Columbia Professors: Iranian Constitution Doesn't Call for Exporting Revolution
by Winfield Myers • Feb 13, 2015 at 7:20 pm
The extensive email exchange reproduced below stems from a September 16, 2014 discussion on "The Growing Divide Between the Sunni and Shia Worlds" held at New York University's Center for Dialogues, at which two Columbia University professors—Hossein Kamaly, an assistant professor in the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department of Barnard College, and Richard Bulliet, emeritus professor of Middle Eastern history—were asked if the Iranian constitution called for the spread of its Islamic revolution. Both men said it did not.
This piqued the interest of Richard Horowitz, an attorney who has lectured on terrorism related issues in eighteen countries, who emailed both professors and quoted from his 2010 World Policy Institute article, "A Detailed Analysis of Iran's Constitution," calling attention to the fact that:
Horowitz also noted that:
Between October 20, 2014 and January 6, 2015, Kamaly and Horowitz exchanged eight email messages. The correspondence ended with Kamaly conceding that the Iranian constitution does in fact call for the spread of the revolution, but denying that any terrorism is implied in these efforts (though not that Iran has exported terrorism). Bulliet never replied to Horowitz's repeated requests for comment.
The exchange illustrates a vice with which critics of higher education are familiar: professors are often impervious to outside criticism, as catalogued by Campus Watch at Setting the Record Straight and by CW founder Daniel Pipes at Getting Campus Watch Wrong and Backhanded Endorsements of Campus Watch. Rather than acknowledging the possibility of error, too many bristle at the thought of being corrected by non-academics, regardless of the latter's knowledge of a given subject. The guild mentality shows no signs of weakening.
Emails are reproduced by permission of Richard Horowitz; addresses are redacted.
On Mon, Oct 20, 2014 at 4:01 AM, Richard Horowitz wrote:
Dear Professors Bulliet and Kamaly:
It has been brought to my attention that at a panel discussion entitled The Growing Divides Between the Sunni and Shia Worlds held at New York University's Center for Dialogues on September 16, 2014 where you both participated, in response to a question from the floor about the Iranian constitution stating that Iran must spread its Islamic revolution, Professor Kamaly [NB: actually Bulliet] answered "I'm not aware of that, the Iranian constitution calling for the spread of revolution" and Professor Bulliet [NB: actually Kamaly] answered "No, that doesn't exist [in the constitution]."
I refer you to an article I published: A Detailed Analysis of Iran's Constitution, World Policy Institute (2010):
The preamble also states that Iran's Army and Revolutionary Guard "will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God's way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God's law throughout the world." The closing sentence of the Iranian constitution's preamble expresses "the hope that this century will witness the establishment of a universal holy government and the downfall of all others."
The constitution itself contains clauses explaining the duties of the government in achieving this goal.
My article contains citations from U.S. federal courts which found that the Iranian constitution indeed states Iran's intention to promote its Islamic revolution abroad.
Please advise if you maintain that the remarks attributed to either of you are inaccurate. Otherwise, I should expect that neither of you would repeat this erroneous assertion and that some point a correction of the record is in order.
From: Hossein Kamaly
Dear Mr. Horowitz,
Thank you for your email. I appreciate your kind attention to a remark I made and for providing a translation of parts of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Not placing myself in the unethical position of even trying to justify any of the heinous acts of the Islamic Republic, or any other state, I concur that under the pretext of exporting the Revolution, the Islamic Republic has perpetrated violence inside and outside Iran - not least against its own citizens. I believe I made that point clearly and explicitly in my presentation.
However, I would like to comment on the quotes you have provided.
Perhaps, as an attorney aware of the subtleties of language, you'd agree that "[creating] conditions conducive to the development of man in accordance with the noble and universal values of Islam" is not a literal call to violence. Neither is "[providing] the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution [i.e., changes for the better] at home and abroad." I'd appreciate if you'd correct me if I am wrong. If not, please acknowledge the point.
