EspañolThe polemic continues over an open letter written in January by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to “the youth in Europe and North America,” which asked them to rethink the “image that is presented to you as Islam” and resist alleged efforts to demonize “this great religion” by Western media and governments.
The text, published online on January 21, called on young people to “study and research the incentives behind this widespread tarnishing of the image of Islam.”
Readers were further invited to engage with the Koran and other primary religious sources to “gain a direct and firsthand knowledge of this religion.”
Two months on, Tehran appears to be refocusing attention on the missive. The state-run Tasnim News Agency published an interview on March 15 with Kenneth O’Keefe, a former US marine turned activist, in which he described the letter as a “very positive move” from the Iranian supreme leader.
“I know as an American born son myself that the Iranian people and Iranian leadership is being villainized enormously,” O’Keefe said.
“I think it’s very wise and very important to try and reach out to them [Western youth]” without intermediaries, he added, because the media are “corrupted and they do not provide accurate information.”
“It has the capacity to really eliminate the lies by speaking directly to each other,” O’Keefe concluded.
The Irish-Palestinian citizen was discharged from service after the 1991 Gulf War and attempted to renounce his US citizenship in 2001.
An environmental activist for some years, he led a human-shield action in December 2002 prior to the US bombing of cities in Iraq, and has since described the 9/11 attacks as an “Israeli Zionist false flag attack.”
Iranian Olive Branch
The ayatollah claimed to address the young people of the West directly “because the future of your nations and countries will be in your hands.”
“I don’t address your politicians and statesmen either in this writing, because I believe that they have consciously separated the route of politics from the path of righteousness and truth,” Khamenei, Iran’s president between 1981 and 1989 before he became supreme leader, wrote at the start of the letter.
For the cleric, “the provocation of a feeling of horror and hatred and its utilization has unfortunately a long record in the political history of the West.”
Inviting young people to “study the teachings of the Prophet of Islam,” Khamenei highlighted that “the communication media have removed the geographical borders. Hence, don’t allow them to besiege you within fabricated and mental borders.”
Arwa Jabar, a Jordanian Muslim resident in Saudi Arabia, told the PanAm Post that the letter made “perfect sense,” and that she believed that the majority of Western young people hated Muslims.
Jabar explained that she felt this prejudice when living in Europe, even feeling scared to wear a headscarf in line with her beliefs.
“I blame the media for publishing only incorrect and false ideas about Islam in the western media. They only cover news when it’s Muslims who are doing [the attacks],” she said.
She added that many Westerners don’t differentiate between Arabs or Muslims, and are unable to distinguish the political culture of a country from its religion.
“The prophet Mohammed ordered us to be loving with our neighbors; even in wars it’s not permitted to kill women, children, or older people, or even to cut down trees … but unfortunately the Western world doesn’t see these things,” Jabar lamented.
Joanna Works, founder and editor for Baptists for Liberty, a Michigan-based blog and podcast, told the PanAm Post that she found it interesting that channels of communication between Iran and the United States have opened after more than three decades.
Nevertheless, she sounded a note of caution on the timing of the letter. “Why now?” she asked. “He could have sought to open dialogue 10 years ago.”
Works argued that, with regard to an apparent focus on Islam by Western politicians and media, having a common enemy unites the populace, and that Islam fits the bill in uniting divided Western societies. The treatment of women in some Muslim societies, she argued, was also useful in earning the scorn of progressives in the West.
“Ultimately, public figures are rarely sincere and often manipulative with their public declarations,” Works said.
“Although I think it’s worth reading this letter, I also implore young people to read it with caution, and investigate for themselves the history and chain of events to which [Khamenei] alludes,” she concluded.
Iran is currently engaged in negotiations with the United States and other Western nations about its uranium enrichment program. Western governments have raised concerns that Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but the Iranian government maintains that its program is peaceful and geared towards energy production.
War of Words
Recently reelected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a standing ovation from the US Congress in a visit earlier in March, when he condemned proposals to allow Iran a limited amount of enrichment capacity as “a very bad deal” which “paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”
“Iran has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted,” Netanyahu continued, demanding that Iran stop “supporting terrorism around the world and stop threatening to annihilate … the only Jewish state.”
However, Khamenei’s recent comments about the United States have been somewhat less conciliatory than his January letter. On March 12, he hit back at a letter signed by 47 Republican senators, which warned that any nuclear deal made with President Barack Obama could be rescinded once he left office.
The ayatollah described the letter as “reckless and irresponsible,” and said that Washington was “known for opacity, deceit and backstabbing.”
In remarks to the Iranian cabinet, Khamenei branded Netanyahu a “Zionist clown” and repeated claims that militant group Islamic State had been “created” by the United States.
Laurie Blair translated and contributed to this article.