THINK-ISRAEL

THE SHIA AND SUNNI FEUD

by Paul Merkley

PART 1: MIDDLE EAST POLITICS IN DISARRAY

Rejoicing and Consternation Follows in the Middle East from the Geneva Accords.

In November, 2013, there unexpectedly appeared in our newspapers pictures of cheery handshakes exchanged between senior U.S and Iranian politicians. They were celebrating the signing at Geneva, Switzerland, of an interim "Plan of Action" which, the politicians all agreed, could put an end to one of the longest and most dangerous international crises of the last few decades. Under this Plan of Action, Iran was agreeing to put the brakes on its programme of nuclear enrichment while the U.S. and the other participants (the Five Permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) agreed to relax sanctions imposed against Iran.

In our part of the world, governments and opinion elites welcomed these Accords as signs of a fresh start in all dealings between the West and Iran. As a bonus, many commentators foresaw the possibility of drawing Russia, a veto-holding member of the Security Council, into habits of cooperation with the West and also with the majority of UN Members on a great range of longstanding matters of difference. (This latter hope has since been set back brutally by the row over Russia's intervention in Ukraine, its swift annexation of Crimea, and the menacing noises that Putin is making towards Moldova. Implications of this story for the Middle East needs treatment in a separate essay.)

The truly revolutionary effect that this Geneva deal is having on the political realities in the Middle East can be seen in the fact that it has driven the most powerful figures in the Arab Middle East into declaring openly that Islam's principal adversary, as of this moment, is not Zionism, not the Jews, not the Great Satan (the USA, presently embodied in the defector from Islam, Barack Obama), but it is one or other of the two great local rivals for regional hegemony, Iran and Saudi Arabia — each of whom declares himself a pious Muslim but is instead a cunning traitor.

The Middle East Media Review (MEMRI), whose editors sleeplessly monitor all the official voices and all of the permitted civilian voices being broadcast through the Middle East, have tried to sort this out:

With the upsurge in attacks on Iranian interests, and on interests affiliated with Iran's proxies, in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, the Iranian leadership and its mouth pieces have launched a campaign of harsh criticism against the Saudi Regime calling the Saudi regime "a takfiri (i.e., heretic) Wahhabi stream that is acting against Islam and the Muslims, in cooperation with the U.S., Israel and Zion ... collaborators with infidels, or offshoots of the forces that abandoned God after the death of the Prophet Muhammad... [According to Tehran,] Saudi Arabia is using its income from its gas and petroleum to fight the Shi'ites and is a tool of America."

From the inner circle of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia comes this counter-charge: that the Geneva Accords are just the latest demonstration of the "huge threat that ...the Persian empire [has always presented] against the Muslim Arab world and especially against the Sunnis.... The threat is from Persia, not from Israel!" [Daniel Pipes, "Saudis Bristle at Obama's Outreach to Iran,' http://www.danielpipes.org, December 3, 2013.]

I intend to write in an essay to follow about the current significance of this ancient Shia/Sunni quarrel within the house of Islam; for now, in the context of a discussion of the challenges that Israel is facing, we need only to get a grip on ourselves and ask: What does it mean that the two major blocs of Islamic power now hate each other so much that they are openly speaking of their hatred of Israel as a secondary issue!

As a first step in that direction, we need to take account of Israel's interpretation of what happened at Geneva.


Why Israel Sees Geneva as Munich.

A number of commentators have drawn an analogy between the Geneva Conference of November 2013 and the Munich Conference, held during the last week of September 1938. The latter was a meeting between the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and France (on the one side) and the dictator Adolf Hitler of Germany (with Italy's dictator Benito Mussolini holding all of their coats.) The meeting had been called for the purpose of reaching agreement on the fate of Czechoslovakia. It ended with the Western powers throwing Czechoslovakia to the wolves. Within a year, Hitler unilaterally declared the terms of the Munich Plan defunct and the whole world went to war.

Only in retrospect did it occur to a small number of historians that this unique moment, when the elected leaders of Britain and France were in the same room dealing eyeball-to-eyeball with Hitler, ought also to have been taken as the right occasion for challenging Hitler on his persecution of the Jewish people. Hitler drew from the absence of this item from the agenda the correct lesson that he would not be thwarted as he took the next step along the road to the Final Solution — kristallnacht (November 9-10. 1938.)