Also, rendering the Persianized Arabic phrase (jahad fi sabil-Allah or jahad dar rah-e khoda), which means "exerting effort in the path of God", into the bluntly militant "jihad in God's way" would be inaccurate. In order to clarify the many contexts in which the phrase is used let me bring to your attention that a hard-working husband, a good wife, and a conscientious student may all describe their actions as "exerting efforts in the path of God". This common usage of the phrase is a far cry from the sense conveyed in the translation you've cited. Moreover, wishing for "the establishment of a universal holy government and the downfall of all others" may be utterly naive but not necessarily sinister.
I try to repudiate and vitiate hateful and destructive reading and interpretation of religious principles. Calls to self-exertion on the part of God and messianic promises of a Godly order are among ideas that cannot be excised from many religious traditions, including Islam. It is a terrifying tragedy of our time that self-righteous state and non-state agents, including the Islamic Republic, have perverted those ideas. Can't we rescue religion from the hands of bigots? Shouldn't we try?
Insistence on a purely, primarily and exclusively warlike interpretation of jihad has led to enormous carnage. As responsible citizens I believe we all have a responsibility to stress alternative meanings - not least the many non-military interpretations of the concept found in the Islamic tradition.
On Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 1:34 AM, Richard Horowitz wrote:
Dear Professor Kamaly,
I appreciate your prompt reply to my email though I consider it wholly unresponsive to my question.
I note the simplicity of my question: did you and Professor Bulliet deny at the NYU seminar that Iran's constitution promotes the spread of the Islamic revolution? You did not answer this question allowing one to conclude that you both did state these denials. Writing "I concur that under the pretext of exporting the Revolution, the Islamic Republic has perpetrated violence inside and outside Iran" does not answer the question whether Iran's constitution promotes the spread of its revolution.
Instead of answering my question you presented your view on what sections of Iran's consitution mean, for example, as you wrote, revolution means "change for the better," and in so doing criticized the translations of clauses in the Iranian constitution I used in my article, for example, a phrase from Iran's constitution I referred to in my article translated as you put it, the "bluntly militant" phrase "jihad in God's way, you translated as "exerting effort in the path of God" such as being "a hard working husband" or a "good wife."
Note that the translation of the Iranian constitution I cited from was done by the Iranian government.
It is irrelevant whether you think the Iranian constitution's call for "the establishment of a universal holy government and the downfall of all others" – "may be utterly naive but not necessarily sinister" as you wrote, even though it is reasonable to understand this clause as Iran's constitution calling for the spread of its revolution. It is also irrelevant for you to comment that not every call for revolution means violence. My question was whether you and Professor Bulliet denied that Iran's constitution calls for the spread of the revolution, not by what method might this revolution occur.
You asked me to acknowledge whether I agree that sections of Iran's constitution such as "[creating] conditions conducive to the development of man in accordance with the noble and universal values of Islam" and "[providing] the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution [i.e., changes for the better] at home and abroad" is not a literal call to violence.
I maintain that theses clauses in the context of the entire document is cause for concern as Iran's constitution assigns the responsibility of "fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God's way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God's law throughout the world" to its army and Revolutionary Guard. As such I see no reason to rule out violence regarding Iran's constitution call to "replace all world governments with a universal holy one."
I did not ask you whether we should "rescue religion from the hands of bigots." My question stands; did you and Professor Bulliet deny at the NYU seminar that the Iranian constitution calls for the spread of its Islamic revolution? Professor Bulliet, you are welcome to answer as well.
From: Hossein Kamaly
Dear Mr. Horowitz,
Thank you for your second email. I regret the fact that you didn't care much for the views I expressed in my previous email. To the best of my recollection, the point raised at NYU, back in September, was that the constitution of the Islamic Republic calls for spreading terrorism. This was not a question but a categorical statement. As a lawyer you know the difference, no doubt. My response was to challenge the categorical statement made. I believe Professor Bulliet delegated the task of commenting on the point to me. So, I am responsible for the response I gave, not him.
I say again, clearly enough so that you won't think I am being evasive: In the letter, the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran does NOT promote the exportation of terrorism. This is a point about a document, to the letter, not the actions of a state. Clear enough? As stated before, this observation is in no way an endorsement of any actions that the Islamic Republic may have undertaken. The translations you provided aren't accurate, whoever may have produced them.
