I love the Vice article, the author is so faux shocked! He gets hammered in the comments.
You can download the game here.
I love the Vice article, the author is so faux shocked! He gets hammered in the comments.
You can download the game here.
Media outlets have been speculating about the emerging alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The International Business Times (December 2, 2013), quoted London’s Sunday Times as saying that “Israel and Saudi Arabia were working together to bring down Iran’s nuclear activities.” Clearly, having a mutual interest in stopping the threat of a hegemonic and nuclear Iran has made the two unlikely allies.
Saudi and Israeli interests have converged more than once before. First, during the Yemen War, Egypt’s dictator Gamal Abdul Nasser sought to sustain the revolutionary republican Yemeni officers who brought down the Hamiduddin dynasty. In the mountains of north and east Yemen, Imam Mohammad al Badr and his royalist insurgent army fought back. In the five-year war (1962-1967) in which the Egyptians committed 70,000 troops (it became Nasser’s Vietnam), the Saudi’s and Israelis, fearful of Nasser’s hegemonic ambitions, helped the royalist forces.
Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute wrote: “To get more arms to the royalists, the Saudis and their mercenaries turned to another enemy of the Egyptian dictator, Israel. In early 1964, the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, made arrangements for the Israeli air force to begin flying clandestine supply missions down the Red Sea from Israel to parachute weapons to the royalists. The mission was approved by the senior leadership in Israel, and the flights were code-named Operation Leopard.” In the years 1964 through 1966, the Israelis flew more than a dozen resupply flights to aid the royalists.
In 1991, during the First Gulf War, Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles at both Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the two countries found themselves again on the same side. In the 1990’s, Saudi Arabia accepted the permanence of Israel’s position in the Middle East by agreeing to support the Madrid and Oslo peace processes. Now, in the wake of the recent P5+1 Geneva interim agreement with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabian and Israeli interests have found common ground once more. Both nations are critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Iran.
Israel and Saudi Arabia are threatened by the prospect of a nuclear Iran imposing its hegemonic ambitions on the entire region. Israel is facing the missile arsenals of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, both supplied by Iran. The Saudis face similar threats emanating from Iran. Saudi Arabia feels encircled by the Iranian supported Houthi rebellion in Yemen, a Shiite insurrection in Bahrain, the Shiite-led Iraqi regime of Nouri al-Maliki, and in Syria, by the direct intervention of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. In Lebanon, a proxy conflict is taking place between the Iran supported Shiite Hezbollah and the Sunni-Lebanese supported by the Saudis. Riyadh is particularly disturbed by Iran’s incitement of the Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia.
Shared interests notwithstanding, the points of conflict between the Saudis and Israel have been long and deep, albeit, indirect. The Saudis launched the Arab oil embargo against the US and the West during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, ostensibly to punish the US and its allies for supporting Israel. During the Second Intifada (2000-2003), the Saudis provided a major portion of Hamas’ budget, and sent payments to the families of suicide bombers. Much earlier, in February, 1945, King Ibn Saud expressed his hatred of Jews and to the idea of a Jewish State in a meeting with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). He cautioned FDR against supporting a Jewish state in Palestine, and warned that creation of such a Jewish State would lead to continuous war and undermine US-Saudi relations.
Saudi Arabia is considered the leading Sunni-Muslim state. The Saudi royal family serves as the guardian of Islam’s holiest sites – the cities of Mecca and Medina. Along with being the “guardians,” the Saudi royal family has supported Sunni Muslim mosques and imams worldwide, and funds the spread of Islam in Europe and the US. The Saud family, which created the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has tied its fortunes with Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), and Wahhabism.
Wahhabi Islam is a term commonly given to a strict Sunni sect of Islam. Followers of Wahhabi Islam do not refer to their religion as “Wahhabi.” Many merely call themselves “Muslim,” for according to their beliefs, they are the only true Muslims. Some Wahhabists refer to themselves and their religion as “al-Muwahhidun,” or “Salafi Da’wa,” or “Ahlul Sunna wal Jama’a.” Wahhabi Islam is a fundamentalist and strict revivalist vision, and beliefs that were preached by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the late 1700’s sought to imitate the original ways of the Prophet Mohammad and his four immediate successors.
One reason to be skeptical about a Riyadh-Jerusalem long-term partnership is Saudi concern with the legitimacy of their rule. Since Israel is considered by many as the “enemy” of Islam, and Riyadh the “defender” of Islam, it is far-fetched to talk about an enduring alliance. The Saudi royal family has to balance legitimacy within the Muslim world and personal security, or simply put, the preservation of the royal family. In the long term, the historical animosity between Persians and Arabs, and even with Sunni Muslim negative disposition towards Shiite Islam notwithstanding, we are more likely to see an Iranian-Saudi rapprochement than a Saudi alliance with the Jewish state.
