Choosing between Sunni or Shia is like choosing between the idiot and the fool; both sects come from the same cult, called Islam.
There are many other sects in Islam but these two are the major ones. They both came to existence in the seventh century after the assassination of Ali, the forth of the ‘rightly guided Caliphs’. Ali was elected when the Islamic state was in turmoil following the brutal and merciless assassination of Uthman, the third Caliph. Muslims endured a civil war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In fact, they still pay with their lives as a result of that divide.
The Shia Muslims were the ones who sided by Caliph, Ali, against the rebels. The Sunni Muslims’ position was, and still, a more interesting one and is in line with their position regarding other Islamic absurdities; in one word: confusing. They believe that Ali was right and did the right thing for the service of Islam. The history of the events, as it reached us, is in support of Ali. In addition, Ali was one of those ten Muslims who were guaranteed places in paradise, according to Mohammed, therefore Allah would protect him from committing sins. However, they refuse to condemn Ali’s opponents, the rebels. Therefore, the Sunnis believe who ever was on the right side and whoever was opposing those who were on the right side were both on the right side!! May look mind boggling, but this is Islam.
Sunni Muslims refuse to discuss this issue on the basis that it is for Allah, not for humans, to judge that situation. The Sunni muslims developed some phobia towards that part of history; they do not like to discuss it, read about it or know about it!
Of course there is a reason behind this phobia. Both fighting groups were no ordinary Muslims but highly revered companions of Mohammed, known as ‘sahaba’. Those men were trusted with the Quran and Islam and considered exemplary to other Muslims. Those ‘sahaba’ were ‘nearly perfect’ people because complete perfection is only for Allah. Muslims believe that the Quran, indeed the entire religion, reached us unaltered because of the ‘near perfection’ of those men. Any blemishes on their integrity would cast serious doubts about the integrity of Islam. Unfortunately, the events of the war expose some barbaric conducts that only fit criminals. Therefore it is better not to know about it!
Just before jumping to early conclusions the reader can be assured that the Sunni foolishness and religious absurdities is more than matched by the Shia, but this is outside the scope of this article.
The 1980s- the Shia extremism
The Iranians had high expectations after the 1979 Islamic revolution but soon they were disappointed. In the turmoil that followed the revolution, the Mullahs had no idea how to steer the country and Iran was shifting from one conflict to another, usually with the West. In the 1980s, the Shia had a bad image in the West and were associated with extremism and religious fanaticism while the Sunnis were considered to be more moderate. Blinded by their inherent bias, It did not occur to the Westerners that the Sunnis were also engaged in another religious war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. That religious war was considered permissible and justified as long as it was against the Soviet Union! After 1979, America sided against Iran in all subsequent conflicts like the Iraq /Iran war. On the other hand it created a strong alliance with fanatic Sunnis like Osama Bin Laden. The Sunni fighters were called mujahideen (from jihad), a word that will cost the West dearly in later years.
The Mulla’s regime may not have changed since the Islamic revolution but the Iranian people have changed. Iran is a radical state, but its radicalism is associated with its ruling regime; if the regime goes, the radicalism also goes. The Iranians learned the hard way, after 40 years of the Mullas rule, that radical Islam is not the way forward.
This is not the case in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and .. to the end of the list. These countries are radical to the core; if the governments go, more radical regimes may emerge.
The situation in Iran is the exact opposite to the situation in the Arab world. Until the ‘Arab spring’, the Arabs were largely radical people ruled by relatively secular governments. Iran, on the other hand, is largely a secular nation that is ruled by a radical government. The Arab nations, like in Egypt, forced their governments to pursue more religious policies. On the other hand, the Iranian Islamic government failed to completely radicalize its people.
Iran and America; the war of the fools
Iran seems to be is in a collision course with the America and Israel. The prospect of such unnecessary but fearsome war is a nightmare, not only to those directly involved, but to the entire Middle East. Sadly, it is the Iranian people who would be the main casualty if such a war breaks out.
The Mullas in Iran are more fools than radicals. Their fierce antagonism to Israel is completely unnecessary. Israel doesn't pose any threat to Iran. Geographically, Iran is too far from Israel and it doesn't make sense to think that Israel would consider attacking Iran, unless threatened. Israel is not short of enemies and is not interested in making new ones.
It is the Mullas who threatened to wipe off Israel from the map. But Israel is not an easy target to destroy; attacking Israel means destroying Iran. Even if Iran can destroy Israel it doesn't gain anything from it other than getting destroyed itself.
