In an earlier diary that included, among other things, a sharp criticism of Israel's practice of subjecting Palestinian children to sleep deprivation, one commenter implied that a cause of conflict was "that kill all the infidels shpeal."
Part of the problem with US foreign policy, and with the think-tanks and media who shape policy and shape American opinion on foreign policy, is that a horribly one-sided, and single-faceted version of Islam is broadcast. The opinions of many Americans are based on those single-faceted versions of Islam; for example, the notion that "kill all the infidels" is an element of Islamic belief becomes embedded in the popular culture by one-sided repetition of agenda-laden programming.
The goal of this diary is not to argue with that view. Rather, this diary will present two alternative viewpoints about how individuals and leaders analyze world problems from an Islamic perspective.
Please follow below the graceful Arabic-like curves.
The two viewpoints are taken from two different published works; no interpretation will be provided by the diarist: make up your own mind and form your own opinion on the merits of the words of the authors of the works.
The first piece is from an essay by Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Associate Professor of English Literature at University of Tehran, Iran.
Prof. Marandi, who was born in Richmond, Virginia to an Iranian professor and a political prisoner under the Shah, and "spent his first 13 years in the United States. He recalls a time he once loved NFL football and felt more American than Iranian. But since returning to Iran, where he volunteered in the Iran-Iraq war (surviving attacks with chemical weapons he believes the U.S. supplied to Saddam Hussein), his perspective on the United States, specifically its foreign policy, began to change."
Marandi's essay discusses Ayatollah Khamenei and a Principled Foreign Policy and was originally "presented at the International Conference: RENOVATION & INTELLECTUAL IJTIHAD IN IMAM KHAMENEI, Beirut, 6 & 7 June 2011."
Below is an excerpt from that essay:
One of the most important points to keep in mind when discussing the leadership of Ayatollah al-Udhma Imam Khamenei is the very fact that he was chosen to succeed the towering figure of Imam Khomeini (r.a.). The fact that the late Imam was an extraordinary personality, who revolutionized the role of time and place in Fiqh and Ijtihad, who was an arif or Gnostic, a philosopher and a gifted poet, and a political leader who courageously led an Islamic revolution that has truly changed the world we live in, makes it almost impossible for any successor to fill the enormous void created after his demise.
Nevertheless, Ayatollah Khamenei, who himself has all the personal qualities stated above, has successfully steered the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic of Iran through very turbulent and volatile times and in a very dangerous world. I venture to say that in some respects his leadership has been even more impressive than that of the late Imam, as he did not have the advantage of being the founder of the Revolution.
In the early days of his leadership, Ayatollah Khamenei stated to senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials that the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran must be based upon the three principles of honor or dignity (عزه), wisdom (حکمه), and expediency (مصلحه). It will later be explained how the meaning of expediency here does not include the negative connotations about narrow self-interest with the end justifying the means.
According to this view, in order to achieve the higher goals and ideals put forth by an Islamic state and as stated in the Iranian constitution, wisdom plays a pivotal role. According to Ayatollah Khamenei, “work based upon logical calculations, the establishing of strong foundations, taking steps in a level playing field, and refraining from imprudence, ignorance, and arrogance, is what wisdom means “(3/8/1992). He then adds that the Islamic Republic of Iran is “principalist” (meaning that its policies are principled). In an earlier speech he explains this in greater detail and states that “the results of our political and diplomatic moves and efforts must not contravene our Islamic ideals” (12/12/1982).
Four good examples of this are the Islamic Republic’s responses to the two wars between the United States and Iraq in 1991 and 2003, the response to Bush’s so called ‘War on Terror’, as well as the current situation in Libya. In 1990 Iran sharply condemned Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and Iranian animosity towards the regime in Iraq was very deep. This of course, was because of the Iraqi regime’s unjustified invasion of Iran, the slaughter of innocent Iranians, and the attempt to permanently occupy large parts of Iranian territory in 1980, which led to a bloody eight year war between the two countries.
Initially when Iraq occupied Kuwait, the US and its allies were extremely concerned about military confrontation with Iraq. At that time no one knew that from 17th January to 23rd February Saddam Hussein would simply allow the Americans and their allies to bomb Iraqi targets 24 hours a day gradually destroying the Iraq armed forces and the country’s infrastructure and do almost nothing in retaliation. Hence, the US offered numerous concessions to the Islamic Republic during that period in order to draw Iran closer to the American camp. On the other hand, the Iraqi regime was also offering numerous concessions of its own.
