I don’t like to be an alarmist, but pieces are starting to fall together in a particularly uncomfortable way, and we here in the West are the last to see it.
We’re all familiar with the “Arab Spring” that has worked its way across the Middle East and North Africa, and of its latest iteration in Syria which threatens to erupt into civil war. Now we might say, “So what? Another civil war in the Middle East that doesn’t affect us.” Oh, but if the puppets who are pulling the strings lose control, the result will indeed affect all of us. We would be wise to pay attention, because we may be approaching a showdown between the Shi’a and the Sunni Muslims of the world.
Most Americans have at one point or another heard the terms “Sunni” and “Shi’a” in news stories about the Middle East, but few of us really understand the meaning. Even those of us who are more familiar with Islam have a tendency to equate the Sunni/Shi’a schism with the Catholic/Protestant schism of mainstream Christianity. Even President George W. Bush, just two months before America invaded Iraq was unaware that there are two major sects of Islam and so could not have imagined the gift he was handing Shi’a Iran by toppling Saddam Hussein, whose government was comprised mostly of minority Sunnis. No, the Islamic schism is much deeper and more prone to violence than anything mainstream Christianity has faced since the days of the Spanish Main. In fact, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the one time second in command of al-Qaeda (which is a hard-line Sunni group) was exploring ways to draw America into a war with Shi’a Iran.
Now it looks as if the conflict between the Shi’a supported government and the Sunni backed people in Syria is beginning to take the form of a direct confrontation between Shi’a and Sunni Islam as a whole. Islamic scholar Vali Nasr is a former State Department adviser who formerly taught at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, and who now teaches at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He points out in the article, “This portends very bad things for the region. If this gets worse and becomes a full-scale civil war…this will spill over. Other countries are vulnerable…and could end up having a bigger, broader conflict in the Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
To make matters worse, the struggle for authority between Iran’s President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei has ended badly, for the Ayatollah’s party now controls enough seats to eliminate the office of the president entirely and enable the Ayatollah to rule the nation by fiat. As bad as the western media made Holocaust denier Ahmadinejad look, he was actually the more moderate of the two. But now there is no one left to act as a moderating influence on the Ayatollah, and if his inflammatory remarks are any indication, it does not bode well for maintaining peace in the region.
The final piece of this particular conundrum is Iran’s nuclear power program, of which the previous reference shows Ayatollah Khamenei to be an ardent supporter. As I have stated on Blogcritics for years, despite any claim otherwise, Iran is striving as hard as they can to develop a nuclear weapon; not to defend against America or Israel (for we are the excuses, not the reason), but to counterbalance the nukes possessed by Sunni Pakistan.
We’ve all watched this death spiral before, in the Cold War. But cooler heads prevailed and the human race survived, perhaps because the cooler heads understood that the very survival of the human race depended on maintaining the peace. Such is not the case with the Sunni and the Shi’a. Not only do they have no such fear that the whole world would pay the ultimate price for their folly, but both sects are absolutely sure that God will bring them victory.
We can only hope that here, too, cooler heads will prevail. Otherwise, the only safe place in the Middle East will be Mecca, for neither side would dare to destroy their holy city. If worse comes to worst, I would expect that the Sunnis would prevail, for not only do the Sunnis comprise the significant majority of the population and wealth of the world’s Islamic nations, but the West, and particularly America, may well be drawn in on Saudi Arabia’s side; too much of our economic national interest is tied up therein.
If this conflict does come to pass, however, one can only hope that the world (including America’s religious right) takes it as a hard-learned lesson of the wisdom of the separation of Church and State.