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Outside View: Strange Shiite bedfellows

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by M.D. Nalapat
Manipal, India (UPI) Feb 13, 2009
The Shiite branch of Islam is regarded as heresy by followers of Wahhabism, an Islamic school of thought founded in the 18th century by Abdul Wahhab. Extreme adherents of this faith routinely visit violence on Shiites, and every one of its preachers condemns the Shiites as un-Islamic.

However, the 1979 ascendance of Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to absolute power in Iran meant the capture of one of the geopolitical pivots of the Shiite world -- the other being Iraq -- by a thinker whose teachings closely resembled the philosophy of Abdul Wahhab, at least in tone.

Wahhab's ideas originally had been designed to counter the influence of Turkish Sufi doctrine over the Arab Bedouin. The Wahhabis enjoyed the support of the British Empire and its successor in international reach, the United States, initially because this alienation from Turkish influence suited their interests.

This backing began to be withdrawn only after Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly nine years after that event, the prying away of Wahhabis from the state structures of key Muslim-majority states has been at best partial, and usually no more than cosmetic. Wahhabism continues to dominate the world of Muslim religious schools and sites by the marginalization of clerics and scholars who subscribe to a moderate -- if not Sufi -- worldview.

Nowhere has this process secured deeper roots than in Pakistan.

Apart from some locations in the Middle East and North Africa, Pakistan has become the most significant jihadi factory, turning out thousands each year. Education in the religious schools, or madrassas, is based on vilification of those not subservient to a Wahhabi mindset. Even regular school education in Pakistan has aped models in the "moderate" Middle East by including heavy doses of religion in what ought to be secular curricula.

The products of such Wahhabist indoctrination are often unable to compete effectively in a globalizing world, and hence develop feelings of resentment that motivate them toward extreme solutions. Sadly, while former U.S. President George W. Bush funneled billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars toward "reforming" education in Pakistan, his administration failed to ensure the overhaul of the curricula to educate a generation able to resist the temptations of jihad.

Both the Khomeinists and the Wahhabis see the United States and Israel as their Axis of the Devil, and both produce a profusion of literature designed to create hatred for both countries.

Although Wahhabi literature also continues to openly and repeatedly condemn Shiite philosophy as apostasy, this has not prevented "revolutionary" Iran from coming together with Wahhabists within the Pakistani army -- who have been dominant since the 1970s -- and the institutions it directly and indirectly controls.

Travel and telephone records, including "coincidental" visits by Iranian and Pakistani military commanders to locations such as Beijing or Dubai, show a steep acceleration in contacts between the ruling Khomeinist structure in Iran and its Wahhabi counterparts in Pakistan.

The Wahhabis have been adept at the "good cop, bad cop" routine needed to lull the best and the brightest in Washington, D.C., into their customary stupor when faced with the need to implement actual -- as distinct from cosmetic -- measures against the Wahhabis who dominate the Pakistani military and its affiliates.

In contrast, the theatrical Khomeinists have succeeded in turning successive U.S. administrations, and even domestic public opinion, against them with the ranting of their leaders. This is especially true of the current loudmouthed president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the handpicked nominee of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Although the majority of the Iranian people are not Arab, and hence not directly related to the situation in the Palestinian territories, Iran has become the biggest state sponsor of the militant Palestinian groups that seek to extinguish through violence the state of Israel.

Interestingly, the flow of technology to the country from states as varied as China and Germany continues unabated, enabling Iran's mullahcracy to move closer to the day when it can launch a devastating blow against Israel and NATO assets in the vicinity.

What will be the effects of this increased fraternization between the Khomeinist establishment in Iran and its Wahhabi counterparts in Pakistan? The jury is still out, although both would like to see a weakened United States that would, in their view, be more susceptible to Iran's bullying and Pakistan's cajoling.

Given the complementary skills of the two countries in asymmetrical warfare, this emerging alliance between Iran and Pakistan is significant enough to merit the attention of the international community.

(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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