In a critical moment for Europe and the United States, Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter is released at the right time. Europe remains on high alert after Paris attacks of 7 January 2015. In the aftermath of the shooting, several mosques have been targets of the violence in France. Firebombs, grenades, and pig heads thrown into mosques and women with hijab are subjected to insults in public places. This is not limited to France, a country with the largest Muslim population in Europe. The threat of extremism and fear of fierce backlash on Muslim populations is felt in Belgium, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Britain.
The ‘Islamic extremism,’ a Takfirist/Wahhabi reading of Islam, which was and is promoted by the Americans and their European allies against their political adversaries in Syria and Iraq, now, has hit Europe’s heartland. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner in London has reported that five British citizens join ISIL every week, raising the number of European Muslims in ISIL to the thousands. With thousands of young Sunni Muslims from European countries joining ISIL, the Middle East is no longer the sole bearer of the repercussions of the wrong policies and blunders of the West. The American and European civilians too are involved in the game.
Ayatollah Khamenei’s letter should be perceived in this context. He had repeatedly warned countries of the ‘high price’ they would eventually pay for supporting rebels fighting in Syria and Iraq. With addressing the youth of Europe and North America in a letter published via Twitter and other social media, Ayatollah Khamenei, shares his concerns with both Muslim and non-Muslim youth population in the West. He asks them “to gain a direct and firsthand knowledge of this religion,” and to “receive knowledge of Islam from its primary and original sources.” Ayatollah Khamenei calls the youths to gain knowledge independent from prejudices and biases; to go beyond the Takfirist ideology and its exclusionist reading of Islam and the media portrayal of Muslims that equates them to extremists stating that, “I don’t insist that you accept my reading or any other reading of Islam.”
Regardless of whether the US or Europe would continue with backing extremism abroad and Islamophobic policies at home, the message of the letter is that ideologies cannot be bombed into defeat. Such policies that marginalizes and degrades Muslims would lead to more extremism and violence. “Correct and unbiased understanding of Islam” and raising awareness might be the solution for as Ayatollah Khamenei asserts “although no one can individually fill the created gaps, each one of you can construct a bridge of thought and fairness over the gaps to illuminate yourself and your surrounding environment.”
By Zeinab Ghasemi who is a PhD candidate in North American Studies in University of Tehran.