By John Lawrence
American politicians, including George W Bush and Barack Obama, have failed to deal with the fact of Sunnis and Shiites hating each other and have been fighting for 1383 years. Their lack of knowledge and/or acceptance of that fact has led to their bungling and botching of Middle East policy. There are effectively two religions: Sunni Islam and Shiite Islam.
Understanding the religious composition of countries in the Middle East goes a long way toward explaining why certain countries are fighting other countries or are standing by doing nothing in the fight against terrorism. For instance, why won’t Saudi Arabia fight ISIS? The answer is simple. They are both Sunnis. For the most part Sunnis won’t fight Sunnis and Shiites won’t fight Shiites. But they sure as hell will fight each other. Americans and the western world in general have just been snookered into getting involved in this mess, which has been going on for over 1000 years, starting with George W Bush’s ill-conceived and immoral invasion of Iraq.
Middle Easterners have long memories. They are fighting battles which started eons ago.This is from an article by Harold Rhode:
When Khomeini arrived in Iran in February 1979, one of the first statements he made to the media on the tarmac was that “he had come to rectify a wrong which took place 1400 years ago.” Westerners thought this somewhat quaint and obviously irrelevant. All that interested them was what he had to say about the Shah, America, and Israel. To Westerners, especially Americans, who dismiss things that happened a few days ago, Khomeini mumbling about some event that took place centuries ago seemed irrelevant.
Middle Easterners, however, who never forget perceived wrongs, knew exactly what he was talking about. When the Muslim prophet Muhammad died in 632 CE, a fight broke out among the Muslims as to who would inherit the leadership of Islam. Those who supported their prophet’s family eventually became known as the Shi’ites. Those who supported what might be labeled the “establishment” in Mecca became known as the Sunnis.
Rhode goes on to say, “Sadly, Middle Easterners culturally are unable bring themselves to ‘let bygones be bygones’ – a concept totally alien to Middle Eastern culture. Disputes therefore fester, then erupt when one side perceives the other as weak.” And thanks to George W Bush, Americans are embroiled in a 1400 year old dispute involving also perceived grievances experienced in the years since then. Nothing will ever get accomplished until there is peace and reconciliation between the two branches of Islam: Sunni and Shia. And that doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.
If Khomeini was intent on righting a wrong committed almost 1400 years ago, his long memory probably also extends back to the time when the US installed the hated Shah in power in Iran. Again it was all about oil. Iran had nationalized its oil fields under the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, until a US and UK backed coup d’état deposed Mosaddegh and brought back foreign oil firms.
In August 2013 the CIA admitted that it was involved in both the planning and the execution of the coup, including the bribing of Iranian politicians, security and army high-ranking officials, as well as pro-coup propaganda. The CIA is quoted acknowledging the coup was carried out “under CIA direction” and “as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government.”
Iran got rid of the Shah in the 1979 Islamic Revolution which replaced the US backed Shah with an Islamic republic under the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the revolution, supported by various leftist and Islamic organizations as well as Iranian students.
85% of all Muslims Are Sunnis
Iraq was a country ruled by a Sunni, Saddam Hussein, in which a majority of the people were Shiites. Potential conflict there? You bet. Saddam, however, kept the lid on this seething cauldron. Getting rid of him took the lid off. Syria has a government led by Bashar al-Assad who is an Alawite, a branch of Shia, who rules over a majority Sunni populace – just the opposite situation of Iraq.
85% of all Muslims are Sunnis. Sunnis are a majority in most Muslim communities in Southeast Asia, China, South Asia, Africa, most of the Arab World, and among Muslims in the United States (of whom 85–90% are Sunnis). The country with the highest Shiite population is Iran which is 90% Shia. Naturally, Iran supports Assad, a fellow Shia. Make sense?
American leaders, who don’t want to admit the fact that Islam is essentially two religions, fall into the trap of making statements like “ISIS has killed more Muslims than Christians.” Yeah, Shiite Muslims. Very few Muslims identify as “just a Muslim” or generic Muslims like American Presidents like to talk about. So ISIS naturally wants to wipe out the Shiites and establish a Sunni Caliphate. If the US had its way and got rid of al-Assad, it wouldn’t take long for ISIS to add southern Syria to its Caliphate. They already control northern Syria.
