Is it Prudent for America to Leave Iran in the Enemy Camp?

By Jamal Hasan


A recent front page story in The Washington Post raised a lot of eyebrows in Washington metropolis for sure. That article was written concerning Russia’s renewed military partnership with Iran.

According to the startling news, the new military agreement between the two countries occurred after the Russian Defense Minister’s visit to Tehran, which I must opine was a first such event to take place after 1979 Islamic revolution in that nation of about 70 million strong Shiite Muslims.  Russia, before taking such a radical step of reconnecting to Islamic Republic of Iran had given the prior notification to the United States that she (Russia) would no more abide by 1995 US-Russia agreement vis-à-vis arms’ sales to Iran after 1999.

For many western experts on Middle East or Islamic affairs, Islamic fundamentalism seems to be a real enigma. It is ironical that today’s taboo word “Islamic fundamentalism” was once a favorite of many wheelers and dealers inside the Washington beltway. During the Cold War days, the western nations led by USA aided and abetted various shades of Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist movement that came very helpfully in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Iranian revolution, albeit outwardly Islamic fundamentalistic, bloomed in a time when Iran was under siege by a dictatorial monarch, who was considered to be a stooge of Uncle Sam. The root cause of anti-Americanism in Iranian society was due to Reza Shah Pahlavi’s perceived extraterritorial allegiance to USA. It had little to do with antagonism between Islam and Christianity. Amongst Ayatollah Khomeini’s supporters in revolution were socialists and even communists who were persecuted by the monarch. Lest we forget, the main essence of Iranian revolution was good old nationalism. It is rather unfortunate that many orientalists fail to understand that even till this day!

In the Khomeini era, Iran’s ambitious venture circled around Middle East and in Lebanon in particular where a sizable Shiite population lives.  During the worst period of the Middle East turbulence, during the recurring kidnapping of Americans by Shiite groups in Lebanon, the Shiism was constantly demonized in western media. In those days, the word Shi’a became synonymous to terrorism. At the time, no analyst bothered going deeper into the theological basis of Islam. It was assumed that Shiites were the bad guys while Sunnis were the good guys. Precisely during this period, Osama bin Laden and his renegade followers were dedicated to serve western interests by confronting the Soviets in Afghanistan. But it did not take too long for them to expose their true color.

The historical difference between the Shiism and Sunnism may not appear to be significant to people out of Islamic faith. A serious study would, however, show that Shiite theologians’ indifference to the doctrine of several Muslim Caliphates put this important branch of Islam in almost on a totally different path. Lack of total adherence to the Islamic caliphates may challenge the Islamic sociopolitical system that is prevalent among the majority Sunnis of the world. Also, Shiites’ practices of the broad-based three-times prayers as opposed to five-times prayers of the Sunnis are no less significant matter either. As the status of the Caliphatic successors was not well defined in the predominantly Shiite society of Iran, a unique scenario in Iranian Islam may not be rare to observe. That would be unimaginable in places like Riyadh or Islamabad. A case in point might be the availability of imaginary portraits of Prophet Muhammad or Ali (the undisputed spiritual leader of the Shiites), which is not so uncommon in the folk culture of Iran. Conversely, possession of such artifacts could be tantamount to sheer blasphemy in many orthodox Sunni societies where minimum punishment for such offense could be a death penalty.

The 1980’s 444-day long Iranian Hostage Crisis was a watershed event where a group of Iranian students took over the American Embassy in Tehran and kept 52 Americans as captives. This incident only intensified mistrust and embitterment in Iran-US bilateral relation, which was in the nascent stage after the ouster of Shah of Iran. The resentment on the American side escalated to such level that US law enforcement agencies started to deal harshly with a good number of Iranians inside USA many of who were living lawfully in this country. The irony of the matter is a great majority of the Iranians settled in USA were so-called westernized without even any religious commitments. As one analyst pointed out, “These Iranians are as Americans as could be.” The end of Hostage Crisis came as a blessing in disguise not only for the US Government but for the expatriate Iranians as well. 