Riyadh has been a vocal advocate of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (nuclear) free zone in the Middle East. With Syria disposing of its chemical weapons, the Saudis hope that Iran will be pressured to abandon its nuclear project in the permanent agreement between P5+1 and Iran. This would leave Israel as the primary target of a Saudi led campaign in the UN, to compel Israel to dispose of its alleged nuclear weapons.
For now, Iran, not Israel, constitutes a real threat to the royal family’s security, and to their kingdom. According to the Beirut based Al-Akhbar, (November 12, 2013) “The Saudi royal family and the Wahhabi clerics never saw a contradiction between their anti-Semitism and their coordination with the Israeli state, especially when the coordination bolstered the Saudi place in US foreign policy plan.” In fact, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, disagreed with the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, on whether there can be a truce with the Jews. Bin Baz argued that a truce (hudna) with Israel is allowed and even an exchange of ambassadors is permitted, if it serves Islam’s interests. In a fatwa he issued, Bin Baz endorsed the Middle East peace process.
Al-Akhbar added that the “Saudi and Israeli foreign policies have mirrored one another on Egypt and Iran. The two may not have seen eye-to-eye on Syria, but they seem to have put their trust in the Free Syrian Army.” It is true that both the Saudis and Israelis opposed the Muslim Brotherhood, resented the removal of President Mubarak, and supported the Egyptian military coup, which the Obama administration seemed to oppose.
Whatever the ideological differences between the Saudis and Israel may be (and indeed they exist), self-interest in fending off the immediate Iranian threat, for now, trumps ideological considerations. This may not be an alliance, but the two states, as much as they are “unlikely allies,” have good reasons to be in it. It has never been truer in the Middle East that, ones’ enemies’ enemy could be one’s friend.
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This week, on the tenth of the month of Muharram, the first month of the Hijri calendar, is Ashura, which at first was akin to the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, occurring on a similar date. However, over the years, this day has become a memorial day for Hussein bin Ali, leader of the Shi’ite sect, who was executed by the army of the Sunni regime in southern Iraq in the year 680 CE, 1333 years ago.
He was decapitated and his head was ceremoniously brought to Damascus as proof that the deed had been carried out. Caliph Yazid bin Muawiyah placed Hussein’s head on his table and left it there for a month, so that all could see the fate that befalls a rebel and would be deterred from behaving as he did.
The fact that Hussein was the grandson of Mohammad the prophet of Islam did not prevent the caliph from treating Hussein’s head in this manner.
What is the cause of the Shi’ite-Sunni conflict? Why the terrible cruelty that has been characteristic of this conflict even until today?
The story begins in the year 632, the moment that Muhammad died. Immediately upon his death the struggle began over who would succeed to the most powerful position in Islam – the office of Caliph, Muhammad’s replacement and the leader of Islam.
Ali bin Abi Talib was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, since he was married to Fatima, daughter of Allah’s messenger and his first wife, Hadija. Fatima bore to Ali two sons, Hasan and Hussein, and two daughters – Zainab and Umm Kulthum.
While Muhammad was still alive, his daughter Fatima quarreled with Aisha, Muhammad’s last wife, who was younger than Fatima by several years. After Muhammad’s death, Aisha’s father, Abu Bakr, was appointed as the leader of Islam, which was against Fatima’s wishes, who saw her husband Ali as the natural successor to Muhammad, since he was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, as well as the father of Muhammad’s grandchildren.
There were severe struggles among the group of people that surrounded the first three caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman because of the family feud over who would inherit the leadership.
Ali was eventually appointed as the fourth caliph in the year 656 after his predecessor, Uthman, was murdered. Those who opposed Ali, principally members of the Umayyah family, accused him of being involved in the murder of Uthman and during all five years that he ruled, he had to fight his adversaries continually.
The governor of Syria, Muawiya, rose up and pronounced himself caliph. His son, Yazid, was the caliph who gave the instructions to murder Hussein bin Ali.
The murder of Hussein occurred in Southern Iraq, near the city of Karbala. He was murdered together with several dozens of his friends and family members, with only one baby surviving to continue the dynasty. The murder, which occurred in 680 – remains the defining event for “Shi’at Ali”, the “sect of Ali”, which is the source of the name “Shia” or Shi’ite, the name of the stream of Islam that supports the leadership of Ali’s descendants.
This family conflict has been ongoing for almost 1400 years. Until the year 1258, with the fall of Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid dynasty, all of the caliphs of Islam for over six hundred years were from Muhammad’s tribe, the tribe of Quraysh, but they were never the descendants of Ali. This situation placed Shi’a in continual opposition to the ruling regime and they became a harshly persecuted group throughout the history of Islam.
The struggle between the two groups has led to the development of great differences between the two in every area of religious life: religious laws are different, the theology is different, and even the basic scriptures are different: The Shi’ites claim that the Sunnis omitted two chapters from the Qur’an where the leadership was promised to Ali and his descendants, while the Sunnis claim that these two chapters were fabricated by the Shi’ites. The oral law is also different, because each side invented stories about Muhammad to support their political position.
