Sonia Mansour RobaeyResponses
Iran N.Deal, Future of Islam and A.Khamenei’s Letter to Western Youth
If I were a faithful and pious Muslim and if I were to take a look at the state of the religion of Islam and Muslims today, I would be extremely worried. And even though I am not a Muslim faithful but an Arab secular Christian woman, I can still worry for my Muslim sisters and brothers and the religion of Islam. This is not a selfless concern. The future of minorities in the Middle East depends largely on the state of the Muslim religion, which is the religion of the majority. Also, the Muslim religion and its people are part and parcel of my cultural background, of who I am as an Arab Christian, as much as Muslims of the Middle East are culturally shaped by their presence as pieces in a mosaic of religions and sects, which the region never ceased to be, until al Qaeda and its most notorious branch, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS, came to be.
Again, as an Arab Christian, I was educated not on the holy Qur’an, but on the religion of Islam and its History. I grew up seeing Islam as a religion of conquest and enlightenment in the Arts and Sciences. I grew up seeing Islam as a forward progressive religion. Of course, as in every religion, I could perceive some extremism here and there, some backwardness, but these seemed marginal, or so was my perception during the late seventies, early eighties, until al Qaeda and its most notorious branch, ISIS, came to be.
Since 911, I have been asking myself: what happened to Islam? More so since the emergence and mainstreaming of sectarian killings inside Iraq after the 2003 US invasion and the recent mass displacements of religious minorities by ISIS in the Middle East, the largest since the Ottoman Empire disintegrated.
To answer this question one must understand what happened between the late seventies and the early eighties and how the struggles born out of these years came to their conclusion as the iron curtain fell on the Soviet bloc ushering in a short era of revigorated and unchallenged American and western imperialism.
During these decisive years, we witnessed an Islamic revolution in Iran that rose against western imperialism while another Islamic movement in Afghanistan came to be subsumed, and consumed, by the goals of western imperialism. We also witnessed a war on Iran from the West, with Iraq as a proxy, meant to challenge to the nascent Islamic revolution of Iran. These events, which will lead to a profound misunderstanding inside Islam, took place after the strong anti-imperialist sentiment in the Middle East, in which Palestine was the main conduit, was sidelined through a partial peace between Israel and Egypt. The Palestine struggle was buried by partial peace and the Palestinian resistance lost the support of most Arab states. This was going to lead to the still-born Oslo peace process and the slow asphyxiation of the Palestinian struggle, while Israeli settlements flourished as they continue to do until today.
The eighties end with the triumph of western imperialism. But in the Middle East, the Islamic revolution of Iran stood in the way of this triumph, albeit weakened and its society profoundly wounded by the Iraq war. After the end of the Iraq-Iran war and Ayatollah’s Khomeini’s death, the Islamic revolution of Iran had survived but the country was going to spend the next decade rebuilding itself amid a climate of increasing hostility, unilateral and multilateral sanctions.
Iran’s Islamic revolution inspired many and in many ways in the region. Islamist groups and Islamist movements rose in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Only few survived and those who did, like Hezbollah, did so because they understood the spirit of the Islamic revolution of Iran, as it stood, as an Islamist insurgency, first and foremost, against western imperialism. Hezbollah resonated with the populations of the Arab world because it revived the Palestinian struggle and the struggle against western imperialism. At the same time, Hamas was born to challenge the occupation of Palestine, based on a non-compromising attitude toward the occupation, but with a different spirit marked by the context of inter Palestinian rivalry heavily weighed by outside and competing regional influences.
This is why Hamas and Hezbollah, two groups moved by the same goal for many years, find themselves today at odds because the forces that have been pulling Muslims apart since the event of the Islamic revolution of Iran, not only are still at work today, but they are now aided by scores of terrorist Takfiri groups claiming to be working for Muslims and Islam.
