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Murder in Baku | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat- “I am not well, but I will survive!” This was how Rafiq Taqi described his condition in hospital in response to a phone call from a well-wisher.

Less than an hour later, Taqi was dead, succumbing to dozens of wounds inflicted on him by two knife-wielding men as he stepped out of his home in Baku, Azerbaijan.

A popular writer and journalist, Taqi was President of the Azerbaijan Writers’ Association.

How did 61-year old Taqi, himself a doctor of medicine, misjudge his condition?

Or did he? Wasn’t he using the verb “survive” in a broader sense?

If he did, he would not be far wrong.

For Taqi was a first-rate polemicist always ready to challenge dominant and domineering ideologies. In that capacity he raised issues that concern many in Azerbaijan, indeed in the broader world of Islam where dissent, far from being a right, is regarded as a crime punishable by imprisonment or death.

In that sense, Taqi will certainly survive. For the issues he raised, including the violation of human rights, the mistreatment of women, repressive political systems, and lack of social justice are not about to disappear.

Dissent was Taqi’s lifeblood. As a student he had fallen foul of the Communist authorities in the now defunct Soviet Union by insisting that Azerbaijan should have the right to self-determination. That had earned him the title of “dangerous nationalist” from the Soviet secret service the KGB.

After independence, he became a critic of what he saw as an alliance of business barons and mullahs determined to restore authoritarianism in the name of nationalism. This time, the government of the newly-independent Azerbaijan saw Taqi as “a dangerous Communist”.

Both sobriquets were only half right.

Taqi was neither a nationalist nor a Communist. But he was certainly dangerous. He was dangerous for all those who try to silence all voices in the name of the one-party state, the nationalist republic, or, worse still, religion.

We don’t know who was behind the attack that cost Taqi his life. The Iranian embassy in Baku has denied involvement by the Islamic Republic.

However, we know that he was the subject of a fatwa issued by the late Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Fadhil Lenkorani, one of the Islamic Republic’s six official marj’a al-taqlid in Qom. In the death fatwa, Lenkorani described Taqi as “mahdur ad-damm” or someone whose blood must be shed, and Muharib an-Allah (he who wages war on Allah.)

We also know that, on a number of occasions, the daily Kayhan, published by the office of the Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei, labelled Taqi “the Azerbaijani Salman Rushdie”. Last Thursday, the daily Iran, the official organ of the Islamic Republic, reported the murder in Baku under the heading: Azerbaijan’s Salman Rushdie is Executed!

(Salman Rushdie, of course, is the Anglo-Indian novelist who was targeted for assassination with a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini 22 years ago.)

We also know that Taqi’s latest article was published under the heading “Iran and the Threat of Globalization”. In it, he warned that the Islamic Republic’s provocative policies, including attempts to “export terrorism” to other countries, could lead to war engulfing the region with catastrophic consequences.

The style of Taqi’s murder, if one could use such a word in relation to a heinous crime, reminds one of the Fedayeen of Islam, a terrorist group founded in Iran in the late 1940s as a Shi’ite version of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Khomeini, then a junior mullah, joined the group soon after its foundation.

In February 1946, Khomeini issued a fatwa sentencing Ahmad Kasravi, a leading Iranian lawyer, historian and critic of bigotry, to death.

Six weeks later, members of the Fedyaeen implemented the fatwa by fatally stabbing Kasravi in a courtroom. Khomeini and his fellow terrorists had decided that if Kasrvai were assassinated by several people the culprits would get away with sentences short of the death penalty. They proved right!

The fact that Taqi was knifed to death by two assailants, recalls that calculation.

However, Khomeinists are not the only ones who conduct such operations. T

the Mafia-style network of shady influences that has emerged in Baku since independence also has an interest in silencing free voices in Azerbaijan. Elmar Husseinov, a prominent newspaper editor who had exposed cases of corruption, was another of such voices. His assassination was certainly not commandeered from Qom but by groups inside the Azerbaijani capital.

“Imposing religion on people by force is an indignity to religion and an injustice to the people,” Rafiq Taqi wrote. “It is the duty of every free man to fight against indignity and injustice.”

Taqi certainly did.