Within Iran there were serious debates taking place about what Iran should do and what sort of stance it should take. For example, a well known Member of the Iranian Parliament, who was a radical at the time and who later became a senior member of what is called the ‘reformist’ camp, made an impassioned speech in parliament calling for Iran to join forces with the Iraqi dictator. This reformist MP Mr. Mohtashami compared Saddam Hussein to Khaled ibn Waleed and said that the Islamic Republic of Iran must join him in his battle with the United States.
Imam Khamenei’s careful response to these events and the ongoing debate inside Iran was based on the principle of wisdom (حکمه). He stated that the US and Iraqi regimes had common interests before the invasion of Kuwait and that both had often together committed many crimes against the people of the region. Therefore, his position was that Iran cannot take sides or help either side in any way or form, because both sides had similar repressive and brutal characteristics. This is noteworthy, as it is possible that if Iran had sided with the US in the 1991 war against Iraq, the country could have possibly gained numerous and major concessions and even resolved a number of its key issues with the United States. However, its decision not to do so was based on this idea of wisdom based upon principles.
The same worldview is evident regarding the 2011 attacks on the United States. Immediately after George Bush made the sinister warning on September 20, 2011 that “You’re either with us or against us”, Ayatollah Khamenei responded that Iran cannot stand alongside either the US or its al-Qaeda opponents, as both sides have committed crimes against humanity. A significant point, because at that time the whole Middle East was extremely concerned about the consequences of an American occupation of at least two key regional countries. Even a number of Iranian leaders were deeply alarmed about US intentions towards the Iran. However, Imam Khamenei refused to allow the Islamic Republic to change its policy of opposition and resistance regarding western occupation and hegemony. He repeatedly stated that one step backwards would simply result in western powers making new demands (something that was clearly revealed when the administration of President Khatami insisted on appeasing western powers regarding the Iranian nuclear program). The same principle of wisdom based upon principles applies in the case of Libya, where both Gaddaffi and NATO are viewed as morally bankrupt and as plunderers of the country’s natural resources.
Regarding Iran’s support for groups opposed to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, it should be noted that this support existed long before September 11, 2011. Indeed, the US was a key supporter of Saddam in the 1980s and along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Pakistani ISI, it actually helped the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan. Hence, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s continued support for these movements had nothing to do with shifting US policy after the September 2011 attacks.
From Ayatollah Khamenei’s perspective, wisdom (حکمه) is reaching truth through knowledge and reason, and this can only be achieved through the full incorporation of spirituality and justice. He is quoted as saying that “the Islam we support and encourage is based on the three principles of spirituality, reason, and justice and it is completely different from reactionary Islam or liberalism” (16/8/2000). Hence, according to this worldview, Iran should pursue its national interests, but only within the framework of its “principles and ideals” as he puts it (9/7/1991). He stresses that Iran’s national interests cannot be based on race, language, the color of one’s skin or nationalism (9/7/1991). Perhaps this is one reason why, according to polls carried out by various American and international institutes, despite the enormous amount of anti-Iranian propaganda, constantly being broadcasted through government owned and government funded Arab television channels, which includes a disturbingly large amount of sectarian and racist rhetoric, the Islamic Republic is popular among ordinary Arabs.
Dignity, honor, or pride in the positive sense of the word (عزه) is the second of his three essential principles for international relations. Imam Khamenei states that dignity or honor too cannot be based upon race or nationalism, as he puts it “things through which everyone builds a wall around themselves” (9/7/1991). Rather, honor comes from “having faith in Allah, being kind to and serving Gods creations and people” and not through pride and arrogance (9/7/1991). In other words, honor is in opposition to being oppressed, allowing oppression to take place, and being oppressive to other nations or peoples in the world. According to this view, how a nation or a people act in relation to the concept of honor or dignity (عزه) determines their identity.
