Violence and Terrorism Should Be Condemned by People of All Faiths

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Iran Review’s Exclusive Interview with Jim Slattery
By: Kourosh Ziabari

With the rise of the terrorist group ISIS in the Middle East and its intensified campaign against the peoples of Iraq and Syria, which is resulting in increased insecurity and instability in the already-turbulent Middle East, more attention is being paid to the role of Iran in leading a regional front for fighting violence and extremism. Although Iran was not officially included in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition, there are many American politicians and academicians who lay emphasis on the importance of Iran’s contribution to the global battle against terrorism and believe that the U.S. government’s decision to exclude Iran was wrong.

The role of Iran in addressing the concern of violence and terrorism was brought to light more seriously when President Hassan Rouhani addressed the 68th session of the UN General Assembly on September 24, 2013 and proposed the establishment of the coalition of a World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE).

His proposal was put forward to the General Assembly as a draft resolution by Iran’s permanent mission to the UN, and the GA members endorsed it unanimously on December 18, 2013. Following the endorsement of President Rouhani’s initiative, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs took action to promote the idea of WAVE, and held an international conference in Tehran from December 9 to 10, 2014 to bring politicians, academicians, religious leaders, researchers and public figures from across the world to discuss ways for tackling the question of extremism and violence.

One of the prominent guests of the WAVE Conference was Jim Slattery, a former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas’s 2nd Congressional district, who served 6 terms from 1983 to 1995. Slattery, a member of the Democratic Party, ran for the U.S. Senate in the November 2008 elections against the incumbent Pat Roberts, a Republican, and lost with a margin of about 283,000 votes. Slattery is a doctor of law, who got his J.D. degree from the Washburn University School of Law in 1974. He is a partner with the law firm Wiley Rein LLP. Iran Review talked to Mr. Slattery about the growth of violence and extremism across the world, the role of religion in addressing the concern of terrorism and the prospects of Iran-U.S. relations. The following is the text of the interview.

Q: Regarding the global consensus that emerged around President Rouhani’s initiative for a World Against Violence and Extremism, what do you think about the importance of this proposal and the fact that the majority of the world nations at the UN General Assembly voted for adoption of the resolution, endorsing Iranian President’s plan for fighting the alarming phenomenon of extremism?

A: First of all, I commend President Rouhani for his interest in focusing on extremism and violence in the world. And I happen to believe very strongly that Muslims and Christians share a lot in terms of their theology and they are both commanded to love God and to love their neighbor. And I think that it’s important for Muslims and Christians to spend time in conversation to get to know each other and to focus on the things in our religion that we share in common. We all believe in one God, and I believe that Muslims are called to follow the teachings of the Prophets including Jesus; Christians are called to follow Jesus [as well]. And if we think about that a little bit, it seems to me that there are some significant common grounds which they should try to focus on and know more about.

Q: So, you agree that Iran, as a Muslim nation, and as a nation with a rich cultural background, can play a leading role in stopping violence and eradicating terrorism?

A: Well, I believe that the United States and Iran prior to 1979-80 were historic allies. We have much in common; and if we can figure out the nuclear issue, which I hope and pray we can in the very near future, I believe that both countries can benefit immensely from improved relationships. And I think that the future for our children and grandchildren can be very positive if can figure out this nuclear question and respond to the legitimate concerns that both sides have, while recognizing the important concerns of other countries in the Middle East, including Israel.

Q: On the role of religion in establishing peace and precluding violence, you noted in your speech to the conference that faiths and religions don’t preach violence, and that religious ideology cannot go hand in gloves with terrorism and killing. But we are witnessing that the so-called Islamic State is practicing violence and killing thousands of people under the banner of Islam. Do you think that this group is really an Islamic organization and is oriented on the Islamic ideology?

