Ten Ways on How Not To Think About the Iran/Saudi Conflict

Thursday, January 7, 2016 - 6:20am

Ten Ways on How Not To Think About the Iran/Saudi Conflict

In the last few days, virtually every news outlet has featured a series of stories on the rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The conflict by now is well-known: Saudi Arabia executed 47 people, including Shi‘i cleric Nimr al-Nimr. While both Iran and Saudi Arabia are among the worst global executioners of dissidents, the sheer size of these executions was rare even by their gruesome standards. Iran retaliated through bombastic rhetoric, stating, “God’s hand of retaliation will grip the neck of Saudi politicians.” The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations, a tension that has rippled across the region.

The New York Times, arguably the most respected newspaper in America, featured a primer on the conflict that was devoted mostly to discussing succession disputes to the Prophet Muhammad that in due time led to the rise of the Sunni and Shi‘a sects. The Guardian has devoted a long section to this conflict. So has The Economist.

(The Economist.)

There are many political scientists and public policy pundits that you can turn to for grasping the geopolitics of the situation. You can listen to Vali Nasr, dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with NPR's Renee Montaigne, and on PRI's The World. But as a scholar of religion, let me share a few points that I think might be useful to keep in mind to think intelligently — and I trust, compassionately — through this latest conflict.

One. In order to understand this conflict, do not start with Sunni/Shi‘a seventh century succession disputes to Prophet. This is a modern dispute, not one whose answers you are going to find in pre-modern books of religious history and theology. Think about how absurd it would be if we were discussing a political conflict between the U.S. and Russia, and instead of having political scientists we brought on people to talk about the historical genesis of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Probably the most succinct elaboration of this point came from Marc Lynch:

“The idea of an unending, primordial conflict between Sunnis and Shiites explains little about the ebbs and flows of regional politics. This is not a resurgence of a 1,400-year-old conflict.”

The attempt to explain the Iranian/Saudi conflict, or for that matter every Middle Eastern conflict, in purely religious terms is part of an ongoing Orientalist imagination that depicts these societies as ancient, unchanging, un-modern societies where religion is the sole determining factor (allegedly unlike an imagined “us,” who have managed to become modern and secular.) Watch this four-part series by the late, great Edward Said on how Orientalism operates (skip the introduction):

There is no disputing that religion is a factor in understanding the Middle East. In some conflicts, it might even be a primary factor. But it is never, ever the only factor. Most often it is the other factors (history, economics, ideology, demographics) that are much more important.

Religion, religious traditions, and human societies never stay static and unchanging. There is no such thing as an eternal, unchanging human tradition.

Two. Iran and Saudi Arabia are both modern nation states. Yes, they are places steeped in history, but like all nation states they have been carved out of early modern empires, often tinged through painful encounters with colonialism, nationalist movements, and anti-colonial revolts. To make sense of both states, one has to look into geopolitical competition among post-colonial nation states trying to legitimize themselves by claiming the mantle of normativity. There is indeed a competition between both Saudia Arabia and Iran to claim a place of hegemony among Muslim-majority states.

Three. The competition is not merely over Islam. Since the time of the Iranian revolution, Iran has defined itself as adamantly anti-monarchical. Saudi Arabia is ruled through the vast network of the Saudi royal family.

Four. Sunni/Shi‘a is not the same thing as Arab/Persian. Today, Iran is a majority Persian culture with a majority Shi‘a population. One often hears a collapse of Iranian and Shi‘a, but there are Iranian Turks and Arabs in Iraq, Bahrain, and elsewhere who are Shi‘a. In fact, a thousand years ago Iran was the center of the Sunni world, and the first major Shi‘i state was in Egypt under the Fatimid Dynasty.

Five. Treating this as a Sunni-Shi‘a dispute actually overlooks the fact that, for most of Islamic history, the majority of Muslims followed an ahl-al-bayt friendly understanding of Islam. The Ahl-al-bayt are the family of the Prophet. Historically almost all Muslims — Sunni and Shi‘a alike — had love, respect, and devotion towards the family of the Prophet.

You see echoes of this almost everywhere you look. In Egypt one of the most popular mosques is a mosque that is named after Imam Hossein, the grandson of the Prophet. Valerie Hoffman has a lovely article on devotion to the family of the Prophet in Egypt. The late Annemarie Schimmel likewise writes about the commemoration of Imam Hossein in South Asia. The Qawwali songs that are so popular in Pakistan and India likewise praise the family of the Prophet. You can listen to the incomparable Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sing in praise of Imam Ali:

Or, watch him here.

