SHAFAQNA – Responses and reactions to the open letter written by the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei to the youths of Europe and North America continue to emerge from the four corners of the globe.
Ayatollah Khamenei, in an unprecedented direct outreach to the Western citizens, penned a letter addressed to the youths in Europe and North America, and asked them not to believe the stereotypical, dogmatic portrayal of Islam by the corporate media and instead try to gain a firsthand, original knowledge of this divine religion through such sources as the Holy Quran and the life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). He also urged the youths in the West not to consider the terrorists recruited by militant organizations in the Middle East with the backing of global powers as Muslims, because the teachings of Islam condemn violence and never allow the Muslims to kill the innocent people.
An Italian anthropologist and journalist says Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter was “historic” and will be a significant document in the memory of humanity.
“The letter was a great initiative. Ayatollah Khamenei drew aside the curtains of ambiguity that some international media use to cover the real entity of Islam,” said Dr. Tiziana Ciavardini in an interview with Fars News Agency.
“I really believe that the people who do not understand the power and the meaning of Ayatollah Khamenei’s words will find it out in near future,” she said.
Tiziana Ciavardini is a cultural anthropologist and journalist. She was a researcher at the Department of Anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She spent more than 23 years travelling, living for many years in Middle East, Asia and Southeast Asia. She is a President of Ancis Anthropology Forum, a cultural association for the dialogue of religions and culture. Ciavardini has lived in Iran for more than 10 years and has published several articles, essays and books.
Fars News Agency talked to Dr. Tiziana Ciavardini about the growth of Islamophobia in the West and the global impacts of the Supreme Leader’s open letter on the public opinion. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: You are an anthropologist and have studied different cultures and religions. Why do you think there are a number of public figures, politicians and media organizations in the West who cheer on fomenting anti-Islamic sentiments and fanning the flames of discord between the Muslims and the Western public? Is it that they benefit from the continued hostility and antagonism between the Muslims and the people in the West?
A: Most of the people you are talking about are politician who are trying their best to make Western people have a bad opinion about Islam. They want an ‘enemy’to justify their bad actions. In the past, enemy was a man with a name and a surname and they recognized that removing just a man was not enough, so they created another enemy. ‘Enemy’ is too difficult to eliminate: now the enemy is called Islam. For several decades, anything [negative] that has happened is Islam’s fault. Not enough, now that they realize that Islam is spreading fast in the West, they have created Islamophobia
My anthropological studies have given me the opportunity to search deeply the situation and I will not give up until I understand the truth. We, as people, should investigate what benefits they take from this situation, and recognize who is really behind all of this, and is interested to convince us to avoid Islam.
In my opinion, lack of responsibility, some kind of modern nihilism and mental anarchism, lack of knowledge about history, especially the history of crusade wars, recurrence to the past, adventurism, and making false tumult to receive popularity, and increasing the circulation of newspapers and magazines may be the reasons. For example some nearly-broken weekly French magazines as Charlie Hebdo with a low circulation – between 14,000 to 30,000 copies – after the incident, achieved a million copies circulation and everybody was curious to see what was published in this magazine.
As the period of tabloids such as “News of the Day” idiomatically published to entertain waiters and waitresses comes to an end, now the media is using some other methods to receive popularity and false high circulation.
By creating a fear of Islam and introducing it as an enemy, some will benefit to organize more conflicts and strategic ways to fight against a religion that has many supporters in many countries.
Fortunately, many intellectuals and Islam experts are now trying to explain the real pacific nature of Islam to the people through their books, conferences and articles, but there is still a deliberately big propaganda against it.
Q: The recent terrorist attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine was immediately attributed to what the West calls “Muslim terrorists” and the social networking media, only a few minutes following the shooting spree, began featuring headlines claiming that Muslims had raided the office of the French satirical magazine in Paris and killed 12 people. It seems that there’s a spontaneous inclination in the West to associate every act of terrorism on the European or North American soil to the Muslims, even when there’s no sufficient information available about the incident. What’s your take on that?
A: Police and Interpol investigations will continue, but such barbaric actions may be attributed to ISIS because it was said that a caricature of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was to be published on this magazine. ISIS is a dangerous terrorist group that attributes itself to Islam while it dishonours Muslim men and women and children, sells them in the market as slaves, and executes them in masses.
In respect of the human lives lost in Charlie Hebdo, I don’t like to pursue the theory of a plot, but it seems very strange to me that some people were ready to capture the attack on their mobiles and from a well-placed videographer. Just from the video published in all media and televisions, it was clear that the masked gunmen were consequently identified by French authorities as Cherif Kouachi, Said Kouachi, and Hamid Mourad, and they say in the video that the attack was a revenge against those who had “insulted” Prophet Muhammad. But the media seems to have forgotten the victims and are more interested to create more confusion between Islam and terrorism. As I have already mentioned, the so-called ‘Islamic State’ is spreading terror and fear all over the world and even among Muslims, too. My point since the first appearance of this group is to discover who is really behind it. It is impossible that in the name of a religion they commit such terrifying crimes.
Q: What do you think the letter issued by Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei to the young Westerners entails for the global public following the Paris attacks? Why has he decided to address the young European and North American citizens directly and challenge them to study the original and genuine sources of Islam instead of relying upon the mass media for getting a clear understanding of the Islamic lifestyle and philosophy?
A: The letter was a great initiative. Ayatollah Khamenei drew aside the curtains of ambiguity that some international media use to cover the real entity of Islam. These media who are mostly fed by anti-Islamic sources want to introduce the people of one of the most ancient regions in the world as chaotic and aggressive.
We don’t need to be Muslim to understand the sincere words of Ayatollah Khamenei which bear profound significance. I define this letter as ‘historical’ since the message will remain in the history forever. I wish many people will read the letter since it is an example of humanity.
