About a week ago, I received an invitation to a meeting with Dr. Hassan Rouhani, the current President of Iran. I have been to 2 other meetings that Iranian President Ahmadinejad held with American peace activists and the US interfaith community, when he was in New York for the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. I found those meetings, especially the first one, where President Ahmadinejad took questions from the audience, very interesting and informative. I was really looking forward to what President Rouhani might have to say because I was inspired by what he had to say to the United Nations General Assembly last year, when he talked about a campaign called “WAVE“, “World Against Violence and Extremism“.
Unfortunately, President Rouhani canceled the meeting. The notice said that he found he had so many obligations that day, he would not have time to host it. So the speech must have encouraged the West to talk to him. I had driven down to New York the day before, around the time the meeting was canceled and so I didn’t see it right away. I was hoping to raise the issue of the ‘World Against Violent Extremism’ movement that he conceptualized in last years speech. But, after listening to David Cameron’s speech, it appears Dr. Rouhani was busy being lobbied by Western actors to ditch his friends and join the ‘winners’.
As it turned out, he mentioned his WAVE, this year and spoke of general support for it in the UNGA. Before moving on, this was the message I was going to convey to President Rouhani, at the meeting which was canceled:
President, Rouhani, I was very impressed with the project you introduced in your speech at last year’s UNGA. You proposed, “In the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran“, a project called the “World Against Violence and Extremism [WAVE].” You said, “Let us all join the WAVE.” You also said that we should start thinking about a “Coalition for Enduring Peace“, all across the globe instead of the ineffective “Coalitions for War” in various parts of the world. I want to compliment you on a great idea for a campaign. But I want to go further and make the suggestion that this idea is perfect for germinating and popular movement for peace, a grass roots movement, rather than a political one.
“WAVE” seems to have been wasted on politicians, but all over the world, people would join in such a movement. What you need are a few people to create a logo,and begin a social networking campaign for WAVE, the World Against Violence and Extremism. I would be happy to organize such an effort, though I am sure you have lots of great people in Iran to do so. Please consider investing in making WAVE a popular movement around the globe. It would be more powerful than any similar political initiative.
When I got to my friend’s house in New Jersey, I sat down and watched Rouhani’s speech on my computer. There was talk in the MSM that he was so mellow he might just be co-opted into the Western conspiracy against Syria and Iraq, but certainly there was no hint of that in this speech. That is why I have posted the transcript of President Rouhani’s speech below. As an introduction, I want to say that I would not class president Rouhani as either Conservative or Liberal. I would say instead, that he is a member of the deep state in Iran, going back to the days when he was a young follower of Ayatollah Khomeini. He is a pragmatic politician who has worked his entire life to see the Islamic Republic of Iran succeed as a nation. His powers are limited, as are those of any President in Iran, but probably broader than those of the previous President. He is an adept politician, diplomat and negotiator.
The hall was more than half empty, but my understanding is that delegates can watch the speeches on monitors in their offices. This way, aides can immediately begin responding to whatever the speaker is saying. In the speech, Rouhani talks about the roots of terrorism in racism and colonialism, and he is emphatic that the current problem of terrorism in the Middle East must be solved by the regional actors. He defends ‘moderate leaders’ in the region, in a manner that would seem to include Bashar Assad. He speaks at length about the need for good faith in the nuclear negotiations, and concludes by saying that a favorable resolution of those negotiations would be a model for respectful cooperation between East and West.
The speech is long, but rather than choose areas to delete, I have highlighted those of interest so you can find them at a glance.
Dr. Rouhani Addresses Extremism and Terrorism in the Middle East and Around the World
I am coming from a region of the world whose many parts are burning in the fires of extremism and radicalism. To the east and west of my country extremists threaten our neighbors, resort to violence and shed blood. They, of course, do not speak a single language. They are not of a single skin color, and not of a single nationality. They have come to the Middle East from around the world. They do however, have a single ideology, violence and extremism They also have a single goal, the destruction of civilization, giving rise to Islamophobia and creating a fertile ground for further intervention of foreign forces in our region. I deeply regret to say that terrorism has become globalized, from New York to Mosul, from Damascus to Baghdad, from the easternmost to the westernmost parts of the world, from Al Qaeda to Daesh. The extremists of the world have found each other, and have put out the call, “Extremists of the world, unite”. But are we united against the extremists?
