Haj Qasem

A military commander and multiculturalism

Last year on January 3rd, General Qasem Solemani was assassinated by a US drone strike. On the anniversary of his martyrdom, Khamenei.ir publishes the following Op-Ed which attempts to investigate the notion of “multiculturalism” in the late commander’s presence in the region.

The term "multiculturalism" is one of the most popular concepts in the humanities and it has turned into a recurrent theme in scholarly and academic spheres. The proponents of this concept hold that people of different ethnicities, races, orientations, religions, and nationalities should live together with equal rights as citizens. This concern, now a normative idea in the context of Western liberal-democratic societies, was first highlighted after the two World Wars when the issue of cultural coexistence became a serious crisis.[1] This state is described by Samuel P. Huntington in his often-quoted article “The Clash of Civilizations?” as being a state in which humanity has begun to experience a new phase of the conflict in which the squabble between nations has taken the place of the conflict between rulers backed by divine laws on earth.[2] It is obvious that in such a situation to what extent the coexistence of different cultural levels in one domain can become the place of questioning and quarrel between the proponents of multiculturalism and its opponents, i.e., those who believe in monoculturalism and ethnocentrism. This is a quarrel that is often depicted with the metaphor “salad bowl” vs. "melting pot."[3] The ingredients help to form a single thing in the salad bowl while preserving their individual flavor and identity. In contrast, all the ingredients in the melting pot melt and mix together into a new, single entity.

With the passage of time, the expansion of communication, the rapid process of globalization, and more importantly, the high rate of migration, multiculturalism has become a value and perhaps a creed, which demands peaceful coexistence and the freedom and equality of different human races and ethnicities. This is what modern societies promise.[4] This idea, although seemingly simple, faces many challenges. In the first step, one element must unite all these differences and connect the different levels of humanity so that their being together does not turn into a tribal or racial war. Michel Foucault, the French postmodern intellectual, sees this connection as possible only using secular reasoning. He says that in order to build a civil society and design a mosaic realm made up of diverse cultures it is necessary to move toward removing the idea of sanctity from the realm of civic society, removing ideology from politics, and changing the hierarchical division of people to a relationship between people where they are at the same level. That is to say, instead of some groups being superior to other groups, they should have cooperation and equality in coexistence.

In contrast to the proponents of multiculturalism, its critics see the attempt of this model for coexistence to be a failure.[5] Because in such societies, with the destruction of the host country's culture and traditions, public trust is also destroyed, and this society becomes the place for much tumult.


The actualization of multiculturalism by a military commander

For at least a century, modern societies have mostly considered religion and religious approaches to be an impediment in the way to achieving a multicultural existence. However, Iran's experience in confronting ISIS under the command of Gen. Qasem Soleimani challenges this proposition. In addition, it shows that religion has the potential of being able to develop a favorable environment for multiculturalism to flourish.   

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whose origin dates back to 1999, had been openly threatening the Middle East since 2014. Furthermore, it had also managed to seize parts of Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and more using the most savage methods conceivable. With the slogan of “Islamism,” this extremist group committed innumerable crimes. They ripped away the security of various groups of the Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christians[6], Yazidis, etc. under the pretext of blasphemy and deviation from the Sharia (Islamic law as defined by ISIS).  ISIS's actions targeted not only human lives and property, but even their culture and civilization. The widespread destruction of historical, ancient sites, the burning of mosques, temples and churches, and many other such actions against people’s culture are all proof of this. These actions provoked many reactions from throughout the globe and were condemned by various institutions and officials, while ISIS gradually became a global threat. However, ISIS still posed the greatest threat to the Middle East, and the struggle continued in various countries in the region. In the fight against ISIS, one of the most familiar figures who was a major threat to ISIS was Gen. Qasem Soleimani. He was the one who finally announced the end of ISIS's domination of the region in November of 2017. Iranian, Syrian, and Iraqi officials later confirmed this victory.[7]

Gen. Soleimani’s actions in the region were not limited to the fight against ISIS and there were many other examples of his activities in previous years. All of these made him an international, inter-ethnic figure for the people of the region who were under the attack of ISIS. His assassination in Iraq provoked the reaction of many non-Muslim personalities, and Christians mourned for him in their churches.[8] His assassination sparked widespread protests in various countries and even in the United States.[9] Meanwhile, the mainstream media has always tried to portray Qasem Soleimani as being a supporter of terrorism and a threat to world security. But what the people of the region understood with their heart and soul was his tolerant spirit, which went past differences in religion and ethnic origin as well as his relentless efforts to fight ISIS and restore security to the region.

