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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

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.

One of the guests of honor was the president of Egypt, Muhammad Mursi. Though his reason for attending was to participate in the international conference, there were many who saw his presence as a sign of turning over a new leaf in regards to relations between Egypt and Iran, after they had been almost totally cut off since the Revolution of 1979, and the agreement between Israel and Egypt in March of that same year. The honor with which Mursi was received in Iran was also intended to create the image of bridging over the differences between the Sunna and the Shi’a, because he is one of the leaders of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran represents Shi’a Islam.

Having accepted the opportunity to speak before those present, Mursi of course thanked the host, Ahmadinejad, and the host state for holding the conference, however in his speech he vigorously attacked the regime in Syria, for fighting so viciously against its citizens and slaughtering tens of thousands of them during the past year and a half. It was clear to all that Mursi was referring specifically to the Sunni Muslim citizens, with whom he felt a strong Muslim identification. Mursi did not stop at attacking the Syrian government, and included in his criticism those who support the Syrian regime as well. To anyone who is familiar with the situation in Syria it is clear that he was referring to Iran.

It is important to note that Mursi did not fear the consequences of aiming such clear criticism toward his hosts, and from this it can be concluded that he felt sure enough of himself, his regime and his status to do this. His conduct towards his military people, whose chiefs he dismissed three weeks ago, proves this hypothesis. Undoubtedly, Mursi’s speech was intended for Arab ears, and was intended to place himself as an Arab leader who expresses the core sentiments of the Arab nation, watching with concern and rage what is happening in Syria.

The attack on Syria and the states that support it, however, was extremely upsetting to the hosts, who related quite foolishly to his speech. The translator who translated Mursi’s speech simultaneously to the Persians changed the word “Syria” to “Bahrain”, as if Mursi the Sunni is attacking the Sunni rulers of Bahrain who oppress the human rights of the Shi’ite citizens of Bahrain. The harsh criticism with which Mursi blasted the Syrian regime also underwent “improvement” in the official Persian translation. The Iranian translator also omitted from the president of Egypt’s speech the first caliphs, those of the “straight path”, who, according to the Shi’ites, stole the caliphate from Ali, and when Mursi spoke about the “Arab Spring” the translator called it the “Islamic Spring” instead.

This may seem strange to the Western reader, but in the context of the Shi’ite culture of deception this is not surprising, because even other official media such as the sties “Jahan News” and “Asr Iran” repeated the “improved” version of Mursi’s speech. The “Jahan News” site, which has close ties to the Iranian regime, even described Mursi’s speech as “strange and half-baked, radical and illogical regarding Syria.” No doubt, the translator and commentators on the speech reflect the official Iranian line, which is not interested in the truth of Mursi’s words, but rather in engineering the messages that are sent to the population of Iran according to the needs of the regime. It is important to note that Mursi did not at all mention Bahrain in his speech…

Several hours after the speech, the Arab media that discovered the deception began to gloat over the obvious fraud. The media of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, who are shaking with fear of the burgeoning Iranian strength, exceeded all others. The Bahraini Department of State summoned the Iranian chargé d’affaires in Manama, the capital of Bahrain to protest the false translation of Mursi’s speech and demanded an apology from the Iranian government. But Egypt is restraining itself, and it seems that Mursi is waiting for the right moment to slap the Iranians with an accusation of fraud.

But there is one thing that all of the Arab commentators agree on, whether explicitly or implicitly: the Iranian culture of deception is revealed for all to see, and the question that arises from this is: How is it possible to believe Iran when they claim again and again that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes? Is this statement any more believable than the fraudulent translation of a public speech? And what is really hidden beneath the turban that sits on the heads of the ayatollahs?

[Note: This article was originally entitled The Turbin Burns the head of a liar in reference to a saying originating from a Jewish folk tale, "The hat burns on the head of the thief." The Jewish saying means that a thief is ultimately his own worst accuser.]

Visit Dr. Mordechai Kedar’s blog, Middle East and Terrorism.

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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