Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is no Kim Jong-un. Photo: TIMA via Reuters

Hassan Rouhani was re-elected as president of Iran by a very comfortable reformist majority plainly enthusiastic about their country ceasing to be an international pariah. After all, it was on Rouhani’s watch that the nuclear accord was reached.

Donald Trump, on his first foreign visit as president, extolled the virtues of Saudi Arabia and made Riyadh the platform for trumpeting his criticism of Iran for fuelling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.”

Starting from his campaign rhetoric to ban all Muslims from entering the US, followed by his failed attempt once in office to impose an arbitrary ban on the citizens of seven Muslim countries, he is now openly taking sides with Wahabi Saudi Arabia, the most extreme form of Sunni Islam, against Shia Iran.

So who is fuelling the sectarian fires?

It could not possibly be because he has signed off on deals he valued at about US$400 billion with the Saudis, including US$110 billion of  what he describes as “beautiful military equipment.” No, that would be the height of cynicism.     

The fratricidal competition between extreme Sunni and extreme Shia is being fought out most tragically in the Middle East

More likely, it was just an infantile wish to please and ingratiate himself with people who had just purchased his lethal toys, even though its nationals were the perpetrators of 9/11.

The world at large is troubled by extremists of any color. The fratricidal competition between extreme Sunni and extreme Shia is being fought out most tragically in the Middle East whilst the assassins of Daesh manifest their murderous objectives anywhere they believe it will instill fear and generate chaos.

But extremism is not the monopoly preserve of Islamic extremists. France and Holland have just saved themselves from a fascist démarche whilst Turkey, Hungary and Poland are all edging closer and closer to extremist governance.

Objectively, Iran’s reformist momentum is imperiled by a supreme leader who draws his legitimacy from religious extremists and the Revolutionary Guard. At a time when a balanced observer would regard it as imperative to support the reformists with a more open relationship, so as to enfranchise the modern Iranian people, Trump’s confrontational demagoguery is calculated to make Rouhani’s task that much more difficult.

The objective ought to be to marginalize the extremist Iranian elements, empower the moderates and in so doing render crusading terrorism illegitimate.

The Iranians are the inheritors of the superb Persian culture. They are Aryans, not Arabs and theirs is one of the great historical civilizations. Persian language, literature, art and philosophy still occupy a commanding position in the world.

Today’s Iran is largely the outcome of Western interference. Left to their own devices it is far from improbable that it would have been a force of reason and moderation.

But we reap what we sow.

It does not detract one iota from the achievements of the House of Saud to recall that the kingdom was founded on a small nomadic desert Bedouin population that had the economic good fortune to live on land beneath which oceans of oil were stored.

Sadly, their attitude towards women is echoed by Trump, the most outrageous misogynist ever to hold the position of US president.

Saudi also exports its brand of Islam in a proxy war in Yemen.

There would be little point in making comparisons between Iran and Saudi in the areas of human rights or basic human freedoms.

While he read his carefully crafted speech on the teleprompter in moderate tones and without any of the semi-literate asides to which he is customarily addicted, he reverted to type, like a baby needing a comforter, with his repeated mantra of “drive them out.”

After praising virtually every Arab country present at the event and delivering a root and branch indictment of every form of terrorist activity, he then laid the primary blame for terrorist activities on Iran. Just one day after the election of Rouhani, he said “all nations must…pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”

Short of the terminal lunacy of a nuclear attack on Iran, change has to come from within. The moderate, rational heart of the Iranian people has to walk away from the violent extremism which has cost them years of economic and political progress. The re-election of Rouhani marks a further positive step in the return of Iran to fully fledged membership of the international community.

In his smarmy car dealer’s narcissistic boast at having pulled off a great “deal” Trump could not resist poisoning the well from which Muslims of all persuasions must drink if the internecine slaughter is to stop.

The regrettable reality is that Trump cannot resist any self-aggrandizing posture, carpetbagging his way across the Middle East peddling his bloated nostrums.

Obama set out to heal.

Trump only knows how to deal.

Neville Sarony

Neville Sarony QC is a noted Hong Kong lawyer with more than 50 years at the Bar.

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