Guy Millière, a Professor at the University of Paris and a Fellow of the Gatestone Institute, has pondered the group photo concluding the recent Geneva Conference, showing the Foreign Policy principals of the U.S., the EU, France and Germany shaking hands with the smiling Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is reminded of the photo that marks the champagne moment of the Munich Conference:

Although Chamberlain and Daladier knew everything about the proliferation of anti-Semitic acts and decisions since Hitler came to power, they may have thought they were in a weak position, and did not really care about the Jews....Hitler noticed — and Kristallnacht soon followed less than six weeks later.... In Geneva, the big, unspoken item in the room was Israel. Laurent Fabius, Guido Westerwelle, Catherine Asthon and John Kerry knew everything about the calls for destroying Israel uttered for decades by Iranian leaders. They were in a position of strength, but evidently did not care about Israel. They practised wilful blindness. Mohammad Java Zarif noticed. Ali Khamenei in Tehran noticed... It is impossible to hide the evidence. Israel is alone, abandoned by a country [the U.S.A.] that is supposedly its ally. Sanctions against Iran have been lifted, they will never be restored. Billions of dollars will now flow into Iranian government coffers. Iranian leaders can continue to enrich uranium; build a weapons-grade reactor; support massacres in Syria; finance terrorists organizations such as Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, and threaten Israel a fellow member state of the United Nations — an act that is illegal under the UN. Charter — with impunity. The international recognition that Iranian's leaders now enjoy will legitimize all their activities. [Guy Millière, "After Geneva, 'The Islamic Bomb,'" http://www.gatetstoneinstitute.org, December 20, 2013.]

Just as European Jews concluded the worst from the exclusion from Munich's agenda of their situation (for the sake of achieving a quick diplomatic result), Israelis are justified in their anxiety about the consequence of exclusion from discussion at Geneva of Israel's well-known concern about the threat to itself necessarily entailed in an agreement which allows Iran's nuclear programme to continue.

It was taken for granted at the time of the Munich Accord of 1938 that the greatest consequences of any miscalculation that these allies might be making would not fall on any of them. Similarly, if there is any substance at all to the suspicion that the present deal leaves the door open for resumption by Iran of its nuclear enrichment programme, the immediate consequences will not fall upon the United States or France or Russia or Germany or China — but upon Israel. As this sinks in, polls are revealing that, for the first time in history almost one-half of Israeli Jews believe that the moment has come to compensate for the reduction of America's commitment to its security by "seeking new allies."


The Perennial Character of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It would of course greatly improve the prospect for cooperation between the United States and its current diplomatic allies (on the one hand) and Iran (on the other) if the world could be persuaded to put out of mind altogether what it knows about Iran's deplorable record in matters of human rights and basic freedoms including freedom of religion, its ongoing enthusiasm for public hangings of deviants and heretics, the daily re-iteration of the duty of all Muslims to liquidate all the sons of pigs and monkeys, the Great Satan (the United States) and the evil host of Crusaders, whose chief is the heretic, Barack Hussein Obama.

Nothing is happening on the Iranian side to assist forgetfulness of this reality. The current government leader, whom our journalists continue to portray as a "Moderate," is proving even more expeditious than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in clearing Iran's streets of infidels and deviant scum. Since January 1, 2014 and as of March 12, 198 people have been hanged following no trial at all or only brief show trials — opportunities for enraged mobs to vent their rage against enemies of the state and their loyalty to its leaders. [See, inter multa alia, Shadi Paveh, "Iran: Kurds, Tortured, Hanged Zainab Jalaian and Mansur Arvand," www.gatestoneinstitute.org, March 13, 2014.]

Our own media, keen to turn the page on past unpleasantness, are showing little interest in this side of the New Iran. Worse still, we are told that Secretary Kerry and his team have so far taken up none of the precious time of their Iranian interlocutors raising these matters — not at Geneva, nor anywhere else.


Iran's Continuing Menace Towards Israel.