Iran wouldn't gain anything from destroying Israel. The Palestinians and the Arabs wouldn't even say thank you to the Iranians because of their hatred towards the Shia. In the 1980s, it was the Arabs, not Israel, who rallied to destroy Iran during the Iraq/Iran war which claimed a million lives. The Arabs never rallied with such enthusiasm even against Israel. A conflict with Israel, if ever necessary, is a Palestinian concern; even the Arab countries are trying to distance themselves from the Israel/ Palestinian conflict. Other than foolishness, why should Iran fight somebody else's war?
Iran, which is the largest country with Shia majority, could have used its influence to boost the position of other oppressed Shia communities, in particular the Arab Shia. The Shia in the Arab world are politically oppressed and often denied their political rights. They never had a fair deal even in countries where they are the majority like Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain. The Sunnis have been taking most of the key positions for decades. The oil fields of the Gulf actually exist in Shia areas. In theory they should be the richest people on earth. All the oil of Saudi Arabia comes from the eastern province, where the Shia live in some of the least developed cities in the country. The Shia in Saudi Arabia are treated as third class citizens and not allowed to take key positions in the government or the army. Iran’s real enemy is Saudi Arabia, not Israel.
The American’s foolishness more than matches that of the Mullas in Iran. The Obama administration failed to offer any serious support to the Iranians’ revolution a couple of years ago. That ‘Iranian spring’ would have made all the difference in the current dilemma of how to deal with a ‘nuclear Iran’. The Americans’ feeble stand regarding the ‘Iranian spring’ contrasts sharply with the firm and unequivocal support they demonstrated towards the ‘Arab spring‘, which was set to replace the existing, relatively secular regimes, with radical ones.
In their ill-considered support to the Arab spring, the Americans made two ill-considered exceptions. The first one was the failure to provide any form of support to the uprising of the oppressed Shia population in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia. The second is the failure to support the oppressed Shia in Bahrain. Regime change in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, where all the oil comes from, would make remarkable difference to world peace.
For some mysterious reasons, America cannot come to terms with the fact that Saudi Arabia is the root of all evil in the Middle East, if not the world. Directly or indirectly, that desert Kingdom is the power source behind all the radical organizations around the world. Thanks to the American silence and its appeasing policy, Saudi Arabia has succeeded in the radicalization of Muslims not only in the Arab world but also all over the world.
The Sunni extremism
America was the main strategic ally to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. The war against the Soviet Union and the idea of setting up the Mujahideen and the propaganda campaign that followed were all for American desires. However, the honey moon between America and the Sunni radicals didn't last long; in the 1990s the Sunnis turned against their previous allies with vengeance.
The ball of the Sunni radicalization started rolling in the 1970s, well before the Iranian revolution. I am afraid that sinister ball was created by American desire and was kept rolling also by American desire. That ball of radicalization is still rolling fast; the Sunni Muslims are getting more radicalized by the day.
The idea of this article is not to defend one sect of Islam or the other because they are all vicious. However, in our time it is the Sunni sect that tends to be more vile and violent, probably because they are the majority. It is well known that Muslims behave well when they are a minority. The Sunnis are arrogant because they feel the strength, while their Wahhabi indoctrination makes them least tolerant. They do not accept the other sects of Islam and have no tolerance to any practices except their own. The ultimate Sunni Islam is represented by Wahhabism, which is being embraced by an increasing number of Muslims everyday. In parallel with this trend there is an increasing number of Sunnis who started to hate the other sects of Islam in a similar way they hate the Jews and refer to them as infidels and make no secret of it. They consider other Islamic sects as the Jews from within who are set to destroy all the principles of Islam one by one.
Saudi Arabia dominates dozens of countries that constitute the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) which is the largest voting block in the United Nations. Add to this its special relations with America and you get a backward country that has become a world power to be reckoned with.
The Americans may succeed in one way or the other in preventing a nuclear Iran, but they already failed in preventing a nuclear Pakistan. Although a non Arab country, Pakistan can be considered as the military wing of Saudi Arabia. The country survives on Saudi money and it was Saudi money which financed its nuclear program while America looked the other way. It is inconceivable that America still provides Pakistan with generous financial help and classifies the country as an ally.
Like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is a country that is radicalized to the core. In both countries there are radical Islamic governments that are just not radical enough in the eyes of the people.
I am afraid that while the world is focusing on Iran, the real threat may lie further to the East, in Pakistan. I am afraid it is only a matter of time when Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal falls in the hands of terrorists.
Mumin Salih is of a Sunni Arab Background from Syria