For example, when one looks at the issue of defending or regaining territorial integrity, which are wise objectives in themselves, the principle of dignity is what makes such a distinction between different policies in this regard. For example, the former Egyptian regime was able to regain its territory from the Zionist regime without loss of life, but under conditions that were dishonorable and undignified and that was the underlying reason why Ayatollah Khamenei was opposed to the reestablishment of ties with the Mubarak regime over the past two decades, despite the fact that powerful people within the Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad administrations attempted to restore relations. Ayatollah Khamenei believed that Sadat and Mubarak had humiliated the great and honorable Egyptian people.
On the other hand, the struggle of South Africans and Palestinians against apartheid and occupation were for dignity and honor, despite the enormous loss of life and suffering. Therefore, as silence in the face of oppression against third parties runs against the principle of dignity and honor, the Islamic Republic unequivocally supported and continues to support both peoples, despite the significant price Iran has had to pay as a result of this support. Imam Khamenei’s strong support for Lebanon and the Resistance, Bosnia, and the people of Kashmir is also explained through this moral principle. In the case of Bosnia, the Islamic Republic of Iran was the only country in the world to provide the brutalized Bosnians with meaningful support. Indeed, many believe that if Ayatollah Khamenei had not supported the Bosnian people during their darkest hours, there would be no Bosnia today.
Independence and freedom from foreign hegemony is a condition that even some of the most powerful countries are unable to attain, thus leading to a deficit of dignity. Japan, which until recently has been the world’s second largest economy, has been unable to take an independent stance from that of the United States on any major national, regional, or global issue for decades. The same is true for the Republic of Korea (or South Korea). The Saudi regime, despite its enormous oil wealth, is almost completely reliant upon the United States and the European Union at all levels of national security. Despite purchasing hundreds of billions of dollars of US and EU made weapons over the past three decades, they have been unable or unwilling to even create a credible defense industry of their own.
However, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khamenei, the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite war and sanctions, has been able to achieve major developments in high-tech fields such as stem cell research, nanotechnology, satellite technology and of course peaceful nuclear energy. Despite enormous pressure from western countries and their regional allies, the principle of dignity and honor again lay behind the country’s steadfast position regarding its nuclear program. In fact, many internal critics of Iran’s foreign policy now believe that the country’s posture of resistance has been vindicated. It is widely believed that this culture of resistance advocated by Imam Khamenei has contributed to the current uprisings and the changes that we are now witnessing. It is also believed that the same culture of resistance has made the Islamic Republic popular in the Arab world.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s approach towards the United States can also be understood from this perspective. He believes that as long as the US behaves in an arrogant and exceptionalist manner and refuses to recognize or speak to other governments on equal terms, negotiating or even talking to the American government is pointless. Interestingly what he and Imam Khomeini have proven over the past 32 years is that a nation can live without having relations with the US and continue to thrive. Indeed, the fact that Iran continues to grow stronger despite a series of United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed upon Iran through US and western coercion, shows that imperial powers and their Eurocentric worldviews are not nearly as strong as they would like the rest of the world to think.
The third principle is expediency (مصلحه). According to this doctrine, as the actions of the Islamic Republic must not contravene moral principles, the principle of expediency must not run in contravention to those of honor or wisdom. In other words, choices made by the Islamic Republic regarding regional or international affairs must not be treated with a preference for expediency over the other two, but rather expediency means choosing the most suitable path to wisdom and honor. According to Ayatollah Khamenei, “It is possible that during certain junctures attention may be paid to tactical objectives or using different tactical tools, however this spirit and essence of the foreign policy of the Islamic state, has not and will not change under any circumstances.” (16/8/2004) Hence, despite all the difficulties associated with being almost a lone voice in its principled support for the rights of Palestinians, the Islamic Republic of Iran been firm in its position that Israel as a political entity must cease to exist and that all Palestinians have the right to return to their homes. Unlike what many leftist thinkers have promoted in the past that ends justify the means, the concept of مصلحه which comes from the word صلاح means good and righteous and it is choosing the best paths which are at one with wisdom and morality.
In fact, Ayatollah Khameini’s view on all of the recent upheavals and events in the Middle East and North Africa is based upon this worldview. On the anniversary of the demise Imam Khomeini, he stated that Iran supports all regional uprisings that are based upon three foundations: Islam, popular support, and independence from western interference. He stated that the Islamic Republic cannot support any act that has US or Israeli support, because these regimes will not under any circumstances act in the interests of the people of the region (4/6/2011). This view goes beyond factors such as race, sect, or nationalism. Indeed, he has shown this repeatedly in his support for the people of South Africa, Bosnia, Palestine, Iraqi Kurdish refugees, and Lebanon, who are all from different racial and religious backgrounds.
