Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on young people in Europe and North America to gain a better understanding of Islam and not judge it based on Western media reports.
In an unusual letter published January 21, Khamenei said he decided to address Western young people directly in the wake of “recent events in France and similar ones in some other Western countries.”
“I am addressing you, [the youth], not because I overlook your parents, rather it is because the future of your nations and countries will be in your hands,” the Iranian leader writes in the letter, which was posted on a website that chronicles Khamenei’s public statements and writings.
The deadly attacks by Islamic extremists this month on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris have sparked fear and anti-Islamic sentiment among some Westerners.
Charlie Hebdo’s latest issue, which features a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad on its cover, has resulted in a string of protests in Muslim countries, including Iran.
In his letter, which was published in English, French, German and other languages, Khamenei claims that the truth about Islam has been distorted in the West. Young Westerners, he writes, should try to learn about Islam from its primary sources: the Koran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad.
“Many attempts have been made over the past two decades, almost since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, to place this great religion in the seat of a horrifying enemy,” writes Khamenei, who is deeply distrustful of the United States and other Western countries.
In the letter, he also asks readers to question the Western media’s portrayal of Islam.
“Why does the power structure in the world want Islamic thought to be marginalized and remain latent? What concepts and values in Islam disturb the programs of the superpowers, and what interests are safeguarded in the shadow of distorting the image of Islam?”
Khamenei, the leader of an Islamic republic that uses force to pressure citizens to accept the state’s ideology, writes that he does not “insist” that Western youth “accept my reading or any other reading of Islam.”
“What I want to say is: Don’t allow this dynamic and effective reality in today’s world to be introduced to you through resentments and prejudices. Don’t allow them to hypocritically introduce their own recruited terrorists as representatives of Islam.”
Karim Sadjadpour, a senior Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of an in-depth profile of Khamenei, said the letter is revealing of the Iranian leader’s “outsized confidence, dogmatic worldview, and victimization complex.”
“He's a 75-year-old man who last left Iran in 1987, yet he feels he knows what ails the youth of North America and Western Europe. What ails them, of course, is a lack of Islam, and this is because their governments are inherently hostile to Islam,” Sadjadpour told RFE/RL.
The letter has been shared widely in Iran’s state media and on social media accounts believed to be maintained by Khamenei’s publicity team.
Under the Persian-language version of the letter posted at the Khamenei.ir account on Google Plus -- one of Iranian hard-liners’ preferred social media platforms -- there are dozens of comments praising Khamenei for his “excellent” and “enlightening” letter.
“Those behind the recent incidents don’t want this message to reach people in Europe and America. But these social-networking sites should be used to spread the message,” one comment reads.
Another comment states: “May my life be sacrificed for the leader.”
But the post featured critical comments as well.
“It appears that [Khamenei] believes that, like the country he rules, intellectual websites in the West are filtered so young people can’t access the Koran and books about the history of Islam,” one commenter wrote.
The user notes that while Khamenei says young Europeans, for example, are not obliged to follow his reading of Islam, the Iranian government uses repression to enforce its interpretation of the religion among the populace.