This is the text of the full interview of Dr Salman Safavi with Colin Freeman from the Telegraph, some segments of which were published by the Telegraph in two parts on the 27th of March 2015 titled “Iran can accept nuclear limits for 10 years says ally of Supreme Leader” and 7th of April 2015 titled “Iranian cleric: Ban ‘Islamophobic’ video games to stop radicalisation“. Dr Safavi is the director of the International Peace Studies Centre (IPSC).
1) There are reports today that the US and Iran are a looking towards a nuclear deal that would restrict Iran’s enrichment activities for a fixed period of a decade. Are these reports correct, and if so, would such a deal be acceptable to Iran?
As a trust building step Iran might consider limiting its nuclear enrichment level and number of centrifuges for a period of a few years; this period is certainly not more than ten years. In return the resolutions and sanctions of the United Nations Security Council regarding Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and the unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the European Union and the USA must be immediately removed.
After the nuclear agreement Iran’s nuclear file must be removed from the UN Security council and must be referred to the IAEA. As a member of the NPT, Iran like every other member state must be able to use the scientific and technical benefits of this treaty, rather than only having the restrictions of the NPT imposed on it.
The Fatwa (religious ruling) of Iran’s supreme leader which bans the production and use of Weapons of Mass Destruction including Nuclear Weapons, and the ongoing nuclear negotiations between President Rouhani and the P5+1 shows that Iran has taken concrete and positive steps for portraying the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.
2) The West continues to take a close interest in the fate of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Is there any likelihood that their house arrest will end? I understand that the Supreme Leader’s view is that they are fortunate only to be under house arrest and not in jail, but you will understand that in the West, this gives ammunition to those who claim that Iran silences its critics. What conditions would the two men have to meet for the authorities to bring their house arrest to end?
Many western citizens and Iranians are of the belief that before the west is ethically permitted to give its opinion about the domestic affairs of other countries it should address and resolve its own violations of human rights. First Western governments must review their own problematic human rights record. For example The US must put an end to the secret prisons of the CIA and the Guantanamo bay which stays open until this day; it must put an end to its extrajudicial killing through the use of its drone program which constantly results in civilian deaths; it must put an end to the NSA’s mass surveillance program which is considered even by the EU as a fundamental threat to Human rights, and which constitutes the active theft of private information and violation of the privacy of the citizens of the US and the world at large. US intelligence agencies have even continually violated the privacy of their own allies such as their eaves dropping on the former British PM Tony Blair during the Iraq war and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Further, The US should create the necessary conditions to put an end to social discrimination and the police shootings and killings which have resulted in mass protests in the US and a sense of alienation for segments of the American society. This is just a few examples of human rights problems in the west that it is hoped they will work hard to resolve.
Second the west must look at the human rights conditions of its allies such as Saudi Arabia where women are not even permitted to drive and are imprisoned if they do so, or the UAE in which foreign workers particularly from the Philippines and the subcontinent are treated like slaves.
The situation of Mousavi ad Karoubi, which is a domestic matter, will be resolved based on Iranian law.
3) Since we last spoke, the crisis in Syria and Iraq has escalated a great deal, with Iranian forces reported to be acting in both countries in support of the Syrian and Iraqi governments. Do you think that the Iraqi government stands a good chance of defeating Isis long term, and if so, what is the best way about it? What should the role of Britain and America be? Is it right for them to be supporting the Iraqi government militarily?
The bombing campaign of the US, Britain and their allies has a very limited effect in either stopping or defeating Daesh. In Iraq the main war on Daesh is being waged by the Iraqi government, the Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militias which are all heavily supported by Iran who is actively engaged in defeating terrorism in the region. If the US and the EU want to play a positive and effective role in helping Iraq, Syria and Iran in their war against Daesh terrorists they must put pressure on Turkey, Saudi Arabia and UAE which are actively weakening the central governments of Iraq and Syria. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and UAE helped establish Daesh, they continue to materially support Daesh through funds and weapons, and they provide safe passage through Turkey for terrorists particularly from Europe and Caucasia who aim to join the Daesh terrorists. The US and EU must put pressure on Turkey, Saudi Arabia and UAE to stop their funding of Daesh, supplying arms to Daesh, providing safe passage to foreign fighters, intelligence support and political support. These are the practical steps that if they are taken by the US and EU will help in stopping the cancerous terrorist organisation Daesh.
