Why UN Resolution Adopted Iran's ‘World Against Violence and Extremism’ Proposal?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Interview with Gholamali Khoshroo
Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam

This is a brief translation of the full text interview which has been published in IRNA

Q: In your opinion, what legal and international grounds as well as objective necessities prompted Iran to offer the United Nations to adopt a resolution on a ‘World Against Violence and Extremism’, as a priority for international community, considering that the resolution was based on a proposal by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani?

A: At present, various crises which have their roots in sectarianism, violence, and extremism, have engulfed our region. From Afghanistan to Pakistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, we are witnessing on an almost daily basis that many Shias are being massacred by extremist elements. We see that the people that are killed are not actually slain on the basis of any specific animosity or spite. They are, however, only killed due to their emotional and religious affiliations. In fact, they are being killed simply because they are present at a Shia mosque or have taken part in the mourning ceremony for the Master of Martyrs [a nickname for the third Shia Imam, Imam Hossein (AS)], or just because they have a Shia name.

Therefore, this is a very dangerous and inhumane state of affairs in which innocent human beings, including women and children who are just strolling along in the markets and streets or are present at mosques, are being attacked and killed. This is also against the tenets of Islam and principles of ethics and should be stopped. Unfortunately, such crimes have cultural, historical and objective roots. As you know, despite some differences in opinion, Shia and Sunni Muslims have lived together for many centuries in peaceful coexistence. In modern times, however, especially during the past four decades, the power and status of Shia people has somehow improved across the region. A major reason for this situation was the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran [in 1979], which was a great political upheaval and turned Iran into a regional base for Shia Islam. On the other hand, the situation of Shia Muslims in Lebanon has also improved while Shias in Iraq have gotten rid of a historical dictatorship through the fall of the country’s former despotic ruler, Saddam Hussein.

These political developments in the region have been followed by angry reactions from certain states that had a claim to being the leaders of the Sunni part of the Muslim world. They came to the conclusion that a so-called Shia Crescent is taking shape in the region and a certain kind of Shia and Iranian viewpoint is coming into being throughout the Arab world. To prevent further growth of this phenomenon, they put fostering sectarian ideas as well as encouraging sectarian killings on top of their political agendas. In doing so, they designated Iran and the Shia branch of Islam as the most serious threats posed to the Muslim world. In the meantime, instigations by certain individuals with clear Israeli affiliations such as Bernard Lewis, who is a Western thinker and historian, added more fuel to the flames of Islamophobia and Shiaphobia in the region and spared no effort to promote such ideas. Unfortunately, such efforts managed to galvanize part of the Arab world into action against Iran and Shia Islam. It is noteworthy that both Shiism and Sunnism are two major branches of Islam and despite the existence of certain differences between the two schools, such differences should never be allowed to be used as a ground for killing each other. Such religious killings are just a tool used by certain simpleminded people, who knowingly or unknowingly, are actually promoting the political cause of regional and transregional powers. Up to here, I have been explaining the objective aspect of this issue.

This issue has a subjective aspect as well. There is a large number of religious madrasas (schools) where a certain reactionary and petrified viewpoint that belongs to the Taliban is taught. Many simpleminded young people come together in those schools and, through the money and other facilities provided to those madrasas by some oil-rich countries in the region, are trained in line with the violent and extremist ideology of the Taliban. Even outside the Islamic world, we can still track such extremist and unacceptable behavior. For example, the outrageous measure taken by an American pastor in burning the Holy Quran pursued no other goal, but to instigate Muslims. Such efforts are actually aimed at stoking a big wave of hostility between Islam and Christianity in order to goad part of the Christian world into starting another crusade. Similarly, those who drew indecent and insulting cartoons against the Prophet of Islam, Mohammad (PBUH), and Muslims, and published those cartoons, all meant to stoke hostility, violence and extremism.

