May 1, 2005


Bush, the Great Shiite Liberator (LEE SMITH, 5/01/05, NY Times)

[A]fter nearly 1,400 years of Sunni-dominated Islamic history, for a predominantly Shiite government to preside over an Arab state is utterly revolutionary.

Coming in the same week that the last Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon, which is 40 percent Shiite, the developments in Iraq seemed likely to have repercussions that the Middle East will feel for some time to come - in ways that even the sagest observers cannot foresee.

In the Arab world, Shiites have largely been second-class citizens since A.D. 656, when Hussein, a grandson of Muhammad, was tortured and beheaded after a climactic battle with the Sunnis. That social order persisted through Mongol invasions, the Ottoman Empire and British occupation, until now.

For Sunni Arabs, then, the triumph of the Iraqi Shiites is a calamity. The tables have been turned in a manner reminiscent of the South during Reconstruction, when former slaves not only were freed and granted civil rights, but also briefly won political power in some states. So one easily foreseen consequence of the Shiites' triumph could be a redoubling of the Sunni insurgents' efforts to disrupt and, ultimately, defeat the democratic government in Iraq.

Yet, even Jordan's progressive Sunni ruler, King Abdullah II, warned last year of a greater danger, a "Shiite crescent" of political power emanating from Iran and now Iraq, spreading from the Persian Gulf states to Syria and Lebanon, that could disrupt the balance of power in the Middle East. [...]

Saudi Arabia. Shiites make up only 10 to 15 percent of the population, but most of them live in the Eastern Province, where the kingdom's major oil fields are located. To the House of Saud, which not unreasonably sees enemies everywhere, a rebellious Shiite minority near the kingdom's one strategic asset would be a potential fifth column.

Perhaps even more troubling for the Saudis, their official form of Islam, Wahhabism, regards Shiism as a heresy, so granting rights to the Shiites would be a de facto renunciation of Wahhabism. A Princeton history professor, Michael Scott Doran, wrote last year in Foreign Affairs that some Saudi hardliners "are now arguing that the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia is conspiring with the United States to destroy Islam."

Close. Destroy Wahhabism; Reform Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 1, 2005 10:24 PM
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