It is not the Sunni background of Saudi Arabia that accounts for their opposition to Shi‘ism. Even the religious dimension is most properly connected to the puritanical Wahhabism that underwrites and informs the official practice of Islam there.

Six. Context, context, context. We cannot make sense of the strife of the modern world without dealing with nationalism, colonialism, and the oppressive apparatus of modern states. Watch the always amazing Mehdi Hasan to see similar points.

So why are we so hesitant to engage in a discussion of context? Because to discuss the history of the Middle East in the 20th and 21st centuries, we have to discuss colonialism, first of the British and the French, and then of U.S. support for autocratic and dictatorial regimes (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, etc.) In short, we cannot tell the real story of the destabilization of Middle East without accounting for our own complicity.

Seven. Oil. Never underestimate the role of oil in determining the geopolitical interests of both Iran and Saudi Arabia. This map clearly identifies how the majority of the oil around the Persian Gulf is in Shi‘a-dominated areas. With the dwindling price of oil, there is greater urgency for these resources.

The map shows religious populations in the Middle East and proven developed oil and gas reserves. Click to view the full map of the wider region. The dark green areas are predominantly Shiite; light green predominantly Sunni; and purple predominantly Wahhabi/Salafi, a branch of Sunnis. The black and red areas represent oil and gas deposits, respectively.

(Dr. Michael Izady / Columbia University.)

Eight. Clearly, it is Iran and Saudi Arabia who bear the brunt of the blame for escalating these hostilities. However, we in the United States should do some long and hard looking into our own culpability. It is the United States that is the largest producer and seller of military arms, and Saudi Arabia is one of the largest purchasers of weaponry worldwide (close to 60 billion dollars during the Obama presidency alone). The United States has a long-standing policy of friendship with Saudi Arabia, over and above the human rights violations of Saudi Arabia. Somehow we have to make the obvious point: we cannot serve the cause of world peace by continuing to arm the most volatile region in the world. In many cases, as in Syria, these arms end up in the hands of violent, terrorist organizations. In others, like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt, they are used on civilian populations.

Nine. It is also about internal politics. For example, in Iran, the attack on the Saudi consulate and embassy are an attempt by the Iranian hardliners to exert pressure on the more moderate President Rouhani, who immediately denounced the attacks on the Saudi embassy. Rouhani called on the rich Iranian tradition of “every guest is a friend of God” and reasserted the sanctity of foreign embassies.

Ten. So… Who loses? Almost all of us lose. The population at biggest risk are the Syrian people, who have suffered one of the largest human rights catastrophes since World War II. Over 250,000 people have been killed, and over half the population of Syria are either refugees or internally displaced peoples. The famine there is so serious that the residents who have not been able to flee have had to resort to eating grass.

Syria is caught in the death grip of geopolitics that has dismembered one of the richest and oldest cultures in our shared human history. It would have taken the leadership and collaboration of Iranians and Saudis to bring some long overdue stability to the conflict there. Now that is on the backburner, and there is little evidence of the cooperation that is so urgently needed to stop the bleeding in Syria.

Who else loses? Yemen and the people of Yemen do. The shameful Saudi bombardment of Yemen continues, with little attention. Twenty million Yemenis are left vulnerable as a result of a brutal Saudi bombardment campaign that has led to humanitarian groups calling it a “disaster.” According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 14 million people there are “food insecure.” Here again the United States is complicit. Human Rights Watch has called for halting the billion dollar-plus U.S. shipment of so-called “smart bombs” to Saudi Arabia, which will be used on the Yemeni population.

A young girl poses in front of the ruins of her family house in Yemen.

(Yahya Arhab / European Pressphoto Agency.)

Let’s be clear. No one is suggesting that this conflict has nothing to do with sectarian conflicts. Of course it does, partially.

What I am saying is that Sunnis and Shi‘a have not always hated each other, and have certainly not always killed each other. Like the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, this is not an “ancient and eternal enmity.” It is an earthly, historical conflict, which at times uses the language of religion to justify a political conflict. It has an earthly beginning, and God-willing, it will have an earthly resolution. The lives in Iran, Saudi Arabia — but also in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere — depend on it.


