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Neocon Accused of Misquoting Iran’s Leader to Push Case for Invasion

November 21, 2007 by  


Norman Podhoretz meets President Bush.

Courtesy Nick Juliano

Published: Monday November 19, 2007–One of the country’s most prominent neoconservative pundits has been accused of using a fabricated quote from Iran’s supreme religious leader in pushing his argument that a US invasion is the only recourse to deter that country’s nuclear ambitions.

Norman Podhoretz is among the most vocal in urging President Bush to bomb Iran, and he has predicted the president will launch an attack before his term is up. Podhoretz’s argument is based on his belief that a nuclear-armed Iran would not be deterred from launching its missiles because its leaders do not fear their country’s destruction.

The Economist has called into question an oft-cited statement Podhoretz attributes to Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, saying it is likely “bogus.”

Podhoretz, a prominent adviser to Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani, is unbowed in his push for war, and he says he accurately quoted Khomeini saying the following:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

The Economist quotes Shaul Bakhash, a Middle East scholar at George Mason University, who thoroughly researched the alleged quotation, which was first cited by Iranian journalist Amir Taheri. Bakhash could find no evidence that those words ever crossed the Ayatollah’s lips.

“This research, I think, clearly establishes that the alleged quotation is a fabrication,” Bakhash writes in a private newsletter for Gulf experts. The scholar searched the Library of Congress, a database of Farsi-language holdings at libraries worldwide, books published in Iran and a “presumably comprehensive” database of Khomeini’s “statements, speeches, fatwas, etc.” and could not find the quotation Podhoretz and other Iran hawks are so fond of.

Andrew Sullivan, blogging at The Atlantic, jumps at the chance to undercut Podhoretz’s apparent misquotation.

“One should not expect intellectual honesty from Norman Podhoretz. … So I have no hope he will respond to this post at the Economist,” Sullivan writes.

Podhoretz shoots back, accusing Sullivan of “shrill hysteria” and relying on his original source to back up the quote’s validity. Taheri tells Podhoretz that the quote appeared in “Paymaha va Sokhanraniyha-yi Imam Khomeini (“Messages and Speeches of Imam Khomeini”) published by Nur Research and Publication Institute (Tehran, 1981).”

“The quote, along with many other passages, disappeared from several subsequent editions as the Islamic Republic tried to mobilize nationalistic feelings against Iraq, which had invaded Iran in 1980,” Taheri writes. “The practice of editing and even censoring Khomeini to suit the circumstances is widely known by Iranian scholars.”

To Podhoretz, this is all the proof he needs that the Khomeini quote is accurate; he further pushes back against claims from the Economist that another quote from former Iranian President Rafsanjani is inaccurate. But even the quotes are inaccurate the case for war against Iran remains, he argues.

“Since the case I make … rests on much more than the two quotations from Khomeini and Rafsanjani,” he says, “it would still stand even if those quotations were in fact ‘bogus’ or ‘fabricated.’”

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