In order for an Islamic state to function within this moral framework, it needs to have a high ranking religious scholar, who is seen to be just, pious, courageous and who has a keen understanding of political and social complexities, at its helm. Otherwise, it is believed that in the complex and dangerous world that we live in, the principles of honor (عزه), wisdom (حکمه), and expediency (مصلحه) from the Islamic perspective, cannot and will not be honored.
Fair-minded readers are challenged to compare the principles Ayatollah Khameini espouses -- honor, wisdom, and expediency -- to the values the founders of the United States laid down as core values of the US Constitutional republic, and to assess how well each nation, Iran and the US, adheres to those principles.
THE SECOND item is an excerpt from John Perkins' book, New York Times bestseller "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man."
In Chapter 7 of "Confessions," titled "Civilization on Trial," Perkins describes his experience of being taken to a dalang, an Indonesian puppet master, in Bandung, in Indonesia.
We parked the scooter near a sidewalk theater where several hundred people were gathered, some standing, others sitting in portable chairs. . . Then the music started -- the hauntingly magical sounds of the gamalong, an instrument that conjures images of temple bells.
"The dalang plays all the music by himself," Rasy [Perkins' host] whispered. "He also works all the puppets and speaks their voices, several languages." . . .
It was a remarkable performance, combining traditional legends with current events. I would later learn that the dalang is a shaman who does his work in a trance. He had over a hundred puppets and he spoke for each in a different voice. It was a night I will never forget, and one that has influence the rest of my life.
After completing a classic selection from the ancient texts of the Ramayana, the dalang produced a puppet of Richard Nixon, complete with the distinctive long nose and sagging jowls. The U. S. president was dressed like Uncle Sam, in a stars-and-stripes top hat and tails. He was accompanied by another puppet, which wore a three-piece pin-striped suit. The second puppet carried in one hand a bucket decorated with dollar signs. He used his free hand to wave an American flag over Nixon's head in the manner of a slave fanning a master.
A map of the Middle and Far East appeared behind the two, the various countries hanging from hoks in their respective positions. Nixon immediately approached the map, lifted Vietnam off its hook, and thrust it to his mouth. He shouted something that was translated as, "Bitter! Rubbish. We don't need any more of this!" Then he tossed it into the bucket and proceeded to do the same with other countries.
I was surprised, however, to see that his next selections did not include the domino nations of Southeast Asia. Rather, they were all Middle Eastern countries -- Palestine, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. After that, he turned to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Each time, the Nixon doll screamed out some epithet before dropping the country into his bucket, and in every instance, his vituperative words were anti-Islamic: "Muslim dogs," "Mohammed's monsters," and "Islamic devils."
The crowd became very excited, the tensions mounting with each new addition to the bucket. They seemed torn between fits of laughter, shock, and rage. At times, I sensed they took offense at the puppeteer's language. I also felt intimidated; I stood out in this crowd, taller than the rest, and I worried that they might direct their anger at me. Then Nixon said something that made my scalp tingle when Rasy translated it.
"Give this one to the World Bank. See what it can do to make us some money off Indonesia." He lifted Indonesia from the map and moved to drop int into the bucket, but just at that moment another puppet leaped out of the shadows. This puppet represented an Indonesian man, dressed in batik shirt and khaki slacks, and he wore a sign with his name clearly printed on it.
"A popular Bandung politician," Rasy explained.
This puppet literally flew between Nixon and Bucket Man and held up his hand.
"Stop!" he shouted. "Indonesia is sovereign."
The crowd burst into applause. Then Bucket Man lifted his flag and thrust it like a spear into the Indonesian, who staggered and died a most dramatic death. The audience members booed, hooted, screamed, and shook their fists. Nixon and Bucket Man stood there, looking out at us. They bowed and left the stage.
"I think I should go," I said to Rasy.
He placed a hand protectively around my shoulder. "It's okay," he said. "They have nothing against you personally." I wasn't so sure.
. . .Rasy and others assured me that they had not been informed ahead of time about the Nixon-World Bank skit. . . .
"Indonesians are very conscious of politics," [one] man said to me. "Don't Americans go to shows like this?"