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Omid Safi

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

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This is such a well-written, thoughtful, and well-documented piece. Thank you.. I plan to share it widely.

May there be a time in the distant future when we can read about the rise and fall of the Abrahamic religions and just shake our heads in disbelief, and refer to the present time as the 2nd dark ages.....

The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran has very little to do with Saudi being Wahabi (they call themselves Sunni) and Iran being Shia. Omid Safi explained very clearly and that is the truth. It all boils down to Foreign policies of western countries , oil and both Iran and Saudi Arabia trying to exert influence throughout the area.

A really enjoyable and informative reading. The generous cross references makes it rich. A comprehensive discussion of all the issues leads the author to the correct answer that the Saudi-Iranian conflict is mainly a rivalry between the political heavy weights of the region; religion is almost irrelevant. However I would venture to say that the overall chaos and turmoil in the region - specially Iraq and Syria - is primarily and basically sectarian, the age old Shia-Sunni conflict.

I think your article is quite poor in its assessment of the tensions in the region.

1. Your analogy regarding the US, Russia and the origins of the Greek Orthodox church with assessments of the current conflicts is absurd. For the actors in the Middle-East the Sunni-Shia schism is at the very heart of the strategic outcomes they seek, and the motivations for the conflict. It may not have been the catalyst, but it certainly is the primary factor in almost every regard.

2. Firstly, the concept of a Westphalian state is a secondary consideration for nations such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and possibly even Iran. They look to the Ottoman Empire and beyond for their concept of a State, which were primarily theological States rather than the modern State as Westerners see them.

3. The Iranian regime is hostile to secular monarchies, but not a theological monarch. Within Iranian society there are a range of views, and a constitutional monarch is something some parties support.

4. I don't see why you have to state the obvious regarding the demographics of the Middle-East and South Asia. Treat your audience with more respect.

5. Yes there were significant periods in history where the Sunnis and Shi'ites respected and cooperated with each other; however, looking to this as authority that the divide is not there is simply glossing over the facts. The facts are Sunni Islam has become more and more puritanical through the Saudi's spread of Wahabbism, and the regime in Iran has become increasingly assertive due to the power vacuum in the region. Realpolitik is what matters, not theoretical theological truces based on 14th century precedents.

6. "[W]ithout accounting for our own complicity". Firstly, your argument is essentially that the West is responsible for the current crisis due to its duplicitous foreign policy and its [morally questionable] support for authoritarian regimes. Well, the last seven years have seen that support virtually disappear with the shift in US policy. Compare the Middle-East in 2008 to now and ask whether such a shift resulted in positive outcomes. Unfortunately Tunisia is the sole example of [limited] success. Secondly, your argument displays an extraordinary level of contempt for the capacity of the people in the region that borders on paternalistic racism. They are quite capable of acting rationally in their foreign and domestic policy, and they have done exactly that. The issue is of course it has resulted in the worst conflict the region has seen in since the Second World War.

7. "With the dwindling price of oil, there is greater urgency for these resources." You're not familiar with economics are you? One of the primary destablisers in the region has been the oil oversupply and its associated fall in value. Russia is similarly struggling due to this factor.

8. Perhaps you have a [sole] good point here.

9. It's both internal and external politics. Saudi Arabia's execution of al-Nimr was specifically intended to provoke such a response with the intent of torpedoing the nascent peace talks the US, Russia, Iran and Russia were involved in. It successfully achieved its goal, as this supports its longer term goal of establishing Sunni dominance in Syria and Iraq, something the peace talks fundamentally threatened.

10. So the US is complicit for not doing anything to stop the conflict, and its complicit for doing something too? This position is doublethink and should be reexamined. Secondly, have you examined the consequences of Saudi Arabia using unguided weapons vs guided weapons. You don't need to be a JTAC to understand that there will be greater collateral damage from unguided weapons, such as would occur if the Americans didn't sell them weapons.

I'm disappointed in the shallow analysis you have provided and introduction of politics when an objective examination of theological motivations was called for.

I am not one to bandy around praise for online commentary, but this is on point.

Would love to address all of your counter arguments individually, but it's late and I'm tired. Also angry.

6. What are you talking about? Do you honestly believe US foreign policy has been less belligerent in the last 8 years? Do some research. Twice as many bombs dropped. Twice as many arms sold. Twice as many countries invaded/destroyed.

