By Kaneez Fatima
The historic letter addressed to the youth of North America and Europe by Leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei is more dynamic than it may appear. There is an opportunity at hand which needs to be siezed.
Call to action
It’s been over two months since the letter made its debut via various media.
The hashtag movement of #Letter4U soon took off on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter. Different groups and supporters of Ayatollah Khamenei, from different parts of the world, have worked toward producing memes, video clips, and graphics to get the letter to the intended addressees.
But action pertaining to this letter needs to go beyond just delivering it. The 900-word letter holds more instruction than first meets the eye. The call for action reaches beyond the limitations posed by geographical borders, racial divides and religious differences. At a time when the Muslim world is facing the threat of groups like the so-called [un]Islamic State, aka ISIL, that continue to pervert the true teachings of Islam, and when sentiments toward Islam continue to be exploited through an industry of misinformation and fear-mongering in the West, the content of this letter and what it implies can hold the key to a decisive step in changing the tide.
As Ayatollah Khamenei notes, “Many attempts have been made over the past two decades, almost since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, to place this great religion in the seat of a horrifying enemy.” Indeed, particularly since the events of 9/11, Islamophobia has evolved into a multi-million dollar industry in the West. Organizations are dishing out millions of dollars to propagate a falsified image of Islam through blogs, videos, marches, charismatic speakers and politicians.
The Leader believes, though, that “the sense of quest for truth is more vigorous and attentive in” the hearts of the youth in the West. The Western youth are ready to study and consider the message of Islam. Despite the massive propaganda efforts of the mainstream media and politicians, there is this belief being expressed by the top religious scholar that the true message of Islam, its teachings, philosophy and spirit will shine through as long as the youth “try to gain a direct and firsthand knowledge of this religion,” and as long as they “receive knowledge of Islam from its primary and original sources.”
So what does this mean for the matters at hand? Muslims around the world have argued that Takfiri extremist groups like Al-Qaeda, [un]Islamic State, Boko Haram, and the likes have hijacked our religion. They continue to argue how these terrorists have used a warped interpretation of Islamic teachings to justify their atrocities in reaction to their socio-economic isolation and political marginalization. But this narrative has to go mainstream.
The Western media by and large have given very little platform, if at all, to the true voices of Islam and Muslims. If the awareness of the average American or European youth regarding Islam was more complete and derived from authentic sources, the methods adopted by media outlets will become obsolete. Through collective awareness of Islam, votes for the likes of Michelle Bachmann and Bobby Jindal will stop flowing in, and tolerance for Bill Maher or Glenn Beck’s anti-Islam rhetoric will dwindle.
The result of a more authentic understanding of Islam, through an understanding of the Quran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed can also play a greater role in affecting the foreign policies of Western governments. As Ayatollah Khamenei stated in his letter, “the future of your nations and countries will be in your hands.” Questions need to be asked of Western governments’ continued support for Persian Gulf Arab monarchies who, till today, fund, support and actively propagate the Wahhabi Takfiri ideology for their political gains in the name of Islam. The average American voter needs to be able to contrast the claims of his elected officials with their actions. They need to be able to clearly see the contradiction that lies within the declaration of “War on Terror,” as it is true Islam which is perverted at the hands of traditional Western allies in the Middle East.
The letter by Ayatollah Khamenei hits on one of the fundamental problems that drive Western foreign policy and agenda toward the Middle East. The fear of the other, which today is Islam and Muslims, allows for the creation of consent for interventionist policies – the price of which Muslims and non-Muslims continue to pay today. Remove that fear through an understanding of “the nature and essence of” Islam, and you no longer will have a population that can be intimidated into waging war under the false belief that there is someone out there trying to destroy their freedoms.
Control the narrative
The repercussions that this letter, if adhered to and if propagated, can have are manifold and significant. This of course, requires a concerted and united plan of action from the Muslim world, and Muslims in the West. We need to continue to show the hospitality that we have over years, through community building efforts and inter-faith dialogue. These actions have existed, but they need to be more focused and rigorously applied.
Our scholars, mosques, community centers, youth associations, etc need to unite to be more effective. We need to repair the cracks from within and use that cohesion to reach out to the hearts and minds that are ready for the message of Islam but are unaware. Muslims need to use the Quran as a uniting factor that brings together Muslims of all denominations and is a bridge to other Abrahamic faiths.
Muslim communities in the West, and the Muslim world as a whole, need to work jointly, not only to propagate Islam’s true teachings, but also to direct and control the narrative around the world when it comes to Islam. Such an effort will take away the authority that Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi clerics claim over Islamic teachings, and will effectively ensure that their actions are never again equated with the religion of Islam.
Collective guilt vs collective responsibility
The strengthening of Islamic fundamentals on the basis of the Quran and the life of the Prophet can also go toward tackling another issue facing Muslim communities today. The fear of “home-grown terrorism” being propagated within the West has greatly increased suspicion toward Western Muslims within an atmosphere of growing anti-Islam sentiments.
The phenomenon of radicalized Western Muslims, joining the fight in Syria and Iraq and then returning home to carry on that fight on Western soil fits in nicely with the agenda of spreading Islamophobia. It ensures a steady supply of fighters to carry on West’s proxy war in countries like Syria, and all the while the looming threat of the return of these Takfiri militants continues to affirm the corrupted view of Islam in the minds of the populace that is equated with suicide bombings, mass graves and barbaric beheadings.
Their actions at home, as seen in the Charlie Hebdo incident for instance, also work toward terrorizing Muslim communities into a sense of collective guilt, demanding that they openly condemn, apologize and distance themselves from such actions with every incident that occurs.
Through cohesion between Muslim communities in the West and a firm push toward safeguarding and upholding true Islamic principles, a safeguard mechanism can be devised that ensures young, disenfranchised Muslims do not fall prey to the ideology that drives the [un]Islamic State and other such groups. While rejecting collective guilt, we need to accept collective responsibility. Responsibility of providing a safety net to our own, who may feel alienated by a system that never accepted them as one its own in the first place; the responsibility of equipping our own with the tools that automatically make them immune from the recruitment tactics of those that seek to pervert, exploit and destroy.
The letter to the youth of North America and Europe by the Leader is more than just a plea. It is a roadmap for both the people of the Muslim world, and the West; for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, mapping out a path out of the malaise that faces humanity today. While allowing for the teachings of brotherhood, peace, unity and equality to take the fore, this call for adherence to and understanding of the true message of Islam in all its purity, from its unquestionable source allows for stronger Muslim unity, and a more positive interaction between the West and Islam.
The call has been made. It is time for us to respond.