I really believe that the people who do not understand the power and the meaning of Ayatollah Khamenei’s words will find it out in near future. First of all, I am honored to comment about the words of such an important person not only for the international Muslim community but also for many people around the world who recognize the power and the holiness of the Supreme Leader. The fact that he chose the letter instead of using other means to communicate with the people was because the letter is more personal than a newspaper, I guess. I myself am a journalist, but my opinion about newspapers is not always very good, since sometimes they report what they don’t want the real truth and make people confused instead of giving them the facts so they can make their own opinions.
Q: How do you see the global reactions to the Supreme Leader’s letter to the Western youths? I think it has prompted a debate in the intellectual circles regarding the roots of anti-Islamic sentiments and the unprecedented rise of Islamophobic attacks against the Muslims, their community centers and mosques in the West. Do you think this debate will lead to the emergence of a clearer, more lucid and realistic understanding of Islam?
A: Iran’s Supreme Leader talked to the Western youth directly through internet and informed not only the youth but all internet users of an innocent message sent from the Islamic Republic of Iran. His message was honest and pleasant and very effective on the mentality of not only the youth but also the people of the world.
I think the global reaction should be evaluated by statistical institutes, but as far as I have witnessed and heard, it has been quite effective and proves that Ayatollah Khamenei is not only the Supreme Leader of Islamic Republic of Iran but also a mentor and kind personality with good intentions about humanity.
Q: Iran is a major regional power, with a government established on the basis of theological democracy. So, it’s important that its supreme political and religious authority shows concern for the rise of anti-Islamic prejudice and propaganda. In this light, why are the rest of the Muslim leaders silent and indifferent towards the growth of anti-Islamic bigotry, fuelled by the recent attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine? Is it that the Muslim leaders are ignoring the cause of Islam and it makes no difference to them when Islam is denigrated and belittled?
A: This question was also asked by some media in Italy. Where are the Muslim communities right now? Someone said, maybe they are not showing up since they are also afraid of the Islamic State. This ‘fear’ is also a witness to what we just said. If the Muslim communities themselves are afraid of Islamic State, it means that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam. We need to go further and get over the obstacle of ignorance and help the people open their mind to the knowledge. Ignorance always brings fear, but the knowledge brings us the genuine truth.
We do not see any leader in the Middle East; they are either Sultans or Presidents. Firstly, if they send some message, this will not have any important reflection, and secondly they are conservatives who are deeply involved in international affairs and their own internal problems. Of course the passing away of the King of Saudi Arabia has drawn attention of Arabian circle to the incidents that took place after his death. Yemen accidents and other Middle East problems such as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and flocks of adventurers from other parts of the world coming to Syria remind me of the Congo civil wars. These are important factors. The rulers are so involved in their own affairs that they do not pay attention to Islamic world matters.
Q: It is becoming a convention in the West to insult and scorn Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Quran and the sacred beliefs of some 1.5 billion Muslims in the movies, cartoons and newspaper stories. This is while it’s rarely or almost on no account possible to find a Muslim disparaging Jesus Christ or the Holy Bible. Why are the Muslims receiving such a disproportionate and unfair reaction in response to their veneration of other religions and prophets?
A: The one who offends a religion shows that he doesn’t believe in any religion. Offending religions means to be ignorant to oneself and all the human society. Actually I was not aware of Charlie Hebdo magazine and most of the people in Italy became familiar with it just because of the attack. In Italy we are very conservative about religion too; nobody publishes satirical vignettes. With my respect for the human lives lost, the attack somehow let people reflect on the borders between what is satirical and what is offensive. The outrage is no more satiric but an offence. Most of the vignette is indignant to my sensibility. Also the Pope has commented about the vignette the same way, saying that freedom of speech has its limits when it comes to insulting a religion.We can also think of the animosity toward Muslims as a form of unconscious envy. In West, many people are losing values and ideologies and beliefs. A man without values is nothing and he needs to denigrate other people to fill his loneliness.
Insult to Islamic sacred beliefs is not new. It began since the late medieval ages, before Renaissance, and a period of 300 years of futile wars happened, the main result of which was introducing Europeans to the ancient Eastern civilization, Renaissance, and bringing forward some understanding between East and West. A period of one-hundred-year wars between Ottomans and Europeans was ended as relatively a lose-lose battle.
Presently, most of the tumult-makers and intellectuals who have no deep information about Islamic civilization and even Christianity advertise for heresy, tumult, and bother millions of Muslims, but as the attacks of some abnormal and neurotic Saudi young men on Twin Towers do not indicate the internal peaceful wishes of the Muslims around the world, these episodes of animosity do not indicate the attitudes and the internal thoughts of the Europeans toward Islam and Muslims.
We need to live in an atmosphere of love, harmony, and understanding. Recently the Pope, the Leader of Catholics of the world had a relatively lengthy meeting with Iranian Vice President, Mrs. Shahindokht Molaverdi. His words were fully appreciated by Mrs. Molaverdi. The Pope, with all his kindness and grace paid attention to her words, too.
But why don’t the Muslims ever insult Jesus the Christ, the prophet of mercy and kindness and devotion? The answer is that in Holy Quran, a great deal of respect is paid to chosen prophets such as Moses and Jesus the Christ and other heavenly prophets. Mohammad, the Prophet of Islam, emphasized and insisted continuously on respecting the prophets prior to him. Therefore, no Muslim allows himself to insult heavenly prophets. This is a good lesson to the insulters and impolite people. What they do may not be named freedom of speech. This is a kind of insult and lack of etiquette, away from primary principles of civilization and respect to other people. I see a kind of apartheid and racism in this.