Monday, August 10, 2009

The Islamic Revolution in the Middle East

The BBC World Service has concluded a three part documentary titled Iran and the West: From Khomeini to Ahmedinejad. It is a very informative documentary. Part 3 reveals that Iran under Khatami and the US worked together to set up a new government in Afghanistan in late 2001. After this cooperation, George Bush labeled Iran as part of the "Axis of Evil" in January, 2002, which damaged relations between the two countries. In 2003 Khatami again offered to cooperate with America, this time with Iraq and Hizballah. But Bush's conservative administration did not want to do business openly with the Islamic Republic, whose conception was marked by the Iranian students' taking hostage of 53 Americans for more than a year.

It has been more than 30 years since Iranians voted to become an Islamic Republic. Khomeini and his crew of Islamic scholars reversed the Shah's westernization of Iran and ended 2,500 of monarchy in Iran. Clerics in Qum began imposing their version of the hijab on all Iranian women, including in Tehran, where women had enjoyed many years of secular law. Many gay Iranians have been sentenced to death and hung in public. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians have fled Iran over the three decades.

One would think the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia and other religious Gulf countries would embrace the new Islamic Republic. But the opposite happened, and a war between Saddam's Iraq and Khomeini's Iran would be funded by the oil-rich Sunni Arab Gulf states and would result in the deaths of a million people. The influence of Islam, however, would spread beyond Iran, and the relationship of each Arab country with the US would take a different and unique direction.

The governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would cozy up to the US government and pay for American protection from Iran, and later from Saddam, and then from Iran again. Sunni Arab rulers have feared Iran's Islamic Revolution and have purchased billions of dollars in US weapons to defend themselves and have portrayed the Shia as infidels.

Despite their human rights record, the relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the US government has been relatively stable since the end of the oil embargo in 1974, and the two governments worked together to fund and adequately weaponize the mujahideen in Afghanistan in order to expel the Soviet invaders. The Saudis also funded the building of hundreds of Wahhabi mosques and madrasas in Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the 80s and 90s.

In 1992, angered by the presence of infidel American soldiers in the birthplace of Islam, bin Ladin moved to Sudan and from there he began planning attacks on American soldiers. Al Qaeda was born.

'On December 29, 1992, al-Qaeda's first terrorist attack took place as two bombs were detonated in Aden, Yemen. The first target was the Movenpick Hotel and the second was the parking lot of the Goldmohur Hotel.

The bombings were an attempt to eliminate American soldiers on their way to Somalia to take part in the international famine relief effort, Operation Restore Hope. Internally, al-Qaeda considered the bombing a victory that frightened the Americans away, but in the United States the attack was barely noticed.

No Americans were killed because the soldiers were staying in a different hotel altogether, and they went on to Somalia as scheduled. However little noticed, the attack was pivotal as it was the beginning of al-Qaeda's change in direction, from fighting armies to killing civilians.[88] Two people were killed in the bombing, an Australian tourist and a Yemeni hotel worker. Seven others, mostly Yemenis, were severely injured.'

In March, 2001, in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan, the Taliban blew up 1,700-year-old sandstone statues of Buddha, believing them to encourage idol worship, which is forbidden by Islam. On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda hijacked United Airlines and American Airlines planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing almost 3,000 people. 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi.

Islamic rule in the Arabian peninsula had been the norm for centuries: “The kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] is an authoritarian monarchy in which all political power is held by the royal family and in which the Koran and the Sunna (rules derived from the deeds and sayings of the prophet Mohammed) serve as the country's constitution. All Saudis are required by law to be Muslims, and the government prohibits the public practice of any religions other than Islam. Women, like this one at a trade fair in Riyadh, are forbidden from driving, receive half the inheritance awarded to their brothers, and find their testimony equal to half that of a man's in sharia courts.”

But the wave of modernization throughout the world and the liberalization that swept the Americas and Europe in the 50s and 60s also reached North Africa, the Levant, Baghdad, and Tehran. Few women in Cairo wore hijab in the 60s. The photo below shows how Iraqi women dressed in the late 60s.

The result of the last war between the Arab states and Israel in 1973 compelled many Arabs to turn to Islam. In Iran the belief that Islamic rule would end poverty and outside influence was very popular. A reversal of the trend towards secularization in the Middle East began. Khomeini’s revolution was the catalyst in a reaction that could not be easily reversed. It is as if the Sunni Arabs were competing with Iran in becoming more Islamic. Cairo and Tehran are very different from each other, but both capital cities have become more conservative.

By 2000, most women in Cairo wore some sort of hijab, and Muslim societies, especially in the Middle East, became more conservative, often striving to be fundamentalist. The entrenching of Islam in Iraq was inevitable, given the circumstances during the war with Iran, and then especially during sanctions, when even educated Iraqis struggled to survive. The US meant to punish Saddam, but indirectly punished the Iraqi people instead. The ostensible alliance between the US and KSA and the Gulf states, however, would continue.

Two years ago, at the height of the sectarian violence in Iraq that Saudis participated in, the US offered to sell Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states $20 billion in weapons. With typical ineptitude that made Dubya infamous, "the administration did not seek specific assurances from Saudi Arabia that it would be more supportive of the U.S. effort in Iraq, the officials said.

According to the officials, the plan to bolster the military might of Gulf countries is part of a U.S. strategy to contain the growing power of Iran and to demonstrate that, no matter what happens in Iraq, Washington remains committed to its longtime Arab allies in the region."

And so the irony and hypocrisy continue.

Today the Islamic revolution in the Middle East is in disarray. In Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, those who sought to impose their version of Islam have been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Muslims. Al Qaeda has nothing to offer Iraqis except death and threats of death.

After the fall of Saddam's secular regime, Jaish al Mahdi and the Iranian-influenced Badr seemed only to be competing with Al Qaeda in terms of imposing their respective views of Islam on the Iraqi people, often attacking Iraqi women for not wearing hijab. The more moderate Da3wa party have gained power through democratic elections in Baghdad, but have been unable to pull Iraq from the grips of poverty, war, and sectarianism. The new Iraqi security forces have relied heavily on American military support for their survival. Corruption and murder have plagued Maliki's government.

It seems that nothing good has come out of the Islamic Revolution.

After the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmedinijad, many Iranians protested, and the legitimacy of the Iranian regime appears to be in jeopardy. Iranians shouted "Allah Akbar" every night for weeks after the election, reminding all that God is above Khameini and Ahmedinejad. Shouting "Allah Akbar" also reminds us that Iranians are still pious Muslims. Leaders like Mossavi and Khatami may not be as liberal as westerners would like them to be, but they are more moderate and sensible than Khameini. The Iranian people will continue their protests, and hopefully the Iranian people will soon get the democracy and justice they deserve. Maybe then there will be reconciliation between Iran and the US, which may lead to a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Insha Allah.

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