War is not the solution to the political problems of Syria, diplomacy and negotiations are the only solution. The support of Western governments of civil war in Syria and their funding and supply of arms and equipment to what they termed as “opposition” groups is one of the primary causes which led to the establishment of the Daesh terrorist group. The agreement between the US and Turkey, Saudi and Qatar to train and arm Syrian rebels against the central government of Syria, is another wrong step which will directly result in the strengthening of Daesh, as similar programs have done in the past. The US and Iran should start a dialogue with Bashar al-Assad so that the liberal Syrian opposition joins the central government and in a peaceful and democratic manner the civil and political problems of Syria are resolved and just peace is achieved.
4) It has also been claimed that Isis and the Syrian government privately have a “truce” deal, whereby neither side attacks each other’s positions. This is in order for the Assad government to focus on attacking the main secular rebels, and so that it can tell its own people that the rebels are all “terrorists”. What does the Islamic Republic think of this tactic, given that Isis is also a sworn enemy of the Shia faith?
I’m amused by this assertion which is nothing more than cheap propaganda. The only relationship between the Syrian government and the Daesh terrorist group Is that of war and hate. Daesh and other extremist groups such as Al-Nusrah for a long time worked hand in hand with the small liberal opposition in Syria. The Syrian government supported by Iran and Hezbollah are actively engaged in fighting the Daesh terrorists. The grave misconception in the west is that it is Western countries leading the war against Daesh, this is false; The war against Daesh in Syria and Iraq is being waged by the Syrian Government, Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, and in Iraq as previously mentioned by the Iraqi government, the Kurdish Pishmerga and Shia militias all of whom are supported by Iran.
5) Many in the West now see Isis as a far greater threat than the likes of Hezbollah or Shia militias such as the Mehdi Army or Asaib ahl-al Haq (which had a record of attacking Western forces in Iraq). What do you think of that position? Is Isis as big a threat to Iran as to the West?
Comparing Hezbollah or The Mehdi Army to Daesh or Taliban or Alqaeda is a false comparison. Hezbollah for example in terms of its origin and its military arm is a resistance group formed against the ongoing occupation of Lebanese territory by Israel, and in terms of its political ideology and activity it is a legitimate political entity in Lebanon involved in the democratic process in that country. Resistance against occupying forces, be it in Lebanon against Israel or in Iraq does not constitute terrorism, it is similar to holding the opinion that that the Free France group led by Charles de Gaulle in fighting the Nazi’s during World War II was a terrorist group.
When we look at Daesh and similar groups such as Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Boko Haram or al-Shabaab there is one common denominator and that is Salafism and takfirism. The Salafi or Wahabi ideology which originated in Saudi Arabia and has been exported by Saudi petro-dollars around the world is the common ideology of nearly all of these terrorist organisations which operate across the Muslim world and Europe, and their main target and the majority of the people they have killed have been Muslims. The actions and beliefs of these groups is against Islamic law and morality, and is opposed not only by the Shi’a clerical establishment but also by Al-Azhar which is a Sunni Organisation. Thus, to equate the terrorist, heinous crimes of these terrorist groups to Islam is false.
Daesh can have no base of operation in Iran due to Iranian demographics, culture and religious doctrine, thus, Daesh is not an existential threat to Iran as it cannot gain footing there. However, as Daesh is a threat to regional security and stability and has already made gains in Iraq and Syria, defeating Daesh is a priority for Iran in which it has been very successful until now. During Daesh’s advance in Iraq it was Iran’s actions which prevented Baghdad from falling. Iran is committed to fighting against the Daesh terrorist group, and ensuring regional security, peace and stability.
