Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Religious Roots of Violence: Islam II

here's looking at you, kid

To uncover the roots of today's mess in the Middle East, you need to look at the interplay between Iran, Saudia Arabia and Afganistan that began with the Iranian Revolution.


In the 50's and 60's many Muslim states were governed by modernizing rulers who tried to suppress Islam and follow what they understood to be the US's and Europe's secular example. They thought that if they could just imitate the "West" their nations would prosper.

They were wrong. Economic progress did not follow the closing of mosques and religious schools, the banning of the headscarf and imitation of Western dress. Opposition grew, and no opposition had greater impact than the 1979 Iranian revolution that, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, overthrew the Shah of Iran and set up a theocracy, an Islamic government run by Islamic scholars which he himself led.

Most importantly, however, the Iranian revolution also defined itself in opposition to Saudia Arabia. There emerged a struggle for leadership of the Islamic world. Regimes in Muslim countries viewed the Shah's fate as a lesson, and many of them became ostentiously religious in response.

The Muslim world had been under Saudi religious domination since the late sixties: Saudi Arabia claimed to be an Islamic state, was guardian of Islam's holiest sites, had oil and thus lots of money to spread its views around the Muslim world. After 1979, however, the new masters in Iran considered themselves the true standard bearers of Islam. As far as they were concerned, the leaders in Saudi Arabia were usurpers who sold oil to the West in exchange for military protection - a US backed monarchy with a facade for ostentatious piety.

(to be continued)


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