China Daily/Reuters

Here’s Why the Iran-Saudi Peace Deal Is Huge News For Muslims

Should we call off the Cold War? Are we defending our interests by our understanding of the role China is playing and can play globally? Saudi Arabia and Iran’s China-brokered peace deal poses some interesting questions about our current stance towards China. The Biden administration’s reception of the deal indicates that the US is open to any positive influence that China can provide.

The news is filled with reports of the deal China just brokered between Iran and Saud Arabia. Obviously, as Muslims this is huge. The hope for a unified Muslim community has been near and dear to the hearts of so many of us for so long. The ongoing conflict between Iran and Saudi has fueled the conflicts and tensions in the Middle East. It has been destabilizing and dangerous, increasing the risk of US intervention in Iran in an unwinnable and horrific disaster.

China Brokered The peace Deal, but Why?

Many of us have viewed China as a threat, primarily due to their rejection of democratic values, and their genocide against now the Uyghur, and prior to this the Tibetans.  The general tone of China’s domestic and foreign policy has been resistant to accountability around standards of human rights, environmental sustainability, and security for our allies in  Asia.

However, the reality is that the US has been, if not the worst, a bad actor in the international community for a very long time.  Even prior to our intervention in Vietnam, our policies towards Mexico, Central, and South America, and other neighbors have been hostile, violent, and destabilizing. On an ongoing basis, especially with the War on Terror, the War in  Iraq, and the War in Afghanistan, the US policy of intervening in foreign affairs has had few positive outcomes.  This continued recently with our disastrous policies in Syria where we were even arming our enemies (we were occasionally working with Al Qaeda), without any clear understanding of our military goals, and our destabilization of Libya.  Our intervention in the Middle East has produced a lot of chaos and few positive results. 

The positive influence of China in this situation gives one pause.  What if China has the potential to be a source of stability and in that sense an ally to the US?  Saudi Arabia has been a considerable ally to us in the Middle East for a long time.  Most of the major think tanks in the US have taken huge amounts of money from the Saudi government, we have close military ties with them and our interests are entwined with theirs in the region, as well as in many other areas of the world, such as Russia.

Possible benefits of the cold war with China simply do not seem to justify the ongoing stance towards China as exclusively a liability to US interests if they have the power to bring Saudi and Iran to the table like this.

Is China Striving to Become a Global Peacemaker?

What are the reasons we are taking the stance towards China that they are the largest threat to US interests at the current time? For me, their ongoing hostility towards religious freedom and democratic values is the core of my objection,  although there are others. Their genocide against the Uyghur and the Tibetans poses a huge challenge to my understanding of them as a possible source of good leadership Additionally, their policy in the South China sea, incursions on Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and other US allies pose a huge concern, not to mention our need to defend Taiwan as a democracy who desperately needs our support right now. Also, particularly important to me as a Muslim is their influence on the global Muslim community and Indonesia, Malaysia, and the hope that these countries will continue to move towards addressing corruption, establishing their economic independence, and setting standards for human rights that are consistent with most American Muslim’s understanding of the demands of Islamic ethics.

But the question is there, are we going about this wrong? If the goal is the US as a global peacekeeper, imperial power, and Pax Americana, the Cold War potentially could make sense. The problem is we have never been a peacekeeper, we have not been successful or helpful as an imperial power, and neocolonialism has been disastrous for the interests of most of what we have touched. Aside from our total failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are bankrupt, which of course contributed to our failures.

But what if our values, which we have historically claimed we are defending with our interventionist foreign policy are actually not best served by the antagonistic tone that we tend to set with other major powers?

We would have to take a diplomatic approach to our foreign relations in Asia that emphasized dialogue with China and reconsider our stance that China’s influence is inherently toxic, bad for the world, and bad for us. Granted, we would have to eat a little humble pie and concede that China’s leadership could benefit the international community.  We would have to reconsider the precedent that has guided US foreign policy that other global powers, particularly Communist, are inherently a threat to US interests.

Biden has already heralded a new era of foreign policy, building on  Trump, and to be honest the MAGA movement, which has moved the needle of US goals towards isolationism, reducing foreign interference, and emphasizing taking care of our own nation’s needs at home. Biden has framed this as an era of diplomacy. Biden has taken huge steps to restore our position as a leader internationally, and has done this exclusively through diplomacy and reinvigorating our alliances with other democracies.

Granted China is not a democracy, does not share most of our values, and has not shown any interest in aligning itself with values that constitute the deeply held convictions that most democracies in the world rely on the US to defend. Additionally, their role as the largest emitter of carbon, and the way this has been outsourced internationally through the Belt and Road initiative makes their leadership in relation to the Climate Crisis a huge issue.

But the danger of a new Cold War, especially if it is unnecessary, should be a serious deterrent from writing off China’s potential as an ally, or partner.  What if there are diplomatic solutions?  What if China would be more open to US values if we took a different tone?

This recent development also reinforces the idea that ending the War on Terror and aligning with the Muslim community as global partners, and allies, is essential to defending the values that we believe in.  One of our values ought to be peace, stability, and prosperity.  We also need to remain committed to environmental sustainability.  If we continue to antagonize the Muslim community globally, these goals will be significantly more difficult to achieve, especially given this recent development with China taking a lead in the Muslim world.  For our role in the Muslim world to remain relevant we cannot take a back seat and wait and see what happens diplomatically.  We must be proactive in creating, sustaining, and increasing our alliances and partnerships with Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. And even our alliance with China.

Sarah is a social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area, the traditional land of the Ohlone people. She likes to paint, drum, sing, and spend quality time with her family and God.