The Islamic revolution of Iran had clearly designated the anti-imperialist struggle as the defining project of modern Islam. But the Islamic revolution of Iran was not the only Islamic movement renewing the search to redefine Islam in modern times. However, the Islamist groups who came before it and most of those who were inspired by it sought a return to an era of Islam before western imperialism to find the tools to challenge western imperialism. Thus, the nostalgic return to Islam resulted in ambiguity toward the West. I am thinking here specifically of the Muslim Brotherhood. The ambiguity is in confronting modern western imperialism with conceptual tools that existed before this imperialism. This is at best a flight strategy, at worst, a legitimization of Wahhabism, the gangrene that’s been eating at the heart of Islam. Ambiguity exists also in the fact that running away from modernity prevents these movements from ever understanding imperialism, replacing understanding with mystification, leaving modernity to exert a fascination on their entire ideological conceptual apparatus without ever being able to understand it.
This is a tragic misunderstanding, by the insurgent Sunni branch of Islam, of how to conduct the struggle for relevance against western imperialism and renew the search to redefine Islam in modern times. Western imperialism, in its essence, is about the superiority of science and technology. By choosing nostalgia and pre-imperialist conceptual tools, insurgent Sunni Islam could then only fight western technical superiority and the way of life it implies with increased barbarism. Hence, al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The Islamic revolution of Iran, on the other side, has sought to fight western imperialism with the elements of its alleged superiority; technology. But contrary to other Muslim countries that had sought nuclear technology as a way to achieve military superiority, like the West, Iran sought nuclear technology only for civilian purposes and as a right to achieve equal status, to oppose to western imperialism the right to dignity. Because western imperialism sees itself as superior in status, it refuses dignity to others, to subdued countries, and it does so mainly through technology.
But, no matter how much Iran seeks nuclear energy for civilian purposes and technological research, the West can still be suspicious of Iran’s intentions. The recent deal concluded between Iran and the P5+1 adresses the question of suspicion by claiming that the requirement for trust was replaced by evidence and verification. Moreover, and away from gauging the intentions of the Islamic republic, the West should celebrate Iran’s quest for civil nuclear technology, under verification, on the basis that anything else than progress, including technological progress, will lead to barbarism. Of course, one might argue that technological progress has its own load of barbarism. European colonialism, and later American colonialism, in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and in the Americas, have many features of the barbarism we are witnessing from groups like al Qaeda and ISIS today. But that’s the problem with all technologies, they raise our living standards while at the same time becoming tools of the fundamental Human condition that aspires to God but has the instincts of a beast, so that without Ethics, technology or not, barbarism is always lurking behind the human condition. However, technology gives us at least the promise of lifting us from the condition of barbarism with the hope for a better life.
In renouncing, or more exactly, never wanting nuclear technology for military purposes, despite having the tools and the know-how for nuclear technology, the Islamic republic of Iran chose progress and Ethics over barbarism. It chose to confront western imperialism with both western superiority tools, technology, and its own tools taken from the moral handbook of the Islamic revolution. This is how, Iran’s negotiators unrelentelssly referred to Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa against developing nuclear weapons. Recently, Iran’s president Rouhani repeated this in a different form by affirming that Iran will never use its technological knowledge against other countries. This is how, to calm suspicions and ends unjust sanctions, Iran committed on July 14, 2015, to an unprecedented list of demands and inspections, effectively halting any potential imaginary nuclear military program. This ‘renouncement’ comes at a time when Iran is seen as a major player in a region shaken by various threats, conflicts, warfare, displacements, ethnic cleansing, barbarism and terrorism.
How could then Iran relinquish a nuclear military program when it needs it the most? That’s the question that was put forward recently by Vali Nasr. His answer is that pressured at home, the Islamic republic is relinquishing its regional standing to focus on its political survival at home. Nasr opposed in his argument the Islamic revolution survival at home to its regional standing.
I argue here that Nasr’s argument relies on the falase western perception of the Iran Islamic revolution and the false dichotomy between the internal and the external context.
A lot has been said about the internal pressure after the 2009 events in Iran and the idea that these events led Iran to enter the negotiating arena endures today. But it is based on many false assumptions and there is plenty of evidence for this. It was the US, in the first place, who started the process of the negotiations. Concerning the 2009 events, many studies attempted to validate the claim that the elections were stolen by Ahmadinejad but to no avail, Ahmadinejad was the choice of Iranians in 2009 and there was no elections’ fraud as alleged by western media. The wikileaks cables even show it was the US who was pushing the fraud narrative, contrary to the reality on the ground. Concerning the 2009 events too, there were many false assumptions concerning Iranian youth and how they were against the Islamic revolution but a western study shows that these assumptions were false and Iranians youth, in great majority, even those who are critical of the government, have integrated and internalized the Islamic revolution’s conservative values.