I quite enjoyed this analysis. Your comments, in contrast, are ill informed and just echo the dominant western narrative.

One cannot argue that some of the conflicts of the Middle East is not based on extremist religious ideology, when the perpetrators of terrorist acts do so with Allah's name on their lips, glorifying God, and killing in the name of Islam. When journalists are beheaded, women are raped, and minorities are driven out by extremists, it is done with Islamic ideology as the driving force. One cannot argue that the oppression, exploitation, and sexual fetishization of women in many of the countries of the Middle East is not based on some twisted version of religion. Also, I would very much like to point out that Arabs Israelis enjoy the most freedom, democratic and personal, of all of the countries in the region (see: ). How could one say that the sale of weapons to Israel is used against civilians, and not mention that those weapons are actually used in self-defence by a tiny nation against the aggression of terror acts that are a daily reality. Thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli civilians by Hamas is not mentioned, a multitude of stabbings (with Allah's name on the lips) and murders of innocents with hatchets, bombs filled with shrapnel, and semi-automatic weapons is not mentioned. Hamas has an Islamic charter. Let us look at the beginning of the Hamas charter: "...They have incurred anger from their Lord, and wretchedness is laid upon them. That is because they used to disbelieve the revelations of Allah, and slew the Prophets wrongfully. That is because they were rebellious and used to transgress.” Surat Al-Imran (III), verses 109-111 Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors." Sounds like religious ideology to me!

How are we not to consider the Sunni-Shia divide as a primary factor when every atrocity is accompanied by the cry of "Allahu Akbar," when everyone on the other side or non-Muslim is decried as a non-believer? How are we not to view the conflict as modern vs. medevil when vestiges of ancient civilization are destroyed, when women are taken as sexual slaves, when people are beheaded & burned alive? This is an informative article that points out many ugly truths, but it is too easy to over-anaylyze & rationalize. Listen to what the the violent thugs are saying, watch what they do in the name Islam or their particular version of Islam.

There are two aspects not addressed in depth in the article that are at the root of the hostilities. First & foremost is that those in power will do anything and sacrifice anyone to remain in power and control. What would the mullahs in Iran do if there was peace in the region - get a real job? Do the leaders of Hamas want to give up control of the aid money and possibly lose their power if there was peace and real elections? If women in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf state had political rights, would the shieks & their offspring be drinking, drugging & whoring their way across the globe?

Second is the common tactic of totalitarian regimes of all makes & models - find external eminies and stir up external conflict to deflect attention from internal problems and misdeeds. Iranian regime does not want to address inability to fix internal economic problems or the drought situation facing Iran. Far easier to blame it on Israel or the Saudis. Saudis do not want to address hypocrisy of their regime of non-existent human rights and female enslavement while sheiks & their offspring drink & drug their way through Europe & the US. Palestinian leaders would rather teach their children to die rather than give up their control of aid money they use to stay in power rather than benefit the people.

The historical origins of both nations have more to do with the current political ideologies than you are acknowledging. The Persians have had several regional empires, pre and post Islamic genesis, and the Saudis have as well. The entire region was ruled by a Persian Empire, Arabic Empire or a Turkish Empire since BCE. It has only come undone into the current mess with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire post WWI and the high minded mapping by Great Britain and France.

The general nature of articles such as these is what gets me. Name names.

Someone made a decision. And we never, EVER hear about that. It's all broad brushed, wide, very wide strokes . . .

Oh, and speaking of stroking . . . why is it that men always get to make the decisions in the world, for the world?!? Guys are batting a thousand on the great decision making scale of humankind. SMH.

The United States has thousands of people in key positions. They buy, sell, trade weapons of war. Someone buys them. There's black market deals, and it goes on and on. I think it started in the wild, wild west . . . in the land grab of the industrialists. The tribes of the Native Americas . . . gunned down, over powered by those with a mission . . . and delusions of manifest destiny.

There's a "buck" to be made . . . and the opportunists go to the Chief. "Hey chief, want to keep your land? Buy a gun. We'll take 100 buck skins, and we'll trade you rifles, ammo . . . "

And that's how the Yankee Doodle Dollar is none as a "buck" -- One dollar for one buck skin. A buck.

Rhymes with fuck, because that's what the Native America tribes got -- FUCKED!