The Lebanon quagmire and Israel’s role in the region pushed a few of the militant Shiite organizations evidently anti-western. Shiite terrorist objectives evolved due to a regional conflict. That was primarily a casualty of political fallout. Religiously speaking, we seldom find any trend of proselytism in Shiism. From that context, it could be similar to Hinduism, Judaism or Buddhism. Absence of evangelistic nature of Shiism will hardly prompt this Islamic sect to a potential collision course against Christianity or secular West. Contrary to this, the emerging militant Wahhabite movement imported from the Middle East notably Saudi Arabia that had altered the inherent resiliency of Sunnism has the totally opposite feature. Like the global Marxism of yore, this strain of a religious virus had a specific agenda. The mission started out as a means to convert and transform the entire world under Ummatic umbrella in a fascistic setting.  Patronized by the Saudi royalty and a section of the Pakistani ruling elite, the Taliban regime of Afghanistan is designated to change the status quo of any liberal Muslim majority country.  The Taliban followers know it very well that threat, coercion and blind fanaticism can get them to their desired karma. Like a domino effect, after the success in Afghanistan, it is now Pakistan’s turn.  The Wahhabite virus’s planned route would incorporate much of Central Asia after contaminating a series of the Muslim majority nations of the former Soviet Union. That will not end there. The potential victims of this archaic dogmatic orthodoxy range from Algeria to Morocco and Malaysia to Bangladesh. Taking into account of the big picture, Iran may play an antidotal role in restraining the epidemic.  For now, this country is already playing a decisive role of putting Taliban genie in a regionalist bottle.  Russians also have understood Iran’s position for the better.

While many Iranians in USA were not hesitant to assimilate with the mainstream Americana, the situation is quite different for the majority of Muslim immigrants from other Third World countries. An amazing trend of transforming into orthodoxy is observed among the members of a number of Muslim immigrant groups coming to the United States. Noticeably, quite a few non-practicing Muslims become “Born again Muslims” in the land of the so-called infidels and the mosque-based culture thrives on such fresh blood.  As most of the mosques in USA are predominantly Sunni-based, a wave of Wahhabite politicization engulfs the mosque culture in the country in a hurry. Needless to say, many mosques become the epicenters of political Islam where religious sermons given on the Sabbath day hardly confine to God and scripture only. The inherent political nature of this new Islam unfolds its motive to undo injustices imposed upon Muslims around the world.  The crusade for humanity, for obvious reasons, has the goal of alleviating the pain and suffering of Muslims of the world. In this backdrop, fundamentalist outfits like Taliban and al Qaeda may succinctly be portrayed as the ultimate saviors. And Osama bin Laden can hardly be perceived a villain in such an Umma laced political discourse.

To my knowledge, the Shiite mosques in USA were not blamed for harboring terrorists. The possible presence of terrorist sympathizers in Sunni mosques made some powerful US officials decisively edgy. Only a few months ago the Canadian authorities captured a few Algerian terrorists for masterminding attack on US soil. The Director of US Congressional Anti-Terrorist Task Force lambasted the mainstream Sunni-based mosques in USA for sheltering such criminals. Furthermore, not too long ago, the CIA Director George Tenet, at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing, spoke on the increasing threat of Islamic fundamentalism worldwide emanating from the Sunni-Wahhabite persuasion.  He categorically mentioned Pakistani Islamic zealots in this regard. Just a week ago a report coming from London was enough to raise alarm bells in western capitals. According to the report, a few Sunni-based mosques in UK were alleged to fund, recruit and train Muslim terrorists for clandestine Jihadi missions abroad. As the report says, some of the recruits were as young as eighteen years old whose ignited passions were to be martyrs in Jihad in Kashmir.

How the Wahhabite Muslim terrorists have spread their tentacles into the heart of USA, the sagas of World Trade Center bombing and the embassy bombings in Africa are sufficient testaments to those sad incidents.  In both cases American Muslims of Sunni denomination played vital roles in the violent acts. Following the footsteps of their mentors, these American Muslims bear Jihadi zeal that has global implication. The other day, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright commented on the Muslim terrorist Osama bin Laden. She said that the individual as Osama has a mission to attack a particular way of life. These words speak for themselves. While the Talibanesque Islamists have a worldwide agenda, Iranian leaders, whatever degree of fundamentalism (Shiite precisely) they may preach cannot match that magnitude at all. It is time American foreign policy experts reassess their positions regarding their long-track record of Iranophobia.  It can safely be said that Iran may not be the ultimate demon targeting its claws to the secular West. Ironically, the actual devil is camouflaged among the American allies in the Arabian peninsula. Isn’t that shocking

This essay was published in NEWS FROM BANGLADESH on January 3, 2001 in its Editorial and Commentary section.


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