A: Well, as we have heard from speakers of the different faith and traditions in the last few days, and from President Rouhani even, there were clear statements that there was nothing in the Quran, there is nothing in the Bible, that justifies in the name of God these horrible atrocities being committed by extremists in the Middle East and anywhere in the world. And I think faith leaders of all faith traditions, especially Islam, Christianity and Judaism should speak with one voice in condemning these senseless acts of violence against children and women and helpless people. This is evil and it must be condemned for what it is by people of all faiths. It takes courage I know to do that because some people might risk their lives by speaking out in opposition to these horrible acts of violence. But it’s going to take courage on the part of faith leaders to teach people that this is a false teaching; any notion that these horrible acts are justified in the different faiths is wrong, and must be condemned clearly by the faith leaders.

Q: Throughout the past three decades, certain U.S. statesmen and politicians have been accusing Iran of sponsoring terrorism and fueling sectarian conflict in other countries while the Iranian side has always maintained that it is a victim of terrorism, rather than a supporter of terrorism, a victim of the eight-year war imposed on the Iranian people by the Baathist regime of former dictator Saddam Hussein. So, Iran says that it has usually been at the forefront of combating terrorism. How can we solve this duality? Is it really the case that the accusations made by the U.S. government are true?

A: Well, the bottom line is that the United States on 9/11 was certainly the victim of terrorism and it’s clear that throughout history, I think certainly in the case of Iran-Iraq War, the people of Iran have suffered enormously, and the people of Iran have also been the victims of terrorist acts and I think I leave it that. So, there are countries in this region who have all been victims of terrorism and the conference that we were participating in, that is, the Conference on World Against Violence and Terrorism, is I think an important conference because it calls people together to speak out against extremism and violence wherever it is. And I think that’s the focus we should all take note of.

Q: It would be in the interest of whole international community to work toward realizing a sustainable solution for combating terrorism. Whether this effort is led by the United States, by Iran or any other country, the focus should be on getting united to combat terrorism. Do you agree?

A: Yes, right. Well, let me correct you on one point, which is that my government has not been involved in any terrorist act as far as I know and I’m convinced of that. But yes, all of us should be focused on trying to end extremism and the violence that flows from that extremism wherever it is.

Q: So, in fighting terrorism and extremism in all its forms and sorts, do you think that priority should be given to the military option or diplomacy? Does diplomacy work in order to realize a sustainable solution for eradicating terrorism and extremism?

A: Well, I happen to believe that whether you’re Muslim, Christian or Jew, all of our faiths call us to exhaust all diplomatic possibilities before we resort to military force. And I think that is a basic principle of all Abrahamic faiths and is one that we should certainly live by.

Q: You seem to be a devout Christian, as far as I have understood. There is one problem that has appeared in the modern era and that is decline of the religious and moral values, and the fact that certain practices are being legalized under the guise of secularism and in the name of advocating individual freedoms and civil liberties. What do you think about the contribution of the decline of the moral and religious values to the crises that we are witnessing right now? For example, you see that same-sex marriage is being legalized in some certain U.S. states. I don’t know whether you agree with it or not, or you believe that it should be allowed or not, whether it is in the individual interest of people to be allowed to get married to a person of the same sex or not, but it seems that it is decaying the morality of our societies.

A: The best way for me to answer this is that throughout history, there’s always been a tension between individual liberty and individual’s right to do whatever he or she wants to do that does not harm someone else, and traditional, moral values that a society chooses to live by. And throughout history, there’s been always a great debate about where individual liberty begins and where the societal norms and societal moral code ends. And there is tension and that line is constantly being debated and constantly changing, and I know that that is very threatening to people of deep moral convictions whether they are Muslim, Christian or Jew.

Q: As an American politician, you surely have a significant standpoint on what’s going on between our two countries. So, let’s touch upon the nuclear talks underway, too. Is it possible for Iran and the group of six world powers to reach a comprehensive deal during the seven-month period for the extension of the talks agreed in November 2014?

A: All I can say is that the darkest point in the night is right before the sun rises! And I think we have to be hopeful and prayerful that wise men and women on both sides will understand the importance of this historic moment and have the courage to make the decisions that are necessary to reach a deal that is in the best interest of all of us.

