Europe meets to tighten sanctions against Iran going further than before by imposing embargo on its oil. The Global community, which means the west plus Israel, is in action mode to stop Iran becoming a threat to the 'international community' (also meaning the west and Israel). Meanwhile Iran makes it worse by bellicose noises playing chicken. But China, Russia, India and quite a few other countries don't seem that threatened by Iran's nuclear ambition. So who is Iran a threatening?
For some time Israel has been shouting loudly, 'IRAN IS BUILDING THE BOMB. FOR GOD'S SAKE STOP THEM OR WE WILL'. And USA has been saying, ' we have all options on the table.' If Super Crusader Tony Blair had his way we would have flattened Iran by now and become even more insecure in our streets.
Assuming the worse that Iran is building a nuclear 'Bomb'. Is it really aimed at Washington 7000 miles away, London 3000 miles away or closer at Tel Aviv only 1000 miles away? And why? World Domination? Convert Mr Smith, Mrs Queen and Mr Levy into Shia Islam?
Sometimes listening to our great leaders and taking our daily diet of Foreign Office funded BBC World Service, it appears that every little country and its tottering dictatorship is working on a grandiose conspiracy to invade London, rule the world and end our civilisation as we know it. So we have to nip them before they even start dreaming about aiming missiles at London.
Are the Mullahs really that mad? Anyone who knows Iran, will know that it takes a seven year course to become a cleric at a middle rank. They study the Quran, Judaism, Christianity, western philosophy, eastern philosophy, science and critical theory. It beggars incredulity that such educated people are sitting in their offices tapping fingers on the table saying, 'when do we attack London!'. Of course there are some cranks, but then Harvard has also produced enough cranks, including Bush who thought God was directing him.
In Iran there are Jews, Sunnis, Christians, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Buddhists and Sikhs among others doing quite well. Why would Iran want to start an Islamic crusade of conversions outside in Europe if they haven't bothered conversions at home?
When we peel away the 'global world's rhetoric, it becomes clear that Iranian ambition is connected to internal Islamic history and politics. There has been more than a millennia of tension between the Arabs and the Persians which increased when Islam spread to both regions. Both Arabs and Persians think themselves as superior people compared to the other. This low tension competition changed after the Safavid rule in 1501 which empowered Shia Islam with a State. Iranians converted to Shia en mass. The contest between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world continues to date.
Sometimes it becomes violent. Al Qaeda went as far as calling Shia a bigger enemy than America. There are sectarian killings in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan among others between Sunni and Shia fanatics.
In Sunni dominated countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and in fact much of the Arab world, the Shia are kept out of real levers of power. In Shia Iran, the Sunnis can join Government departments but not become senior most heads or political leaders.
Under the Shah's secularisation process, Shia Islam lost the one powerful country it had. The Ayatollahs restored that. Iran's current strategic game is to be a Shia power in the wider Islamic world. Its enemies are the Gulf Monarchs. Its ambition for nuclear technology is posturing in the Islamic world. Iran has also invested heavily in science and medical research.
Islamic politics and inter sectarian rivalry is played obliquely and sensitively. No Iranian leader will declare a State ambition to assert Shia supremacy. Instead the rhetoric is wretched up against Israel. Israel is an easy target for distraction and bravado politics in Middle East. Israel does not help itself by having failed to make friends with ordinary Muslims.
And the other rhetorical target is the United States. Calling it Satan and blaming it for almost all anti Islamic trends in the world, Iran's clerical leadership distracts attention against its own inadequacies. USA is a convenient bogey.
The problem is that both ordinary Americans and Israelis swallow the western take on Iranian rhetoric. But ask ordinary people in Iran, no one thinks that Iran has any ambition to attack Israel or USA. As long as Israel continues to have 'problem' relationship with its mostly Sunni neighbours, it works in Iran's favour. The inability of Sunni countries to do anything about perceived Israeli bullying makes them look inadequate in the Muslim world. If Israel was suddenly to reach peace with all its Sunni neighbours, Shia Iran's tension with the Sunni Arab countries will become exposed.
The sooner USA and Israel admit that Iranian do not pose an existentia threat but their designs are to promote itself as a dominant force within Islam and redress a historic imbalance, the easier it will be for them to come to better understanding with Iran. A nuclear capability is a status symbol in our sad world politics. Iran's ambition is an internal Islamic issue. It does not pose a direct threat to Israel or USA.
But from a Pentagon's perspective, it may be all about the balance of power. The Sunni Kingdoms are almost satellite states of USA. A powerful independent minded Iran will upset that balance. Neither China, India nor Russia are bothered by this shifting ebb within Islam. Maybe the USA has to learn the art of trading without controlling regions and people. It could learn a lot from China. We could then be spared a few wars.
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