On January 21, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei wrote a letter asking the European and North American youths not to judge Islam based on the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.
In his letter, Imam Khamenei urged Western youths to try to gain a direct and firsthand knowledge of the religion in reaction to the flood of prejudgments and disinformation campaigns.
In an e-mail interview with the a News Agency, American analyst and youth activist Michael John Kowalchuk discussed the significance of the Supreme Leader’s letter.
Here is the full text of the interview.
Q – Regarding the recent letter by Iran’s Supreme Leader to the youth in Europe and North America, how could it be (more) effective in attracting those youths to real and authentic Islam?
A – I think one important element partially missing from the Supreme Leader’s letter is the idea of a shared struggle. Western society depends on divide and conquer tactics (much like those employed during the colonial period) and therefore oppresses people of color, women, sexual minorities, Muslims, etc. Islam has a deep appreciation for social justice and unity between oppressed groups. The idea of solidarity between people in struggle, is an important component of diversity. Through struggling for rights, people from different backgrounds can realize that they are more similar than they originally thought and can find common ground in fighting for a better world. People of all faiths, races and nationalities would benefit if the US war machine was dismantled, for example. The fight against Islamophobia is also a fight against racism and imperialism.
Q – How capable is this message in preventing the ongoing Islamophobia in the West?
A – Islamophobia is built into contemporary American society at the present because the recent targets of US military aggression have been in the Muslim world. I think it will be impossible to fully dismantle Islamophobia without also dismantling the warmongering systems of power that exist in much of the Western world. This message is certainly capable of fighting Islamophobia and is an important element of the ongoing discussion about Islam.
Q – Do you think Western mainstream media are interested in widespread dissemination of Supreme Leader’s letter, or the Western media empire is reluctant to publish it?
A – I think the vilification of Muslims is part of an overall strategy to allow for US imperialist domination of the Middle East. The corporate media in the United States has essentially towed the line of the State Department in its campaign against Muslims, Arabs and all nations whose leadership does not accept US domination. Letters such as this demonstrate the genuine desire for peace and dialogue on the part of the Iranian government and people and therefore it is unlikely the corporate media will pay attention to this letter. The US corporate media creates the impression that there is an irreconcilable gulf, a “clash of civilizations” between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic World. To the contrary, there is much common ground between the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and dialogue is certainly possible. The corporate media and the US government use religion as an excuse to push their agenda of imperialist domination. Any document or statement that shows that the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving, reasonable people is ignored by the US corporate media and the only impression many Americans are given is the idea that all Muslims are either violent terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. These lies further imperialist interests as foreign peoples are de-humanized and viewed as military targets.
Q – How do you evaluate the letter’s content?
A – I appreciate the letter’s recognition that there is a difference between the imperialist politicians of the West and the people themselves. I also think it is correct to speak directly to the youth because the youth will have the biggest role in dismantling racist and religiously intolerant views in the coming years. I also believe the letter is correct in its assertion that the campaign against Islam occurred in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Socialist Bloc, the United States and its military allies were able to unleash a unilateral era of war and plunder without the existence of a global counterbalance. I believe one of the strongest points of the letter is that we need to have a longer, more critical historical memory when it comes to Islam and the West. Supreme Leader Khamenei is correct in denouncing the West’s history of slavery, genocide and colonialism. Furthermore, the history of Islam is as diverse and rich as any other religion and many are quick to forget that the Muslim world was a leading international progressive force for centuries. This same dynamism and diversity exists in the Muslim world today, although few learn about this in the Western media.
Q – In your opinion, could this letter be a new chapter in paying attention to Islam by Europeans?
I think, unfortunately, European society is gripped by an especially toxic brand of Islamophobia and racism as a response to the recent terrorist attacks. Of course, much of European society jumps on any excuse it can to continue furthering the racist attitudes inherited from the colonial period. I hope young Muslims in Europe can effectively distribute this letter so non-Muslims understand that Islam is not to blame for violence in the world.
Q – Can this letter show the differences between authentic Islam and the one that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other terrorist groups have shown?
A – I think this letter clearly demonstrates that there are Muslim voices for peace at all levels of society, from the grassroots to the top of the political establishment. ISIL and Muslim extremists are exploited by the Western corporate media to justify military intervention in other parts of the world but to any reasonable person they are clearly a lunatic minority of a largely-peaceful faith. In the United States media, all Muslims are expected to apologize for the actions of extremists that they are in no way related to. There is a double standard here because when Christians carry out terrorist attacks, the media does not question the peaceful nature of Christianity or ask priest after minister to apologize for the actions of their religious “peers.” The vast majority of Muslims oppose terrorist violence and yet they are treated as if they are part of one giant terrorist conspiracy. Also, the media ignores the fact that the majority of ISIL’s victims are Muslim themselves. Supreme Leader Khamenei’s letter is important because it demonstrates, in an official capacity, that there is a clear difference between ISIL/Muslim extremists and genuine Muslims who are opposed to terrorism.
Q – Can the letter change anything special if it is read by Western youths?
A – I think parts of Western society are so deeply Islamophobic that even reading Qur’an is politically suspect at times. This is shameful because even people from secular backgrounds can appreciate the beauty of Qur’an’s prose and can draw from its teachings on morality. I truly hope that people of all faiths in Europe and North America engage with Qur’an before criticizing Islam or its followers. I believe many would be more open to reading primary source material about Islam because Supreme Leader Khamenei’s insights are compelling. For example, most Christians would be surprised to find out that Jesus is written of as a prophet in Qur’an.
Q – What is the next step in order to enlighten the youth in West to introduce the real Islam to them?
A- I believe the next immediate step in changing Western perceptions of Islam is to struggle against negative depictions of Muslims in the media. It is easier to learn to hate people that seem totally foreign and strange to you. It is much more difficult to hate a living, breathing person who is dispelling the lies told about them. The vast majority of Muslims hate violence and do not sympathize with Muslim extremists but much of mainstream American society stereotypes Muslims as terrorists. Showing the youth in the West that Muslims are a vast, diverse group of people with distinct ideas and opinions would go far in changing negative perceptions. Another important step is to create a larger antiwar movement in the United States that reveals the lies told during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fighting US militarism also includes fighting negative stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs. A stronger antiwar movement with more nuanced ideological views helps to demonstrate that resistance to US imperialism in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria is justified and is not due to so-called Muslim extremists.