Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif has served as the Iranian Foreign Minister since 2013. He held many prominent positions as a diplomat, politician, and professor in Iran. He was born in Tehran in 1960 and as a teenager Zarif traveled to the United States where he earned both his BA and MA in International Relations from San Francisco State University in 1982. He earned his PhD in 1988 from the University of Denver in International Law and Policy. Because of his English language skills and his familiarity and relationships in the US, he became a junior diplomat for Iran to the UN in 1982, when only 22 years old.
After over thirty years, Mohammad Javad Zarif still serves as a diplomat for Iran, though now in one the nation’s highest positions as the Iranian Foreign Minister. With more than thirty years of experience working in the field of diplomacy, Zarif has gained many valuable insights into international relations. He also believes in the power and importance of love and forgiveness. For Zarif, Islam and its teachings have been crucial to his understanding and practice of love and forgiveness. Although, he does not think that his understanding of love and forgiveness is based on Islam alone. “I believe all civilizations have human assets and if they go back to their roots they will find very similar lessons.” In addition, Zarif said, “I think that our humanity is much deeper than the divisions that divide us.”
In discussing politics and international relations, Zarif recognizes that practicing love and forgiveness is often challenging in the political realm. One of the challenges to practicing love and forgiveness in politics is that it is hard to remember the human side to international relations. Despite this challenge, it is not impossible. “I have been involved in situations where the human dimension overcame the political dimension.” He gives an example from his own experiences with a fellow politician. During the Iran-Iraq War, his relationship with his Iraqi counterpart was often tenuous. “Politically we fought, but individually we remained friends. I think that element of human life can always be there.” Although he admits that it is a hard balancing act, it is still possible to remember the human side, even in the deepest of conflicts. For Zarif, not only is it possible to forgive, but it is vitally important for politicians to understand and practice forgiveness. “On a daily basis I think you need to forgive in your heart. Realities may require you to take political decisions and political positions, but you need to have that forgiveness in your heart to be able to survive yourself, to live with yourself.”
When asked who he felt were exemplars of love and forgiveness, Zarif mentioned Nelson Mandela. He quoted Mandela’s philosophy of “we may not forget but we will forgive.” However, the great and well-known models like Mandela were not the only examples that Zarif mentioned. He said there are great and powerful examples of love and forgiveness in our everyday lives. According to Zarif, one of the best ways to start down the road to forgiveness is to start small and locally. Zarif argues that in order to forgive, one needs to exercise love and forgiveness from within, in one’s family, in one’s own society and then try to see if one can make it more inclusive. But everything starts from an individual and community.
Zarif acknowledges that love and forgiveness in today’s world comes with many challenges and obstacles. He discussed several keys that he feels are important to practicing love and forgiveness. One such key is “to move yourself beyond the immediate situation and to look from a wider perspective.” Often when caught in a conflict, people focus only on the immediate situation and get locked into hatred and continue the conflict. To move beyond the conflict, to “think outside the box” and look at the wider perspective is the key. Otherwise you will perpetuate conflict and you will perpetuate hatred and you will be entrenched in a position that will make impossible any movement forward.
Many often forget that forgiveness can have powerful effects on a community, even in those deep conflicts. Zarif argued that its not only can happen, but that it has happened many times. “Look at South Africa. You see that decades of Apartheid did not prevent people from living together and building a country. Although some people do not want us to believe that it can be done but it has been done and it can be done again.”
When asked what recommendations he has for people working in a governing position, Zarif said, “I recommend to everybody in government to understand that they are not prisoners of the situation, but that each practitioner is an actor who can influence the outcome. The outcome is not predetermined, we determine the outcomes and we can make a different outcome.” He mentioned that in today’s world, “Some of us believe we are prisoners of super powers, of circumstances, of rigid international climate.” This is simply not true, he argues, and says that many examplars, such as Gandhi, prove that one does not need to be a prisoner of circumstances. People are not prisoners of realities; we make realities.