World's Muslims' rulers meet Tehran summit: Diverse attendance a coup for Iran's revolutionary regime.

December 16, 1997

THE SUMMIT conference of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Tehran was a triumph for its revolutionary regime, mocking Washington's fantasy of isolating Iran.

Egypt's presence gave that U.S. client its closest relations with revolutionary Iran since it granted asylum to the fleeing shah in 1979. The visit of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia heals relations despite private Saudi accusations of Iranian-sponsored terrorism. Saddam Hussein of Iraq brought an architectural model of what he claims will be the world's largest mosque, to be named for himself, revisiting the country he invaded in 1980.

True, King Hassan of Morocco, chairman of the OIC, stayed away while sending his prime minister. Turkey's President Suleyman Demirel, who did attend, left early rather than hear condemnations of Turkey's military cooperation with Israel and its suppression of Islam.

Despite the Middle Eastern character of the rhetoric and diplomacy, more than half the world's billion Muslims live in a band of Asian countries from Indonesia to Pakistan, remote from the issues most discussed and conforming little to the American stereotype of Muslims. As diverse as Christendom, the Islamic world contains many schools and strands and no hierarchy on which all agree. The conference heard denunciations of Israel and of the United States but also denunciations of terrorism and of extremism and intolerance.

The United States has no quarrel with Islam; most of Islam has little or none with the U.S. Several ultra-Islamic nations demonize Washington and demand others join them. While the moderate president of Iran's divided regime tries to liberalize domestic life, he does not contradict the spiritual leader's denunciations. U.S. relations with Iran will probably not improve soon, despite Mohammed Khatami's conciliatory message this past weekend. Tehran's extremists don't want closer ties, and its moderates care more about other things.

The biggest issue within Islam is the spiritual war between nostalgia for the Prophet's century and the realities of modernism. This takes many forms and incorporates a tension between contemporary women and the stewards of their faith. But extremism differs from country to country. Militant anti-feminist leaders of Iran denounce the walling-in of women in Afghanistan. Such tensions parallel less virulent differences on the same issues found within Christianity and Judaism in this country.

Very little may actually ensue from this summit in Tehran. But the notion that U.S. policy has the Iranian regime isolated can no longer be stated with a straight face.

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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