Warning, this is another one of my periodic “why people should pay more attention to history posts.”
Here’s the passage that piqued my interest:
But Riyadh really does not have a choice when attempting to counter the Iranian geopolitical invasion of what it considers its turf. Saudi Arabia is trying to contain the Iranian/Shiite threat by underscoring its leadership role in the region. The Saudis know the Iranians and Syrians are trying to emerge as a player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are thus sending a message — particularly to the Palestinians — that Riyadh, rather than Tehran, can secure their interests because it has the leverage on both sides. The Saudi regime, despite its many problems, is confident that no domestic force is capable of destabilizing it, and hopes to use the international embargo on the Palestinians to wean them away from the Iranian/Syrian camp.
Couple of things jump out at me first. One, who does Saudi Arabia fear more here? Israel or the Shi’ites in its midst, along it’s border with Iraq and all of Iran? I’ll betcha the Saudi’s kinda miss old Saddam’s Baathist bulwark against the raging Shi’ite hordes about now. If they’re willing to cozy up to the Israelis, the Crusader State itself, well, you have to infer something else: they aren’t too afraid of al Qaeda inside the Kingdom. Why would they be if excess steam can be removed via Afghanistan, again.
More after the jump.
Then there is the diplomatic angle: the Saudis are trying to prove to the Palestinians that they can get things done because a.) the have the Americans in their back pocket and b.) they’ve got an under the table relationship with the Israelis too. Theoretically they should be able to play both sides of the table, pressuring the Israelis for concessions and pressuring the Americans to pressure the Israelis to make some concessions. They’ve got the best lubricant of all to do so: oil. Israel might play along to a certain extent, but until a.) an outside power comes along, the geopolitical equivalent of deus ex machina that will compel the Israelis to leave most of the West Bank there will not be any deal. I don’t see the Syrian/Iranian/Hezbollah entente as capable of doing that either, yet. Which means the US is still the one power in the world that could forge a settlement but for internal political reasons that will not happen any time soon.
But there is a more long-term, big picture development happening around us that’s hard to comprehend through all the noise out there. We all know that the Islamist/Jihadi/Salafist strain of Islam is attacking the modern secular Sunni regimes. It’s kind of like when the Jesuits launched the Counter-Reformation. (They did manage to bring Poland back into the fold.) But Sunni fundamentalism is also a reaction to something else, something more visceral. It’s not just modernity, it’s more along the lines of the Bernard Lewis thesis. A kind of rage that the world has left them behind, something much, much more complicated than Bush’s “they hate us for our freedom’s.” It’s more like they hate us because we represent modernity and in a sense modernity has taken away so much of their ability to imagine their own future. Remember, 300 years ago a man could travel from Morocco to Meerut and all was Islam, with a distincly Persian flavor most of the way. And now?
Modernity, so overwhelming and disruptive of traditional society is still transforming all societies. I think the changes it’s bringing are as massive as those of the agricultural revoltion 12,000 year ago. And, while my next comment is far from being PC, it’s got to be said: some societies might not survive modernity. History has no hard and fast rules. And I’ve yet to see a rule that says all societies have to survive. Only the distant future can answer that question and I won’t be around to see it.
The Arabs and the Persians have long competed against one another. For the Arabs and Muslims in general, no achievement will ever rival the Q’uran. It contains the Word of God, which, after all, was revealed to an Arab. After His Word had been revealed the Arabs burst forth out of the desert wastes conquering a goodly portion of the planet, wrecking the Sassanid Empire in the process. But after just a few generations power in the Muslim word shifted back to Persia, Khorasan to be exact, as the Ummayads were replaced by the Abbasids whose base of power were the merchant cities of Khorasan. It is at this point that Persian culture begins to eclipse that of the Arabs. And the enmity lives today as Saudi Arabia’s moves towards the “Zionist Entity.”
My point here is this: there is an old, visceral battle going on between Arabia and Persia. It’s something that transcends Sunni and Shi’a as well. It’s about the direction Islam will take in the future. The Arabs have one view, and it’s not particularly appealing: economic autarky, strong man rule and violent suppression of dissent. The Persians (and the Turks, Kurds and Azeris) on the other hand have another view and that’s pluralistic and democratic in an Islamic context, with natural law derived from the tenets of Islam, not Christianity. (This will no doubt cause problems–sometimes violent–as Islamic values don’t always align directly with those of the West.) Yes, Iran has a lot of problems, especially when it comes to freedom of speech and human rights. But Iran and Turkey have much more vibrant civil societies than do Saudi Arabia, or Yemen. Iran has a long way to go, but comparatively speaking, they are a lot further along than the Arabs.
Suggestions for further reading:
The Persians, by Aeschylus.
Histories, by Herodotus.
Anabasis by Xenophon.
The Persian Puzzle
The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane,
In Search of Zarathustra,
Shah of Shahs and many others.