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October 11, 2007

The Shia Revival

How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future
Vali Masr – ISBN – 9780393329681

Having read numerous books on this and related subjects since 9/11, many of which have been reviewed on this site, I can attest to the fact that this, in its way, is one of the best of the lot. The author, a Shia Muslim (one assumes), born in Iran, undertakes to review the history of Islam, the Shia-Sunni conflict(s) and the present state of that part of the world. He is an academic, currently on the faculty of the U.S. Naval Post-graduate School.

The first chapters review the history--ancient to near modern—which are a little too arcane for my interests, but when he advances to the current situations his descriptions are comprehensive and interesting. It is a treasure trove of both information and analysis. On the weak side, he offers no serious recommendations for a definitive approach.

His explication of the primary philosophic differences between Shia and Sunni are helpful if confusing to the western mind, and it is not, superficially, altogether dissimilar to the Catholic-Protestant conflicts of long past centuries, though the belief in martyrdom is unique.

The Sunni majority has been dominant over the globe for most all of history until the Iranian revolution of 1979, which has invigorated the Shia. Having long accepted it as Allah’s will, Shia now see an opportunity to reverse history, and have proceeded with a vengeance. The Sunni, heretofore disinclined to participate in martyrdom have become even more vicious than the Shia. With the emergence and dominance of Saudi fundamentalist Wahhabism on the world stage it is getting progressively worse.

Khomeini made Islamic fundamentalism a political force that has changed Muslim politics from Western Africa to the Philippines. He even altered Shiism to a rather large extent.

One particular event seems to capture the conflict rather well. After the first Gulf War, when Saddam’s reprisals were in full flare (without intercession of “the coalition,” one has to add, regretfully) he observes that there was merciless brutality as Shia towns and shrines were razed. He quotes an Iraqi general: “We captured many people and separated them into three groups. The first group we were sure was made up of people who were guilty. The second group we had doubts about, and the third group was innocent. [High command] said we should kill them all, and that’s what we did.”

Small wonder about all of the hate and adversity, but the attentive Westerner is inclined to consider the “manifest ill will” between the Allies, the Nazis and the Japanese during WW II and wonder upon its prompt dissipation shortly thereafter . . . and ask why this is impossible with Muslims. Masr explains, but for me his account is irrational.

After Saddam’s overthrow the Shia were in favor of federalism because it gave them a chance to be fairly represented. After several years of conflict they have reluctantly concluded that the Iraqi Sunni are not going to accept them as dominant, their majority status notwithstanding.

The Islamic revolution in Iran is now a “spent force.” The dictatorship is facing great pressure to change. He adds that “in no place in the Muslim world is modernity [with] its various cultural, political and economic instruments examined as seriously and thoroughly as in Iran,” noting that students spending time in Iran no longer hear only of “the spirit of Islamic revolution . . . it is more likely to wind up exposing them to reformist and democratic thought.” One can earnestly hope! However, since all of these countries are poorly disguised dictatorships one has to get unrealistically optimistic to trust things will change anytime soon.

“The lesson of Iraq is that trying to force a future of its liking will hasten the advent of those outcomes that the U.S. most wishes to avoid.” American occupation of Iraq has lead Muslims to conclude that there is a case to be made for radical Islam. The resulting debates are not about democracy or globalization, but conflicts between Shias and Sunnis.

His summarization is full, enlightening and not a little frightening. While he is “fair and balanced,” his assessment has a mindset if not an agenda. That is human nature, after all.

The precarious, destabilizing nature of this internecine war is more than troublesome for the planet, and especially for Western civilization.

It is ever more clear that amelioration is not to be forthcoming any time soon. As I’ve commented before: “If they just left the rest of the world alone--stayed miserable in their own place on earth--it would be insupportable and unacceptable, but not menacing. Since this is what they plan to impose on the rest of us it is objectionable in the extreme. It must be . . . pushed back into its own wretched corner of the planet.”

Posted by respeto at October 11, 2007 3:12 PM