In their prayers, the Shi’ites curse the first three caliphs for stealing the rule from Ali, and they add passages that praise and exalt Ali. Therefore there are many among the Sunnis, especially the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, who consider Shi’a as a kind of fundamental heresy. The Saudi regime forbids the Shi’ite minority to recite the call to prayer aloud, because even in the muezzin’s call to prayer there is an extra part praising Ali.
The Shi’ites commemorate the Ashura – a memorial day for the murder of Hussein bin Ali – with very impressive events of “ta’aziah” (consolation). In some places they march in the streets and beat their backs with knives and chains even to the point of drawing blood, and in other places they meet to recite laments, weeping and wailing. All of these events carry a harsh anti-Sunni message, which perpetuates the hostility between the two groups of Islam.
Shi’ites are persecuted in every Islamic country where they do not rule: Saddam Hussein forbade the Shi’ites to commemorate Ashura, and on that day, Shi’ites were forbidden to gather in the streets. Any group of more than three Shi’ites that was caught in public on this day was sent to prison.
In Lebanon, the Shi’ites were a marginal, oppressed and degraded group. This provided the social background for the development of Hizb’Allah (Hezbollah, on Google), which eventually took control of Lebanon in revenge for hundreds of years of oppression and marginalization.
In one of the Arab villages in northern Israel, a number of families changed over to the Shi’ite side of Islam after Hezbollah’s “divine victory” in 2006, and as a result, these families have been banned: their youth were expelled from the schools and the stores in the village were closed to them.
A few months ago in Egypt, a leader of the small Shi’ite sect was slaughtered together with several of his aides, and in Europe there are mosques that have been built with Saudi money on condition that Shi’ites will not be permitted to enter their gates.
Iran’s behavior totally fits with the history of the battle between Shi’a and Sunna: the Iranian, Shi’ite Ayatollahs’ sweetest dream is to control Mecca and Medina, so that they can throw the Sunni Wahhabis out of these Islamic holy places, and restore the Shi’ites, the descendants of Ali, the fourth caliph, to power.
This is the basis for the great hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the sense of a great and real threat that Saudi Arabia feels these days because of the Iranian military nuclear project.
Israel is a punching bag for both streams of Islam: the Sunnis see Jerusalem as the third holiest place in Islam as a result of the political problems of the seventh century, when the House of Umayyah, which ruled in Damascus, adopted Jerusalem as the religious and political center to compete with Mecca.
The Shi’ites – traditionally – did not see Jerusalem as a holy place, because it had been “sanctified” by the House of Umayyah, the despised murderers of Hussein bin Ali.
But in modern politics, both sides compete against each other in the struggle for religious legitimacy, because each side wants to present itself as the better jihad fighter against the Jews. Thus, Jerusalem is “holy” to the Shi’ites too: Iran established the “Quds” force (“Quds” is “holy” in Arabic, and part of the Arabic name for Jerusalem: al-Quds) to spread terror throughout the world, and every year Hezbollah organizes “Jerusalem Day” in conjunction with the Iranians.
But the ongoing political wars between Sunna and Shi’a still cause many thousands of deaths: the eight year war (1980-1988) between Iraq, which was then ruled by the Sunni Saddam Hussein, and Iran of the Shi’ite Ayatollahs, resulted in well over a million deaths on both sides, all of whom were Muslims who were killed by other Muslims.
Since 2003, Iraq has returned to sectarian war as Sunni jihadists blow up car bombs and truck bombs in Shi’ite neighborhoods, and in revenge, Shi’ites blow up vehicles loaded with explosives in Sunnis areas. This front has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children until now.
Shi’ite commemorative events such as the Ashura (which occurs this week) and the fortieth day afterward, are “special favorites” of Sunni terror operatives, because the mass processions and large gatherings of Shi’ites in ta’aziah rituals make an attractive and effective target for anyone who is interested in harming Shi’ites. In a number of past events it was enough for a rumor to be spread that a terrorist had entered the Shi’ite crowd to cause a stampede causing hundreds of people to fall from bridges and be trampled to death.
There are groups of Shi’ites in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well. The members of these groups are considered to be unclean and Shi’ite mosques in these cities are a regular target for terror attacks by radical Sunnis, especially members of al-Qaeda.
In the past, there have been attempts to mediate and reconcile the two streams of Islam, but the all-out war being conducted in Syria for the past three years has shuffled all the cards, because in this country too, supported by Iranian weapons, monies and Shi’ite fighters, the Alawite, “infidel regime” has been ceaselessly slaughtering its Sunni citizens, and has caused the death of about two hundred thousand citizens and has made refugees of millions of people, who are living a life of suffering and misery.
Ali and Muawiya, the fourth and fifth caliphs from the middle of the seventh century, have been in their graves for some time, but the struggle between them for the rule of Islam continues to claim casualties among their supporters and adherents, who are all, every single one, Muslims.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by SallyZahav with permission from the author. First published in the Hebrew weekly Makor Rishon. Copyright – Original materials copyright (c) by the author.