Leadership: The Iranian War With The Arabs


January23, 2007: Saudia Arabia and Iran are getting ready for war with each other. And it's not over oil or ethnicity, as much as it is over theology. Saudi Arabia, by dint of its vast oil wealth and role as protector of Islami's holiest places, sees itself as the leader of the Moslem world. Not a leader in the sense of giving orders that-will-be-obeyed. No, leader more in the rich uncle sense. Especially if the uncle was also a rather religious fellow.

The Saud family gained control of most of Arabia back in the 1920s, mainly via a long time relationship with the most conservative religious sect in Arabia, the Wahhabis. Thus equipped, the Saudis could be both mightier, and holier, than any other clan in region. It was a winning combination. But there are some problems when you read the fine print. The most obvious hassle was the Wahhabi desire to resist modern technology, and ideas. So Saudi women can't drive cars, although back in the 1920s they could ride horses and camels. The Sauds got the power, but the Wahhabis got the right to decide how people live. Another bit of fine print has to do with the Shia sect of Islam. There are dozens of sects in Islam, and the largest, besides the mainline Sunnis, are the Shia. Most of the Shia are Iranians, who aren't even Arabs. That's important for Arabs, who consider all non-Arabs as, well, if not sub-human, certainly not the best they could be. The Iranians look like the hated Europeans (one of the few peoples able to halt the spread of Islam), and often act like Europeans. But the worst thing about Iranians are that they are Shia. According to the Wahhabi clergy, Shia are heretics. The Saud family was always good at countering the nasty habits of the Wahhabi clergy, and has managed to keep the preachers quiet (or at least off the mass media) about those Shia heretics. At the same time, the Sauds have kept things reasonably friendly with Iran. All that is coming to an end.

For all those decades Saddam Hussein was in power, American suggestions, or attempts, to overthrow the dictator of Iraq were always met with resistance from the Saudis. Most Americans could not understand this, even when the Shia angle was mentioned. It must have been something to do with oil. It actually has little to do with oil. It's all about which form of Islam is more "correct." Since 1979, Iran has been run by conservative clergy, and these guys wanted to rule the world. To the Saudis, only Iraq, and its ruthless leader Saddam Hussein, stood in the way. The 1980-88 war between Iraq and Iran was seen as a desperate fight to contain the Shia menace. It was thus, with much sadness, that Arabs viewed the defeat, and recent demise, of Saddam Hussein. For many Sunnis in the region, Saddam was their champion.

The Sunnis see America as being stupid, or greedy to control Iraqi oil, or both, in their overthrow of Saddam. Because of this U.S. action, the Shia, and thus, Iran, controls Iraq. The Sunni control of Islams holy places is now threatened. This seems certain once Iran gets nuclear weapons. Note that, during the thirty years Israel has had nuclear weapons, there was no great effort in the Arab world to do the same. But now that Iran is going nuclear, there's all this talk of developing (or buying from the Pakistanis) the "Arab bomb." Believe it, because the Arabs do.




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