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April 01, 2012, Sunday

Islam and the nuclear issue

Are nuclear weapons un-Islamic? Yes, according to Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei. His statement was reported by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who visited Iran and met with the country's religious leader after attending a nuclear summit in South Korea.

Khamenei, explaining that Iran is not interested in developing nuclear weapons, told the Turkish prime minister, “Islam does not allow weapons of mass destruction like nuclear ones.” So we should presumably be assured about the intentions of Iran, which is an Islamic republic and would not conduct any policy that is deemed un-Islamic.

I do not think there is anyone Muslim or non-Muslim who would believe such an explanation. Go and search for the record of human rights violations, corruption and usurpation of power in Iran. Encountering the voluminous evidence of all of these, one may wonder if such types of misconduct are allowed in Islam. The answer is of course negative. Iran is a typical example of a regime using Islam as a spiritual pretext to legitimate its worldly actions. I am sure if they develop a nuclear weapon and test it, Khamenei will quickly claim religious grounds for this.

It is all about politics and power, not religion. But “defending Islam” is a clever and popular excuse for one's actions. In this way a purely national quest for power and hegemony in the region is disguised as a policy of preserving the religion. This motive is still not admitted to by government officials. Yet on the street this logic works and appeals to common people.

The fact that a cultural outsider in the region, Israel, has nuclear weapons constitutes a perfect excuse for nuclear weapon seekers. Even Prime Minister Erdoğan, when speaking of Iran's nuclear program and its possibility of producing nuclear weapons, mentions Israel's nuclear weapons capability. It makes sense in the context of a call for a “nuclear-free region.” But it also taps into people's subconscious desire for an “Islamic bomb” to balance and deter Israel, to many the suspect aggressor in the Middle East.

Particularly when Israel bullies Iran about its nuclear program, Muslims side with Iran out of religious solidarity. Iranian leaders are very happy to see such solidarity among Muslims, even as it upsets regional Sunni governments. Israel's threats will therefore only justify Iran's quest for going nuclear in the minds of most Muslims.

If the world wants to stop Iran from going nuclear, it must first stop Israel from meddling in the process. Israel's visibility in this issue is totally counterproductive. When Israel threatens the United States by saying “you hit or I will,” it prevents the US from developing effective mechanisms to deal with the situation and to build a regional coalition to put pressure on Iran. In the upcoming negotiations taking place in İstanbul Israel should refrain from publically supporting a strike on Iran.

If Israel goes further and wages an attack on Iran, the region will descend into chaos. Such an attack will save Bashar al-Assad, stop the process of democratization in the region, put an end to the Arab Spring and destabilize the oil-rich Gulf monarchies.

An Israeli attack on Iran will have consequences that extend beyond the region. One of the first effects will be on the outcome of the presidential elections in the US. The moment Israel conducts such aggression against Iran, the chance President Barack Obama has for re-election will disappear.

The likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran is very low, of course. It will only materialize if the Israeli government really wishes to sabotage President Obama's re-election chances.

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