So the Chiefs, in their dire attempt to SAVE their women and children - to save their culture, their way of life . . . bought guns.

Well, that kept the robber barons, the industrialists, at bay . . . until . . . they began to buy off congress.

"Send in the Cavalry" was the war cry of the day. And that's the exact time in the history of the U.S. of A. that the military was used to fight dirty wars . . . and kill people in their land grab.

And no one sees that happening on the world stage now?

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Someone signs their name to the edict, or nods their head, or gives the thumb's up . . . and someone gets fucked up. A bomb is dropped, a trigger pulled . . . and now this hatred between man has escalated that, once again, innocent people are the fodder and lives are destroyed.

Bring out the crayons . . . I'll draw you a picture: The Syrians are the Native Americans 2.0 . . . you take it from there.

Sorry, for pointing out the obvious. But the world is run by MIP (men in power) and they are / have been / will be continuing along this pace. Bombing Syrians, killing women and children . . . shameful.

Same shit. Different day.

War and the culture of war is what is at the heart of all the ills of the world. Always has been and unless we look at it simplistically, and not ratcheted up to something other than what it really is . . . we mix the basic, key ingredient: GREED. And until we figure out how greed is turned into hatred, and hatred becomes the motivating, common denominate -- we won't solve a damn thing.

I don't care who is called what, 10 steps, the two-step . . . I don't care! People can regurgitate the story of Abraham divided, but who cares?

Who are the key players in THIS current dispensation of time that sign the orders, give the nod, rise the thumb's up?

Who is selling the arms, and who is buying them?

The generalities are great. But someone is making decisions and they're not grouped together under some national flag. The only thing about division is the fractions that come out of it all. Fractions make the world go 'round . . . as does money.

The fractions represent the interests of corporations. Just as the interests of the robber barons were served by paying off politicians to slaughter the tribes. It wasn't the U.S. of A. general population who really had a fucking clue at the time. People read about the "savages" in the newspapers, owned by the very people that wanted Westward HO.

Here's a current for example: Why did the US of A go into Afghanistan? Does anybody really think that we sent in military because we really give a shit about the Taliban?

Yeah, and we really cared about Viet Nam too. We really cared about Viet Name falling to "communism"?!? U.S. of A. was after one thing . . . the OIL reserves. Communism was the rug (of which millions of people, places and things were swept under) that tied that room together.

And see what I did just then, with that paragraph above? I generalized . . . I wrote that the U.S. of A. was after one thing. But that's not true. The U.S. of A. is an identifier of a nation. But in that nation there are people, places and things that were responsible. And the usual suspect are not the general population. We just eat the tripe we're fed.

So looking back we all have 20/20 . . . we know that it was (insert the oil company du jour, the military zealots who wanted to become a four-star general, retire off the back-room/black market deals they could make etc. etc.) and some evil geniuses that used the McCarthy Era slop over to continue to galvanize the U.S. of A. into magically believing . . . that there really WAS a "domino" theory . . . which could topple the U.S. of A -- if we didn't send in the Calvary . . . err, wrong made-up war. I mean the U.S. Army.

There's a lot of money made in killing, and it's worth it, dammit . . . if we could just get our hands on Nam's oil reserve.

You know what I got out of the Viet Nam war?

A really good deli shop that makes baguettes like you wouldn't believe! And delicately sandwiched in between the baked to perfection crust, is the Viet Nam seasoned meats, vegies with the spices and sauces . . . mouth drooling!

And the BAGUETTES are the crumbs that the FRENCH left the Vietnamese . . . a cute little war momentum.

That's all the cake that's fit to eat here, folks. Move along. Nothing to see here . . . anymore.

And we pretended, in the late '60's - '70's in U.S. of A. -- when I was a young girl growing up -- that we were fighting a fight to end communism which was encroaching in south Asia -- when the world set of DOMINOES would collapse. WOW -- talk about a house of cards.

The U.S. of A. is 5% of the world's population.

The U.S. of A. consumes 80% of the world's opioid medications.

And what country is the top producer of opium?

