‘Islamic Unity’ conference in Tehran was neither Islamic nor seeking unity
“Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire,” French philosopher Voltaire sardonically said of the Holy Roman Empire, a complex of principalities formed in central Europe during the early Middle Ages and that met its end during the Napoleonic wars.
The same might be said for the 32nd “Islamic Unity Conference” November 24-26 in Iran.
It was neither Islamic, nor did it reflect unity and it did not have the genuine dialogue that would make it worthy of the word “conference.” If anything, monologues offered by Iranian leaders only deepened the divides among Islamic countries.
The conference was organised by the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, a forum established in October 1990 by an order of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The forum was meant to reconcile different Islamic schools of thought and branches.
This year’s conference, however, was overshadowed by Iran’s leadership’s verbal attacks on Saudi Arabia.
The tone of the conference was set by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who began his speech by “advising the rulers of Islamic states” to “return to the guardianship of Islam and God” and warned: “Submission to the guardianship of the United States and taghout [Satan] will not help you!”
Khamenei railed against the House of Saud: “Everyone has heard the palaver of the American president, who compares the rulers of Saudi Arabia to a milk cow. This is an insult… If the House of Saud does not mind being insulted, to hell with it, but this is an insult to the people of the region and an insult to Muslim nations.”
Turning to regional politics, Khamenei claimed the rulers of Saudi Arabia have “wounded the region” by endorsing the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state and with the war in Yemen.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani continued in the same vein, saying: “They gave $450 billion away in gifts and procured arms exceeding $100 billion to secure American guarantees for their security. Those who plundered them overtly said: ‘We are milking the cow! You wouldn’t last two weeks without US!’ At the very least ask your master to keep up appearances and do not tolerate constant insults from your master.”
Then Rohani asked: “What do you need America for since you shower them with your resources?”
Rohani criticised the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as well as the war in Yemen. This despite he presided over Iran’s highest national security decision-making body in the 1990s when the regime’s opponents were regularly killed.
Rohani said at the Tehran conference: “I wish the Istanbul incident had not taken place and a human being had not been dismembered. This is shameful for us Muslims that you bomb the innocent people of Yemen every single day.”
While Iranian commentators did not dare criticise Khamenei’s crass words, Iranian academic Sadeq Zibakalam used his Twitter account to question the wisdom of Rohani’s verbal attacks.
Zibakalam said: “His Excellency Mr Rohani, speaking within the framework of unity and solidarity between the Shias and Sunnis, addressed the Saudis with such sarcasm and contempt. I wonder what words and expressions he would have used if he intended to insult them!”
Turning to the prayer ritual at the conference, a columnist with the daily Jomhouri-ye Eslami released photos that showed separate lines for Sunni and Shia participants and asked if separate sectarian prayer did not “question the fundamental principle of unity”?
Rasa News, source of the photos, did not address the issue of separate prayer lines. Instead, it explained that the “photos were taken for the classified section of the agency of use for decision-makers involved in the programme and were mistakenly released to the general public.”
Perhaps. But how about the railing of Khamenei and Rohani against a fellow Islamic state? That, too, at a conference held under the banner of “Islamic Unity”? Were those statements also delivered by mistake?