The Western media has devoted precious little consideration or discussionto the importance of the Shi’a-Sunni split within the context of the current struggle against Islamic extremism. This is further complicated as issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and the disarmament of Hezbollah are regularly framed by the Bush administration and subsequently the media as being integral components of the same radical Islamic threat that seeks the utopian goal of world domination under a re-established Islamic Caliphate. As a young Marine officer in the early 1980s, I was instructed that the Shi’a – especially Iranians and their surrogates – were essentially evil ideologues – irrationally emotional, motivated by religious vice national interests, completely inimical towards Western culture, and entirely devoted to undermining the prestige and influence of the United States.
The Sunna, however, were good, practical people with a moderate outlook and friendly disposition towards the West. Despite our previous “understandings,” we now realize the real existential threat to Western culture comes from the ideological heart of Sunni, not Shi’a Islam? More importantly yet less obvious, we share this existential threat with Shi’a Islam, as the radical pan-Islamic Sunni ideology that drives the followers of Bin Laden and Zarqawi seeks to remove the heresy of Shi’ism from this earth with the same fervour it pursues the destruction of the West.
In this struggle against Al Qaeda, the Shi’a are our natural allies. We need to set aside old arguments and engage the Shi’a in a more proactive and positive way. Iran is a problem but it seeks neither the destruction
If we are searching for a reformist element in Islam it will be more likely found amongst the Shi’a. Unlike the rigidity of Sunni Islam, reformation is a component of Shi’a theology. Within Shi’a Islam the “Bab of Ijtihad” – essentially the “Door of Reason” – remains open, allowing scholars to offer current interpretations of ancient scriptures. The most enlightened Islamic sects emerged from Shi’ism – the Ismaili Sect led by the Agha Khan is a good example. In the 11th Century the Ismailis were the dreaded “assassins” – the Al Qaeda of their time – but today the ideology of Ismaili Islam is a model of tolerance that would shame most Christians.
In the end, Shi’a dominated governments in Iranand Iraq will serve as a better bulwark against the expansion of radical pan-Islamic wackiness in the region than a whole division of Marines.
Nice points by Mr Davis. Putting forward an actual alliance with the Islamic Republic will obviously be a hard sale, both in the US and Iran. The US is still considered “The Great Satan” in the most extreme circles, and undoubtedly there would be fierce competition from within ultra-conservative circles and vast portions of the IRGC for such an idea. Then again, Hizbollah was able to normalize relations with an apostate government in Lebanon following the Taif Accords without completely alienating its core and losing influence, so it is possible, although Iran is obviously on a completely different level.
I wrote recently on establishing closer ties to Syria for basically the same reasons as Mr Davis has put forward on Iran. Syria, however, seems like an easier target currently for cooperation on both sides. Working with Assad wouldn’t be directly aiding the vast Shi’ite conspiracy, and increased engagement with Damascus would allow for more sway on the Hizbollah issue, perhaps, instead of forcing Syria into a box where it would become more hostile and less conciliatory to Western interests.
It all comes down to which is more important in regards to American foreign policy: aiding Israel by placing wedges between Iran, Iraq, and Syria, or striking at the heart of Salafist and Deobandi Sunni Islam to dismantle al Qaedaism in its numerous forms. A sort of balance between the two would be desirable, but considering the Cowboy Diplomat currently at Crawford, that’s not going to be possible.
You seem to be saying that Iranian hostility to the US would disappear if we markedly changed our foreign policy. This is a view shared by many, including Mike Scheuer, but not by me.
I think things like our Israel policy exacerbate our problems with many in the Islamic World but they are not determining in the minds of groups like AQ and the Iranian government.
We may not beleive that this is a “clash of civilizations,” but they do. pl
“You seem to be saying that Iranian hostility to the US would disappear if we markedly changed our foreign policy. This is a view shared by many, including Mike Scheuer, but not by me.”
No, I don’t believe that at all. There have to be changes on both sides, extreme changes, and I don’t see that happening any time soon. Iranian hostility toward the US is deeply entrenched, spanning decades, initially stemming from the overthrow of Mossadegh in the 50s. And the US has been inherently suspicious of Iran since the Revolution. Finding common ground is not going to be easy in the near term, or, perhaps, even possible.
Which is why I brought up Syria as a much more probable ally in the region. The US has worked with Damascus before against al Qaeda, and it can again. Certainly the US and Syria don’t like each other, but the hatred isn’t part of the countries’ core cultures… yet. All dependent on current and future US policy toward Syria.
Well, it’s a bit more complicated. Here’s a lecture I gave on the subject last year: “Shiites and U.S. Policy: Between Allies and Adversaries.”
Some of them we can work with. And some of them we can’t.