Rouhani Preaches Unity but Promotes Division

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.

 

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Younesi is Scapegoat for “Persian Empire” Statement

younesi2

Rouhani’s chief adviser on Ethnic and Religious Minorities (and former Intelligence Minister) Ali Younesi’s visions of a “Greater Iranian Empire” struck a nerve in the hearts of Iran’s Arab neighbors. Their fierce reaction to his statement caught the Iranian leaders off-guard and sent them scrambling to control the damage. Younesi, as well as Iranian parliament chief Ali Larijani, chose the “lost in translation” excuse while 104 members of the Iranian parliament requested Younesi’s dismissal.

Whether Younesi’s aspirations were exaggerated in translation or not is debatable. What isn’t debatable is that his was not a lone voice in the dark and that his timing reflects once again the split personality of Tehran since Rouhani took office.

 

Nuclear Deal Based on Regional Peace

PeaceBombsFor over a year and half, Tehran has been trying to broker a nuclear deal and subsequently a rapprochement with the West based on repeated statements that Iran is a peaceful country with peaceful aspirations.

Khamenei’s “nuclear fatwa”, Rouhani’s “WAVE” initiative and efforts to mend fences with Iran’s Gulf neighbors all exemplify Iran’s efforts to be seen as a promoter of peace.

Younesi’s aspirations for a greater Iran may not impede a nuclear deal per se but his reasons for such an empire should light up a series of red lights at the nuclear negotiations table. According to Younesi, a greater Iran will “protect all of the nationalities in the area…against Islamic extremism, takfirism, atheism, neo-Ottomans, the Wahhabis, the West and Zionism“.

The Iranian army and its terrorist proxy groups are already fighting all these “enemies” de facto in different areas of the world – adding nuclear capability to its military arsenal could prove devastating to all these “enemies” in the future.

 

Regional Subversion and Meddling

crescent dominationsAs we showed in our earlier post, Iran’s “Crescent of Control” is growing: What began in Lebanon, spread to Syria, Iraq and lately Yemen. In all of these countries, Iranian politics, religious outlooks and military forces are at center stage.

Tehran continues to state that its presence in all of these countries was welcomed which can remind us of Roman expansion and world conquest in the name of defending smaller entities. Lebanon has been taken over, militarily and politically, by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah; Assad invited Iran to fight on his side in the civil war; Iraq requested Iran’s help to fight ISIS and Yemenite Houthi rebels took power with Iranian military support.

But Tehran’s modus operandi is the same in all cases: identify pro-Shiite leaders/factions and offer them political and military support (including terrorist infrastructure) while making sure that these leaders continue to thank Iran for its “welcomed interference”.

As such, countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are within Tehran’s sights as the next countries to join its Crescent of Control.

 

Global Islamic Awakening

islamic awakeningYounesi’s statement might be dismissed but Supreme Leader Khamenei’s own visions for a Global Islamic Awakening can’t:

  • The Enemy: “For two hundred years, Westerners ruled the Islamic Ummah…They occupied Islamic countries: some of them directly, some of them indirectly with the help of local dictatorships. England, France and finally America – which is the Great Satan”.
  • The Inspiration: “A new era is starting throughout the world…Today neither Marxism, nor western liberal democracy, nor secular nationalism has any appeal…the greatest appeal belongs to Islam, the Holy Quran and the school of thought that is based on divine revelation.”
  • The Opportunity: “Today the arrogant powers of the world feel helpless in the face of Islamic Awakening. You are dominant. You will win. The future belongs to you”.
  • The Goal: “This century is the century of Islam…The kind of Islam that is based on rationality, Islam that is based on thinking, Islam that is based on spirituality, Islam that is based on attention to God and reliance on Him, Islam that is based on jihad.”
  • The Brotherhood: “Today the Islamic movement throughout the world of Islam is independent of Shia and Sunni…It is independent of Arabs, Persians and other ethnicities. There must be a sense of brotherhood among us…The goal is Quranic and Islamic rule…all of us are opposed to the arrogant powers, all of us are opposed to the evil hegemony of the west, all of us are opposed to the cancerous tumor, Israel.”
  • The Promise: “By Allah’s favor, there will be a day when the Islamic Ummah will reach the peak of power and independence…Muslim nations should come together under the banner of the call to God and the call to Islam. Then the Islamic Ummah will regain its dignity”.