I hope this is clear enough for you.
On Mon, Dec 15, 2014 at 8:11 AM, Richard Horowitz wrote:
Professors Bulliet and Kamaly,
I write again because Professor Kamaly's last email was in no way clear as he asserted, since by writing "the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran does NOT promote the exportation of terrorism" he is answering a question I did not ask and he refers to a letter in addition to email even though no letters were exchanged between us. Professor Kamaly also wrote that "I believe Professor Bulliet delegated the task of commenting on the point to me. So, I am responsible for the response I gave, not him" which as you will see is incorrect.
I still have no answer from either of you to my original question, did you deny at the NYU that the Iranian constitution promotes the spread of the Islamic revolution?
Since receiving Professor Kamaly's last email I have obtained an audio recording of the seminar. The question that was asked:
"The [Sunni-Shia] divide seems to me to have been exacerbated by the Iranian constitution which states they must spread the revolution essentially and that that has been a foreign policy of Iran for some time, manifesting most recently in Latin [sic] America where they attempted to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC. So my question is, that seems like a very huge divide yet at times the Sunni and Shia come together against the common enemy and that's manifested in Bin Laden actually supporting the Iranians from time to time, there is a relationship between the two as far as extremists go so I'm wondering if you can comment on that at all, when they come together."
Professor Bulliet immediately responded by saying "I'm not aware of any constitutional provision in the Iranian constitution calling for the spread of revolutions" and Professor Kamaly immediately followed by saying "No, that doesn't exist and Bin Laden for all that matters has never supported the Iranian regime as evil as you may think that regime is." As Professor Kamaly's responded immediately after Professor Bulliet who stated only one sentence which denied that the Iranian constitution calls for the spread of revolutions, it seems correct to understand that by "No, that doesn't exist" refers to what Professor Bulliet had just stated. (Professor Kamaly continued his answer by stating that Iran doesn't support Al-Qaeda and has in fact detained Al-Qaeda members and that it is incorrect that Sunnis and Shias have come together to destroy America.)
In light of Professor Kamaly's prior two email avoiding answering the question whether he stated that the Iranian constitution calls for the spread of the Islamic revolution and in light of the audio recording in my possession, I no longer ask whether you both denied this at the NYU seminar, though you are free to do so. I now ask both of you this simple question: do you agree that the Iranian constitution calls for the spreading of the Islamic revolution?
Though you certainly can answer as you see fit should you so choose, if your answers do not contain wording that can be understood as a simple yes or no, I shall consider that matter closed.
From: Hossein Kamaly
Dear Mr. Horowitz,
I'll make this succinct. The Constitutions of the Islamic Republic does call for spreading the revolution. In my first email I commented on the meaning of this, as I understand it. In my second email I stressed that this is NOT identical with an explicit call for the spread of terrorism, certainly not in the letter.
As you have quoted, the questioner at NYU was asking about the connection between the spread of the revolution as manifested in such acts as the alleged attempt on the life of a Saudi ambassador in Washington, DC, and in "Bin Laden actually supporting the Iranians from time to time".
In response, I explained that support for and the spread of terrorism does not exist in the constitution. I repeated this in my reply to you.
To sum up, the spread of the revolution is called for in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, but the spread of terrorism IS NOT.
I hope this clarifies my answer.
From: Richard Horowitz
What say you?
From: Richard Horowitz
I still await a response from you on the matter discussed below.
Attached please find a recording of your answer at the NYU seminar where you state (mp3 file) "I'm not aware of any constitutional provision in the Iranian constitution calling for the spread of revolutions." As opposed to Professor Kamaly, to date you have offered no reply at all to my question whether you actually maintain that the Iranian constitution does not call for the spread of its revolution. Perhaps you misspoke, though might your use of the word "revolutions," plural, indicate that you are indeed unaware that the Iranian constitution calls for the spread of its revolution?
I shall consider the matter closed should I not receive a reply from you by close of business on Monday, January 12.
Attorney at Law
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