Daesh poses a great threat to the West, as many of the foreign fighters who have joined Daesh will one day return to Europe, and pose a grave security challenge there.
6) We have also seen Isis posing a threat to Britain and Europe, and with many young people from the UK going to Syria and Iraq to fight for Isis (Just last week, three schoolgirls from East London were reported to have gone to Syria to join the organisation) Why do you think this group attracts young people in Britain, and what would you say the solution was?
Firstly It must be said that the large majority of Muslims in Europe and America are exemplary citizens working in different professions such as medical doctors, teachers and business owners and actively make positive contributions to the economy, sciences and culture of Europe and America. The problem of a minority of young people from Europe and other regions joining ISIS is a grave concern for Muslim thinkers and intellectuals around the globe. There are many factors playing a role in attracting young people to this group and similar groups. One of the roots of this problem is the question of belonging which can be summarised in the distinction between the terms “Muslims in Europe” versus the term “Muslims of Europe”. Muslims are not “in” Europe as guests or as foreigners to one they leave, rather they are “of” and “from” Europe, they “belong” to Europe and have a vested interest in the progress and future of Europe and as thus, must both see themselves as such and be seen by others as such.
The question of identity which is directly related to the question of belonging is another major root of this problem. In the Western media be it in films, games or news, Muslims and Islam are constantly associated with terrorism, violence and backwardness, they are constantly portrayed as the “other” to the white European or American and in constant conflict with it. This negative and derogatory portrayal of Muslims and Islam in media, which due to its prevalence and systematic nature leads one to deduce that it is purposeful and intentional and is a campaign of islamophobia, causes alienation and isolation particularly for young people, young people who dream of having success in life and being contributing members of society but see their way of life, their beliefs, and what they hold sacred being constantly attacked and degraded. Part of the counter narrative to this portrayal of Islam and Muslims in Western Media, is unfortunately led by these terrorist groups and some extremist groups, which have a large presence in social media; some young people in their search for meaning and for belonging and their quest for the affirmation of their identity which is still in the process of being formed turn to the virtual world: social media and the internet, as there are very few effective networks in the physical world which they can relate to and some of their communities fail to answer their questions, and in social media and internet they are exposed to these violent, terrorist groups who play on the same theme of otherness which the young person has been bombarded with by western media, but with a twist, the twist being that they affirm the identity of the person and remould it in their own image, which is that of violence and terrorism. The young person who is attracted to these groups, comes to see them as the only alternative, and this is the problem.
The economic conditions of these young people who are attracted to these groups particularly in countries such as France is dire, poverty on one hand and lack of jobs and social security, cause the perspective amongst some of these youth that there is no escape from the cycle of poverty and discrimination, and the economic factor in addition to the question of belonging and the active propaganda system described above leads to a minority of these young people being attracted to these terrorist groups.
The solutions to these problems start with civil rights for Muslims to practice their religion free from harassment and discrimination. Muslims must have job security and financial opportunities, for example in France practicing Muslim women wearing Hijab cannot study or teach in schools or be employed by government organisations. Legislation should be passed to ban Islamophobia and insult to the sacred beliefs of Muslims, which is discrimination. Islamophobia in Media be it films or games or news should be considered as promoting and aiding terrorism and also being hate crime. The Muslims community particularly thinkers and intellectuals alongside western governments must work hand in hand on the one hand to show the constant positive contribution of the large majority of Muslims of Europe to European society, culture and economy, promoting multiculturalism and on the other hand to actively offer an alternative solution to these terrorist groups. In school history books, the positive contribution of the Muslim civilisation to the world should be highlighted and taught. Muslim thinkers and intellectuals should work hard in presenting true Islam not only in mosques and Muslim communities but also in the internet and social media, so that their message is accessible to the youth. True Islam is the Islam which is based on the Qur’an and Hadith and in its social sphere is based on ethics, love, peace, social cohesion, spirituality and justice.