In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
To the Western youth,
The bitter events brought about by blind terrorism in France have, once again, moved me to speak to you, the youth. It is regrettable for me that such incidents should be the catalyst for conversation, but the truth is that if these distressing affairs do not pave the way for seeking solutions and for building a platform of thoughtful collaboration, the resulting damage will be multiplied.
The agony of any human being in any part of the world naturally causes grief in the hearts of other human beings. The sight of a child losing his life in the presence of his loved ones, of a mother whose joy for her family turns into mourning, of a husband rushing somewhere with the lifeless body of his wife, and of a bystander who has no idea that he will soon see the final moment of his life—these are scenes that cannot but arouse the emotions and feelings of any human being. Anyone who possesses an ounce of love and humanity is moved and disturbed by witnessing these scenes regardless of whether they take place in France or whether they occur in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.
Without a doubt, the one-and-a-half billion Muslims share these emotions, and are revolted and disgusted by the perpetrators and those responsible for these calamities. The fact is, however, that if the agonies of today are not used to build a better and safer future then they will just fade into bitter and dormant memories. I genuinely believe that it is only you, the youth, who by taking lessons from the present-day plight, will be able to seek out new ways to build the future and to deter the West from the aberrant ways that have led it to its current impasse.
It is true that terrorism is our common concern today. However, you must know that the insecurity and trauma that you experienced during the recent events differ in two significant ways from the grief that the people of Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan have been enduring for many years. First, the Islamic world has been the victim of terror and brutality on a far wider scale, to a far greater intensity, and for a much lengthier period of time. Second, this brutality has always, unfortunately, been supported in various operative ways by a handful of superpowers.
Today, there are very few people who remain uninformed about the role of the United States of America in creating or at least reinforcing and arming al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their ominous successors. Aside from this direct support, the clear and well-known endorsers of Takfiri terrorism—in spite of having the most regressive political systems—have joined the ranks of Western allies; at the same time, the most advanced and enlightened voices stemming from vibrant democracies in the region are mercilessly suppressed. This double-standard of the Western response to the Awakening Movement in the Islamic world is a clear example of inconsistency in Western politics.
Yet another face of this inconsistency can be seen in the support for the state-sponsored terrorism of Israel. It has been more than sixty years now that the oppressed people of Palestine have experienced the worst kind of terrorism. If the people of Europe have now taken refuge in their homes for a few days and refrain from attending large gatherings and frequenting crowded areas, it is decades now that a single Palestinian family has not been secure even in their own home from the onslaught of the Zionist regime’s apparatus of death and destruction. In terms of callous severity today, what type of harshness is comparable to the settlement projects of the Zionist regime? This regime—without ever being genuinely and effectively rebuked by its own influential allies or even by the so-called “independent” international bodies—demolishes the homes of Palestinians and destroys their orchards and farms on a daily basis without even giving them an opportunity to move their personal belongings or gather their agricultural harvest. Moreover, all of this often takes place in plain sight of the terrified and tear-filled eyes of women and children, who witness the brutal beatings of their own family members and who occasionally witness them being dragged away to horrific torture chambers. In today’s world, can you think of any other brutality on this scale and scope that has continued for so long?
If gunning down a woman in the middle of a street for the crime of protesting against a fully-armed soldier is not terrorism, then what is? Should this type of savagery not be called “extremism” since it is carried out by the armed forces of an occupying nation? Or perhaps it is only because these scenes have been witnessed repeatedly on television screens for the last sixty years that they need no longer stir our inner conscience.
The military campaigns on Islamic territory within the last few years—which itself has resulted in countless casualties—is yet another instance of the contradictory logic of the West. In addition to these human casualties, the assaulted countries have lost their economic and industrial infrastructure; their movement towards growth and development has been halted or delayed and, in some cases, has been thrown back decades. Despite all this, they are presumptuously asked not to see themselves as oppressed. How can a country be turned into ruins, have its cities and villages reduced to dust, and then be told that it should kindly not view itself as being oppressed? Instead of a call to conceal or wipe out the memories of these atrocities, would not an honest apology be better? The suffering that the Islamic world has had to bear in these years as a result of the hypocrisy and façade of the invaders is no less than the material loss that they have accrued.
Dear youth, I have hope that sooner or later you will change this approach that has been tainted with deceit—an approach that skillfully conceals its long-term goals and insidiously embellishes its objectives. In my opinion, the first step in creating security and peace is reforming this violence-breeding mind-set. So long as double-standards dominate Western policies, so long as terrorism is compartmentalized by its powerful supporters into categories of “good” and “bad”, and so long as governmental interests are given precedence over humane and ethical values, the roots of violence should not be sought in any other place.