Therefore, it is for these reasons that the very progressive idea of “dialogue among civilizations,” which was proposed about 12 years ago by then Iranian President [Seyed Mohammad] Khatami is still in the limelight. Therefore, we must try to promote respectful dialogue aimed at recognizing the ideas of various religious faiths. Such recognition should be based on equality and not bullying. We are also witnessing that the world still needs the dialog among various religions and sects and our region, especially, is in dire need of constructive interaction between Shiism and Sunnism. We must make every effort to prevent extremism from leading to blind and catastrophic massacre and bloodletting between these major Islamic sects. This is true because every drop of blood that is spilt will provide ground for the next round of violence. It is, however, noteworthy that violence and extremism are totally preventable. In the meantime, all the religious ulema, intellectuals, writers, preachers and teachers as well as all those who are one way or another, involved in social activities and are in a position of ethical, religious, political or even artistic leadership, should play their role in reducing the ongoing violence in the region. In this way, we will not witness more heinous scenes such as the mass murder of all the members of a family in Iraq just because they are Shias. Apart from depicting a violent and disturbed image of Islam and dealing severe blows to this divine religion, such acts of violence entail no other benefit.

Q: What new grounds and opportunities, do you think, are provided for anti-violence and anti-extremism activists across the world by such resolutions and how such opportunities can be taken advantage of from a legal viewpoint on national and international scales in order to help bolster peace, tranquility, friendship and solidarity across the globe?

A: The UN resolutions set priorities for governments according to which they should make way for the activities of the civil society and allow civil institutions to take more strength. In this way, all the faults and behavioral problems will be easily identified and analyzed at the level of the civil society. This will enable people to correct their wrong behavior with government playing a very important part in this regard. For example, when a person rides a motorcycle, he can behave in such a way as to violate other people’s rights. Now, imagine the huge political, military and economic power of a government to see to what extent it will be able to violate people’s rights. Therefore, the government, more than any other party should be held accountable and state officials should put accountability, transparency, and respect for people’s rights on top of their agendas. Therefore, as long as the ongoing activities against spread of violence and extremism are not turned into a general civil movement, these ominous phenomena cannot be eradicated. As a result, such efforts should continue at all levels and in all forms.

Q: What is your opinion about the most important solutions and practical measures to be taken in order to contain the spread of the global wave of violence and even create a reverse current?

A: This issue has multiple layers. In a number of cases, we need to get laws passed which will restrict government’s intervention in people’s life and thus reduce the latitude of the state for ignoring or violating citizenship rights of people. You see there are many debates and discussions going on these days on personal rights, monitoring phone calls and personal letters, infringements upon people’s privacy and the way that governments interact with people. In fact, this issue has two levels: a large-scale legal level and a civil level. As for the second level, I noted that nongovernmental organizations should become active. We must also try to build the suitable culture using arts, media, and films. Media can play a prominent key in this regard. The role of media has many dimensions even in our own culture which has been somehow delineated in this Persian poem which says: the comfort of two worlds depends on two things: honesty with friends and lenience with enemies.

This concept is the sign of a rich culture. If these two guidelines, that is, honesty with friends and lenience with enemies, were put into action as of today, many good things would happen soon afterwards. I think that it is very important for us to introduce such aspects of our culture to the world. If the hidden potentials of this culture are introduced outside and inside the country, they can prevent many cases of violence and extremism from spreading. Therefore, media, governments, nongovernmental organizations, civil society, as well as cultural, national and artistic personalities can help in this regard. We must not look upon these issues, that is, prevention of violence and extremism, and promotion of respect for citizenship rights, as passing and seasonal phenomena. These issues call for a basic change in attitudes and behaviors. We are now witnessing that any person in any position is playing a role in the continuation of violence and extremism and these behaviors should change in order for the existing situation to change.

At an international level, in order to build a society free from violence and in a bid to control all forms of extremism, we need to put some reins on the bullying trend that is vogue in international relations nowadays. Even within our own country, ethics and all kinds of behaviors should pivot round rationality and justice. All these measures are difficult to take, but are also unavoidable necessities. Differences should be resolved through dialogue and negotiations. We must not assume that differences do not exist. There are various differences in religious beliefs and religious sources as well as in our interpretations of those beliefs, which have given birth to behaviors that currently exist. However, we must try to resolve those differences and find suitable solutions for them through justice-based dialogue and promotion of mutual respect.

*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). 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: UN Resolution, Iran's Proposal, World Against Violence and Extremism, President Hassan Rouhani, Shias, Sunnis, Sectarian Killings, Dialogue Among Civilizations, Khoshroo

Source: Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: Press TV