Fatwa a speech act?

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Chris Hutchison

Feb 23, 1993, 7:56:11 AM2/23/93
[For those who haven't been following it, a debate has been going on for some
while on soc.culture.iranian,soc.culture.arabic,and soc.culture.british as to
whether Khomeini's fatwa against Rushdie was an incitement to murder or merely
an expression of the freedom of speech. I'm posting this to sci.lang for an
expert opinion -- see question at bottom]

far...@apollo3.ntt.jp (Farzin Mokhtarian) writes

>You know ... freedom of speech works both ways. If it is alright for Rushdie
>to slander the prophet of Islam in the name of freedom of speech, then it is
>also fine for Ayatollah Khomeini to state that be believes Rushdie deserves
>to die. He exercised his freedom of speech and that should be respected.
>Furthermore, the Iranian government has not killed Rushdie and (as far as
>we know) has not tried to kill him. Therefore it has not committed an illegal
>I am deeply disappointed by all the people in the west who protect Rushdie's
>right to frredom of speech but somehow do not recognize *the same right*
>for Ayatollah Khomeini.

This is a bit of a tricky question, and I'm really addressing here those
linguists among you who are also familiar with Islamic Law.

The question is: Is a fatwa a speech act? (in the sense defined by John

A full response to this question should ideally include a transliteration and
translation of the fatwa pronounced against Rushdie, and a technical statement
explaining why the fatwa is/is not (or does/does not contain) a speech act in
this sense. I think this might help decide the issue of whether the fatwa
goes beyond mere 'freedom of speech' into something else.

Disclaimer: All ideas and opinions expressed herein are my own and not likely
to be those of my employer -- but I'm more than delighted to share my ideas
and opinions with anyone.

Chris Hutchison
School of Information Systems
Faculty of Technology
Kingston University
Kingston upon Thames
Surrey KT1 2EE

Email: chr...@kingston.ac.uk

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