Zarif: Iran is against extremism and religious dogmatism

Sunni extremism and Shiite extremism are similar. Proponents of both sides tend to bid over which is more brutal

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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We agree with Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in his criticism of the U.S.’s hesitation to confront extremist organizations in Iraq and Syria. However, it is difficult to digest his televised statement that Iran had previously warned of the threats of extremism and religious dogmatism and his statement that Iran has, from the beginning, stood against this barbaric orientation.

Everyone blames Saudi Arabia for the spread of Islamic extremism across the world and there is some truth in this. However, it is not the result of official state policy but a product of social activity. This is contrary to Iran, who as a state, is the major reason behind the institutionalization of Islamic extremism, and taking radicalization beyond the basis of individual cases. Iran contributed to establishing and spreading extremist Islamic organizations under the slogan of exporting the Islamic revolution. It is only after the genie escaped the bottle that the Iranians felt the gravity of the threat against them and against their allies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Iran is also responsible for supporting extremist Sunni groups in northern Lebanon since the 1980s. It supported these groups against Saudi Arabia’s allies. Iran also established and supported extremist Palestinian groups to firstly weaken Fatah and then to weaken the Palestinian Authority. This fell within the context of regional competition over controlling Palestinian decision-making. Since the 1980s, Iran has been a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly in Egypt and Sudan. It’s for the sake of glorifying Sunni terrorists that it named a street in Tehran after Khaled Islambouli, the terrorist who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat. There’s plenty of evidence regarding Iran’s mistakes in sponsoring Sunni and Shiite religious extremism and activities.

Therefore, the brothers in Iran must not throw stones at the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the al-Nusra Front and other brutal Sunni groups when Iran itself is producing such groups! Religious extremism as an institution is a direct product of the Iranian revolution which brought an extremist Shiite religious group to power in 1979. It is since then that the Islamic world leaned towards religious extremism and radicalism. I don’t know if Zarif forgot Iranian leaders’ threats against prominent authors and television producers in Iran and Europe under the excuse of defending Islam when in fact these threats were political moves made within the context of the struggle with the West. There also exists a long list of moderate figures, reformists and intellectuals who were either jailed or who fled Iran.

Iran must not throw stones at the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the al-Nusra Front and other brutal Sunni groups when Iran itself is producing such groups

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Hasan Eshkevari is in exile in Germany, along with other Iranian intellectuals, because the Iranian regime pursued such people for their ideas. Eshkevari wrote against the principle of velayat-e-faqih and did not consider that it was obligatory for women to wear headscarves. He was thus sentenced to death and the verdict was commuted in absentia. Aren’t these the same ideas that ISIS upholds? Isn’t this radicalism?

Similar extremism

Sunni extremism and Shiite extremism are similar. Proponents of both sides tend to bid over which is more brutal and which exceeds its bounds more often. They practice continuous suppression against civil intellect. Iranian religious moderates lost and most of them were eliminated from the fields of media, education and politics until the regime became an exclusive extremist Shiite party which now controls all aspects of the Iranian people’s lives. The regime did not settle at eliminating moderate figures inside Iran but also supported extremists abroad as a basic pillar of its policies. It thus supported religious groups in Shiite communities in Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf and it marginalized civil Shiite parties. This is how Hezbollah was born in Lebanon.

Therefore, Zarif cannot just overlook history and decide who is extremist and who is moderate. Yes, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is a terrifying extremist figure and so was Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyah, who was notorious for his brutality. Both of them abducted civilians and killed civilian hostages. Both falsely used the name of God and Islam to justify their crimes. Iran raised and trained such people and currently supports the Houthis in Yemen - a tribal group which follows the Zaydi sect and whose members converted to Shiism. They are currently, like ISIS, raising the caliphate flag, labeling their leader a caliph, declaring disobedience against the state and looting cities and towns which oppose them. Despite this, Iran supports them and helps them!

However, even if we disagree with Iran over what defines extremism, we do agree with it on the importance of working together to fight terrorist groups, mainly ISIS. It’s also important for the Lebanese party Hezbollah to end its religious war against Syrians and other Lebanese parties. The world must realize that fighting extremism and terrorism requires Muslim countries, mainly Saudi Arabia and Iran who represent the Sunni and Shiite sects respectively, to cooperate. Saudi Arabia and Iran must first begin to admit the problem that extremism has infiltrated their societies. They must confront this on the educational, media and religious levels without exception as extremist groups which raise the slogan of religion are all alike, whether they are Sunnis or Shiites.

We hope that Iran changes its policy and stops supporting extremist Sunni and Shiite groups and that we open a chapter of Islamic cooperation that spreads moderation and respect for others.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on September 10, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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