At the opening ceremony of the International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani called for Muslim Unity in order to “remove Islam’s negative image from today’s cyber and real space”. He stressed his call for unity based on the fact that 84% of the cases of “violence, terror and massacres, unfortunately, take place in the Islamic world”. Rouhani then added another key point: “Terrorism cannot be wiped out with bombs…. It has its roots in poverty”. And finally he criticized Muslims for “being silent in the face of all the killings and bloodshed” in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. All well and good and had Rouhani stopped there, his message of Islamic Unity would have retained its authenticity and its meaning.
Unfortunately, Rouhani didn’t stop there: Following these points, Rouhani hypocritically went on the attack, targeting Tehran’s regional arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia and its allies, and in so doing, he fostered Islamic Division instead of Islamic Unity.
The fact that Iran, a Shiite nation, is trying to unite all Muslims while Shiites represent up to 15% of all Muslims is already a giant hurdle. Preaching Islamic unity while bashing other Arab countries simply makes such a call baseless.
Preaching unity, practicing divisiveness
In his call for Islamic Unity, Rouhani first attacked Saudi Arabia: “Is it all right if we give oil money to the US, buy missiles, and drop them on Muslims? How many bombs and missiles did you (Saudi Arabia) buy from the US last year? If you distributed the money among the Muslim poor, no one would have slept on empty stomach”. And then, he widened his scope to include Saudi Arabia’s allies: “Does the weakening of Syria benefit its Muslim neighbors? Does the destruction of Syria lead to the strengthening of Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates or other countries?”. Finally, Rouhani once again denied Tehran’s subversive efforts to build a “Shia Crescent” meant to give it power of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gulf States such as Bahrain and Kuwait, and other neighbors: “We neither have Shia Crescent, nor Sunni Crescent, rather we have Islamic full moon” .
These statements are meant to drive home 4 specific messages:
- Saudi Arabia is responsible for the poverty and, therefore the terror, in the Middle East.
- Saudi Arabia and its allies are responsible for the casualties in Syria.
- The US is responsible for the use of missiles (and other weapons) killing Muslims in the Middle East.
- Iran is a diligent promoter of peace and has no aspirations for regional domination
All four messages are cynically hypocritical due to Tehran’s continuing and increasing involvement in the regional wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen and its ongoing support for terrorist militias in the Middle East. Rouhani speaks as if Tehran is an innocent by-stander to these conflicts when in fact, it is not only actively involved in all of them, it is also possibly the biggest instigator in all of them.
Tehran has supported Bashar al-Assad in his civil war since 2012 to the tune of approximately $10 billion a year by supplying Assad with missiles/weapons and cash and through the involvement of its own troops and its proxy militia, Hezbollah – Think how many Iranian “empty stomachs” could have been filled with the money spent to kill Assad’s enemies.
As to the “destruction of Syria” which is meant to “strengthen” the other countries, Rouhani conveniently forgets to mention that Tehran’s support of Assad, which has not only prolonged the civil war and increased the number of casualties, is meant to strengthen Tehran much more than strengthening Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.
Furthermore, Rouhani bashed Saudi Arabia for the rising casualties in Yemen but, of course, he conveniently doesn’t mention that Tehran is directly linked to Syrian civilian casualties, estimated at 190,000, of which Assad’s government is responsible for nearly 96% (roughly 180,000).
And just for the record, those missiles that Assad is using to fight his war are coming from Tehran’s large arsenal of missiles which are to be resupplied by (drum roll), Tehran’s latest ally, Russia (and not the USA, Tehran’s global arch-enemy).
As to the infamous Shiite Crescent, one has only to look at a map of countries with large Shiite populations such as Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and even Azerbaijan in order to understand that such a crescent exists de facto to a wide range of success.
Is Islamic Unity a realistic goal?
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has long preached for a grand Islamic Awakening which would be based on the model of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and would herald a “century of Islam”. The idea is simple, brilliant but highly improbable and self-destructive: All 1.6 billion Muslims in the world will unite in order to promote an Islamic agenda and this unity will bring peace among all Arab nations and free them of the yoke of “arrogant” Imperialistic and colonial powers of the West.
Unfortunately, there are four huge hurdles on the path to such a unity:
- The first hurdle is one that was born thousands of years ago in the great Sunni-Shiite divide: whether Rouhani wants to admit it or not, this rift, resulting from the fight to decide who are the rightful inheritors of the Prophet Mohammad, existed long before Europeans began their colonizing spree, and has led to the bloodshed of millions of Muslims all over the world.
- The second hurdle is that neighbors do not always get along together, specially neighbors who are fighting proxy wars against each other: Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting each other indirectly in Syria and in Yemen and neither is ready to back out for fear of losing face and power.
- The third hurdle is that the people calling for Islamic unity must walk the talk and Tehran is definitely not acting like an entity pursuing unity: Its overt involvement in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen coupled with its covert involvement in the Gulf States as well as many countries in Africa and Latin America are a testament to Tehran’s efforts to increase its influence.
- The fourth hurdle is that such a unity would only lead to a sharp increase in Islamophobia towards Muslims living in non-Islamic countries: Muslims will be asked to choose between their loyalty to Islam and other Muslim countries as opposed to their loyalty to the countries in which they are living in. Such a unity would only play into the hands of fascist Islamophobes who would press the point of choice between nationalism and religion.
Whether Rouhani’s call for Islamic Unity is genuine or just a ploy to revamp Tehran’s image is hard to guess. Rouhani did manage to change Tehran’s image in the West from a supporter of terrorism to a fighter against terrorism. He may have fooled some Westerners but fooling his fellow Muslims will be a much harder task.