Unfortunately, over the course of many years, these roots have gradually penetrated deep into the culture of Western politics, giving rise to a subtle and silent assault. Many countries of the world take pride in their indigenous and native cultures—cultures which have nourished human societies for centuries during their height of glory and productivity. The Islamic world was no exception to this. However, in the contemporary period, through the use of its advanced means of technology, the Western world is adamant in replicating its culture and homogenizing the world. In my view, the imposition of Western culture upon other peoples and the belittlement of sovereign cultures are forms of silent brutality and are extremely harmful. Thriving cultures are being humiliated and their most honored facets are being ridiculed while the replacing culture does not have the slightest competence to replace anything. As an example, the two elements of “aggression” and “licentiousness”—which have unfortunately become the chief elements of Western culture—have diminished its status and legitimacy, even within its own sphere. So now the question is: are we truly to blame for not wanting any part of an aggressive, vulgar, and shallow culture? Are we really at fault if we obstruct the destructive flood that is surging towards our youth in the guise of various forms of pseudo-art?
I do not deny the importance and value of cultural relations. Whenever these relations take place under natural conditions and with respect for the receiving culture, they result in growth, advancement, and richness. In contrast, however, dissymmetrical and unilaterally-imposed relationships have been unsuccessful and damaging. On this note, we must say with full regret, that vile groups such as Daesh are the products of these types of unsuccessful mergers with imported cultures. If the real issue was simply theological, we would have certainly witnessed such [vile] phenomena in the Islamic world before the colonialist era; yet history bears witness to the contrary. Authoritative historical records clearly show how the convergence of colonialism and a certain rejected radical ideology (found in the bowels of a single Bedouin tribe at that!) planted the seeds of extremism in this region. Otherwise, how is it possible for refuse such as Daesh to come out of one of the most ethical and humane religious traditions of the world, one whose founding text holds that taking the life of a single human is tantamount to killing all of humanity?
At the same time, one has to ask why people who are born in Europe and who are mentally and emotionally nourished in that environment are attracted to these types of groups. Can we really believe that persons who make a trip or two to a war zone, all of a sudden, become so extreme that they riddle their fellow countrymen with bullets? Certainly, we must not forget the effects of a lifetime of being nurtured by an unwholesome culture in a polluted environment born out of brutality.
This issue calls for a more thorough analysis—one that can identify the apparent and hidden pollutants of society. Perhaps there is a deep-rooted hatred in the hearts of certain classes of Western society—planted during the years of industrial and economic boom as a result of inequalities and perchance legal and structural discriminations—that gave rise to certain pathological complexes, which are sporadically released in this neurotic way.
In any case, you are the ones that must uncover the outer layers and façade of your own society; you must find and untangle any [deep-rooted] knots and resentments. Fissures have to be sealed, not deepened. A major mistake in the fight against terrorism is to react impulsively, for it only widens the gap. Any hysterical or knee-jerk reaction which isolates or intimidates the Muslim community in Europe and America—a community comprising of millions of active and responsible citizens—and which deprives them of their basic rights more so than before, thereby marginalizing them from society, will not only hinder the search for a solution, but will deepen the fissures and intensify the resentments. Superficial and reactionary strategies—particularly if they take legal form—will bear no fruit but to increase the existing polarizations and pave the way for future crises. According to reports received, some countries in Europe have issued guidelines promoting citizens to spy on Muslims. These measures are oppressive, and whether one likes it or not, a well-known characteristic of oppression is its propensity to return.
Besides, Muslims are not deserving of such unappreciative acts. For centuries, the occident has known Muslims well. Both when Westerners were guests on Muslim soil and coveted the riches of their hosts, and also when they were the hosts and benefited from the thoughts and efforts of the Muslims—they generally experienced nothing but kindness and forbearance.
Therefore, I would like you, the youth, to build a right and honorable relationship with the Muslim world on the basis of accurate knowledge, deep understanding, and the ability to learn from unpleasant experiences. If this is done, you will see that in the not too distant future, the edifice that you erect on these foundations will create a shade of serenity and trust over you, the architects, conferring to you the warmth of peace and security, and projecting a ray of hope for a brighter future on the canvas of the earth.
Sayyid Ali Khamenei
November 29, 2015
Read Ayatollah Khamenei’s first letter to the youth in the west here.