In my high school in Syria, which was directed by the Iranian regime through its embassy staff in Damascus (Iran has several schools in Syria and sends teachers and imams there), every student was forced to attend daily prayer at noon. We were commanded to stand behind an extremist clergyman, mimic his actions, and recite the prayer. After the prayer, we had no choice but to listen to the preaching of a fundamentalist imam who was most likely employed by the regime to advance their ideological and political interests.
Some of the words preached by this radical cleric stuck with me, especially his sharp focus on how to capitalize on some, but not all, theories that originated in the West. We could utilize these theories, he said, to advance Islamist values. For example, one of the concepts, he was adamant that we learn about was "Orientalism", is a concept developed by Edward Said, a Palestinian-American who was born in 1935 in Palestine, when it was still under the British mandate.
In a short time, this concept gained significant popularity in the Western academic world, and consequently it infiltrated the media and political landscapes. Inevitably it shaped and influenced public thought.
But why would an Islamist leader applaud such ideas? Why are they teaching them extensively in their madrassas, schools and universities? From the perspective of radical Muslims, such ideas automatically create two categories: the "victims", "innocents", "oppressed" and "martyrs" versus the "oppressor" or "tyrant". In other words, the whole Muslim world is given the status of victimhood, while all Westerners are supposedly tyrants.
The purpose of brainwashing their students with inciting anger and hatred clearly seems to be to instill in them the notion that they are being victimized by the West.
This is probably one of the reasons that the well-known historian Bernard Lewis, characterized the thesis of Orientalism as anti-Western -- or, as my school's imam put it, "We Love Western Anti-West Theories".
Unfortunately, such teachings help the radical Muslims and Islamist rulers to exploit an already tense situation, and to justify their terrorist attacks against the West as acts of heroism instead of atrocities.
In addition, such simplistic views that portray every Muslim as a victim harm Westerners by preventing them from acquiring the truth about the complexities and intricacies of the Muslim world.
Even more fundamentally, these views inflict incalculable harm on the lives of the ordinary people in the Muslim world, who call it: Opposite Orientalism.
Put simply, some members of the so-called "victim" community, such as the Islamist leaders, take advantage of this victimhood status. They use it as a shield and then become the victimizers by crushing people in their own countries.
Using this status as their reason to act in violent and controlling ways, they suppress domestic oppositions and Muslim dissidents who might not agree with them.
What helps these Islamist leaders even more is another idea that began in Western academic circles, and then infiltrated the media and political spectrum. If you oppose the idea of Orientalism -- meaning if you criticize any member of the Muslim world or stand with the West for any reason -- then you will be regarded by them as "uneducated", "racist", unsophisticated, or even an imperialist. If, on the other hand, you would like to be viewed by your fellow academics and self-righteous media pundits as "educated" and be respected in the mainstream social, academic and political arenas, you must refrain from criticizing the Muslim world, and instead ratchet up your criticism against the West.
Such ideas and values prevent ordinary people and scholars from focusing on the crimes against humanity that Islamist leaders of state and non-state entities commit. Take a look at the grinding human rights violations that the Islamist state of Iran commits against its own people. The ruling mullahs of Iran have been given immunity by the international community and their unspeakable violence and lawlessness has received little attention.
While enjoying the status of victimhood, Iran's mullahs have massacred nearly 30,000 political prisoners, and yet the International Criminal Court in Hague as well as other powerful international organizations have not yet investigated the cases properly. The Islamic Republic of Iran holds the world record in executing people per capita. It is also, according to Amnesty International, a leading executioner of children.
Pictured: Preparations for a public hanging in Iran, September 20, 2017. (Image source: Tasnim/Wikimedia Commons)
Theories and concepts that promote ideas such as the entire Muslim world being victims, and that "educated" people should refrain from criticizing extremist Muslims and radical Islam -- and that "intelligent" people should only blame the West for the problems in the world -- are not just simplistic; they are dangerous. They provide a platform for extremist Muslim leaders, terrorist groups, and Islamist regimes to prove to their followers that they are correct in pursuing their fundamentalist agenda.
This accommodation of extremist Muslims by leaders in the West not only helps them recruit more people to target Westerners, and incite anti-Western, anti-Christian, and anti-Semitic sentiments, but more importantly, it tramples the millions of ordinary Muslims who seek to promote in their homelands values such as the institutions of democracy, freedom of speech, separation of religion and state, the independence of education and the judiciary, and equal justice under the law.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, is a business strategic and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu