By Sophie Baron
Ata’ollah Mohajerani, former regime minister of culture and Islamic guidance, who wrote a book in defense of Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa calling for the death of Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, now resides in London. His book, A Critique of the Satanic Verses Conspiracy, claimed that the “west” was promoting Rushdie to “harm Islam” and used the Koran and hadith to justify Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder. “Salman Rushdie has openly confessed to being a kaffir [unbeliever] in The Jaguar Smile [Rushdie’s first non-fiction book] and he has insulted the beliefs of the Muslims and the Prophet Mohammad… He was born in a Muslim family and is thus a fetri mortad [a Muslim who chooses leaves his religion] and the punishment for such a person, especially after insulting the Prophet Mohammad, is execution,” Mohajerani had written.
Mohajerani also used as an example the case of Kaab bin Ashraf, a Jewish merchant in seventh-century Arabia “who had written romantic and sexual poetry” about Mohammad’s wives and was murdered by Muslims with the permission of the prophet.
Mohajerani has been in the UK since 2004, when he had to leave Iran after an affair that led to a criminal charge, and it is unknown whether he is now a British citizen or if he only holds a long-term visa. He has never shown any remorse for his book.
“There is no question that what he [Mohajerani] has written is nothing short of incitement to murder,” Kaveh Moussavi, an Oxford human rights lawyer, said in an interview with reformist website IranWire. “His explicit exhortation to the faithful to commit murder is crystal clear in the book. He does not pull his punches and repeatedly states that it is the duty of all Muslims to murder Rushdie.”
Moussavi, a former judge at the International Criminal Court, further stated that the “crime was not committed in the UK” and that incitement to murder “is, sadly, not as yet a universal crime and not subject to universal jurisdiction and as such can’t be prosecuted here in the UK.”
If Mohajerani continues to incite violence, however, a case could be opened, Moussavi added.
The regime has never revoked the fatwa on Rushdie, their position being that a fatwa can only be removed by the person who issued it, and with Khomeini being dead, his orders can not be overturned. Khomeini had also permitted Muslims to pay others to kill Rushie, and a foundation controlled by the regime supreme leader’s office, the 15th of Khordad Foundation, continues to offer a $3.3 million prize for Rushdie’s assassination. The foundation’s head, Hasan Sanei, recently confirmed the prize offer remains valid.
Mohajerani was with the regime from its birth. He led demonstrations at the University of Shiraz in 1978 as a 25 year old student. After February 1979, he wrote inflammatory articles for a publication called Valfajr attacking the provisional, “liberal” prime minister, Mehdi Bazargan. Mohajerani was a Majles deputy from 1980-1984, and then worked as an aide to prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The reformist president Mohammad Khatami appointed him minister of Islamic guidance in 1997. At that time, he proudly recounted how he had written his 250 page anti-Rushdie book in 40 days, only sleeping 30 minutes a day.
A self-styled intellectual, Mohajerani earned a PhD in history from the University of Tehran, wrote several books, and was a columnist for the major newspaper Etelaat. Despite his expressed violent feelings against non-Islamic cultures, Khatami chose him to head the International Center for the Dialogue Of Civilizations in 2001.
Like many other old guard Khomeiniists, Mohajerani claimed to moderate his politics in later years, in 2001 praising Bazargan as someone who “was ahead of his time and was misunderstood by his contemporaries,” while never expressing remorse or regret for his previous words and actions.
In 2004, Mohajerani was arrested and then released on bail after a woman who alleged he had lied to her about turning their sigheh, “temporary marriage,” into a permanent one brought a complaint against him.
Even in exile, Mohajerani has continued to oppose Rushdie. In 2007, when the author was knighted, he wrote an op-ed denouncing the UK as “a strange land with a government that acts strange….. How can Rushdie be considered a servant to literature due to the nastiest slurs he has spoken against Prophet Mohammad, Abraham and Prophet Mohammad’s wives?”
Mohajerani is currently a regular commentator on BBC Persian television, often speaking against Israel. Despite his support of the Tehran regime, Mohajerani also had a good relationship with Saudi institutions, and is a member of the Board of Directors of KAICIID, the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.
In 2015, Wikileaks revealed a letter sent by Mohajerani to the Saudi Embassy in London asking the embassy to finance his son’s studies at Warwick University. Mohajerani’s wife, Jamileh Kadivar, called the letter a “Zionist fabrication.”
In 2013, after Hassan Rouhani became regime president, his Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance rehung a portrait of Mohajerani on the wall of the ministry that had been previously taken down.