Makes Younesi’s statement sound childish, doesn’t it?

 

Global Uprising of the “Underdogs”

non-aligned-movementAdd to all of this Iran’s repeated call to all NAM states to overthrow the “oppressive” forces of the West.

Here’s how previous Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi opened the 16th NAM summit in Tehran in 2012: “We believe that adopting worn-out policies based on intimidation and humiliation (by Western powers) is not only unjust and unjustifiable but also weakens international cooperation for the materialisation of the goals and objectives of the UN charter…No doubt, those who plan such policies will soon find out that they are doomed to failure.” He also attacked the UN Security Council as “illogical, unjust and completely undemocratic” and called for “fundamental changes in global governance”.

The state-run PRESSTV site made things clearer with an article headed “Iran’s NAM summit will isolate the West“.

Many NAM states tended to agree with Iran – especially states who were colonies in the past or who feel that their third-world status was implemented by the Western powers. For them, Iran is a champion to overturn their status as “global underdogs”.

 

So, all in all, Younesi’s “Greater Iran” vision does seem to reflect a general call for overturning the current status quo: whether it be through regional subversion, Islamic Awakenings, mutual aid to “underdogs” or a nuclear arms race, Iran is striving to expand its influence dramatically. Maybe we should thank Younesi for voicing what the Mullahs in Tehran really believe but feared to say.

Nukes and Wannabe Martyrs Are Scary

martyrdom and nukes

The nuclear negotiations with Iran are focused on Iran’s nuclear program which makes sense up to a point: Gun possession laws are not only focused on the type of rifles and ammunition but on the people who own guns or want to own guns.  A gun in the hands of a hunter or someone who hopes to never use it is less dangerous than in the hands of someone who is itching to use it to kill someone he/she hate.

In this case, the problem with Iran is not whether it does have a nuclear bomb or even wants to build one – Iran can build a bomb if it wants to. The problem is not even whether Iran will have the ability to deliver a nuclear bomb to its target: whether it is through long range missiles, jet fighters, submarines or in a suitcase, a nuclear payload is deliverable.

The only question should be whether Tehran intends to use a bomb if it had one. Khamenei has touted his “nuclear fatwa” repeatedly as proof of not wanting the bomb but his rhetoric is far from peaceful. In order to guesstimate the answer, one has to listen to Khamenei himself.

 

Khamenei Idealizes Martyrdom

Iran KhameneiIn a key speech in 2009, Khamenei shared his views on martyrdom glowingly. Two key learning are that 1) martyrdom is “the zenith of courage and bravery…the pinnacle of a people’s honor” and that 2) “this is what frightens the enemy“.

Most people would tend to agree with his first point during times of war but not during times of peace but this is the insight one needs to understand Khamenei: he believes that his vision of an Islamic Awakening pits Islam, with Tehran and himself at its epicenter, in a state of Jihad/war against the “arrogant”, racist”, “oppressive” and “imperialistic” powers of the West. In his mind, Tehran is at war with the West even if a shot has not yet been fired.

His second point though is unarguable: his praise of martyrdom scares the West. It is this very idealization of martyrdom that has led to the rise in global terrorism by and Tehran’s support for terrorist organizations whose modus operandi is underlined by the pursuit of martyrdom is proof to the West that Khamenei is ready to “Walk his Talk”.

Khamenei Trades (temporarily) Martyrdom for “Heroic Flexibility”

khamenei rouhani 3An article in the Guardian from September 2013 heralded hope for a nuclear deal with Iran under the headline “Iran: ‘Hello diplomacy, so long martyrdom'” based on Khamenei’s flag of “heroic flexibility” (“flexibility is necessary on certain occasions. It is very beneficial “.

And for a while, it seemed that Khamenei had accepted Rouhani’s vision of rapprochement with the West as a necessary next step forward.

But within months, he had laid down his own red lines for a nuclear deal which were far from flexible.  Furthermore, he laced his support for nuclear negotiations with the same rhetoric of war and hate deeming the US the “great Satan” and repeating that Israel was to be “annihilated”.

 

Khamenei Returns Back to Praising Martyrdom

khamenei khomeiniBut then, last week Khamenei returned to his rhetoric of martyrdom and “the culture of sacrifice…for long term goals, common people and all mankind” as opposed to “the culture of Western individualism”. Once again, out of context of war, his words may seem admirable, especially the part of the good of the “common people and all mankind”.

