The West Asia region is beset my many problems but the solution to these crises lies not in imitating the West or its prescribed policies but in adhering to Islamic principles as shown by Islamic Iran.
The writer, Alireza Komaili, is a member and researcher at the International Union of Unified Ummah.
Difficult and hard-to-believe circumstances have gripped the West Asian region. The flames of sectarian conflict have flared up and sniggering of the enemy can be heard from afar. If previously, the protection of West Asian countries was provided due to oil and other Western interests, now, it seems the politics of “weakening countries that are getting out of control” is also in place. At the very least, this goal is under focus in the short term, and it has been decided that “radical Muslims” will play half the role in this act! After a while the people will get tired of war and insecurity and agree, once again, to cooperate with the superpowers, or choose a secular option that is aligned with them. The West will once again sit at the table and pick out their interests as and how they choose.
In accordance with this, a few solutions have been proposed to get out of the current crisis. Some are short-term and others are long-term. These include direct cooperation with the US, strengthening of secular Muslims, democratization, secularization of Iran, and strengthening “moderate” Islamic movements. Those who call for cooperation with the US say that the source of all disturbances and insecurity is America. It is, therefore, also America that can provide stability and security. Thus, rivalry with the superpower should be avoided and a compromise reached with it so that both sides can benefit.
Proponents of strengthening secular Muslims argue that groups with Islamic goals should play no role in the political arena because this leads to constant drumbeating for religious war. Instead, the ground must be prepared for strengthening secular groups so that they can take over the affairs of state and eliminate the Western excuse for war. Related to this is the argument of the “democratizers.” They say that the Islamic form of government should not be stressed or highlighted as both internal and external rivals find this a sensitive issue. They prescribe a democratic set up for the political system in the country in which different Islamic groups will also be able to participate.
The secularization of Iran brigade offers the opinion that the Islamic Republic of Iran should abandon its Islamic slogans and ideology so that religious sensitivities in the region and sensitivities of the West can be reduced. This will help bring about stability, according to this body of opinion. And finally, those calling for strengthening Islamic moderates posit that in order to resolve the current crisis, “moderate” Islamic movements should be strengthened in the Muslim world. At the same time, these movements need to believe in Islamic governance and combating the West.
It is evident that it is not appropriate to reference the source and formation of a complex phenomenon to just one single factor or cause. Different factors and causes have intertwined in such a way that all appear to have contributed to creating the current scenario. A number of factors can be identified.
The fall of the Ottoman Sultanate that was a humiliation for Muslims in the face of the Western colonial onslaught; crimes committed by the colonialists in Muslim countries and societies; crackdown on Muslim groups by the Western-backed puppet despots; promotion of nationalistic and sectarian movements in the region; the drawing up of national borders based on tribalism in the Sykes-Picot Agreement; conflict between Islam and “modernity” and lack of resolution to this problem among Muslim academics; the weakening of Islamic wisdom; prohibition on and obstruction of religious movements to govern countries in this region and especially in Arab countries; the Islamic Revolution and the strengthening of the position of Shi‘is in the world; American military strikes on Muslim countries; the strengthening of radical religious groups etc. are all contributory factors that have had an impact on the current situation of the region. We must, however, recognize factors that have been more pivotal.
Before we can choose a remedial strategy from the various viewpoints expressed above, we must separate the primary from secondary factors so that we can understand the ground realities better. It is then that we can try and implement one of our choices.
The internal factors that led to the current situation, such as the weakening of Islamic wisdom, are results of external activities, meaning those of the colonialist enemy and its agents. Naturally, if the political and military meddling of the West did not exist in the Islamic world, a lot of the features that can be seen would not be present.
As example, we have the Salafi-Jihadi movement, with al-Qaeda representing its most obvious face, which shadows the presence of the oppressive and tyrannical Western military and its agents in Muslim countries. Even the takfiri movement, or Wahhabism, owes its strength and influence to support it got and continues to receive from the West, otherwise this movement would have disappeared and become a footnote in history at the time of the Ottomans!
However, if we accept that the real cause of many of our problems is due to external pressure, then we have no option but to get rid of that cause of all the causes, namely the West. This, however, is not possible in the short term so we have little choice but to continue to live with the current situation that prevails in the Muslim world.
Even though this may sound pessimistic, Muslims need to work around it to remove these causes. The strategy to improve the condition of Muslims must look for ways to eliminate the factors the enemy uses to penetrate Muslim societies (as opposed to targeting the enemy itself). Until such time as this is achieved, the strategy must be to fortify the strengths and eliminate the weaknesses in Muslim societies.
Empirical evidence suggests that despite external interference from different powers, what occurred in Iran has the potential to be repeated elsewhere. Iran was heavily policed by the US — indeed it was a virtual colony — yet the Islamic Revolution demonstrates that if political independence is achieved by mobilizing the Islamic strength of the people, even with the myriad forces arraigned against it, it is still possible to achieve economic, academic, military and cultural independence. Therefore, changing the political system of Muslim countries so that it leads to greater public awareness and participation must become the most important priority.
