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framework Demichelis, researcher Marie Curie - ICS - Universidad de Navarra

Sunni-Shiite conflict: a religious propaganda civil war in Islam

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 16:58:00 +0000 Published in El Español

The recent Sunni terrorist attack on the political and religious heart of Tehran is almost unprecedented, even though in the 1980s Iranian territory was under attack from different sides. This terrorist assault should be seen as strictly related to the diplomatic isolation towards Qatar in the framework of the ongoing civil war in Syria and Iraq.

Before confronting contemporary scenarios, it is important to highlight the historical reasons underlying the Sunni-Shiite divide, which are far removed from today's reciprocal accusation of heresy and religious understanding.

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, the main issue was to preserve the unity of the Umma, the Islamic community, between those who argued that Muhammad's political heritage (the religious prophetic heritage ended with the Prophet's death) should remain in his closed clan and supported the candidacy of Ali (the Prophet's cousin); and those who argued that Muhammad's successor could be any close partner friend in the early Islamic period, not necessarily a specific member of his clan or family.

Assuming that the four 'rightly guided caliphs', the next major caliphs, were members of the prophet's family on his wife's side, only one, Ali, was actually a member of Banu Hashim, Muhammad's clan.

The fragmentation of the community, particularly after the assassination of the third of them, Othman ibn 'Affan (656), and the non-unanimous decision to elect Ali as the fourth caliph, was unequivocally based on political and clan reasons, without the religious acrimony that has emerged today.

Only a century after the civil war caused by political inheritance, we could begin to identify religious differences between Sunnis and Shiites.

The contemporary status clearly differs and the emphasis given to the divergences between the two is part of the reciprocal game of propaganda with no real religious basis.

Clearly there are religious diversities regarding the structure of Islamic leadership, some moral values and in religious orthopraxy. However, the Quran and Tradition remained similar and the pilgrimage to Mecca-Medina also remained for many Shiites as a pillar of faith until 2015.

However, in order to be able to recruit soldiers on both sides, they need to exaggerate the religious impact.

On the contrary, the current conflict is related to economic, strategic and political motives at least since the triumph of the Iranian revolution in 1979.

The post 79 political factor was related to the fact that Iran is the only country in which a religious revolution successfully took power and even if today, the young urbanized generation supports reformist political actors, the Iranian political system is still religiously led and managed.

Saudi Arabia, on the contrary, despite rigid Islamic puritanism (Neowahhabism), became an oil Economics through religious alteration of the original Islamic message, generally opposed to the deification of interest fees and money, favoring the creation of the Islamic Investment Bank and tax havens in the Arab Emirates during the 1980s.

In the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Tehran was militarily attacked by Saddam Hussein with the support of the United States and most of the Sunni Arab countries in the region tried to promote the fall of the Iranian revolution, but without success.

Iran is solidly allied with the relative majority of the Iraqi Shiite population, the Assad family in Syria and the Lebanese Hezbollah party. Additionally, Iran is an uncomfortable element for Saudi Arabia: in Yemen there is the Shiite Houthi minority; in Bahrain, 70% of the population is Shiite; and Qatar may be a problem in the future, as it is a Sunni country and has a prominent gas reservation shared with Tehran: which is probably the reason for the recent diplomatic crisis.

This brief strategic synthesis finally notes the indirect support of Putin's Russia behind the backs of Iran and Syria.

The final economic factor is reflected in Tehran's Admissions Office as an investor in geographically closed Arab tax havens, as well as, after decades of economic embargo, in the possibility of strengthening its market of eighty million inhabitants.

International investments will favor Iran as they have already favored Turkey in the past decades, with the opportunity to create an urbanized and hardworking class average , which is still lacking in most Arab states.

Clearly a religious civil war in the Islamic world is possible and, considering the status between Syria and Iraq, is in fact already taking place. With Saudi Arabia's investments in U.S. defense and strike weapons systems, a war between Tehran and Riyadh could go from cold to hot; however, it is difficult to consider it as a real option today. Saudi Arabia and Iran are more committed to the fragmentation of the Middle East than to a head-to-head war.

At the same time, in recent days it has become clear that the current crises in the Middle East have no real impact on the global or European Economics , as in the price of oil, which has remained below $50 a barrel.

To conclude, the limited presence of Shiite Muslims in Europe is clearly a relevant factor. Europe is under attack by radicalized young Sunnis with continental passports, but it will not become the battlefield of an Islamic civil war.

The propaganda of this religious war within Islam continues.