Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Rise of the Shi'ite Crescent

Shiites, the second largest branch of Islam, comprise less than 20 percent of the world's Muslims. They broke off from mainstream Islam after the death of the Prophet Mohammed in AD 632 over who should be his chosen successor. Unlike Sunnis, they believe Islam's leader should be a direct descendant of the Prophet

Shi'ite-ism was born as a protest group of sorts within Islam. Since AD 680, Shi'ites have been marginalized in Muslim societies for religious, political, and demographic reasons. In Iraq, Shiites suffered from two major crackdowns at the hands of Saddam Hussein's Sunni Baathist regime: one in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and another after the 1991 Gulf War, when a Shiite uprising was brutally put down. In Saudi Arabia, the Usuli Shi'ites community, based mainly in the oil-rich province of al-Hasa, is not officially recognized by the Saudi regime. Shi'ites—whether Arabs or not—still largely identify themselves, Aslan says, as "a persecuted yet righteous minority surrounded by a persecuting and unjust Sunni majority." In modern times, they often have been associated with Marxists and secularists.

Historically, Sunni Muslims have dominated the Islamic world but now coinciding with the rise of Iran, Shi'ite Muslims are becoming more powerful...both politically and militarily. Many Sunni leaders have voiced their concern. Arab nations long have been wary of non-Arab, Shi'ite Iran and worry that an alliance with a Shi'ite-ruled Iraq would shift the balance of power in a region dominated for centuries by Sunni Muslims. The largely Sunni Muslim regimes also fear such an alliance would inspire unrest among their Shi'ite populations, which have long complained of discrimination. Jordan's King Abdullah II told The Washington Post in December that Iran was seeking to create "a Shi'ite crescent" in the Middle East that would include Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The comments angered Iran, and the king later said he was not opposed to Shi'ites.

Many of these Arab nations targeted their anger at Hezbollah for starting a war with Israel but as Israel failed giving Hezbollah a crushing defeat and casualties to Lebanon's civilian populations mounted, many of these same Arab nations started condemning Israel...even if this was only to satisfy the more radical Islamist in their own countries.

One has to wonder if the United States and Israel has helped Iran in their goal. Now, for the first time, a Shi'ite-run Arab state exists, thanks to the U.S. military. Confounding Washington's expectations, Iraq's Shia majority has put its religious identity ahead of its national and ethnic identification and embraced Iran. In Lebanon, the popularity of Hezbollah has never been stronger and they may also gain political power even if they lose some of their military power.

Meanwhile, Iran's power is waxing on the world stage, fueled by its massive oil revenues, defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons and sponsorship of populist Shi'ite heroes Hezbollah.

One terrifying aspect of this issue could throw all bets off as far as engaging Iran from a rational-realist perspective: growing Shi'ite apocalypticism. Islam teaches that a messianic figure called the Mahdi will emerge in a time of cataclysmic violence to usher in the end of the world.

Iran's fanatical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believes himself destined to prepare the Mahdi's path. Apocalyptic slogans recently have begun to appear on walls in Baghdad's Shia slums.

Something dangerous is happening.


At 11:03 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

Ahmadinejad spouted off again today. I detect some signs of alarm now from the current American administration.

As you said, Crusader, Something dangerous is happening.. And what is FNC yapping about at this very second? Yanni!

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Brooke said...

Yanni? Ugh.

Having apparently not learned the lessons of WWII, we are again doomed to repeat it... And this time, it will be more messy. Appeasing Ahmadinejad will get the same result that appeasing Hitler did, and then we will have to contend with Kimmie in the 'Pacific theatre.'

At 5:57 AM, Blogger American Crusader said...

This is a war that will eventually need to be fought on many fronts. The United States/Britain cannot do this alone and we cannot count on any help from the UN.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Dan Zaremba said...

Somehow I find Shia form of Islam even more repulsive than Sunni.
Not that it matters much.
The differences are in fact 'COSMETIC'.


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