Mustafa Fahs

What Rafsanjani didn’t say

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (R) meets with Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, secretary general of the Lebanese Muslim Shiite Hezbollah, in Tehran 09 July 2000 (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Former President Sheikh Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council of Iran, said earlier this month that “actions provoking division among Muslims” increase Sunni-Shiite tension, in a tacit reference to over-zealous Shiites. He rejected transformation of such actions in acts of devotion, heavily criticizing insults directed at the companions of the Prophet Mohammad and celebration of Omar Ibn al-Khattab’s death. He also said that persisting in such actions has contributed to the formation of the Islamic State (ISIS), Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other similar groups.


Rafsanijani’s remarks coincided with the launch of serious initiatives by several Arab governments and religious authorities to counter the rampantly spreading fever of extremism. Their efforts have included unconditional participation in the war on ISIS, as well as prompt action to prosecute extremist preachers, curtail their influence and block their sources of funding. Meanwhile, some in Tehran still support Shiite extremist groups that carry out ISIS-like practices. These practices, however, are not entirely the same as those carried out by the Islamic State, which makes no distinction between Sunnis and Shiites, not to mention Christians and Yazidis, in the atrocities it commits.


What Rafsanjani didn’t dare comment on was the pro-Damascus stance Tehran has kept up for over three years — its support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime with all available force, some of which has taken on an ideological character. Tehran has provided all possible material, military and human resources, sending its militias to Damascus and other areas of Syria to bring the Syrian people to their knees and suppress their just aspirations for freedom and dignified existence.


These actions form one of the main reasons behind the revival of extremist groups and have helped create an environment which protects and supports them, especially since Tehran has refused to heed the voices of reason calling on it to recognize the Syrian people’s right to self-determination. This insistence by Tehran has led Assad to take actions that whet the appetite of Sunni extremists. Now they have a pretext to justify “emigration” to the Levant for jihad — an action they see as being in defense of Muslim holy lands.


From the time of the great sedition to the present day, Islamic history has seen innumerable intellectual and juristic debates. On some occasions disagreements have produced polarization that has in turn lead to declarations of heresy and war between various Islamic confessions. We are now witnessing an open confrontation between Salafist Sunni jihadism and fundamentalist Shiite jihadism in which both sides aspire to defeat the other, either through intimidation or elimination.


In the societies where these extremist groups have emerged, moderate Islam must be supported — as happened with the Sahwat in Iraq, and in the war Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states led against Al-Qaeda, and are now leading against ISIS. As for Tehran, which has yet to take action against the extremist groups operating under its auspices in Iraq and Syria, it has continued to practice the same violence practiced by ISIS and its sister groups. The difference in Tehran’s case is that the killing isn’t happening in front of a camera.


This article was originally published in Arabic on Asharq al-Awsat

Tehran has continued to practice the same violence practiced by ISIS and its sister groups. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

What Rafsanjani didn’t dare comment on was the pro-Damascus stance Tehran has kept up for over three years.