Starts with an A . . . ends with . . . U.S. (big pharma) corporations trying to corner that market. Big Pharma, aka Robber Barons 2.0 And so, generally speaking, we can say that the U.S. went into Afghanistan because they were doing what the Russians did in the '80's -- rolling their tanks in for "humanitarian" purposes, as I'm rolling my cyberspace eyes. The Russians are a tad, just a tad, more corrupt in their chain of command then the U.S. (and again, put in the people, places and things who have their hands in that little opium laden cookie jar) and things unfurled along the Russian military lines . . . but they were there, just as the French in Viet Nam were there -- to make some money on a poorer nation's natural resources.

Then we step in . . . and it's to stop the Taliban. As if we give a fuck . . .

Meanwhile, back in reality, a little teen age girl is shot in the face point blank range because she dared to go to SCHOOL!

She survives the attack.

It's a miracle.

She gets a Nobel Peace Prize.

And all the collective idiots are back at it again -- shooting innocent people in the face, more or less. And it goes on and on and not one nation is blame free. We ALL have blood on our hands. Fool me once . . . shame on you. Fool me twice . . . I must have been sleeping through HISTORY . . . or had a frontal lobotomy, or a bottle in front of me. Shame on me!

Hmmmmmm . . . why isn't anyone learning the lessons?

I am giving myself a A+ if "What the Fuck is Going On?" in the world today, current events.

Who are calling the shots . . . that's what I want to know. Who is doing what they are doing.


Shame them!

They are wrong and it's escalating.

It's escalating?

WTF am I talking about? It's escalated so badly . . . in this brief history of time . . . that we're toppling OFF the escalator, and down into the rabbit hole.

Here's what's going on: Saudi wants to land grab Syria, and Iraq. Iran says, "go fuck yourself" . . . and closes off it's nation for safety purposes. I don't blame them. They are trying to safeguard THEIR women and children.

And then, what does Saudi do, dons the Queen of Heart's attire . . . and literally. . . shouts "Off with their heads."

Nice touch. Nothing like putting a little fuel on that fire.

And someone in Saudi signed off on that. They gave the thumb's up.

Saudi is going to be made irrelevant as the Richy Rich oil producing nation in the next 50 years, or less. We are going to wean ourselves off dirty oil. It's polluting and killing the earth. Period. Saudi had it's own delusions of manifest destiny . . . and now it's time to stop thinking that they are God's blessed nation of the entire world. Their oil supply, while it may not be drying up, it's certainly not going to be relevant . . . so the land grab was launched.

Renewable forms of energy. Clean, non-polluting . . .

Shift is a bitch.

Paradigms are shifting . . . like the grains of sands . . .

I met a Wahhabi lady in Morocco when I traveled there in 2005. I was standing in line -- the woman's line. OMIGOSH, like I was in freaking kindergarten and the boys and girls lined up in separate queues. My male host was standing next to me . . . he wasn't in line, per se, but just standing next to me so I wouldn't be by myself. The Wahhabi lady actually tattled on us, and a guard came to us and told us that my male host couldn't stand near me in the woman's line. OMIGOSH.

And yet . . . when you hail a taxi in Morocco you're crammed up against the next person, a stranger. My entire left side touches a dude I don't know because we're piled 6 to 7 in a cab. And the guy I'm sardined up against, is a nice person. He's not making advances. We're just crammed together in a cab . . . as God intended.

It's not okay to kill for fun and profit anymore.

And I don't care about the ten ways. Personally, I don't want to understand anything . . .what I care about is the 1,000,000 ways that people are suffering . . . and the MIP who never seem to do anything about it, but make it worse.

We are in such a convoluted matrix of nasty.

Education is key. And that's what nations, even the U.S. of A. fails to grasp.

Until recent history, in Iraq where there was no difference whatsoever between Sunni and Shia and we didn't even ask who is who, and inter-marriage was common between the two sects.
The new Sunn-Shia conflict started with the ascent of ayatollahs who were trying to export the revolution, and as you see, they tore Iraq apart and contributed significantly to Syrian death toll.
Secular governments in the region did much better.

I fully agree. Unfortunately the region needs iron fists, not democratic governments as the populations support greater evils.

Tjhank you. Your article goes a long way in highlighting aspects of the realpolitik that determines the current conflict. Everyday it becomes more clear that, being on a strategic offensive, Iran is trying to turn region's deep-rooted religious differences into another strategic weapon useful for mobilisation internally and for subversion externally.

