On Khamenei’s Deceit of Islam
There is no “clash of civilizations,” but the Ayatollah needs us to believe there is one.
On January 21st, 2020, I went onto one of my favorite and least favorite social media platforms: Twitter. I appreciate the platform because of its ability to make so many experts’ opinions readily accessible for consumption, however, I also dislike it because of its hyper-acceleration of information, making it oftentimes impossible to address falsehoods or narratives espoused that paint a picture of radical proportions. The latter is what I encountered on the 21st when I stumbled upon a tweet made by the spokesperson account of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei.
This tweet seems innocuous on the surface, after all, if you’re able to put aside the moral questions of whether or not Twitter should even allow an undeniable terrorist to spread propaganda on the platform then you might be able to brush this tweet aside as well. However, it would be a mistake to ignore this rhetoric and not explicitly address it for what it is: complete and utter lies.
Every authoritarian necessarily has to create an “us versus them” dichotomy in able to maintain their grip on the power of the state they have cultivated but in the unique case of Khamenei, he isn’t using an ethnic, racial or even nationalistic dichotomy to separate people. The use of Islam and all the followers of Islam who make up the Ummah as an exclusive cluster in a foil against “the West” is not new, but it lends a sort of intellectual credibility to the most dangerous of people.
Jihadist militants, French and American fascists, and European “identitarians” of all strains all stand to benefit from the legitimization of a half-baked and delusional black and white dichotomy. These groups of people want you to accept this “Islam is incompatible with the West” narrative because otherwise, it becomes easier to humanize the other, and when you humanize the other you begin to accept that they are inalienably deserving of freedom and liberty just as you are. The grand narrative of the West, of liberal democracy and government that derives its existence from the consent of the people, is not exclusive to Christendom and has millions of Muslims interwoven into its story.
This can be seen in countless examples of personal excellence, from the human rights advocacy of Azadeh N. Shahshahani to the civil rights pursuits of Malcolm X and the architectural genius of Fazlur Rahman Khan. Alongside the greats in America’s musical history sits Rakim, who is widely regarded as perhaps the greatest M.C of all time. As the U.S propelled itself to the forefront of scientific innovation, Ahmed Zewai made history as a Muslim-American recipient in the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1999 for his work in femtochemistry. There is, right now as of writing this, a Muslim-Briton named Sadiq Khan serving as the mayor of the capital to what once was one of the largest empires on the planet
Any Muslim leader who tries to frame conflict in the Middle East as an unavoidable and inevitable clash of civilizations is doing service only to nationalists and fascists. The Arab Spring came and went in 2011, and while it may not have succeeded in all of its goals, Tunisia now stands as a beacon of democratic liberty in the Arab and Muslim World, proving that the prediction of Samuel Huntington’s that Muslims could not break off the shackles of dictatorship was wrong.
This easily debunked narrative also empowers an aspiring despot here in the States. For the better part of five and a half years, the candidate and now President of the United States has told the public that “Islam hates [us]” and that a Muslim Ban was the only solution to terrorism until “we figured out what the hell is going on”. This is perhaps the most one of the hardest parts, psychologically, for Muslim-Americans in the 21st century. They are told by leaders in the Middle East that the Western Powers despise them, and when they wish to turn around and showcase a different narrative, all they too-often receive is a verification of this belief by the likes of America’s Trump and France’s Le Pen. This does not have to be the norm and in fact, never should have been. The extension of this narrative only puts more gasoline onto the dumpster fire that is the War on Terror.
Ayatollah Khamenei wants Muslims, whether they be in Lebanon or Iraq, or Jordan and Palestine, or Egypt and Indonesia, and yes in the United States and the United Kingdom, to forget about the totalitarian regime crushing the spirit of nearly 82 million members of the Ummah who deserve freedom and democracy. If they are able to forget about that, and instead focus their hatred on a nonexistent monolith to the west, then Khamenei’s grip on power is allowed to grow.
By throwing off this dichotomy and accepting that there is a complex, multicultural world that has occasionally annoying nuances, the powerful sway of despots like Khamenei can be diminished, and perhaps in time the millions of Farsi Muslims who yearn for freedom can obtain it as the Tunisians did in 2011.