Iran's leaders continue openly to stir up against Israel her nearest enemies, steadily increasing its supply of the most deadly kinds of missiles to Hamas in Gaza and to Hezbollah in Lebanon. ["Israel halts 'weapons shipment from Iran,'" BBCnews, March 5, 2014; "Iran: 'Palestinian Resistance's' missile power now 1,000 times stronger; Iranian defense minister praises recent rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel," Jerusalem Post, March 17, 2014.]

At the same time, evidence continues to mount that Iran is deliberately dragging its feet regarding the curtailing of its nuclear programme. ["US: 'Iran Is Purchasing Nuclear Program Components on the Black Market,' www.jerusalemonline.com/news, March 17, 2014.]


The New Iran Is the Old Iran.

While Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (2005-2013) the Iranian regime's contempt for Jews was on daily parade. It was Ahmadinejad's practice when speaking of the Jews, as he loved to do, to avoid human terminology, preferring to characterize them as "filthy bacteria," and as "rats [who] lash out at nations in the region like a wild beast" — the very language preferred by Hitler and Goebbels. Quoting as authority the Islamic Nation's Founder, Ayatollah Rouhani Khomeini, he proclaimed that "Israel must be wiped from the map of the world ... [and then] God willing, with the force of God behind it we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism." ["Iranian leader: 'Wipe out Israel,'" CNN news, October 26, 2005.] Every year during his Presidency the people of Iran rededicated themselves to this task by holding a month-long campaign under the banner "A World Without Zionism."

Ahmadinejad reminded many readers of the Bible of "wicked Haman," the power-mad counselor to the ancient Iranian tyrant whom the Greeks called Xerxes — the man who pledged before the people of Ancient Persia "to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day" (The Book of Esther, 3:13.) Also like Haman, Ahmadinejad intended to accomplish this task in a spirit of martyrdom and for the sake of mankind. "The lifetime of criminals and invaders [Israel] is over," said Ahmadinejad over Iranian national television in February of 2008. "Powerful hands of Palestinians and regional nations will hit the last blow of destruction against the criminals." ["Ahmadinejad: 'Zionist Regime will be uprooted, ynetnews.com, May 3, 2009. www.ynetnews.com.]

In pursuit of his dream, Ahmadinejad had two monumental advantages over Haman — advantages that would have lifted the heart of the latter. Firstly, modern weapons of mass destruction now provide superabundant practical means to accomplish in real time and place Haman's proclaimed objective: liquidation of the Jews "in one day." Secondly, modern communications have made it possible for our contemporary Haman to address his call for liquidation of the Jews far beyond the borders of Xerxes' Empire. During his time in office, Ahmadinejad had literally the whole world as his audience — the billions of citizens of the nearly two hundred nations that make up the General Assembly of the UN hearing in the same moment of time his uncensored call to cooperation in the liquidation of Israel.

Whatever the relative virtues of these two most recent Presidents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmadinejad and Rouhani, the more urgent truth is that policies do not come from that office but from the inspired mind of the unelected Supreme Leader. The Simon Wiesenthal organization has made available on its website abundant documentation of that dignitary's hatred of Jews, the sons of pigs and monkeys — more than a match for that of Ahmadinejad. [Simon Wiesenthal Center,www.wiesenthal.com, February 2, 2012.]


What Could Be Worse Than Israel?

The new diplomatic spirit allegedly emanating from Geneva Accords has done nothing to soften attitudes towards Israel anywhere in the Middle East— neither among the friends of Iran nor among its enemies. And yet for the time being at least it seems that these same Accords have shaken politics in the region so drastically that the key players — the potentates of all the major nations in the Middle East — are now denouncing each other as "worse than Israel...worse than the Zionists."

In light of this record of oratorical menace towards the Jews, the sons of pigs and monkeys and against the Axis formed by the Great Satan (the U.S.) and the Zionist entity, how is it possible for a leading voice of the Saudi regime to propose that today "the threat is not from Israel, but from Persia?"

If for "Persia" here were substitute Tehran, the worldwide headquarters of Shia Islam, it will begin to make a certain sense — as I hope to demonstrate in a subsequent essay. How the Geneva Accords Have Increased the Isolation of Israel in "Politics & Law." Iran's campaign to mobilize worldwide support for Assad's doomed regime in "Politics & Law."


PART 2: CIVIL WAR HAS BEGUN IN THE HEARTLAND OF ISLAM: THE SHIA/SUNNI FEUD

The Irrelevance of the "Pursuit of Happiness" in Islamic Politics.

