As the winds of war begin to swarm over the Holy Land, it is important to take note of the spiritual/religious dimensions of the gathering storm. The Islamic Republic of Iran came into being after the Islamist revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini swept away the dynasties of the American backed Shahs, in the aftermath of the Camp David Accords being signed between Egypt and Israel. The roots of the Islamic revolution were planted before many of us were born and in many ways Iran is still fighting the wars of 1979.
We don’t often pay close attention to the names, but the Islamic Revolutionary Guard is exactly what it says it is. It is meant to preserve the values of the 1979 revolution, in spite of the fact that it occurred 39 years ago. The “Quds” Force is a reference to Jerusalem, which in Arabic is called al-Quds (in Hebrew “HaKadosh”, “the Holy”). For the Iranians, this is very much a jihad, or holy war. They view the Americans as the heirs of the Christian Crusaders and the “Zionists” as their Jewish equivalents. Both are “imperialist” and have no roots in the region.
We often don’t take the time to try to understand our enemies on their own terms and in terms of how they view the world. This is potentially disastrous when talking about political actors that are influenced by religious elements. It is important to take religion and religious beliefs seriously if we are serious about resolving religious or religiously infused political conflicts. It is easier to dismiss people as “crazy” or “fanatical” than it is to try to really understand where they are coming from and see if dialogue is at all possible.
Many Islamists, including the Iranians, say they are not opposed to Judaism. It is “Zionism” that they are opposed to. They also claim to be fighting for the Palestinian Arabs. It is “Imperialism” that they are opposed to. They view the culture of the West as a direct threat to their religious way of life, and America and its culture are the leaders of this threat.
Hizb-Allah, literally the “Party of God”, was founded in 1985 with Iranian influence to fight against Israel in South Lebanon. It has since grown to be a major political group in Lebanese politics.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems with Iran and Hizballah is that they claim to be fighting for God. They claim they are fighting a “defensive” jihad. How do we fight such groups? Do we throw our hands up in the air and just say that religion is the source of conflict? How can religion be utilized to resolve conflicts?
Not in God’s Name.
I believe that the Light of God will ultimately shine through these dark forces, if only we keep pressing that they do not speak in God’s Name. They are desecrating the Name of God, and we must say this loudly. There are many in the Muslim world who agree with this and they are the people we must ally with to fight this evil ideology.
We must make it clear that Islam, whether Sunni or Shia, is not our enemy. Our leadership needs to speak with religious and spiritual language of the human being created in the Image of God. These should be the true values of a group called “the Party of God”.
There have been figures in Iran, like Mohammed Khatami, who spoke of a “Dialogue Among Civilizations”, rather than a “Clash of Civilizations”. We must embrace these voices and proclaim that these people are our true partners in Iran. Perhaps regime change may not happen, but there are those who do believe that conflict with the West is a terrible mistake.
People who take religion seriously know the real power of God. We also believe “God is Great”. But we must make it clear that the struggle to bring the Kingdom of God into this world can only be achieved through peaceful means. You cannot win over hearts and minds with anger, hate, and war. We must do all that we can to make it clear to both friends and potential enemies that it is our voices that really represent what true religion is all about.