Much ado is being made of the “revelation” in the Wikileaks data dump that some Sunni Arab leaders were quietly in favor of an American and/or Israeli strike on Iran to terminate Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program with extreme prejudice. Implicit in this war-mongering hysteria is an acceptance of an implacable Shia-Sunni conflict threatening the stability of the Islamic world and perhaps the belief on the part of the neocon Judeo-Christian great gamesters that this divide offers an opportunity to exploit the divisions in Islam. The attached article by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is important in this regard, because he aims to debunk popular assertions about the nature of the Shia-Sunni conflict and/or the Arab-Persian conflict. If Moghaddam is right, the game to remake the Islamic world in our image may be a little too complex for the neatly compartmented minds of the great-game wannabees in Versailles on the Potomac.
According to a bio in the Guardian, “Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is a lecturer in the comparative and international politics of western Asia at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He was born in the Taksim area of Istanbul to Iranian parents and raised in Hamburg/Germany. He studied at the University of Hamburg, American University and Cambridge. He is the author of The International Politics of the Persian Gulf: A Cultural Genealogy, Iran in World Politics: The question of the Islamic Republic and A metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations (forthcoming)”
This Sunni-Shia relations is an area I do not know much about, so I asked a friend of mine, a retired colonel, with extensive experience living and working in the Middle East, for his evaluation of Moghaddam’s thesis. My friend responded as follows:
“I’m not an expert in Muslim history, so there may well have been episodes of Shia – Sunni strife, but I think most of this was engineered by local powers for their own benefit. A Saudi friend once described the Shia outlook as: The Shi’ites are good Muslims because they embrace the Five Pillars, but they make the religion more complicated than it needs to be. His implication was that if they wanted to do this, it wasn’t the Sunni’s problem. Years ago, I asked a Lebanese friend about the Shia – Sunni divide. He said that it was created by the French and British to keep the Arabs divided. None of the Saudis I talked to, some of which I knew very well, placed any emphasis on sectarian differences, although the political leadership kept trying to use this difference for political purposes. And I don’t know of anything in Muslim history that parallels the intensity or blood lust attending to the wars of the Reformation / Counter-reformation (e.g. the Thirty Years War). Even in Iraq, where Shia-Sunni tensions have been recently inflamed, there are tribes that have both Shi’ite and Sunni branches.”
Is there a Shia crescent threatening the stability of western Asia and northern Africa? Is there a historically coded Arab-Persian enmity driving the international politics of the region? Does it date back centuries, and is it now viewed as a battle for regional supremacy? If we are to believe the media comments on the latest round of documents published by WikiLeaks, then yes. “Israel sees PR windfall in WikiLeaks tips on Iran,” a Reuters headline reads. “Cut the head of the snake: How Arab leaders urged U.S. to attack Iran,” says the Daily Mail. “Israel says WikiLeaks shows ‘consistency’ on Iran,” the Agence France Press (AFP) proclaims. “Arab states scorn evil Iran,” leads the Guardian. There is a common theme to these headlines: apparently there is an “Arab” or “Sunni” consensus supporting a war against Iran.
Phi Beta Iota: Chuck is strongest on defense acquisition and economics, much less so on cultural issues. Even Ralph Peters, whose books on Endless War and also Wars of Blood and Faith are quite special, lacks the deep understanding that can only come from immersion or ready access to those who have been immersed (on BOTH sides of the Sunni/Shi’ite divide). The divide exists at multiple levels, but at its most fundamental, each thinks the other is one step up from infidel. Brzezinski gave Pakistan the Sunni bomb, Saudi Arabia is funding virulent Wahabbism world-wide, and the naive Americans still don’t get it. Iran is not the threat, we are. The Arabs would like nothing better than to have the ignorant Americans shed their blood, treasure, and spirit on taking out Iran, and while there is some elegant pay-back there, since Iran used Ahmed Chalabi as the perfect agent of influence to suck the neo-conservatives into taking out Saddam Hussein and destabilizing Iraq for the benefit of the Shi’ite majority previously repressed, what we should be doing is getting out of the Middle East and ending all military assistance and all subsidies for Israel (subsidies that allow Israel to genocide Palestine at US taxpayer expense). Lebanon and Palestine richly merit an international hybrid administration that is “all in” for fifty years–total demilitarization with a focus on water, power, schools, and infrafrastructure. For what we have ill-advisedly spent on two elective wars we could have rebuilt Lebanon and Palestine from scratch many times over….there is simply no sanity in what we are doing in the Middle East and in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.