About the dichtotomy between the internal and the external context, this dichotomy can be proven false, especially in the context of ISIS, which Nasr recognizes as a threat to Iran. In the context of ISIS, the survival of the Islamic revolution of Iran equals the survival of Islam in general. Because that other branch of Islam which chose barbarism over modernity, as ISIS, its promoters and its mentors do, is taking Muslims on a self-destructive path from which there is no going back. Within the new context of ISIS, there will be victims to protect and dignity to restore to all Muslims so that it is through its Islamic revolution and particular Islamic message open to modernity,that Iran will exert its regional influence and this cannot be done without opening up and getting rid of years of ostracization and sanctions.
Of course, opening up is a risky move for the Islamic revolution of Iran, but it is also an ideological move, it is about Islam, defending Islam against itself by spreading a different kind of islamist message. It is also about rightfully assuming the leadership the Islamic republic of Iran deserves in the region and the world.
Iran did not relinquish its regional influence, isolating its revolution from the world to better save it by accepting a deal on its nuclear program. On the contrary, the Islamic republic of Iran will be exerting its influence differently and even more greatly on Muslims and the Islamic message, simply because in the context of ISIS, the survival of Islam will depend on the survival of the Islamic revolution of Iran, and one might argue that the survival of the Islamic revolution of Iran will depend on the survival of Islam as a whole as a religion well entrenched in modernity. This is the problematic we are facing now in the Middle East, and this is what makes reactionary rulers fear Iran.
After the beginning of the Arab Spring, there was panic among reactionary Persian Gulf rulers that the Islamic revolution of Iran model was going to spread in the region, as this commentator noted, so they unleashed al Qaeda and ISIS against revolutionary and anti-imperialist political Islam as embodied by Iran. This is why, after the nuclear deal, Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif sought to address these fears through a series of visits and diplomatic initiatives to Arab and foreign capitals.
In light of what preceded, one could argue that it is not internal pressure that forced Iran to the negotiating table, but rather a regional context threatening Islam as a whole that convinced the Islamic revolution of Iran that the only way to positively affect Islam and the region, and therefore save its core mission, was to get rid of the imposed isolation and sanctions.
This is why, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, one more attack among too many perpetrated by an Islamist insurgency gone bad, and while the only initiative the world could expect from Iran was the initiative around the nuclear talks, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, launched his own dialogue with the West on the Muslim religion and the Islamic message. #LetterForYou was addressed to the western youth and the world, through social media as an attempt to explain Islam away from al Qaeda/ISIS stereotypes.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter to the western youth has deeper meaning. It is the continuation of the Islamic republic of Iran’s policy of openness, which complements the nuclear deal.
By opening a dialogue with western youth on Islam, Khamenei’s letter seeks to extend the respect and normalcy gained from merely negotiating as equals with the West to all Muslims and the religion of Islam. Khamenei explains that he chose to address youth because it is too late to correct misconceptions about Islam among adults in West, especially when these misconceptions have been forged also in the West.
Someone has to save Muslims from themselves. The West is not going to do it. The Islamic revolution of Iran has achieved resistance, survival, dignity and respect. It is best positioned to take on the task. And this task starts and ends with an honest conversation about Islam. This is the deep meaning of Iran’s supreme leader letter to the western youth. After the nuclear deal, the Islamic republic of Iran is up to counter the message of barbarism with true knowledge in all domains, in the domain of technology as in the domain of religion.
This mission is of the utmost importance today. If you followed the nuclear deal and you didn’t pay attention to ‘Letter for you’, then you didn’t understand the most important thing about the deal: a dialogue of civilizations on the basis of mutual respect and dignity against the new barbarisms that threaten Islam.
Sonia Mansour Robaey, PhD, teaches Philosophy and Ethics, does counselling in Ethics. She is an observer and analyst of Middle Eastern and Levantine politics. Follow her on Twitter @les_politiques
Source: Iran’s View