Middle East’s extremism and sectarianism can be traced back to Iran

Middle East’s extremism and sectarianism can be traced back to Iran

Middle East’s extremism and sectarianism can be traced back to Iran
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. (File/AFP)
Short Url

As many have noted, you can’t change geography. According to an Arab saying, “The neighbor comes before the home,” meaning that choosing good neighbors is more important than buying the best house. Similarly, Iranians say, “A good neighbor is far better than a distant brother.”

Before 1979, the Middle East managed a reasonable neighborly coexistence between the nations on either side of the Arabian Gulf. Despite some political differences and disputes over the Iranian occupation of the three Emirati islands — Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs — all sides prioritized the importance of harmony, transparency and integrity.

After the shah’s regime was deposed and the popular revolution of 1979 was hijacked by the mullahs, however, the regional situation began to slide toward chaos, with the emergence of fundamentalist orientations belonging to the Middle Ages.

The region and the world were at peace with Iran until the Khomeinists came to power, hijacking an uprising that desired freedom and imposing a medieval ideology based on fanning the flames of religious and sectarian wars, and carrying out countless ethnic and religious killings. The regime achieved this via the use of mercenaries, with the aim of projecting its regional hegemony via “exporting the revolution.”

In other words, the regime of Vilayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) sowed the seeds of terrorism and sectarianism in the region, with the new Iranian leadership taking it upon itself to spread chaos. To this end, the regime established cultural centers affiliated with its hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in several countries, including Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan, Nigeria, and Comoros. These centers were tasked with establishing terrorist cells and spreading the regime’s fundamentalist doctrine. This Iranian terrorism also targeted diplomatic missions inside and outside Iran, and even extended to places of worship in Latin America.

Some may wonder about the motives behind this policy or perhaps the hostile strategy pursued by the Iranian regime. We can claim with absolute confidence due to geographic proximity and familiarity with Iran’s regime that the Arab countries in the Middle East, particularly those in the Gulf, understand the nature and reality of the Iranian regime all too well; far better than anybody else.

In short, the Iranian regime is fully aware that its survival depends on ignoring the demands of the Iranian people and the country’s ethnic and religious minorities in favor of expansionism beyond its borders, or what we might call “escaping forward.” This focus on projecting Iran’s power abroad is helpful for the regime in distracting the Iranian people from its fundamental shortcomings — otherwise its legitimacy would be at risk. The objective of projecting power came about after the theocratic leaders hijacked and redirected the revolution, establishing a theocratic regime whose foundations are laid according to a narrow, proscriptive and sectarian understanding of the Islamic religion. The regime turned the country from a secular state to a fundamentalist sectarian theocracy, as set out in the Iranian Constitution’s article 12, setting the scene for a dark historical period in the region based on inciting sectarian sensitivities and perpetrating and supporting terrorism via the IRGC’s proxies inside and outside Iran.

Tehran’s constant efforts to pull on the public’s heartstrings and depict itself as an innocent victim of persecution have been exposed, with plentiful and terrible evidence on the ground refuting its propaganda. The Iranian regime has contributed directly and indirectly to the misery and death of millions of innocent people in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and even within its own boundaries. The regime also sent the IRGC and its affiliated militias to fight in Syria and Iraq and admits it openly. When it comes to cohesion and harmony between terrorist groups and the Iranian regime, Iran has harbored Al-Qaeda leaders and personnel, providing them with all the necessary assistance and helping them to launch attacks on Arab and Western interests.

While some may point to the chaos that has devastated many Arab countries, it is important to look at the common denominator shared by these countries, especially Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon: The Iranian regime’s interventions via its terrorist militias led by the IRGC, which receives its directives from Khamenei. As for the government of Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, they do not have the authority to stop these interventions or even criticize them. Speaking to Zarif or discussing this issue with him is a waste of time and effort.

Tehran’s constant efforts to pull on the public’s heartstrings and depict itself as an innocent victim of persecution have been exposed.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Iran’s primary objective is to force Saudi Arabia to abandon its countermeasures against Tehran’s destabilization of Arab countries. Iran’s regime wishes to be free to export its ideology of devastation and destruction to the countries of the region and to ignite more fires across the Arab world, from Lebanon in the north to Yemen in the south.

Arab countries have attempted to thwart Iran’s destructive regional behavior via diplomatic and political means, repeatedly warning of and clarifying the dangerous role it is playing, to no avail. Now, however, Iran has gone too far with its damaging and destabilizing practices, with Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, finding it imperative to take the necessary steps to confront these interventions.

Iran’s ludicrous accusations against Saudi Arabia, claiming that the Kingdom supports terrorism, have been exposed as lies, given the realities on the ground. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has itself been a victim of terrorism and is among the countries leading the regional efforts to combat this evil.

The whole world is aware of Saudi Arabia’s efforts, except for Iran, which defines terrorism differently to the rest of the world. For Iran’s regime, terrorism is defined as the efforts undertaken to counter its own reckless actions.

As well as supporting the International Center for Counter-Terrorism and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, Saudi Arabia is also a member of the Global Coalition Against Daesh and it established the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, an alliance of 41 Islamic countries. In addition to this, the Kingdom has donated tens of billions of dollars to the UN to support its efforts in this area and cooperated with security agencies worldwide to confront and thwart terrorist operations. We could ask Iran’s leaders to tell us whether the terrorism of Al-Qaeda, Daesh and other groups poses a threat to Iran, but we know it does not. We could also ask them what Iran has done to combat this evil, other than issuing statements, but of course the answer is nothing.

If it wished to, Tehran could be part of the ongoing international efforts to combat terrorism. Iran could undertake concrete actions, such as suspending its funding for mercenaries and militias; handing over the Al-Qaeda leaders hosted on its soil; ending its incitement of religious and sectarian conflicts; integrating itself into the world; and transforming itself from a sectarian fundamentalist “revolutionary” entity into a normal state. It could also abandon its pretense that some factions of the regime are “hard-liners” while others are “reformist” as, in reality, both factions agree with the revolutionary foundations that were laid by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and are maintained by Ali Khamenei. Can Tehran do these things?

It is easy for Iran’s regime to make allegations, but it is difficult to verify them. The policy of denial and deflection, always shifting the blame to others, cannot hide or remove the truth. All the world needs to do is step back and think for a moment in order to figure out when terrorism, sectarianism and political Islam first emerged on the world stage and which “revolutionary” event coincided with their emergence.

History proves that Saudi Arabia’s policies and positions have been firm and unchanging, and the Kingdom has also not witnessed a political or ideological transformation during the period when this disease of terrorism emerged. By contrast, during the same period, the clerics of Iran ascended to power, creating an extremist system of governance based on sectarianism, which was even condemned by one of its main architects, the late Hussein-Ali Montazeri, as neither Islamic nor republican.

The 1979 transformation in Iran was the spark and that lit the fires of sectarianism and terror across the region. With help from other leaders and movements, the so-called Islamic Republic led the region down the dark path it is experiencing today.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view