The recent Islamic Awakening movements in the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) region are another example of this phenomenon. We must understand the difficulties in actualizing this issue in the current situation and prepare to face them. This Awakening is likely to augment itself again and the reality of its success will be in accordance with how well preparations have been made.
With this background, we can begin to critique the different opinions outlined above to arrive at the correct solution.
Outwardly, the “cooperating with America” strategy may appear to concur with the argument in this article but that is the wrong conclusion. This writer advocates exactly the opposite position! Let us evaluate the argument from two different angles.
First, the cooperation with America argument is predicated on the false premise that even with such cooperation, Muslims will be able to preserve their Islamic atmosphere and actualize their Islamic objectives! The experience of encounters with the West of different Muslim majority countries illustrates the error of this opinion.
Second, if someone chooses security over actualizing Islamic objectives, in reality they have deviated from the principles of Islam and the objectives of an Islamic civilization.
What about the “strengthening secular Muslims” strategy? This opinion, that has unfortunately become prevalent, not only goes against the objectives of the Islamic civilization and reintroduces the idea of a government the likes of which are already in place in almost all Muslim countries, but it also speaks about creating a form of unity that is not based on Islam and monotheism and therefore it is bound to fail. The practical experience of secular governments in the Muslim world shows they have moved toward either the East or the West and the growth of Islamic thinking always intimidates them.
The “democratization” strategy is silent about the question as to what would happen if as a result of this democracy, a party following the Islamic ideology is victorious and wishes to have no relationship with Israel and it sanctions American goods. The Turkish experiment, as well as the experience of other countries following this model shows us that the issue that is important for superpowers is that governments must act in accordance with the interests of the superpowers, regardless of what name or title the government carries.
The “secularization of Iran” strategy posits that all the problems today are the result of religious leanings. The root of the problem is the menacing attitude arrogant powers chasing their own interests in the region. There were no problems when the Shah of Iran, a Shi‘i, was in power, or the Shi‘i rulers of Azerbaijan or even the religious and sectarian politics of the extremists in Saudi Arabia as long as the interests of the predatory powers were protected. In fact, they even help strengthen these regimes! The real problems arise from the threats as a consequence of chasing the political and economic interests of the arrogant powers. It is, therefore, the actions of governments that are important and not what labels they carry!
One point the enemy has understood well is that the model of the Islamic Republic of Iran has the ability to create a force that can stand in opposition to the West. It is because of this fact that they have decided to tarnish its image in the minds of Muslims by beating sectarian war drums as one of their priorities. By presenting the Islamic Revolution in Iran as “Shi‘i” and a danger to other Muslim countries, they want to prevent other Muslims from being inspired by its success in facing the arrogant powers.
It can be stated that the victory of Islam in the future will be in correlation with the success we have in coming out of the current sedition. It is from this viewpoint that we need to take into account two strategies to end the present bleak situation.
1: Reformation of the “religious Shi‘i mindset”
A significant portion of Shi‘is, even in post-revolution Iran, live in an ancient climate of when contentious relationships existed between the Shi‘is and Ahl al-Sunnah. These are remnants of the rivalry that existed between the Safavids and the Ottomans. The model of the Islamic Revolution cannot be spread across the globe without having propagators whose motivation is Islamic and they must be mindful toward the mannerisms of Islamic engagement based upon the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (a).
2: Strengthening of non-sectarian Sunni movements
On the other side, it is also important to strengthen those who think with a level head, adopt a sensible approach based on sound knowledge and believe in proximity between the different schools of thought. This is necessary preparation to enter the scene of the Islamic awakening that still exists in different Islamic countries. Naturally this principle cannot be promoted among the Shi‘is without proving the discourse on genuine Islam as articulated by Imam Khomeini.
The most important strategy that needs to be considered is building ties, alongside tolerance, with these movements and strengthening them in various ways. This is important because when the ground is ready for another Islamic revolution, these movements can come to power and become the foundation for the growth and independence of other Muslim countries.
Some people argue that the implementation of these processes will take a long time. Even though not completely false, given the current situation, the ground for accepting the discourse on genuine Islam is more fertile than ever. The new generation of Muslims also has the capacity to realize this. Therefore, efforts to illuminate these discourses through religious knowledge has the potential to open up new horizons.
True, there are also those who have become extremely pessimistic about repairing the damage done to relations as a result of the differences that exist between us (Iran) and other movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood. However, there are some experiences that show that by reforming one’s viewpoint and by showing a little more tolerance, the potential for fruitful engagement that has not been damaged by negativity does exist.
If someone is genuine about reviving the Islamic civilization they must follow the path of the honourable Imams (a) in the patience they showed for preserving the interests of Islam. Alongside tolerance and the necessary foresight, they must think about the near future of Islam; otherwise, pounding the drums of differences will not produce any result other than what is being done to Muslim countries at the present time.