Extremism is not a regional issue, that only the nations of our region have to grapple with. Extremism is a global issue. Certain states have helped in creating it, and are now failing to withstand it. Currently our people’s are paying the price. Today’s anti-westernism is the offspring of yesterday’s colonialism. Today’s anti-westernism is a reaction to yesterday’s racism. Certain intelligence agencies have put blades in the hands of madmen who now spare no one. All those who have played a roll in founding and supporting these groups must acknowledge their errors which have led to extremism. They need to apologize, not only to the past generations, but also to the next generation.
To fight the underlying causes of terrorism, one must identify its roots, and dry its source fountains. Terrorism germinates in poverty, unemployment, discrimination, humiliation and injustice, and it grows in the culture of violence.” To uproot extremism and violence we must spread justice and development, and disallow distortions of divine teachings to justify brutality and cruelty. The pain is made greater when these terrorists spill blood in the name of religion and behead in the name of Islam. They seek to keep hidden this one, incontrovertible truth of history, that on the basis of teachings of all the divine prophets, from Abraham to Moses, from Jesus to Mohammad (Peace Be Upon HIm), taking the life of a single human is akin to killing the whole of humanity.
I am astonished that these murderous groups call themselves ‘Islamic’. What is more astonishing is that the western media, in line with them, repeats this false claim, which provokes the hatred of all Muslims. Muslim people who every day recall their God as merciful and compassionate, and have learned lessons of kindness and empathy from their prophet’s teachings see this defamation as a part of an Islamophobic project.
The strategic blunders of the West in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucuses, have turned these parts of the world into a haven for terrorists and extremists. Military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and improper interference in the development of events in Syria are clear examples of this erroneous strategic approach in the Middle East. As nonpeaceful approach, aggression and occupation target the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people. They result in different psychological and behavioral consequences that are today manifested in the form of violence and murder in the Middle East and North Africa, even attracting some citizens from other parts of the world. Violence is currently being spread to other parts of the world like a contagious disease.
We have always believed that democracy cannot be transplanted from abroad. Democracy is the product of growth and development, not war and aggression. Democracy is not an export product that can be commercially imported from the West to the East. In an undeveloped society, imported democracy leads only to an undeveloped and vulnerable government. When commanding generals step into a region, do not expect diplomats to greet them warmly When war begins, diplomacy tends to end. When sanctions set in, deep hatred for those imposing them also begins. When the atmosphere of the middle east is securitized the answer will be of the same nature as well
The interests of the Western countries in our region are tied to the recognition of beliefs and the desires of people for democratic governments in the region. The experience of the creation of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and modern extremist groups have demonstrated that no one can use extremist groups to counter an opposing state and remain impervious to the consequences of rising extremism. The repetition of these mistakes despite many costly experiences is perplexing.
Let’s remember that Iran had invited everyone to dialog before the criminal act of September 11 and also called for a World Against Violence and Extremism before the outbreak of the current violent atrocities. Perhaps in the past year few people could anticipate the fire that would rage today, but now uninhibited violence presents an imminent threat to the world. It is self evident that without an accurate understanding of how the current condition came about, we will not be able to find the right solutions. Today, again, I shall warn against the spread of extremism and the danger posed by the inadequate understanding and incorrect approach to this phenomenon.
The Middle East longs for development, and is weary of war. It is the natural right of the peoples of the fertile lands of the Middle East to live in peace and prosperity. In the past, colonialism denied them this right, and today the shadow of war and violence threatens their security. There are moderate politicians and elites in our region, who enjoy the confidence of their peoples. They are neither anti-Western or pro-Western. While aware of the role of colonialism in the backwardness of their nations, they are not neglectful of their role of their nations in reaching the development that they seek. They do not absolve the west of its misdeeds, but are also aware of their own failings. These leaders can take a position of active leadership by attracting the confidence of the people in their societies and establishing the strongest national and international coalitions against violence. The voices of these leaders are the true voices of moderation in the Islamic world.
The familiar sound of an Afghan tired of war, an Iraqi victim of extremism, a Syrian fearful of terrorism, and a Lebanese worried about violence and sectarianism. I believe if countries claiming the leadership of the coalition do so to continue their hegemony they would be making a strategic mistake. Obviously, since the pain is better known by the countries in the region, better they can form a coalition and accept to shoulder the responsibility of leadership to counter violence and terrorism. And, if other nations wish to take action against terrorism, they must come to their support.
I warn that if we do not muster all of our strength against extremism and violence and fail to entrust the job to the people of the region who can deliver, tomorrow this world will not be safe for anyone. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, last year I tried to fulfill the roll of my country in the realization of peace at both the regional and international levels by putting forward a proposal of a World Against Violence and Extremism, which was met with general support. In the tumultuous and chaotic region of the Middle East, Iran is one of the most tranquil, secure and stable nations. All the nations of the region have to keep in mind that we are in the same boat.