The attackers on 9/11 were Sunnis; the attackers in Paris were Sunnis. Let’s be clear about who the terrorists really are, and they are not Shiites. That certainly does not mean that all Sunnis are terrorists.
Getting Rid of Bashar al-Assad Would be as Disastrous as Getting Rid of Saddam Was
How does this relate to what is happening in Syria now and America’s role in it? Hezbollah (Iran’s proxy) and Iran are naturally supporting Bashar al-Assad because they don’t want a Sunni takeover of Syria. Who is America supporting? Sunnis of course. And who are the ISIS fighters who occupy parts of northern Syria? They are Sunnis. When American politicians talk about getting Muslims to put troops on the ground to take out ISIS, who do they think those troops are going to be?
Not Saudi Arabians who are Sunnis and who have supported Wahhabism, an extreme sect that has spawned terrorism. For more than two centuries, Wahhabism has been Saudi Arabia’s dominant faith. Wahhabism has been accused of being “a source of global terrorism”, inspiring the ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and for causing disunity in Muslim communities by labeling Muslims who disagreed with the Wahhabi definition of monotheism as apostates (takfir), thus paving the way for their execution for apostasy.
George W Bush kowtowed and pandered to the Saudi princes because he lusted after their oil.The US has been on the side of not what is morally right but on the side of rich American oil corporations. Bush and others winked at their Wahhabist extremism, and they winked back when Bush ousted Sunni Saddam Hussein and supposedly liberated Iraqi Shiites. But it didn’t work out that way. Instead Bush Jr opened a can or worms that metastasized into ISIS.
Yet the US sells arms to Saudi Arabia, and, despite its riches, it will do nothing to fight ISIS. Recently, the US State Department has approved the sale of $1.29 billion worth of bombs to Saudi Arabia, as its military carries out air strikes in neighboring Yemen. Why is Saudi Arabia fighting in Yemen’s civil war? Because it doesn’t want the country taken over by Houthis who are Shiite rebels. Simple as that. It is fighting Shiites to keep Sunnis in power.
Saudi Arabia is the center of the Sunni branch of Islam. It is also the center of the most violent and radical sect of Islam … the “Wahhabis”. But the U.S. has long supported the Madrassa schools within Saudi Arabia which teach radical Wahhabi beliefs.
An article in WashingtonsBlog, The U.S. Is Supporting the Most Violent Muslim Terrorists In Order to Wage War for Oil, on May 2, 2013 states:
Sunni extremists accounted for the greatest number of terrorist attacks and fatalities for the third consecutive year. More than 5,700 incidents were attributed to Sunni extremists, accounting for nearly 56 percent of all attacks and about 70 percent of all fatalities. Among this perpetrator group, al-Qaida (AQ) and its affiliates were responsible for at least 688 attacks that resulted in almost 2,000 deaths, while the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan conducted over 800 attacks that resulted in nearly 1,900 deaths.
I’ll state it simply: The US is on the wrong side in Syria. Al-Assad was never a threat to US interests. ISIS is. The western world is waking up to that fact after the killings in Paris. Hollande and Putin and most of the Western World are now determined to wipe ISIS out. So where does Obama stand? He’s backing off his position of getting rid of Assad slightly. The neocon policy of regime change has been a huge failure throughout the Middle East and before that in South America and elsewhere.
For instance, The election of Marxist candidate Salvador Allende as President of Chile in September 1970 led President Richard Nixon to order that Allende not be allowed to take office. Following an extended period of social, political, and economic unrest fomented by the CIA, General Augusto Pinochet assumed power in a violent coup d’etat on September 11, 1973; among the dead was Allende.
So now Obama is in the position of trying to save face by sticking to his position that Assad has to go, while Putin, Hollande and the rest of the Western World are aligned in their resolve to get rid of ISIS. You have to give Obama some credit for trying to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That was his game plan; it just didn’t work out due to the ongoing struggle for power in the region. Where is Saddam when you need him?
