In his eagerness for a breakthrough in the nuclear controversy between the US and Iran, President Barack Obama chose to slide past the telling Shiite term Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used to lend religious legitimacy for turning a new page in their relations.
Khamenei informed an audience of top Revolutionary Guards commanders in an address he delivered Tuesday, Sept. 17, that he had resorted to the strategy of “heroic leniency” (see also two additional articles in this issue) in his dealings with the United States
To the Western ear unfamiliar with the roots of Shiite Islam prior to the Muslim wars of 1360, the ayatollah sounded as though he was talking about the heroic concessions he was offering for a reconciliation with America.
DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian and Shiite experts present this term in a different light, after tracing it to its inception by an important figure in Islam called Al-Hassan ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was born on March 4 and died on March 9 or 30, in the year 625 CE, at the age of 47.
Abi Talib was the son of Ali and his wife Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, who succeeded his father briefly as the Imam Hassan, “the righteous Caliph,” before retiring to Medina, and entering into a pact with the first Umayyad ruler, Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, who assumed the Caliphate.
But Mu’awiyah spread insecurity and unrest in the key cities of Kufa, Basra and Medina, it is told, and sent out secret agents to defame his partner, the Imam Hassan.
Heroic leniency – or, rather, pragmatic flexibility short term?
Hassan knew his father had fought Mu’awiyah, but their battles had caused heavy casualties on both sides, sowing devastation everywhere. So, after conferring with his brother Hussein and other relatives, he revealed that, to end the bloodshed and restore a reasonable measure of security to the Ummah (Muslim nation), he would sign a peace treaty with Mu’awiyah and abdicate until his enemy’s death.
It was this decision which he termed “heroic leniency.”
The treaty he signed under this heading had four noteworthy articles:
- The peoples of Syria, Iraq, Hijaz, Yemen and other places would enjoy amnesty against persecution.
In terms of the contemporary US-Iranian détente, this measure translates into the lifting of all sanctions and punitive measures against Iranian individuals and organizations.
- Friends and companions of Imam Hassan and all their women and children shall be protected from danger.
- Mu’awiyah must immediately stop using abusive language and cursing Imam Hassan.
The US must renounce its threat to exercise a military option against Iran and annul financial penalties.
- Mu’awiyah shall not appoint a successor.
Under the terms of his accord with Iran, President Obama must pledge not to give any figures hostile to the Islamic Republic positions in his administration with influence over Iran policy.
After the treaty was signed, Imam Hassan and his brother Hussein moved back from Kufa to Medina and returned to their mission of gathering the faithful.
The IRGC chiefs knew exactly what Khamenei was talking about when he spoke of “heroic lenience.”
It is Shiite shorthand term for a pragmatic, flexible, short-term détente with a foe.