Thus we need broad cooperation with regard to social and political, as well as security and defense issues with a view towards reaching common and durable understandings. Had we had greater cooperation and coordination in the Middle East, thousands of innocent Palestinians in Gaza would not have fallen victim to the Zionist aggression. We in the Islamic Republic of Iran consider interaction and confidence building among states of the region as fundamentally essential to conflict resolution. We support any measure to promote cooperation between Islamic nations to combat extremism and aggression, and in connection with this, we are prepared to play our permanent, constructive and positive role.
About the Sanctions and Ongoing Negotiations over Iran’s Nuclear Project
Mr. President, the oppressive sanctions go on in continuation of a strategic mistake against a moderate and independent nation under the current sensitive conditions in our region During the last year we have engaged in the most transparent dialogue to build confidence regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. We place serious and honest negotiations on the agenda, not in result of sanctions or threats but rather because of the will of our people who are of the view that our nuclear issue can only be resolved through negotiation. And those who think of any other mechanism are making a grave mistake in doing so. Any delay in arriving at a final agreement not only raises the cost, not only will be at our expense, but also at the expense of the economy and trade of other parties as well as the development and security prospects of our region. No one should doubt that compromise and negotiation on this issue is in the best interest of everybody, especially that of the nations of the region.
The negotiations between Iran and the five plus one have continued through this past year and the past few months with seriousness and optimism on both sides. According to all international observers, the Islamic Republic of Iran has carried out its negotiations in good faith. Although, some of the actions and interactions of our counterparts have created certain doubts regarding their determination and their realism, we hope that the current negotiations will lead to final accord in the short amount of time that we have left. We are committed to continue our peaceful nuclear program, including enrichment, and to enjoy our full nuclear rights on Iranian soil, within the framework of international law.. We are determined to continue negotiations with our interlocutors in earnest and good faith, based on mutual respect and confidence, the removal of concerns for both sides, as well as equal footing under recognized international norms and principles.
I do believe mutual adherence to the strict implementation of commitments and obligations and avoidance of excessive demands by our counterparts is requisite for the success of the negotiations. A final accord regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear program can serve as the beginning of multilateral collaboration aimed at promoting security, peace and development in our region. The people of Iran, who have been subjected to pressures, especially in the last three years, as a result of continued sanctions, cannot place trust in any security cooperation with the governments who have imposed sanctions and created obstacles in the way of satisfying even their primary needs such as food and medicine. These sanctions will create impediments in the way to future long term cooperation. The people of Iran are devoted to certain principles and values, at the apex of which are independence, development and national pride. If this obvious national fact is not understood by our negotiating and they commit grievous miscalculations, in the process a historic opportunity will be lost.
As you know, during the ongoing nuclear negotiations in this year, the Iranian government took some initiative and created favorable conditions which resulted in a new phase in the Geneva joint plan of action. We are determined to continue our confidence building approach and our transparency in this process. If our interlocutors are equally motivated and flexible we can overcome the problem and reach a long standing agreement in the time remaining, then an entirely different environment for cooperation will emerge at the regional and international levels, allowing for focus on some very important regional issues, such as combating violence and extremism in the region. Arriving at a historic, comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran will be a historic opportunity for the West to show that it does not oppose the advancement and development of others, and does not discriminate when it comes to adhering to international rules and regulations. This agreement can carry a global message of peace, security and that the only way to resolve conflict is through negotiations and respect and not through fighting and sanctions.Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, last year the people of the great nation of Iran broadly participated in the calm and impressive presidential elections and endorsed the discourse foresight, hope and prudent moderation.Thereafter, they supported the government in building the country. While some of the countries around Iran have fallen prey to war and turmoil, Iran remains secure, stable and calm. My government’s principle policy is to work towards constructive interactions with our neighbors on the basis of mutual respect and with emphasis on common interest.
The notion that Iran seeks to control other countries in the region is a myth, fanned in the recent years, in the context of an Iranophobic project. Those who make these claims need imaginary enemies to sustain tensions and sow division and conflict. Thus in this way, pushing for the redeployment of national resources away from development. We work towards putting an end to the delusional Iranophobia , setting the stage for building strategic partnerships with our neighbors.
In Conclusion (Back to fighting violence and extremism)
In conclusion, last year I warned against the expansion of violence and extremism. This year too, I warn that if the right approach is not undertaken, in dealing with the issue at hand, we will get closer to a turbulent and tumultuous region with repercussions for the whole world. The right solution to this quandary comes from within the region. A regionally provided solution with international support and not a solution from outside of the region.