So far, the interminable Arab Spring has accomplished nothing towards making the lives of ordinary people more secure against tyranny, more prosperous or more stable — in a word "happier." Indeed, it should be clear to all by now that "happiness" as we understand it is not on the program.

It will sound like high treason against everything that the politically correct allow us to say out loud, but the fact is that the last time when public life was stable enough in the Middle East to provide the minimum conditions for the achievement of "happiness" in private life was when the entire region was ruled by European Empires or by Mandates, held under the League of Nations. It has all been downhill since the imperial masters yielded independence to the many "nations" that now figure on our maps of the Middle East — a process that began in the early 1940s.

No doubt, Arabs do dream about a happier future, but so far as I can see their dreams have no features in common with our vision, which derives ultimately (despite the preclusive secularity of our current culture) from philosophical premises established in the early fifth century by the Christian philosopher Augustine of Hippo upon the theological premises of the Gospel.

Underlying all Christian political theory is the belief that each individual life is an eternal life. In this light, the fundamental duty of any government that Christians are obliged to obey is to sustain conditions that allow each individual to keep alive his hope for the eternal future by setting clear boundaries against the natural tendency of governments to prefer their ambitions against all private ambitions.

Government's legitimate sphere is confined to assisting us in The Pursuit of Happiness. In the course of many centuries of experiment, our civilization worked its way to the proposition that limited, representative and democratic government is the best means for accomplishing our Happiness. The very best one-line expression of this legacy is in the famous dictum of Reinhold Niebuhr: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; man's inclination to injustice makes it necessary."

Events of the last three years (since the interminable Arab Spring began to unfold in December, 2010) make abundantly clear that Islam cannot accommodate this insight. Its image of the human individual as abject and helpless before the ruthless judgment of Allah — as having no right to question what life has given him — prohibits the occurrence of the idea of improvement of the conditions of life by means of human effort.


The Concept of Righteous Government in Islam.

Occupying more-or-less the same place (mechanically speaking) where the idea of progress stands in our civilization there is in Islam the myth of an original "righteous" regime over mankind, embodied in time and place in a righteous Caliph (or supreme Spiritual Leader.) Connected to that myth is a story (totally-unconvincing to anyone outside the faith) of how the office of Caliph, the successor to the mantle of Prophet Muhammad, was captured by evil characters motivated by lust for power and only pretending to care for Muhammad's legacy. In the Shia version of this myth, this betrayal occurred in the very first weeks following Muhammad's death. In the Sunni version, a righteous Caliphate existed for a few decades following Muhammad's death and has occurred occasionally here and there along the path of history, but does not exist today. By the reckoning of Sunni Muslims, the last moment of unity under a generally-recognized Caliph ended when the Crusader Powers, conniving with traitors to Islam acting under the banner of the Young Turks, dismantled the Ottoman Empire and dismissed the last Caliph from his palace in Istanbul.

In both versions the duty of virtuous Muslims is clear: it is to eliminate the evil human forces that are preventing the restoration of virtuous government as clearly provided in the Qur'an. Before this can be achieved, all national and international institutions that depend upon Judeo-Christian or upon secular understanding of moral order must be removed. This is simply because the pure vision of Islam cannot be compromised by admixture with other theories of order.

All Muslims everywhere belong to the dar-al-Islam, the world that is ruled by the Will of Allah. In fact, Muslims do not, in the truest sense, belong to anything else. This holistic reality explains the irrelevance of the other models of belonging which spring to our minds when we think of "citizenship", "nationality," "nation", "race," "tribe," et cetera. All these secular models of belonging Muslim theologians denigrate as qawmiya, reflecting the "evil of tribalism." The matter was put succinctly by a grand vizier of the old Ottoman Empire: "The Fatherland of a Muslim is wherever the Holy Law of Islam prevails." [Quoted in Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West (New York: Oxford U.P. 1993), p. 136.]

But Muslims also understand that not everyone who claims to be in full obedience towards Islam is so in truth. Unhappily, many have fallen from the true path, even while imagining that they are on it and that you are not. Life is like that.


Origins of the Shia/Sunni Split.