Obama’s support for Sunni moderates fighting Assad in Syria was never realistic. If they had been successful in removing al-Assad, they would have installed a Sunni government in Syria. How much time would have to pass after that before their fellow Sunnis, namely ISIS, would have taken over all of Syria? Not much, I think. Remember they already control a large part of it.
Who Will the “Boots on the Ground” Fighting ISIS Be?
Where are the Muslim troops that are going to be the “boots on the ground” that will fight ISIS in Syria and Iraq? On Meet the Press, Leon Panetta suggested that the “boots on the ground” could be supplied by Saudi Arabia. Really? They who arguably spawned ISIS are going to take up arms against fellow Sunnis? I don’t think so.
They won’t be Sunnis, so let’s assume they will be Shiites. Where will they come from? Our pals in Iran? Perhaps, but not under US leadership. Even more distasteful to American politicians than allying ourselves with Russia would be to ally ourselves with Iran. However, in a report by Lara Logan on 60 Minutes, it was pointed out that the only thing that has saved Iraq from being completely overtaken by ISIS is Iranian-backed “boots on the ground” who naturally have had little if any support from the US.
Even more naive than Leon Panetta is John Kasich. His comprehensive plan to deal with ISIS would include “Arab forces.” Which Arab forces, Mr. Kasich? Not Sunnis. Well, then, will it be our pals in Iran? He is proud to see many moderate Muslims willing to stand up and condemn the attacks in Paris. Well, who are these moderate Muslims. Are they the 5% who identify as “just a Muslim” and don’t identify as either Sunni or Shiite?
Supposedly, according to Mr. Kasich, these moderate Muslims say that their religion has been hijacked. That doesn’t square very well with the documented 1400 year hatred between Sunnis and Shiites. Of course, Sunnis would say it has been hijacked by Shiites and Shiites would say it has been hijacked by Sunnis. Remember there are hardly any generic Muslims, but these guys go on pretending that there are. Naivete abounds!
The US better get its act together and get on the right side of history. Putin has visited Iran recently and Russia and Iran are forming an alliance both to repel ISIS (which has proclaimed its enmity to Iran) and to cooperate economically and strategically. I’m afraid the US is being left on the sidelines as France, Russia and Iran take over the major responsibilities of fighting terrorism. In a way, this is OK. Let someone else do the job that the US has fantastically bungled at this point.
In light of the deep-seated hatred between Sunnis and Shiites, American political leaders should never again say that Muslims are by and large peace loving peoples. This negates the realities of the thousands of years of hatred and fighting between the two groups. Solving this conundrum would require getting the two branches of Islam to make peace with each other.
According to Sunnis, Muslims are wonderful people, but they mean Sunni Muslims are wonderful people, and the opposite holds true for Shiites. So there’s no lack of Muslims willing to say that Islam is a religion of peace and love, but they don’t qualify it with “if it weren’t only for those terrible Shiites (Sunnis).”
The US has supported the epicenter of Sunnis, Saudi Arabia, because supposedly we need their oil. Well, reality check, we don’t need it any more. The US needs to convert away from oil and towards renewables to forestall the disaster of global warming but, as far as oil is concerned, the US is self-sufficient. The US needs to realign its Mideastern policy.
What we need is a coalition, a partnership among France, Russia, Iran and the US with France, Russia and Iran supplying the boots on the ground. America’s role in that regard has a sorrowful legacy. Let someone else step up. The US doesn’t have to be the “leader.” The partnership should be equal with the military Chain of Command being comprised of officers from all four countries on a merit-based basis.
Eliminating ISIS’ nascent Caliphate in Syria and Iraq in terms of lands occupied, however, will not prevent them and others from pulling off Paris-style attacks. Those attacks could just as easily have been planned and executed without any help from ISIS outside Europe. They were essentially homegrown European cells that then activated themselves. They were just taking a page out of American domestic terrorists’ book (who have no political agenda).