But Khamenei’s rhetoric of war is never far away and he continues: “Although hegemonic powers, benefiting from their massive tools, have currently found more dominance over the oppressed, the Islamic Revolution is now standing against the oppressors“.

Make no mistake, Khamenei’s version of martyrdom is not meant to benefit “all mankind” and certainly not the West – martyrdom is meant to help the Islamic Revolution to prosper at the expense of the West.

 

Mixing Martyrdom with Nukes in 10 Years

to sign or not to signIn an article in the Washington Post, headlined “The Strategic genius of Iran’s Supreme Leader“, Khamenei, who is sometimes looked down upon by Westerners as an uncivilized Mullah “is also a first-rate strategic genius who is patiently negotiating his way to a bomb”.

By biding his time and despite a hand as weak as the Iranian economy, he managed to scare the West into pursuing a nuclear agreement that would guarantee Tehran the possibility to build a bomb after the ten-year deal expires.

Khamenei may not be around but by then, another Supreme Leader will be in charge and he will have to choose between two Khamenei legacies: The legacy of his “nuclear fatwa” (which can be overturned by the next Supreme Leader) and the legacy of “martyrdom” which might convince him to dash for the bomb and the ultimate martyrdom of hundreds of thousands of Iranians.

Who is Spreading Islamophobia?

islamophobia

Does Islamophobia exist? Definitely yes – Islamophobia exists just like any other racist prejudice. It’s a fact as long as enough people believe that Islam is a religion which can fan the flames of hatred within the hearts of its believers up to a point that they will kill in the name of Allah, the prophet or the Islamic states.

So, who is to blame for Islamophobia – those who fear Islamist extremists or the Islamist extremists themselves? Actually, both. Without the horrific acts carried out by Islamist extremists and the people inciting them to do so, Islamophobia would implode on itself and exist only within the minds of radical bigots and fanatic haters of Islam.

So who is to blame? Just ask Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei.

 

Khamenei Blames the West for Islamophobia

letter

Two weeks ago, Khamenei issued a “Letter to the Youth in Europe and North America”. In it, he requested the Western youth “study and research the incentives behind this widespread tarnishing of the image of Islam” and to “try to gain a direct and firsthand knowledge of this religion”. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Even a hardened Islamophobe should accept Khamenei’s request and question herself as to the legitimacy of such a fear.

Khamenei’s letter places the blame of Islamophobia squarely on the shoulders of the Western leaders and Western media who promote “hatred and illusionary fears” and portrays Islam as a “humane” and “ethical religion” of peace as well as “the greatest scientific and intellectual civilization of the world”.

Maybe…all religions, including Islam, create a bond between their believers and their deities while at the same time create barriers between “us” and “them” depending on the interpretation of the deities at the base of each religion.

As in all prejudices, most of the time, they are far from factual: most Muslims are not blood thirsty terrorists, nor do they condone terrorism. But Islam, like any other religion can be interpreted to incite violence or peace depending on the believers mind-set and too many terrorist acts are carried out by extremist Islamists who believe that their acts make them exemplary Muslims.

 

Khamenei Creates Islamophobia in the West

executions

One week after issuing his “letter”, an article was published in the daily newspaper Kayhan (a mouth piece of Khamenei) which seemed to justify all the fears of Islamophobes because it called for the “suppression” and “annihilation” of anyone who “threatens the Islamic system” without restrictions to “any time, place and border”.

The message was targeted to Iranian dissenters who “corrupt the earth” and who should be “harshly, severely and humiliatingly punished and killed…even if they have escaped the country”. Oh, and “all people should join in to arrest them”. This is an open call to kill any Iranians who oppose the regime in Tehran, regardless of the fact that they may live on Western soil. It’s an open call for global terrorism in the name of Islam.

And just in case you are not an Iranian dissident and feel safe, you might tune in to another speech of Khamenei himself from just six months ago: “Jihad is endless because evil and its front continue to exist… this battle will only end when the society can get rid of the oppressors’ front with America at the head of it, which has expanded its claws on human mind, body and thought“. Oh yeah, that really helps soothe the phobias of Islamophobes all over the world.

