Iran-sponsored terror is the biggest threat in the Middle East.
The spate of attacks in recent years on religious places of worship are a source of deep distress to a world already spinning from as escalation of extremist violence.
Though it takes many forms, one such form is the remaining influence of ISIS. Though USA Today has a point that the Sri Lanka Easter bombings show President Trump is wrong on ISIS, that same publication must admit that the terrorist bombings have also been linked directly to the Iranian Islamist State.
“Sri Lanka Easter bombings show President Trump is right about Iran.” There, I fixed your headline. The Wall Street Journal says it even better: Sri Lanka Bomber Trained in Syria With Islamic State. Investigators have established the first direct links between the terror group and the Easter assault they have claimed credit for.
But to understand Iran, first you have to look back just a bit.
Before and After: Iran 1979
Before 1979, everything was different in Iran. Few women donned the religious headscarf. Clothes were modern, for the times, if somewhat modest. Mixed groups of men and women were free to socialize. Women could vote, work, even hold office.
The Shah of Iran started by encouraging western dress; soon he required it. When the Shah made the disastrous discussion to ban the headscarf completely, religious extremists found a new foothold in the aggrieved population concerned about the erosion of traditional values. And change.
Change is exactly what they got.
“The government derives its legitimacy from God, and proper government requires a radical Islamic reconstruction of society.” — Khomeini, recorded sermon.
Female revolutionaries, who were an integral part of the movement’s successful attempt to overthrow of the government, were then betrayed by their fellows.
Women’s right to vote was revoked. Professional women were fired en masse. Instead of outlawed, the headscarf became mandatory.
Instead of a more modern view of the Koran which until that point had been the norm, the Ayatollah and his new government dialed back a thousand years of tempering.
A much older, very strict, and very strictly enforced, interpretation of the tenets of the Muslim faith was the result.
A Dystopian Future
Consider a thought experiment. Could something like this happen in the U.S.?
What happened in Iran in 1979 would not be unlike what might happen in the U.S. if, let’s say, the government were to suddenly decide to enforce a strictly secular society and outlawed cross necklaces, Christian religious habits of any kind, or any iconography Christian in nature.
Imagine the backlash from people of the Christian faith. Especially impressionable young people, people prone to violence who would have found some other reason in the absence of this provocation, and people attracted by extremist ideology out of widespread poverty, dis-enfranchisement or abuse.
Some would be the victims of radicalization efforts designed to prey on the most vulnerable. Who are also, often, the most dangerous.
Into this environment, imagine an extremist on the Christian right- way, way right- were to rise to power and popularity: Fred Phelps.
The more the government tried to crack down on Christianity and force the devout into more secular lifestyles, as the Shah of Iran tried to do, the worse the backlash would become. Wouldn’t it?
As more and more people became aggrieved, a savvy revolutionary, as the Ayatollah was, would keep his less popularly held beliefs quiet during the revolution.
Once he was firmly ensconced in power, he could do whatever he wanted.
In our nightmare scenario, Fred Phelps manages to unite enough gun-toting lunatics to overthrow the government and institute a government of his own choosing, based on the strictest possible interpretation of the Bible. Bear in mind, the foremost religious scholars of any faith can hardly be said to agree on the interpretation of anything.
Imagine the kinds of laws such an administration, with the most oppressive interpretation of Biblical law as it stood a thousand years ago, would inflict upon society. Women covering themselves and not being allowed to drive would only be the beginning.
Women would also be forbidden from associating with any unrelated male persons. They wouldn’t be allowed to travel freely, own property, or work outside the home. Women’s bodies, clothings, behaviors- everything- would be subject to scrutiny be religious police.
Men wouldn’t exactly be getting off scot free under such an administration either. It isn’t difficult, skimming through the Old Testament, to imagine the draconian laws that could be inspired by a brutal dictator desperate to hold on to power and wiling to use religion as a tool of brutality and oppression.
Stoning for adultery, cutting off the hands of thieves, execution for speaking out against religion, religious authorities or the religious government. And others.
Into this wasteland, I give you that a fundamentalist dictatorship based on an interpretation of the Bible from the Dark Ages would not be satisfied with merely bringing every aspect of public and private life in America under its complete control.
No no. An administration like that, drunk on its own “God-ordained” power, absolutely convinced of its moral rightness, would go forth and multiply. Such an administration would easily make the case to the masses of a strictly controlled population, via a strictly controlled media like the one in Iran, that it was America’s moral duty to spread their particular brand of religious panic to the rest of the world.
What’s more, an administration like that would do so on the backs of austerity measures imposed to a.) generate funds for the mission and b.) keep the population in poverty, too oppressed to challenge the government.
And so it proves in Iran.
Meanwhile, in Iran
Iran spends, by some estimates, as much as billion dollars a year sponsoring terrorist efforts around the world. Efforts, it cannot be said enough, that kill more Muslims than any other demographic group.
ISIS, and groups like it, are carrying out and planning terror attacks in the Middle East and all around the world and Iran is sponsoring their efforts. ISIS isn’t over; they haven’t even moved. Jihadist terror organizations have had a home in Iran all along.
The nearly 300 people killed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday were part of a coordinated and well-funded attack, designed to inflict maximum atrocity with one goal in mind:
Provoke a maximum outrage response that will inspire others to join the jihadist cause and create further violence and future mayhem.
ISIS includes in their campaign of mass murder and terror, an avowed commitment to spreading Islamophobia around the world and inspiring a Holy War between peaceful Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
ISIS is also an online recruiting platform designed and run by professionals who groom the prospective and curious, stoking racial tensions, exploiting family vulnerabilities, promising brotherhood and salvation.
On a time, ISIS was encouraging converts to join them in the Islamist State. Barring that, they’ve always encouraged the radicalized to plan and carry out missions wherever they are to kill as many people as possible, as publicly and brutally as possible, with as much exposure as possible.
Stamping out ISIS isn’t enough: Iran must be dealt with if the world expects to be safe. A strong Israel is helping to contain the threat. Trump’s recent moves to bring Iran sanctions to zero, and declare Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, are two steps in the right direction.
If the extremist state wished to remain peacefully within their own borders, they could interpret their religious doctrine of choice as strictly as they like, or not. But the nature of such a state is not to leave others in peace.
The nature of such an extremist view of religion carries a moral obligation to enforce it more widely, po brute force if necessary, which it usually is.
We would universally oppose a Fred Phelps figure who wanted to take over the U.S. government, impose a thousand-year old draconian interpretation of religious doctrine, use the threat of nuclear war to impose his will, and encouraged Christians in every other nation to take up arms against the people in the countries where they currently live.
Why shouldn’t we universally oppose the extremist regime of Iran?
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)