I have encouraged, plotted and invested ten years of my life in trying to encourage dialog between the people of Iran and people of the United States in my firm belief that if our two great nations and peoples of these countries can fix this nuclear issue, we can have a very bright future. And there is a lot that America can benefit from a positive relationship with Iran and vice versa, and we should strive for that and our leaders need to have the courage to take the risk for peace.

Q: How do you think it is practically possible for Iran and the six world powers that are negotiating over Tehran’s nuclear program to reach a sustainable, viable solution over the nuclear controversy that can bring to an end decades of hostility between the two sides?

A: I believe that there is a very good chance that an agreement can be reached, but I have no real personal knowledge of what’s going on in the negotiations beyond what it is in the papers and available in the press. But I can only hope and pray that wise leaders on all sides of this question will recognize the importance of seizing this historic moment. This is s historic moment; it must not be lost and we need to come to a resolution in weeks not months.

Q: Do you think that the U.S. government would be willing to make some compromises in return for concessions made by Iran so that the nuclear negotiations can move forward and result in a comprehensive deal?

A: Firstly, let me say that I’m not an official representative of the [U.S.] government and as I said earlier, I don’t know anything more about the talks that are going on than what’s available in the press. So, I just want everybody to understand that. Beyond that, all I can say is that I hope and pray that wise men and women on both sides will find a solution to the nuclear question that is acceptable to both the United States and Iran and the other parties involved in the negotiations.

Q: Do you think that the interest lobbies and the advocacy groups including AIPAC and other organizations that pursue the advantage of certain U.S. allies in the region, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, try to ruin the deal and kill the chances of a possible agreement?

A: Well, to make the long story short, there will be people in Iran and people in the United States and in other countries involved in these negotiations that benefit from the status quo; they are concerned about the possibility of a rapprochement, a coming together of the United States and Iran, and so there will be forces in both Iran and the United States, as I said, that like the status quo and will be threatened by peace and agreement between the United States and Iran.

Q: And as my final question: how do you think it’s possible for Iran and the United States, as the two countries that have had acrimonious and hostile relations for more than three decades, to work together and tackle the crises emerging in the region? It seems that it would be serving both nations if they work together and cooperate on the common concerns. What’s your take on that?

A: For ten years, I’ve been involved in what is called an “Abrahamic dialog”.  In this conversation that I’ve been a party to, I have learned a lot about Iran and listened to my friends from Iran carefully. And I believe the first step toward improving relations between the United States and Iran is for people to get to know people, to sit down and listen and learn from each other. You know, President Eisenhower, who was a general of the army in World War II and was from my home state of Kansas, believed very strongly in people-to-people diplomacy, and so do I. There is no substitute for getting to know each other and getting to learn about people’s hopes and dreams and aspirations, and fears as well. And we have to do everything we can to break down the walls of ignorance because ignorance is the root of fear and ignorance is oftentimes the root of hatred; and anything that we can do to break down these walls of ignorance and fear and suspicion, we should try to do. So, I’m in favor of dialog between the United States and Iran in all levels possible. And the sooner that we can have a complete and open political dialog between members of the United States Congress and members of the Majlis, and members of the executive branch here and the executive branch in the United States, business leaders, faith leaders, cultural leaders, all of these kinds of exchanges are very valuable. So, I’m in favor of engagement and I’m in favor of both sides listening and learning from the other side.

Q: In this light, what’s your assessment of the role the U. S. sanctions against Iran have played in perhaps the exacerbation of the ties?

A: I can understand why the sanctions were put in place and I hope that in the context of the nuclear negotiations currently underway, an agreement can be reached that is satisfactory to Iran and the United States and the other countries involved that will lead us toward lifting the sanctions as part of that agreement and moving us toward, as quickly as possible, the normalization of relations between Iran and the United States. And I hope that our two countries can find areas where they can work together to improve a lot the life you might say, and improve the quality of life for the people of Iran, the people of this region, the people of the United States of America.    

Key Words: Violence,Terrorism, Muslims, Christians, Iran, US, Islamic State, President Hassan Rouhani, US Statesmen, Iran-Iraq War, 9/11, Nuclear Talks, Six World Powers, AIPAC, US Sanctions, Slattery

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