When asked how future Muslims would discover the "straight path" following his death, Prophet Muhammad replied: "My community will not agree on an error." In reality, however, a bloody war for ownership of Islam broke out at once upon the death of the Prophet. The earliest years of Islam's history were unremittingly bloody. Three of these first four Rightly Guided Caliphs died violent deaths, two of them at the hands of fellow Muslims. Obviously, Muhammad had been in error.

The larger of the two major branches within Islam, the Sunnis, concedes that imperfection has to be presumed in the lives of Muhammad's immediate successors, including the first four; but they insist upon the basic trustworthiness of what the tradition tells them about what Muhammad did and said, and they afford the same trust to what was taught by Muhammad's successors. On the other hand, Shia Islam, the lesser of the two major branches, teaches that everything that is taught by and about the first Caliphs is a pack of lies.

"Shia" is the short form of an Arabic phrase meaning "followers" or "party" and refers to the partisans of Muhammad's son-in-law Hussein ibn-Ali, whom, they believe, Muhammad had intended to be his successor and from whom (on this view) the rightful succession had been stolen at the moment of Muhammad's death in 632 AD by Muhammad's father-in-law Abu Bakr. All the disorder that has marked Islamic history ever since has fallen from this original sin that took place under the Prophet's roof. Not incidentally, Shia Muslims assert that this aboriginal sin against Islam exercise was cunningly orchestrated by a Jew. [Tarek Fatah, The Jew Is Not My Enemy (Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, 2010.), pp. 32-37.]

Characteristically, the historic turning-point in this succession crisis took the form not of a conference or a general council of the faithful but of a mighty battle — the Battle of Karbala, fought in the year 61 of the Islamic calendar (October 19, 660 in our calendar.) Among the casualties on the Shia side were 62 "Companions," including Hussein ibn-Ali himself. Ever since that day, Shiite youth have been mourning this loss with gory displays of self-mutilation in highly-popular parades on the anniversary of the event.

What seems conspicuous and self-evident to us — that each side was equally dedicated to the liquidation of the other — does not occur to Muslims. The zero-sum thinking characteristic of Islam requires that one side only in every dispute, whether (as we would think) about marginal matters or about matters of eternal significance, is absolutely virtuous and those dying in its service are martyrs, while the other side are unqualifiedly evil, and totally deserving of vilification by faithful Muslims every day as they languish in everlasting torment in hell.

This mentality is not declining. It has in fact grown in intensity with each passing year since the beginning.

Indeed, as many of the best-informed scholars of life in the heartland of Islam have been telling us over the last few weeks, the venom that has been pouring from this open sore for over fourteen hundred years has now surged to an unprecedented height — to the point that a new civil war is building in the heartland of Islam.


PART 3: A TOXIC FAMILY QUARREL

Recent Developments in the Arab Spring

In recent weeks, the interminable Arab Spring has (reasonably enough) lost the lion's share of international media attention to the crisis in Ukraine and its effects upon relations between Russian and the West. Meanwhile, we have all lost track of how many further steps backward have been taken from the promise of the Arab Spring.

In Egypt, the masses are now acclaiming a military savior, who is recapitulating the betrayal of democratic method that brought on the dictatorship of Gamal Abdel Nasser, over sixty years ago. Here in Egypt, failure of the hope for an Arab Spring can be fully explained by the congenital inability of Muslims to work in a spirit of compromise. In Lebanon, Syria and Iraq it is more specifically attributable to the continuing effects of the original schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims, fourteen centuries ago.

In Syria, Assad's killing machine, now uninhibited by any possibility of combined action from the international community since the collapse of the U.S./Russian partnership, is whole-heartedly embarked upon liquidation of the few remaining communities — including some of the biggest cities in the land — where Assad's writ had ceased running many months ago. To date, an estimated 150,000 Syrians have been killed, about a fourth of the population has been dislocated, many permanently settled as refugees outside. Iran and Saudi Arabia, the principal regional champions (respectively) of the Shia and Sunni sides in the region's civil war, have willfully exacerbated local animosities to the point where there is now not a shred of hope that Syria will ever again be a united and independent polity.

