Politics and Peace in the Middle East: An Interview with H.E. Dr. Gholamali Khoshroo

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Interview with Gholamali Khoshroo

H.E. Dr Gholamali Khoshroo is the Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam and former Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs, Islamic Republic of Iran (2002-2005). Interviewed by Professor Joseph Camilleri, Dr Khoshroo discusses the challenges and opportunities of peace in the Middle East. Dr Khoshroo is also a contributing thought leader for Ideapod’s launch in July, creating a “pod” to promote constructive relations between Islam and the West.

IP: The Middle East remains the site of numerous conflicts which seem likely to lead to even greater instability in the region and escalating international tensions. What do you see as the most serious conflicts in the Middle East?

At the heart of Middle East tensions is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without a just and durable solution based on international principles and human consciousness peace and stability are not achievable.

IP: Are the various Middle East conflicts in some way linked to each other? In other words, are the tragic events in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the polarisation inside Iraq, and the dispute surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme in some way connected?

Conflicts in the Middle East are directly and indirectly connected to each other. Iran as a member of Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and is under the constant scrutiny by IAEA inspectors and cameras. At the same time a non-member of the NPT – Israel – that has numerous nuclear warheads and has never allowed an international inspector to visit its nuclear installations threatens to demolish all Iranian facilities. Israel looks at all developments in the Middle East through its unique security lens. Thus the situations in Syria and Iraq, Iran and Egypt are subordinated to the security and stability of Israel. As long as Israel continues its occupation, aggression and oppression, especially in relation to the Palestinian people, it has no other choice but to do all it can to keep its neighbours weak, unstable and divided.

IP: What do you see as the role of the great powers in the Middle East, and in particular the role of the United States?

The vital interest of the United States in the Middle East is Israel’s security. At the same time the Middle East is the world’s major source of energy, it is inhabited largely by Muslim populations and it is a great market for arms. America is supporting Israel without regard to international norms or human morality, while attempting to keep the rest of the Middle East subservient to its interests. Because of the injustice which lies at the heart of this policy, it has often failed to achieve its aims, as in the case of the Islamic Revolution of Iran (1979).

What of Turkey’s role in the most recent period? Some years ago, many regarded the Erdogan Government’s approach to regional problems as making a positive contribution. Are we seeing a change in its regional policies? If so, what kind of change, and why?

Turkey, which was impressed by the Arab Spring and the perception that those countries were inspired by Turkey’s political model, started to shift from its pragmatic and mercantilist policy and has gradually been carried away by dreams of empire building. It is now clear that Turkey’s expectation of the rapid downfall of the Syrian regime was based on a miscalculation. Turkey has made a U-turn in its foreign policy and ignored good neighbourly relations as well as international norms. With a view to securing a foothold in the future Syria it is supporting the insurgents fighting against the incumbent Syrian government. If developments in Syria had come to a rapid conclusion, as Turkey expected, Ankara would have been the big winner. In military and intelligence terms, Turkey should not have made such a strategic mistake. However, instead of making efforts to correct that mistake, Ankara has been trying since that time to spread the crisis to the entire region.

It is no badge of honour for the leaders of the great nation of Turkey to parade their secular-Islamic model of government, while at the same time aligning their regional policy with that of Qatar, equipping and organizing extremist and violent groups, and sending them to fight in Syria. Now when you go to Turkey, you may see Western tourists at the Istanbul bazaar but you are just as likely to see Arab terrorists preparing their militants for more fighting and bloodletting. According to the latest figures, about 75 precent of the Turkish people are opposed to their country’s interference in the internal affairs of Syria.

After two years of crisis, it would be better for Turkey to pay greater attention to the realities on the ground and give up military, intelligence and security intervention in Syria in favour of a political solution which would include rejection of terrorism and promotion of political reforms in Syria.

IP: In your view, are we seeing the rise of sectarian politics in the Middle East? Is religion increasingly a source of tension within and between countries? Can religion be a constructive force for peace and dialogue? If so, how?

The sectarian violence is on the rise in the Middle East, but it is a created and fabricated reality not a natural one. For centuries different branches of Islam were living together in a peaceful and respectful manner. If we look closely at the last decade of sectarian violence that has erupted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria, we find that these conflicts have two main targets: Shia communities and Iran. Due to the strategic interests of certain elites that regard themselves as the custodians of the Sunni majority in Islam, they have supported fanatical ideologies and recruited young and poor people all around the Muslim world, channelled money and provided security and organisational support to fight in the name of Islam against Shia people whom they consider to be instruments of Iranian influence. The Taleban in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as al-Qaeda branches in Iraq and Syria are killing Shia people on a daily basis while the West turns a blind eye.

In other words, religion has been misused for political purposes. Yet, religion can play a constructive role for peace and dialogue both between religions and between different branches of the same religion. All major religions share certain sublime ideals and goals that can provide the basis for peace, friendship and mutual respect.

IP: For many years now, the relationship between Islam and the West has been a troubled one? How do you see the future? What are the prospects for the dialogue of religions and civilizations? Can the United Nations play a useful role in this regard?

The relationship between Islam and the West has been a troubled one not because of Islam and Christianity but because of colonialism and the role of dependent and corrupt regimes. Central to this story is the West’s support of Israeli occupation and aggression towards other Arab and Muslim peoples. There have been, it is true, some areas of conflict in the history of relations between Islam and the West. I see valuable opportunities for dialogue and understanding provided that they engage with each other on an equal basis and in a respectful manner. The United Nations can play a useful role provided that the social and human aspirations of the world’s nations are not distorted by the strategic interests of powerful states.

*Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam. Former Deputy Foreign Minister for legal and International Affairs, Islamic Republic of Iran (2002-2005). Khoshroo is assistant of President Khatami on “Alliance of civilizations” and Dialogue among Civilizations”. He has served as the Dean of the School for International Relations (1983-89); Ambassador to the United Nations (19890-95); Deputy Foreign Minister for Research and Education,  Member of OIC Commission of Eminent Persons on “Enlightened Moderation”. In recent years, he has extensively worked on the development of contemporary political Islam and its implication for western societies. As a sociologist he studied at Tehran University and New School for Social Research, New York, He has published several articles and books on political and cultural affairs.

Key Words: Politics, Peace, Middle East, United States, Sectarian Politics, Islam, West, Khoshroo 

Source: The Power of Ideas

More By Gholamali Khoshroo:

*Turkey’s Mistakes in Syria and Ensuing Crises:

*Palestine as “Non-Member Observer State”:

*Relations between Islam and the West: An Old Wound Ready to Open:

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