Iranian Rapper Fears for His Life After Fatwa (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By FARNAZ FASSIHI BEIRUT, LEBANON 05/16/12)
WALL STREET JOURNAL
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BEIRUT—Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi expected his song calling on a
Shiite saint to save Iran from its current rulers to stir up
controversy, but he never imagined it might cost him his life.
He is now being dubbed the Salman Rushdie of music after two
influential clerics in Iran issued fatwas—religious edicts—justifying
his murder on grounds of blasphemy.
"I am still in disbelief. I´m only 31, with my whole life ahead of
me," said Mr. Najafi in an interview from Germany, where he lives
and, since last week, has been in hiding under the protection of
Mr. Najafi says he doesn´t regret the song and refuses to apologize,
arguing that invoking a saint´s name is a freedom of expression and
not a religious insult. "Each person has to pay a price for what they
want. I will never apologize for my art and for speaking the truth
about Iran´s government," said Mr. Najafi.
The Arab Spring is widely known as a Twitter rebellion, but
underground hip-hop artists also played a very important role. Robin
Wright, author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the
Islamic World," talks with Jerry Seib about the phenomenon. (This
video was originally published July 22, 2011.)
Iranian officials haven´t commented on the fatwas or denounced them.
But the case could present a new public-image problem for Iran ahead
of talks next week with the international community in Baghdad over
its nuclear program.
In recent months, Iran has sought to improve its image as a rogue
nation by offering conciliatory remarks to build trust with the West.
The efforts paid off to some extent at an initial meeting in March in
Istanbul, where both sides claimed the negotiations ended on a
positive note, paving the way for a second round set to begin on May
23 in Baghdad. Iran says the world should trust its word that its
nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The senior clerics empowered to issue fatwas act independently of the
government—but anyone who carries out a death fatwa is granted
impunity under Iranian law.
"Iranian authorities could make it very clear that people who are
inciting murder could be held accountable, and that´s something they
aren´t currently doing," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International´s
deputy program director for Middle East and Africa.
After Mr. Najafi released his song "Naqi" online on May 7, Iranian
media and conservative bloggers said it was in violation of an
earlier fatwa calling for the execution of anyone who blasphemes the
10th saint of Shiite Islam, Ali an-Naqi. A subsequent fatwa by
another grand ayatollah declared that a singer who had been insulting
the saint was guilty of blasphemy—giving the green light for his
followers to kill Mr. Najafi, though the fatwa didn´t mention the
rapper by name. Both rulings have been repeated in Iranian media.
An Iranian website, Shia-Online, subsequently put a $100,000 bounty
on Mr. Najafi´s head, and more than 100 people, joining an
online "campaign to execute Shahin Najafi," have pledged further
Mr. Najafi, a native of a small port town in southern Iran, fled to
Germany in 2005 after he said an intelligence agent threatened him
for staging underground concerts. His angry lyrics touch on rights
abuses, stifling social norms and other difficulties of life in Iran,
and in "Naqi," he calls on the saint to save the country. He says he
is too young to go into hiding, but fears he might never be safe in
After the fatwa issued by the Iranian revolution´s founding father
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against Mr. Rushdie in 1989, the British-
Indian writer went into hiding for years, and Iran suffered
diplomatic fallout with Europe. While Mr. Najafi isn´t nearly as
renowned as Mr. Rushdie and the clerics who issued the fatwa aren´t
as powerful as Iran´s supreme leader, the threat to his life is
serious, human-rights organizations say.
—David Crawford contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow Jones
& Company, Inc.) 05/16/12)
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