In Iraq, they have just held an election — the second in their history — the second, that is, since the American-led invasion of 2003. It will undoubtedly be the last. Rival squadrons of Shia and Sunni suicide warriors and car-bombers are working day and night to impose their incompatible and equally inhumane visions of the righteous Muslim life throughout that land. Nearly 10,000 people were killed in this Iraqi civil war during 2013, and since January of this year the pace has picked up.


Theological Debate: Muslim Style

As I noted in my essay on the Shia/Sunni feud, the matter that prevents Muslims from living together in lands where only Muslims are allowed to live at all, is difference of understanding about the detail of the succession crisis that followed upon the death of Muhammad. It is sub-rational; it is Hatfields and McCoys, going on for 1400 years. So long as Shiites hate Sunnis (and vice-versa) neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia nor Qatar nor any of the other major actors in the Syria maelstrom will ever be able to impose its will up a united Syria or a united Iraq, let alone upon the whole Middle East.

Compounding the possibilities for mayhem, is the fact that Muslims are divided with equally toxic effect over their understanding of how the last chapter of this feud must play out in the End of Times — just over the horizon. In the Shiite story, the forces of darkness are to be led by a diabolical character, Sufyani, who raises the End Times army in Syria and who marches into Iraq to initiate the liquidation of all Shiites. It is this theological conviction that has brought Hezbollah into Syria, determined not to leave until Sufiyani is destroyed. This makes sense only if End Times has begun. [A number of videos capturing sermons of Islamist preachers on both sides of this eschatological screaming match can be viewed on the website of MEMRI (Middle East Media Review memri@memri.com.)

In 2006, the official Iranian network ran a television series indoctrinating Iranians in the meaning of current world policits in light of Shiite theology. The series explained that for complex theological and astrological reasons, the Twelfth Imam (the Mahdi, the Chosen One or Redeemer) could be expected to come to earth in the spring of 2007. "He will appear as a handsome young man, clad in neat clothes and exuding the fragrance of paradise.... Heavenly light and justice accompany him." The Imam will first appear in Mecca and then Medina. There he will form an army to defeat Islam's enemies, beginning with conquest of Arabia, then Syria and Iraq completing everything with the destruction of Israel. Then a global government will appear, based in Iraq.

Here is a chilling note: there "God will make him defeat Dajjal the Impostor or the anti-Christ as the Christians say, who will be hanged near the dump of Kufa."

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This will strike us as profoundly paradoxical (to put it mildly), given that according to all the Muslim theologians the Mahdi will be assisted in this task by Prophet Jesus.

Incidentally, the Supreme Leader of Iran has asserted consistently that for the most profound of theological reasons the government of Iran will never surrender freedom of action over its atomic energy program. To do so would be to abdicate its eternally-ordained responsibilities in these last days. It would mean surrendering to the unbelieving world which seeks to impede the return of the Mahdi.

This kind of thinking is alien to us, which is why Western analysts resist entering into it, preferring to explain the policies of kings and princes in terms of "larger" matters of national interest. Divisions in Muslim ranks are re-evaluated in sociological terms — that is as emanating from the inequities of wealth and privileges and respect. These conditions are relevant; but what should be clear by now is that at its fanatical edge the war that is going on in Syria, for example, it is about a succession crisis that occurred at the death of the Prophet Muhammad and about wrongs that occurred then and have multiplied since then and that still need still to be set right. It is about different understandings of the end of mankind's pilgrimage on earth. It is about the coming of the End Times champion of Islam, the Mahdi , who will put himself at the head of all the forces of Righteousness as they defeat for all time and eternity the forces of darkness.


Ever-Increasing Hatred between the Shia and Sunni Camps

We know that we have reached a turning-point in regional history when we discover the loudest voices on both sides declaring that its principal adversary is not Zionizm, not the Jews, not the Great Satan (the USA), presently embodied in the defector from Islam, Barack Obama, but in the great local rival — either the King of Saudi Arabia or the Shiite in "Persia" -- who calls himself a Muslim but is instead a cunning traitor.

According to the researchers at MEMRI:

Senior Iranian ayatollahs [are] calling the Saudi regime "a takfiri (i.e., heretic) ... stream that is acting against Islam and the Muslims, in cooperation with the U.S., Israel and Zion .... They call on fellow shia clerics in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and other sunni countries that are friendly to the Saudis, not to cooperate with the wahhabis [the official form of Islam practiced and imposed in Saudi Arabia.]