 

Islamophobia exists and if Khamenei wants it to cease to exist, he had better learn to keep his own racist views to himself and stop selling a vision of a “Global Islamic Awakening“, a “battle of wills” against the “arrogant powers” which will lead to a “century of Islam”- an Islam based on “rationality”, “spirituality” and “jihad” – that is sure to feed the fearful minds of Islamophobes around the world.

So, Khamenei, if you want to get rid of Islamophobia, you might consider shutting up a little…or a lot.

 

Khamenei’s Crescent of Control

crescent dominations

Although Tehran is still isolated from the West due to sanctions over it dubious nuclear aspirations, its regional sphere of control is growing in leaps and bounds.

At its epicenter is a crescent of military and political control that ranges from Gaza to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and now Yemen.

 

Palestine-Iran

2000px-Flag_of_Palestine.svgRelations with Iran took off when the PLO supported the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran but received a boost during the second Intifada in 2000 when Arafat released Hamas and Islamic Jihadist prisoners who identified with Iran. Despite calls from PLO/Fatah leaders to Tehran to stop meddling in internal Palestinian politics,  Iran’s influence grew stronger as Hamas’s power grew within Palestinian politics and once Hamas won the elections in 2006, Tehran became Palestine’s main sponsor. That sponsorship isn’t only financial since Tehran supplies Hamas with military support and knowledge.

 

Lebanon-Iran

Flag_of_Lebanon.svgLebanon has been under Tehran’s influence since the Islamic revolution in 1979 but its control over Beirut grew in leaps in bounds with the founding of Hezbollah in 1982, during the subsequent wars between Hezbollah and Israel and finally following the signing of a military and economic agreement in Tehran by Lebanon’s president Suleiman in 2008. As outlined in a number of earlier posts, Beirut is ruled by Tehran through Hezbollah and Qods chief Qassem Suleimani himself.

 

Syria-Iran

syriaflagimage1Tehran has been Damascus’ ally since 1979 as well but the relations strengthened when Syria sided with Iran during the war with Iraq. Syria played a big role in establishing Hezbollah’s strength in Lebanon as well as in Syria and once Bashar al-Assad took over in 2000, the course was set for the signing of a military cooperation in 2006. That cooperation took on a much deeper meaning with the outset of the civil war in Syria in 2011 and since then Hezbollah troops have been  supported by IRGC and Qods military power in efforts to destroy the Syrian rebels. Tehran’s military support was accompanied by financial support estimated at $10 billion which has put Damascus under the control of Tehran.

 

Iraq-Iran

iraq-flagIraq and Iran were at war for 8 bloody years between 1980 and 1988 and after that, there existed between Baghdad and Tehran a cordial peace. Relations between the two countries improved significantly in 2003 when Iran strongly opposed the US-led Gulf war against Iraq. But it was only in 2005 that Tehran began to have some form of control over Iraq through a pro-Iran and pro-Islamist president al-Jaafari and later by the like-minded Shi’ite prime minister al-Maliki (2006-2014). Trade between the two countries flourished and helped to oil diplomatic relations but Tehran’s grip on Baghdad suddenly increased with Iran’s involvement in quelling ISIS’s rampage in Iraq.

 

Yemen-Iran

yemen-flagYemen also enjoyed cordial relations with Iran since 1979 but since Yemen was heavily supported by Saudi Arabia, Tehran had no control over Sanaa. But once funds from Saudi Arabia dried up, the way was clear for Shi’ite Houthi rebels (less than 30% of the total population) to take over with the full political, financial and even some military support from Iran in late 2013. The Houthi government is fanatically pro-Iran and expects Tehran to continue its support on all levels.

 

Crescent of Control

khamene 6None of these countries were invaded by Iran and all countries “invited” Tehran’s influence in some way or another and all ties began with ties with pro-Islamic/Shi’ite leaders who envisioned some form of Islamic revolutions of their own even if it did look like Iran was simply meddling in other countries’ businesses.

But unlike other spheres of influence by countries such as the US, Russia or even the EU, the ties between these countries and Iran are not a coalition in the general sense of the word but a confederation that is ruled by one person, Supreme Leader Khamenei and his vision of a global Islamic Awakening with Tehran at its core.

Apart from these countries, Iran’s influence is on the rise in many countries such as Bahrain and the UAE who have large Shi’ite populations but Tehran’s control is still limited in these countries due to governments who are willing to maintain diplomatic friendship but are wary of Tehran’s meddling in their politics and their military.

 

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