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October 14, 2011

Saudi Wahhabism v. Iranian Shiism

Roy Meachum

Iranians plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington?


At first glance, it makes absolutely no sense, considering the penalties that inevitably follow. On further thought, it naturally continues the cut-throat battle waging over Muslim souls. In the United States, the oil-rich kingdom builds mosques and endows those already in place.


In Islamic countries, especially in mostly Shiite Iraq, they are called – not Saudi – but Wahhabi centers; they preach a fundamentalist Islam that can be compared to the most extreme Christian churches in America. They are much more than Sunni orthodox, but believe, for example, in trashing funereal objects and even tombstones. A few years ago the Mecca memorial to the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Khadija, was destroyed by order of the kingdom’s religious police; the same ones who regulate dress and forbid women to drive.


Iran’s Shiism, on the extreme opposite, encourages respect for both holy places, imams (ordained clerics and prayer leaders) and Sufism, Islam’s mystical order that inspired the Jewish Kabbalah during the period Arabs ruled Spain. Most Muslims are much more moderate in their faith. Saudi Osama bin Laden was an exception.


Like Christianity, Islam is proselytizing; both Wahhabism and Shiism pound hard for recruits and this forms grounds for their religious and political rivalry. Iran’s oil revenues are largely spent to fend off Saudi expansion in former Ottoman nations. The world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, practices Sunnism and the mystical Shiism, and so did Egypt when I lived there. Nonetheless, do I believe fanatical Iranian Shiites would plot to assassinate Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir? And without official sanctions from higher-ups? In a New York minute!


The Islamic Revolutionary Guards corps has a history of extremism, which the ruling imam and the republic’s president have hidden behind, especially in cases of failure – which describes the present situation. And this instance involves the Guard’s most fanatical branch, named “al-Quds,” the Arabic word for Jerusalem whose loss is marked by self-torture and maiming, in the Shiite tradition for all religious holidays — and also among Syria’s Alawites, another Islamic sect. The Prophet Muhammad’s followers are now splintered no less than Christ’s; Judaism follows no more than a step behind, including branches that accept Christ as the Messiah.


But whereas Christians have put arms aside, Muslims use weapons against each other and the new Israelites, whose conquest of the region’s Palestinian territory contributes much to the present Middle East violence. The Wahhabi-Shiism rivalry doesn’t help either.


This morning, scratching its official head, Washington reaches out for revenge, which means punishing thousands of innocents. Meanwhile, the guilty are free to go on plotting and killing thousands, avoiding the question: “Why such gross stupidity?”


The answers always evade radicals around the world – and through the pages of history. To which I can only offer the Arabic Ya hosarra! The Latin: Misericordia! The French: Helas! The Yiddish: Oy vey is mir! And the English: What a goddamned pity!


The 20th century Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain observed: Having lost sight of God, man now is destroying himself in the process of finding…himself.


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