Based on his way of thinking, not only soldiers of various races and ethnicities - including Iranians, Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis, etc. - were able to fight together as one, but people of different nationalities and religions, including Shia, Sunnis, Christians, Yazidis, and others, were able to regain their lost security. The experience of his non-Iranian soldiers, such as the Fatemiyoun Brigade,[10] shows that such coexistence and unity between different ethnicities and cultures was something implanted in Soleimani’s character. That which is of a high significance in this approach is its monotheistic spirit that attaches intrinsic value to human beings and their security. This approach defines the human spirit as being beyond ethnic and cultural elements, and any aggression against it is condemned. This experience can be a crucial step in realizing the ideals of multiculturalism.


How is multiculturalism possible?

Reviewing Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s experiences in life brings different cultures together to be able to achieve a single goal. In addition, his popularity among different ethnic groups raises the question that which of his character traits brought this about? Despite all the ethnic, cultural and even religious differences, what was able to unite these groups while preserving the differences?

From Foucault's point of view, the reason stated in secularism that enables the peaceful coexistence of various cultures presupposes the rejection of any transcendental meaning.  However, he never states what it is that will unite society when different races and cultures want to live together while retaining all their cultural elements and feelings of identity. The experience of liberal, democratic societies today in the face of issues arising from cultural and racial conflicts, including the refugee crises,[11] racial discrimination, and religious intolerance show that despite their value, concepts such as freedom, equality, civil rights, etc., have not been able to create a peaceful living environment for different ethnic groups and cultural forms. Richard Douglas Lamm, the former Governor of the state of Colorado, believes that at this time, the different people of the world hate each other even though they do not kill one another.[12] On the other hand, this level of emphasis on coexistence has no definite boundaries and ultimately does not determine the red line for such ethnic and racial acceptance. What measures can be taken, if a particular ethnic or cultural group in a society violates the essential freedom and rights of another group? Cases like this challenge the liberal’s version of modern secular multiculturalism.

Contrary to this view, there is the opinion that stresses that a genuinely equal relationship between human beings requires an existential reason, which in practice will unite human beings beyond their cultural particularities. Such a factor in the monotheistic view is the Creator. In this view, everything in the universe is God's creation and is in His hands. According to this view, human beings with all their differences are essentially equal to each other in that they are created equal, and the relations between them are defined on this basis. Moreover, cultural and ethnic differences are never denied and they are always respected. However, when emphasizing the unity of mankind in creation, the emphasis is not on these differences and, therefore, cultural and ethnic diversities are neither problematized nor sensitized.

Gen. Qasem Soleimani was the realization of this worldview toward humanity. He successfully managed to unite people of different races and ethnicities around a single goal, which was fighting for the security of a region filled with different religions, races, and ethnicities. This successful example of intercultural solidarity should be considered when reevaluating the prevalent Western versions of multiculturalism in the world.


[1]  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/multiculturalism

[2] Huntington, S. (1993). The Clash of Civilizations, Foreign Affairs, 72(3), 22-49. doi:10.2307/20045621

[3] Baofu, Peter (2012). The Future of Post-Human Migration: A Preface to a New Theory of Sameness, Otherness, and Identity

[4] "The Liberal Agenda for the 21st Century". Archived from the original on 7 February 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2015

[5] "Report attacks multiculturalism"BBC news. 30 September 2005. Retrieved 10 December 2010.

[6] Abi-Habib, Maria (26 June 2014). "Iraq's Christian Minority Feels Militant Threat". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 July 2014.

[7] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-rouhani-islamic-state/irans-president-declares-end-of-islamic-state-idUSKBN1DL0J5

[8] https://thewallwillfall.org/2020/01/07/general-qassem-soleiman-saved-christian-lives-in-syria-and-iraq

[9] https://www.rtl.fr/actu/international/pas-de-guerre-contre-l-iran-des-manifestants-defilent-aux-etats-unis-7799833949

[10] PP11_Schneider.pdf (mei.edu)

[11] https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-refugee-crisis-mediterranean-death-toll-in-2016-worst-we-have-seen-united-nations/5553467

[12] Lamm, Richard D. (2005). "I have a plan to destroy America"Snopes.com. Retrieved 12 January 2011.


  • Christianity
  • General Soleimani
  • Islam