebanon who regret that they fell into the trap of Iranian deception.

The most obvious political consequence of the Shi’ite culture of deception is the convoluted and devious manner in which Iran has been conducting contacts with the West regarding the nuclear plan for almost twenty years. The Iranians have violated every commitment that they have undertaken, including their commitment to the I.A.E.A.

They removed all signs of illegal activity, lately they cleared away the remnants of experiments that they conducted in military bases in Parchin, and they still do not permit the U.N. inspectors to visit these bases. The long and complicated negotiations that the Iranians have been conducting with the West have one specific goal – to gain time in order to progress in their military nuclear program. Today this is clear, and Europeans and Americans who have pinned their hopes on negotiations with the Iranians now admit that they have fallen victims to the ongoing Iranian deception.

The Lie Will be Exposed in the End

Recently the conference of the Non-Aligned Movement was held in Teheran. This gathering in Iran of leaders from dozens of states was intended to portray Iran as a well-liked and accepted state and an inseparable part of a large and important group of states, contrary to the image of the “pariah state” that it has in the West. Photographs of the embraces, kisses and handshakes of Ahmadinejad with the leaders of states who came in pilgrimage to him are intended to portray him as an accepted and popular leader, both to the Iranian public and to the Western observer.

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About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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7 Responses to “Dr. Mordechai Kedar: Iran’s Culture of Deception Marks its Policies”

  1. Charlie Hall says:

    Not to defend the Iranian regime, but non-Muslim societies engage in deceit as well. For example, during the Vietnam War, a fake commercial airline called Air America was set up to funnel arms to people who were supposed to be on our side. (Mel Gibson later starred in a movie about it.) There are many, many other such examples.

  2. Charlie Hall says:

    Not to defend the Iranian regime, but non-Muslim societies engage in deceit as well. For example, during the Vietnam War, a fake commercial airline called Air America was set up to funnel arms to people who were supposed to be on our side. (Mel Gibson later starred in a movie about it.) There are many, many other such examples.

  3. A big difference between a clanstine operation and what the Iranians are doing …..suppose you would consider all undercover ops by cia as deciet too!

  4. Charlie Hall says:

    The are by definition deceit!

    And it is a good thing that we have an agency that can carry out those kinds of operations (although Air America may not have been the best example as everyone knew what it was really up to).

    The Iranian regime is pure evil; I'm just not as sure as the Professor is that what he describes is at all unique to Shia Islam.

  5. Undercover is a form of deceit,used by cia,fib,sea, in the muslim world it is used to make treaties it has no intent on keeping,declarationd that it knows to be false act act,any means necessary to expand Islam is acceptable,but Iran takes that to a whole other level…

  6. Charlie Hall says:

    The US has made treaties it never intended to keep, particularly with American Indian nations. :(

  7. Brilliant. As an ex-Iranian, I know so well the culture of deceit, and of the need to lie about most facets of one's life out of politeness/desire to survive/desire to get ahead/just on principle, why give someone the truth when a lie will do? And of course, it's a GIVEN that everyone else and those in power are lying… of course, one cannot generalize, and some individuals are scrupulously honest, but all in all very true, and quite baffling for a western-educated person.

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