Counter-Terrorism: Agile Antics in Arabia

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November 6, 2005: Arabia has a rather complex problem with Islamic radicalism. It's not just the ultra-orthodox Sunnis (the al Qaeda types) you have to worry about there, but also Shia radicals as well. The Sunni and Shia exist in a relationship similar to Roman Catholics and Orthodox Catholics, of a thousand years ago. In other words, while Sunni and Shia have slight theological and liturgical differences, that's often enough to induce bloodshed.

In Kuwait, a government investigation into the October 7th riot and vandalism at a Shia mosque has concluded that the mob involved was much larger than reported - perhaps 150 to 200 people, rather than 50-75 - but that the people involved were mostly foreigners (mainly from Saudi Arabia). While some cynics have concluded that the government report was politically motivated, the leaders of the Shia mosque report themselves satisfied that the government acted correctly.

The Kuwait incident was only the latest of many clashes between Sunni (usually the aggressor) and Shia. All the way down the west side of the Persian Gulf, Shia minorities have long suffered persecution by the Sunni majority. None of the governments in the region officially back such persecution, but they often tolerate it. The Arab rulers are caught between two forms of Islamic radicalism. The Sunni radicals, which produced al Qaeda, are seen as the most dangerous. But Shia radicals exist as well, and look towards Iran (which has been run by Shia radicals since 1979) for support. Iran has backed Shia Arabs with money, and diplomatic muscle.

The only thing that has kept this situation from spinning out of control is the fact that the Shia Iranians are largely Indo-Europeans, and Arabs fear them. The Indo-European ancestors of the Iranians were originally Central Asian nomads, and the first large group of them to come off the great steppes of Central Asia, landed in what is now Iran, over 4,000 years ago. They founded the Persian empire, and ever since, they have dominated the region. Conquered temporarily by Greeks, Arabs and Mongols, the Iranians always came back, and returned to their conquering ways. Thus the Shia Arabs appreciate the financial and diplomatic support from Shia Iranians, but don't want to be ruled by them. However, since 1979, the Islamic Republic in Iran has openly proclaimed its desire to establish world wide Shia Islamic rule, no doubt with Iranian clerics calling the shots.

This Arab rulers in Arabia have learned to deal with these two different Islamic world conquest movements. Their primary tactic has been to treat Shia Arabs better, lest too many of them despair and decide to join the radical Shia Iranians. Part of that battle is coming down hard on Sunni radicals who persecute Shia Arabs. Which is what is happening in Kuwait right now, and will happen elsewhere in Arabia in the near future.

 


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