Wonder ful

While this article shares a critically important perspective in understanding the nature of the current conflicts, Omid Safi falls into the trap of advancing the canard of the moral equivalence of violence motivated by territorial, political, economic and religiously inspired gains with the existential struggle to protect its citizens from ongoing acts of terror perpetrated in the name of holy war. This is the struggle that faces Israel in its determination to maintain itself - the only true democracy in the region supporting minority rights and the rights of women, as well as the rights of its non-Jewish citizens - despite the persistent terror its citizens have to live with day in and day out. Israel does not wantonly unleash its American made arms on its civilian population, as Safi writes. It uses arms judiciously and tries to follows an ethics of engagement that few armies of the world even think about.
In a region where the average level of civilian deaths is unconscionably high - UN source states 250,00 for the Syrian conflict alone -the numbers reported by the PA in Israel and the territories do not even come into a range to compare. While any civilian death is a tragedy it is important not to paint with one brush both the disparate numbers and the disparate motivations for violence.

Furthermore, while Safi is correct in pointing to the role of colonial powers historically and America currently, that should never deny the agency of the actors themselves for the actions they do. Violent regimes are the perpetrators of violence. Terrorists murderers are the ones who have murdered. Blaming third parties , or worse, the victims, is just immoral. We must all take responsibility for our own actions first and then help each other where and whenever we can.

I think you are dodging the negative and very REAL problem that Islam presents.
Like Christianity - Islam has at it's core the lies of hell and a judgmental god.

And YES, we must call them lies, because these are not merely cute allegories and legends that people use to enrich their lives. These are dogmatic, absolutes that to believers - have unimaginable consequences of you get them wrong.

I am NOT attacking Muslim people. But ANY creed that claims their book of myths represents the will of a judgmental god IS a huge liability for peace and civil society.

Yes there are other factors - but your are dishonestly dodging the very real threat that comes from believing the horrible dogmas of hell and the judgmental god.

On these two lies - Islam and Christianity - are conplicit. And it has to stop.

Hell is just a myth. God is a cute allegory. Nothing more. Dodging that these two lies are attached to VERY specific demands to murder others makes them both the two greatest threats to humanity.

And SHAME on your for minimizing this. Whether that was blatantly unethical or simply an ethnocentric blindness is up to you to own.

But please don't pretend Muhammed's myths and judgements - and the inevitable conflicts they create are a small matter.

If the mean so little - you should have no trouble simply cutting out the pages of the Qur'an that demand muder and torture.

That you will not do this, shows that you are unwilling to push Islam into modernity because you DO want to retain their archaic connections. Connections you just LIED and said were if marginal consequence.

My friend was murdered last month by the people you claim aren't that concerned about what god wants. You're murdering each other over this book of fables and stories.

You may want to fool yourself, but you're not looking anyone else.

Modern Christianity has moved very far from a judgemental God and the "fires of hell", except perhaps for a few fundamentalists,who lack education. It is unfair to keep branding Christianity with ancient beliefs. Read some of the books by Richard Rohr or Jim Martin, who continue to present a vision of lives of compassion and cooperation. Religions are a path to this, but human egos can and will distort everything. How to transcend the ego is the point of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity; the other religions I cannot speak to.

Where is the revulsion to causing pain ,to causing innocent blood to be spilled. Unless someone is lunging at you with a weapon
why raise your arms against another.

Thanks lot,
Nevertheless I write with my narowgh languedje as follows.
The larg paradoxes with in whole BADAWINIEN revolation at past 1500years ago, was the made not a just considerations that the Islam has operated against QOREISH kapitalist circkel.
As it made clear after a while year that Profet was beeing made a lot of wirwel to justify the new way in MEDINEH.
Hence the resistances flamed up among .......History......The Idea changed gradeweise.
You have to clarify the nature of the fact that how diverted to a fully expasion tendency by creating the huge brutality which was againt begininig in MEKAA.
You get forgeeten that Iranian KAPITULATION faced with similar todays ISLAM activities, afterwerts IRANIAN in a confused mode lifting upp ALI perposes........and in revange lanchen the rest12 sons.
Todady is a big gap between SHIA mulas and IRANIAN nation which condemding the whole iregulary report as yours based on a instalation of SAUDI and QOM.
Please answer if you I cal you master.
Kind regards

Thank you for this clear view of the intricate conflict in the Middle East, and thank you for unquestionably stating that it is also OUR RESPONSIBILITY as (US) citizens, when our government is selling weapons indiscriminately.