Reading Javad Zarif’s op-ed in the New York Times, “Mohammad Javad Zarif: Let Us Rid the World of Wahhabism“, is bewildering: he hits the problems of extremist Wahabbism right on the nail but the fact that he doesn’t take responsibility, let alone mention, Iranian-backed extremism and terrorism (including non-Shiite organizations such as Al-Qaeda) makes his whole argument less credible and more akin to propaganda. Had Zarif admitted to Tehran’s support of terrorism, his call would have greatly increased in credibility. As it is, Zari’s tirade against Wahabbism sounds like a speech by a pathetic alcoholic in denial at an AA meeting.
What makes Zarif even less credible is that his call “rid the world of Wahabbism” is really a call to pressure Saudi Arabia, no more no less. Since Wahabbism is a key part of Saudi Arabia, eliminating Wahabbism is really another way of trying to eliminate Saudi Arabia. Zarif knows this all too well. All forms of extremism, Shiite or Wahabbist, should be eradicated but a call to eradicate Wahabbism is like a call to eradicate Shiism. Had someone from Saudi Arabia called on the world to “rid the World of Shiism”, Zarif would be the first to call the Saudi speaker a “racist” and a “sectarian” whose purpose is to divide Islam, and, to be honest, he would be 100% right. Zarif knows this all too well but he is so focused on answering Tehran’s PR needs that he conveniently put such thoughts aside.
Zarif is playing the role of the crafty diplomat who is more adept at a bazaar haggle than in the real world: he did this outstandingly during the negotiations on the JCPoA and he is trying to do the same now with Saudi Arabia. His strategy is simple: attack and soothe then attack and soothe over and over again. Listen to Zarif attacking Saudi Arabia: Saudi rulers are “callous and capricious rulers unfit to rule the sacred lands”, their “petty, malicious, and sectarian extremist” policies which “beget, foster, and spread terrorism”, their allegiance to “serving their imperialist and Zionist patrons” and their responsibility for “the most pernicious and abominable acts of atrocity in the history of nations and to infest them with extreme levels of hatred”. OK, we get it. Now listen to this following quote: “We invite Saudi rulers to put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear, and join hands with the rest of the community of nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism“. Shouldn’t Zarif “put aside the rhetoric of blame and fear” first in order to be credible in his conciliatory call on Saudi Arabia to “join hands”? Will the real Zarif please stand up?!
Even Zarif’s repeated mention of the “Zionists” is beginning to wear out. Whenever there’s a problem with Saudi Arabia, with the Gulf States, with the Arabs, with the West, with anything, it’s always convenient to have a scapegoat to blame: Zionistic Israel and the fate of the maligned Palestinians. Listen to Zarif explain the source of the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia: “The tragedy of Palestine, the center of anger and desperation felt in the Muslim world, is at the heart of this crisis“. Is it really? Or is the cause of the Palestinians simply an effective way to galvanize support for Iran amongst Muslims? Nobody in Tehran ever mentions the plight of the Palestinians in Jordan. No one in Tehran offered the Palestinians to live and thrive in Iran. No one in Tehran has ever offered to mediate a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No, the Palestinian cause isn’t Tehran’s goal – the Palestinians are simply Tehran’s pawns in a game of political chess to dominate the region.
But Zarif’s attacks on Wahabbism don’t stop only in regards to terrorism. Here’s Zarif on one of his favorite, and least credible, topics: “Today, interference in internal affairs of other countries, occupation, and extremism have posed threats not only to the world’s peace, security, and development but to the solidarity of NAM state members“. Once again, Zarif “forgets” to mention that interfering in other countries’ affairs is one of Tehran’s specialities since it is part of its revolutionary ideals (“Exporting the Revolution) and is even part of Iran’s constitution. He “forgets” to mention Tehran’s continuous meddling in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain etc… He “forgets” to mention that Tehran has developed a well-oiled strategy of using local and mercenary proxy organizations to meddle without being physically there.
Zarif isn’t alone in this strange mud-slinging contest in which Tehran slings mud at Saudi Arabia and then cries foul when mud is slung back from Riyadh: It’s an integral part of the regime under Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani, in fact, instigated this strategy from the day that he launched his World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) initiative at the UN 3 years ago. In one master stroke, he presented Iran as a champion against terrorism without mentioning once (in three years) Tehran’s role in the resulting Islamic violence and extremism.
Since he became president, Rouhani has mastered the art of repackaging Iran as a Middle Eastern Switzerland: “For us, peace and non-interference in domestic affairs of other countries, their national sovereignty, consultation and coordination on issues of the developing and entire world are important”. It’s not hard to notice that he doesn’t mention Tehran’s political and military interference in domestic affairs in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain etc…He doesn’t mention how without Tehran’s “interference” Bashar al-Assad would have been forced to agree to a general election to prove whether he really is the choice of the Syrian people nor does he mention how the Houthi rebels would never have successfully ousted the Yemenite government without the support of Tehran. “Non-interference”? Yes, only when it is in Tehran’s benefit. When it isn’t, Rouhani and Zarif are quick to point out that they aren’t really interfering, only “helping”.
The bottom line is that Tehran has become very adept at creating myths based on populistic lies which totally lack any form of responsibility. These myths are churned out by the regime and retold constantly until it might seem like the truth. ISIS is “the problem”…the US is “the problem”…Saudi Arabia is “the problem”…Israel is “the problem”…the Iranian resistance is “the problem”…everyone is “the problem” except, of course, for the regime in Tehran because the regime is above any criticism and criticizing the regime is a sin which can send you to jail or to the gallows.
No, in order to be credible, Tehran first has to own its own problems and weaknesses. Yes, the whole Western world and the whole Arab world might be theoretically wrong about accusing Tehran for all the problems in the Middle East but in practice, the stubborn theocratic regime in Tehran is definitely not blameless and as long as it continues to act the part of the wrongly accused saint, no progress can be expected in trying to cool down the multi-level conflicts in the region which appears to be ready to blow up and take the world with it.