work in progress in social theory and cultural sociology

Fatwa against Shahin Najafi – Rushdi all over again or desperation of the militant anti-secularists?

05.10.2012 · Posted in Uncategorized

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 and particularly the aftermath of Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa calling for the killing of Salman Rushdi spelled, for many, the end of Western style secularisation. Clearly the religious revival in the Islamic world and its political repercussions meant that religion was still a factor in world politics – and within Western multicultural societies such as Britain where there were violent clashes on the streets.

Now a similar fatwa has been issued by Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani of Qom, calling for the assassination of the rapper Shahin Najafi, currently based in Germany. Is this 1989 all over again? I don’t think so. 1989 the regime in Teheran was reaffirming its position as main threat to Western hegemony while the Soviet Empire had been crumbling away. Today the regime itself is under immense pressure from within (just having survived the Green Revolution) and from the outside (particularly given the situation in Syria).

What is different is not just the situation in which the fatwa is issued. It is also about who is targeted. This is a call to murder of an Iranian citizen who is quite popular within Iran. And while Salman Rushdi did not intend to stir up things with his Satanic Verses and was adamant that it is purely a work of art and not a political statement at all, Shahin Najafi is confronting the Islamic Republic head on. The Iranian Revolution is no longer an export article, it is no longer on the offensive. It is fighting for its life against a strong secular tendency within – and in this context popular urban secular music has been identified as a vital threat. Whatever the theological foundation of this fatwa and whatever the nature of Najafi’s alleged insult to the tenth Imam – while the 1989 fatwa was a show of strength today’s fatwa is a sign of panic. It’s worth recalling that one aspect of the attraction of secular liberal democracy that caused the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1989 was popular music of the sort that Najafi is producing (an example of consumer culture translating into politics – the Cult of the Individual at work – for how consumerism transformed life within Iran see Godazgar 2007). Panic, of course, is a dangerous thing…

Godazgar, Hossein (2007): ‘Islam Versus Consumerism and Postmodernism in the Context of Iran’, in: Social Compass, Vol.54, No.3, pp.389-418

update 11th May 2012

Najafi’s first reaction – interview on German radio (WDR Funkhaus Europa – Farsi/German)

All in all this story has drawn surprisingly little attention – so no angry crowds on the streets and consequently not much reporting in the press.

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