By WAQAR RIZVI
Muslims, their leaders, scholars and politicians, have been asked, nay demanded, infinite times to speak out about extremism, terrorism, or whatever other –ism currently incorrectly associated with Islam. Ayatollah Khamenei has just responded to that call in an open letter, albeit not in a manner that fits in with the current and popular narrative about Islam. He did not, as was likely desired, apologize for the religion, or for Muslims.
The mainstream media, as well as the Western establishment, seemingly knows and understands little about how Islam, Muslims and their scholars think and speak of the world around them. When Ayatollah Khamenei says that Western youth need to stop relying on their media to judge Islam, reading his own full speeches and press releases would be a good place to start, as an example. The amount of disinformation and twisting that goes into how the media presents any words spoken or written by Ayatollah Khamenei is such that one can genuinely imagine a group of people sitting somewhere brainstorming, ‘how do we misuse this to attain our ends?’ That is neither an exaggeration or conspiratorial if you look at the evidence.
The direct and unprecedented approach of addressing Western youth has seen Ayatollah Khamenei one-up the West, catching it off guard.
Fear of the ‘other’ is a weapon which, as Ayatollah Khamenei rightly addresses, has been an effective tool used by the West throughout the years to ensure blind support for its political aims, both domestic and overseas. As stated in the letter, since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the end of the communist boogeyman, Islam and Muslims were brought to the fore to use as punching bags to guarantee unquestionable support for pro-war policies, among others.
To some all this sounds less like a systematic defaming of Islam, but of the activities of a number of fringe Islamophobic, right-wing groups. The evidence shows otherwise. As proven by studies and research in the West itself, Islamophobia has become an industry in and of itself, making many who work within it unimaginably wealthy. These groups are very quickly being able to buy their influence on TV, in films, and in politics.
As time goes by, and as proof of the continuous acceptance of anti-Islam stances, the media, through movies or otherwise, feels more comfortable in portraying Muslims as successively more negative. Its almost a competition at this point as to who can do a better job of making Muslims out to be the barbaric, uncivilized, violent people that the current narrative describes them as. The recent movie ‘American Sniper,’ as well as the recent TV show ‘Homeland,’ are good examples of acceptable, propaganda-filled entertainment, meant to increase the hype about a ‘Muslim-threat.’
One paragraph in Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter deserves special attention:
‘I don’t insist that you accept my reading or any other reading of Islam. What I want to say is: Don’t allow this dynamic and effective reality in today’s world to be introduced to you through resentments and prejudices. Don’t allow them to hypocritically introduce their own recruited terrorists as representatives of Islam.’
Ayatollah Khamenei, as in every Muslim, simply wants others to judge Islam and Muslims without prejudice and Islamophobia. No one is asking everyone to become Muslim, or to become cheerleaders for Islam, but for Muslims and Islam to be given the same respect as all other faiths and their followers.
The gem-of-a-statement here is Ayatollah Khamenei’s plea for Western youth to not allow their governments and media to ‘introduce their own recruited terrorists as representatives of Islam.’
Just days ago, The Independent reported that evidence has emerged that 700 ‘moderate’-Syrian opposition members joined the [un]-Islamic State terrorists. As Iran, Syria, and others have been warning for years, the line between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ in the Syrian conflict has always been muddled. Yet, the Western world insists on arming, training, and financing the ‘moderate’-opposition which lives on the brink or in line with the extremist ideologies the West now claims it is fighting against through its anti-ISIL coalition. If that sounds confusing, it is meant to be.
The [un-]Islamic State did not appear in a vacuum, and evidence shows US-allies in the Middle East enthusiastically funded, trained, and armed the terrorists, with American weapons, under the guise of fighting President Assad of Syria, while poisoning their minds with a warped version of Islam propagated by Persian Gulf Arab monarchies to further their political interests. Many, including Western Muslims, were recruited through an organized and crisp social media campaign to join the fight. That these very countries, this very West, now claims moral authority in fighting its own Frankenstein is hypocrisy of the highest order.
For the media and politicians to turn around, while knowing full well those who are responsible for the rise of these terrorists, and ask Muslims to apologize for, and condemn terrorism, while calling for ‘reform’ within Islam would be comical if the consequences weren’t so real. For many Westerners, the drones that fly over the skies over many Muslim countries’ skies are an after-thought, but for those on the receiving end, the Islamophobia that begins in the minds of racist Islamophobes eventually translates into the death of their innocents, seen as worthy collateral-damage.
As blowback from support for terrorists and warped ideologies is felt across the Western world, instead of reflecting on its own role in this, the West has conveniently put Islam into the void where its own good name must stand. Muslims and Islam are seemingly in a lose-lose situation, where the vicious cycle of founding terrorist groups, acts of terrorism, and inescapable blowback all come back to bite them.
It is time for some honest reflection on the use of Islam as a convenient scapegoat, and to ask the Western world to put its money where its mouth is, when it comes to its claims of freedom, equality, and respect for all. There is still time, and much hope that the next generation, as addressed by Ayatollah Khamenei, will rise above the previous one’s blunders, towards a world truly in line with stated Western, and in fact global, ideals.