Speaking to a gathering of Iranian officials and ambassadors from other Islamic nations, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei accused the West of spreading fear of Islam and fostering sectarian conflict as part of a conspiracy to suppress the Muslim world. In turn, Khamenei called for Muslim unity in opposition to the United States, Europe, and other non-Muslim foreign powers.
Khamenei’s remarks express a narrative that has been repeatedly invoked by Iranian officials and media outlets. For instance, earlier this month, a report by the Iranian state-affiliated English language news channel PressTV claimed that the world as a whole was seeing an increase in coordinated killings of Muslims and that the “so-called international community” was silent on the matter. Another report claimed that surveys showed that people generally believe the 9/11 attacks to have been an “inside job.”
The latter PressTV article goes on to say that it is a “paranoid delusion” to believe that radical Muslims were responsible for the attacks, and that that it has been used by the West as a pretext for the murder of more than one million Muslims.
The head of PressTV is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, a fact which may help to explain the similarity between the editorial focus of stories like the above and Khamenei’s remarks about Islam and the West. Ironically, it is difficult to separate that narrative from the one that Khamenei and his allies accuse the West of following.
Khamenei’s speech espouses a rigid worldview that pits a singular, unified West against a singular, unified Islamic people. This is evidenced by his comments about Boko Haram, which kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria last month. Khamenei attempts to take them out of the equation by asserting that members of the group do not really count as Muslims. Yet, at the same time, he supported this claim not by reference to the group’s violent activities in general, but rather by the fact that they are directed largely against other Muslims.
"Killing Muslims and kidnapping their girls under the name of Islam, shows that they can't understand the teachings of Islam," Khamenei said.
The Supreme Leader also blamed the West for giving rise to conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. However, Iran itself has contributed to these divisions in some regions. Notably, Tehran has been a major supporter of the Maliki administration in Iraq, which has steadily pushed minorities out of government, along with the country’s Sunni majority. His government is now widely regarded as serving the interests of Shiites exclusively, putting it on the brink of civil war.
The US is criticized by some in the West and in the Muslim world for its invasion of Iraq and its failure to contain sectarian conflicts, but it is also generally assumed that the US has left reserve forces in the country, rather than pulling out en masse, Iraq would be farther away from civil war than it is now, under a leadership that is allied with and supported by the strictly Shiite theocracy of Iran.