|By Dr Alaa Alghamdi| Saudi relations with Iran have long been, to say the least, contentious, and it is possible that to an outside observer it may seem like a two-way dispute, or a series of them. However, there are concrete reasons behind the current decision to cut diplomatic ties, and they have little to do with ideological, territorial or political quarrels, and everything to do with self-protection and our wish to limit damage stemming, all too often, from a single source. Just a school yard brawl is not what it first appears to be when one of the pair involved is a known bully, so our decision to limit the influence of Iran on the region is based upon principles of justice and sound reasoning.
For decades, Iran has done much to sow divisions between Sunni and Shiite, adding greatly to the local conflicts and violations of human rights in the entire Middle East. If we wish to have peaceful relationships between all the citizens of our country, including our various religious and cultural minorities, we must slip out from under this influence – separate ourselves from it as much as possible. The fact is that much of Iran’s culture is presently incompatible with our own. Whereas Saudi Arabia looks out toward the larger world, seeking to educate our youth abroad and participate cooperatively in global dialogues, Iran seems set on attempting to dominate the region through the use of the old adage, divide and conquer. The pernicious influence of this nation does not deeply infiltrate our own, but to ensure our own autonomy we must separate from it by any means necessary.
Iran’s own domestic practices are little of our concern, except insofar as they concern the whole world, including as they do clear violations of human rights. The ill treatment of women, cruel punishments for small infractions, and the generally repressive regime is sad to behold in a nation that was once – decades ago, before their revolution – a model of openness and progress. When a country’s relationship with its own people is solidly adversarial rather than benevolent and supportive, its relationship with neighbouring nations must be at least as negative. At least, that is generally the case, and it hold true in the case of Iran.
Perhaps most troubling, however, is Iran’s role in terrorism, that currently plagues our region and the international community. Conventional wisdom would have it that it is religious extremism which fuels terrorism, and this is not a false notion – but it does not tell the complete story. Iran’s tendency to breed terrorism appears to be systemic, fed and supported by the political system and ideology itself, rather than purely the result of a personal or individual turn to extremism and radicalization. Why would a sovereign nation encourage the growth of terrorism? The answer is simple enough if one considers Iran’s expansionist tendencies and aspirations. In the context of Iran’s territorial ambitions, spreading chaos and dissent has a clear utility. Therefore, I have become personally convinced, tacitly or even openly supporting the spread of terrorism is consistent with their policy and overall outlook.
Engaging with a bully only gives the bully more power. An effective defence involves withdrawing any relationship or discourse with the offender, and we must, presently, have the strength and conviction to do so.