A beautiful woman, an English major at the university, sat across the table from me. "But you do work of the the World Bank, don't you?" she asked.
I told her that my current assignment was for the Asian Development Bank and the United States Agency for International Development.
"Aren't they really all the same?" She didn't wait for an answer. "Isn't it like the play tonight showed? Doesn't your government look at Indonesia and other countries as though we are just a bunch of . . ." She searched for the word.
"Grapes," one of her friends coached.
"Exactly. A bunch of grapes. You can pick and choose. Keep England. Eat China. And throw away Indonesia."
"After you've taken all our oil," another woman added.
I tried to defend myself but was not at all up to the task. I wanted to take pride in the fact that I had come to this part of town and had stayed to watch the entire anti-U.S. performance, which I might have construed as a personal assault. I wanted them to see the courage of what I had done, to know that I was the only member of my team who bothered to learn Bahasa or had any desire to take in their culture, and to point out that I ws the sole foreigner attending this production. But I decided it would be more prudent not to mention any of this. Instead, I tried to refocus the conversation. I asked them why they thought the dalang had singled out Muslim countries, except for Vietnam.
The beautiful English major laughed at this. "Because that's the plan."
"Vietnam is just a holding action, one of the men interjected, "like Holland was for the Nazis. A stepping stone."
"The real target," the woman continued, "is the Muslim world."
I could not let this go unanswered. "Surely," I protested, "you can't believe that the United States is anti-Islamic."
"Oh no?" she asked. "Since when? You need to read one of your own historians -- a Brit named Toynbee. Back in the fifties he predicted that the real war in the next century would not be between Communists and capitalists, but between Christians and Muslims."
"Arnold Toynbee said that?" I was stunned.
"Yes. Read Civilization on Trial and The World and the West."
"But why should there be such animosity between Muslims and Christians?" I asked.
Looks were exchanged around the table. They appeared to find it hard to believe that I could ask such a foolish question.
"Because," she said slowly, as though addressing someone slow-witted or hard of eharing, "the West--especially its leader, the U.S. -- is determined to take control of all the world, to become the greatest empire in history. It has already gotten very close to succeeding. The Soviet Union currently stands in its way, but the Soviets will not endure. Toynbee could see that. They have no religion, no faith, no substance behind their ideology. History demonstrates that faith--soul, a belief in higher powers -- is essential. We Muslims have it. We have it more than anyone else in the world, even more than the Christians. So we wait. We grow strong."
"We will take our time," one of the men chimed in, "and then like a snake we will strike."
"What a horrible thought!" I could barely contain myself. "What can we do to change this?"
The English major looked me directly in the eyes. "Stop being so greedy," she said, "and so selfish. Realize that there is more to the world than your big houses and your fancy stores. People are starving and you worry about oil for your cars. Babies are dying of thirst and you search the fashion magazines for the latest styles. Nations like ours are drowning in poverty, but your people don't even hear our cries for help. You shut your ears to the voices of those who try to tell you these things. You label them radicals or Communists. You must open your hearts to the poor and downtrodden, instead of driving them further into poverty and servitude. There's not much time left. If you don't change, you're doomed."
Remarks that Benjamin Netanyahu made to a congressional committee on Sept. 12, 2002, reveal that those Indonesian Muslims knew exactly what they were up against, and Bibi revealed one of the weapons the West uses to destabilize countries that are targeted for an economic hit; the weapon is popular culture -- movies, television, cartoons, video games. In that September 2002 conversation with US Congressmen and congresswomen, Netanyahu instructed them that Al Qaeda was a "network of terror," and that Iraq was the keystone of that network. Iran was part of the network. Since Iraq was the keystone, Bibi urged the congressional committee to support George Bush in his proposal to invade Iraq (Bush had spoken at the United Nations just hours before this committee hearing).
When queried about Iran, and when it should be invaded, Netanyahu said, "Just wait and see what happens. . . .But Iran is different; it is more modern. There are 250,000 satellite dishes in Iran. We could beam programs like Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 to those young people, and make them want the beautiful houses and swimming pools and fancy clothes . . . It's subversive."
"It's subversive" to tempt a youthful population with shiney tin consumer goods, with the goal of undermining their cultural and Islamic values, for the purpose of creating a consumer market for the benefit of Western neo-liberal capitalism.