Iran: Waiting For The Gift From Nowhere


October 4,2008:  Increasingly, Sunni Arab clerics are agreeing with their Shia counterparts, that Iran and the Sunni Arabs are on a collision course. It's not just about which version of Islam is to be dominant, but which Islamic country will control the most sacred Islamic shrines, and, in effect, become the spiritual leader of the Islamic world. No one has held that position for about a thousand years. Saudi Arabia controls the key shrines (Mecca and Medina), but the Saudis are not accepted as the leader of the Islamic world. To most Moslems, the Saudis are a bunch of desert hillbillies who got lucky (with all that oil). Except for a brief few centuries, after Mohammed founded Islam and began the Islamic military campaigns that spread the new religion from Spain to India, no one paid much attention to the Arabs. In terms of numbers, Arabs make up less than a quarter of all Moslems. Most Moslems resent the Arab attempt to dominate Islam, just as early Christians resented attempts by Italians to control the Christian world. Iran, on the other hand, has been in the empire business for thousands of years. In comparison, the Arabs are a flash in the pan. But then there is the race angle. The Iranians are an Indo-European people, and have been defeating, and generally lording it over the Arabs, a Semitic people, for thousands of years. Memories are long in this part of the world, and in this case, ethnic memory trumps religion. Normally the Sunni and Shia Moslems do not get along very well. Conservative Sunnis consider the Shia heretics. And the fact that most Shia are Iranians does not help matters either. Iranians are a tinier fraction of all Moslems than the Arabs.

Over 80 percent of the world's Moslems are Sunni, and radical Sunnis (like the ones who run al Qaeda) believe the Shia are heretics and must be killed if they do not accept Sunni religious practices and beliefs. Thus, in the Arab world (which is very, very Sunni), Iran getting nuclear weapons is seen as a religious, as well as a military, threat. 

Al Qaeda is basically a Sunni Arab organization that attracts recruits who are not Arabs, but who MUST be Sunni. Al Qaeda was founded by members of the conservative Wahabi form of Islam found in Saudi Arabia. To a Wahabi, even contact with infidels (non-Moslems) is forbidden, and it is the duty of all Moslems to convert or kill the infidels. One should not lose sight of al Qaeda's core values and goals. When you do focus in on those values and goals, the video of an American civilian being beheaded makes some kind of perverted sense. 

While Sunni extremists (who exist throughout the Moslem world) are obsessed with  killing or converting heretics, the Iranian Shia take a longer view. They see the September 11, 2001 attacks as a great victory for Iran. Not only did it kill lots of Americans, but the U.S. response drove the Sunni extremists (the Taliban) out of control in Afghanistan. The Taliban were persecuting and killing Shia Afghans, and Iran was unable to stop it. Then the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein (who had long been hated in Iran) and put the Iraqi Shia in charge. The Iranian Shia clergy saw this as God's will, and a sign that Iran was on its way to becoming the ruler of Islam, and then the world (after everyone converted to Islam).

Although some rather loopy (by Iranian and Western standards) Shia clerics are running Iran, most of these clerics are typical Iranian leaders. That is, they are shrewd, patient, cautious and not given to rash decisions. It's these qualities that scare the Arabs the most, because the Iranian approach usually succeeds. That's why the Iranians have been the regional superpower for as long as there have been empires in this region. The Arabs note how Iran has made friends with China and Russia, thereby becoming immune to severe UN sanctions. The Iranians have also established a smuggling network that keeps their military going. The Iranians have been at odds with the United States for over three decades and are still standing. That impresses the Arabs, and scares them.

What gives the Arabs heart is the fact that the U.S. has been clever as well. The conventional wisdom is that the Americans are oafs when it comes to diplomacy. But like most conventional wisdom, the truth is more interesting. The U.S. has refrained from bombing Iran (which would make the radicals there more popular), and has, so far, managed to keep Israel from doing so as well. The Americans have done great damage to the Iranian smuggling efforts via subtle efforts, like restricting Iranian access to the international financial markets. The U.S. has used its large Iranian immigrant community to get information into Iran, and keep the political pot boiling there. The Arabs note how the Americans have been dealing with the Iranian efforts to subvert and control the new, Shia dominated government in Iraq. All these successes are buried by the media preference for criticism of America. But the Arabs see, and report, on what is actually happening, and stick by their American friends. This, despite the fact that the U.S. is the main ally of Israel, which is a big deal in the Arab world (which wishes Israel did not exist.)

The next miracle the Arabs are waiting for, is how the U.S. will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. At the rate things are going now, Iran will have nukes in 5-10 years, if not sooner. If that happens, several Gulf Arab nations will use their trillion dollar war chest to buy nukes. They will get them, and the world will have another risky nuclear standoff (in addition to the one between India and Pakistan).

Within the Iranian ruling circle, there is no unanimity on many things, including nuclear weapons. The "moderates" want to dial down the rhetoric (and terrorism support and nuclear weapons program) and make peace with the world. The "radicals" want to keep moving forward towards the goal of world domination via unstoppable Shia Islam. The radicals have an edge because they are on a Mission From God, willing to die, and not willing to compromise. To many Iranians, these Iranian extremists are scary, and something that must be stopped before the world, and Iran, suffers some great catastrophe.

There is no single Iranian opposition group, even though there is widespread opposition. Historically, this is how things work in Iran. But eventually all these opposition groups reach the point where they feel they have no option but to act. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there is an upheaval, and change. So, for the moment, all the world can do is wait for the gift from nowhere to arrive.


Article Archive

Iran: Current 2023 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close