One Iranian Ayatollah says: "We must always struggle against the infidels, headed by America and Britain. The traitors and the Zionists.... Saudi Arabia is using its income from its gas and petroleum to fight the Shi'ites and is a tool of America."

What better proof could there be of the dementia that lies behind this preaching than this insane conspiracy theory?

Another Ayatollah says: "In Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain ... the heretical Wahhabism is the chief cause of conflict." A voice speaking for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Iran's military elite, cries out in the daily newspaper Kayhan for "a decisive and crushing response [towards King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia].. [and] operations ... that should start on the street leading to King Abdullah's palace in Riyadh... If Saudi Arabia continues to equip and arm the terrorists of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) and several other groups like Ansar Al-Sunna, every operation that the Shi-ites will carry out against Saudi facilities and centers will be legitimate."

It boggles the mind that the most exalted voices in the political and religious hierarchy of Islamic regimes routinely use such extreme and inflammatory language in order to dismiss their adversaries as "extremists!" In our part of the world any person using such language is claiming to be (by contrast) moderate and civil and open to dialogue. But moderation and civility are not admired postures in the world of Islam.


The Voice of the People/The Voice of Allah

Such declarations of anathema are flying nowadays from the heights on both sides. But the key to everything is that this zero-sum contest is taking place among the masses of Muslims everywhere. No self-respecting Muslims wants to be found standing aside from the mud-slinging

A recent BBC News documentary, "Freedom to Broadcast Hate, " gives us outsiders a chilling look into this increasingly mad world, documenting in living sound and colour the venom that is pouring forth worldwide, not only from Mosques and Muslim community gatherings, but via satellite television and internet websites. The most inflammatory propaganda goes out from broadcasters in the U.K. and is funded by oil-rich Muslim philanthropists from the Arab States.

We hear Sunni preachers say coldly of Shias: "Their heads should be smashed as the head of a snake... Shia is a cancer attacking the Muslim religion.... Adultery is part of their [Shia] religion." From the Shia preachers we hear: "We do not believe a Sunni will be considered a Muslim in the afterlife.... Shia islam is the only Islam." The Shia preachers go on endlessly, never pausing for breath, about the evil behavior of Muhammad's his wife Aisha and Abu Bakr and Omar — role-models of the Sunnis, but traitors to all true Muslims (that is, all Shias. ) Interjected among the rampant epithets directed at these villains are what we assume (judging by the schoolboy giggling and the ongoing bleeping on the soundtrack) are gross scatological bits.

On this same video, Sunni clerics weep as they call upon Allah to "punish the Shia... [to] freeze the blood in their veins ... They have insulted the wives of the Prophet.... Shi'ism is not true Islam. It is worse than cancer. " (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/n3csv0c4, March 15, 2014). None of these statesmen considers himself culpable of anything other than earnest and pious concern for the Faith.

The extreme language that Iran has always reserved for denunciation of the blood-sucking Zionists and the Great Satan still goes on — despite all the efforts of Messrs Obama and Kerry. But to get the full toxic effect of hatred that has been building and putrifying within the House of Mohammad for fourteen centuries we now have to go inside that House itself — something that we can do conveniently through the brave auspices of MEMRI and the BBC.

The bottom line is simply this: that what is tearing the Middle East apart today is the fact that they hate each other more than they hate us. This is not necessarily a comfort.



Dr. Paul Merkley is a retired Professor of History at Carleton University. He is the author of the Politics of Christian Zionism (Frank Cass, 1998), Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001) and American Presidents, Religion and Israel (Praeger, 2004.)

This essay was published as three separate essays. Part 1 was published March 25, 2014 in the Bayview Review and is archived at
http://thebayviewreview.com/2014/03/25/middle-east-politics-in-disarray/. Part 2 was published April 11, 2014 in the Bayview Review and is archived at
https://thebayviewreview.com/2014/04/11/civil-war-has-begun-in-the-heartland-of-islam-part-one-the-shiasunni-feud/. Part 3 was published May 24, 2014 in the Bayview Review and is archived at
http://thebayviewreview.com/2014/05/24/a-toxic-family-quarrel/.



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