Dr. Ahmad Iravani, executive director of the Center for the Study of Islam and the Middle East (CSIME) attended the World Against Violence and Extremism (WAVE) conference in Tehran, Iran on December 9th and 10th of 2014. WAVE conference was an idea proposed by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani at the 68th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 to combat violence and extremism. At the core of the WAVE initiative, the goal and mission is to contribute toward resolving some of the most outstanding problems of the 21st century caused by acts of violence and extremism, especially the various brutal acts of violence carried out in the name of religion in the Muslim world, which have spread terror and fear in the Middle East.
Dr. Iravani was invited to attend the WAVE conference by the foreign ministry of the Republic of Iran. At the conference, Dr. Iravani lectured on the ideas of fighting, combating, and facing extremism. Dr. Iravani told the audience in attendance that the leaders of this terror groups might be puppets doing the bids of others or may actually have their own agendas and elect to misuse religion to accommodate and further their agenda. Dr. Iravani also went on to tell the audience that many of the followers of these extremist and terrorist groups are in many ways brainwashed in their beliefs.
Dr. Iravani told the audience that extremist interpretations and narratives of Islam, though still representing a small minority of the faithful, cannot be written off as simply “un-Islamic”. Dr. Iravani said it is this reading of Islam that strikes a chord with a disillusioned, angry, alienated but often educated cohort of Muslim youth. To deal with rise of radicalism and extremism, Dr. Iravani laid two options of either expelling those using religion to further their extremist agenda from Islam or accept that they are indeed Muslims who have gone astray from the teachings of the prophet. Dr. Iravani believes that the latter is the right way to counter extremism. He believes that in order to combat the rise of extremism and radicalism in the Arab world, its vital to acknowledge that these extremist groups are indeed Muslims who have perverted Islam to benefit their agendas.
Dr. Iravani explained that the long-term way to combat radicalism and extremism is by reaching out to Muslim communities and families as partners, not as targets; as human beings and agencies, not as suspects. By doing this, Dr. Iravani believes the outreach should help families and communities hear authentic narratives of Islam, which promote peace, mercy, and the real practice of Prophet Muhammad. Dr. Iravani also proposed bringing together the highest authorities of Islam from different schools to articulate the competing narrative that is both authentic and practiced by the vast majority of Muslims. Dr. Iravani believes that social services of religious institutions and life styles of community leaders can play a vital role in shaping youth’s perception and behavior. The last proposal that Dr. Iravani told the audience is to tackle the structural problem of economic exclusion, which does not lend itself to one-size-fits-all solutions and require government and private-sector coordination and contribution.
While in Tehran, Dr. Iravani met with Iranian political, business and religious leaders to discuss ways to improve dialogue between Iran and the west, specifically Iranian institutions and American institutions. Dr. Iravani met with former Iranian president Ali Khamenei, chief justice of Iran, Jewish members of parliament and clerical leaders from Sunni and Shiite groups. The meeting was very substantive as Dr. Iravani discussed with clerics the role of dialogue and the work that CSIME is doing. The theme during the meeting was one of improving understanding between the West and the Muslim world through dialogues among the religious leaders from both sides of the world. The Tehran visit concluded with Dr. Iravani meeting with the Iranian foreign minister Dr. Javad Zarif and the former prime minister of Norway Dr. Bondeveick.