Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Saudaran

One of several pictures published by activists from the town of Madaya, northwest of Damascus, that demonstrates the impact of siege on the health of children and adults. The siege has been carried out for more than a year by Assad loyalist militias in cooperation with Hezbollah militias. Locals have been forced to eat insects and tree leaves to supplement their precarious diet. People trying to leave the city or trying to smuggle aid to it are killed on the spot by members of Iran’s regional proxy Hezbollah.  

DDGD January 6, 2016

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Today’s Post is brought to you by…  Fuck the Truth Society: Just tell us where It is, and leave everything to us.  

The Delirica:

Some might want to ask President Obama about his tears for Syria’s children, but, despite our current hyper-connectivity, shedding a tear or two for Syria’s children was supposed to be primarily the job of Bashar Al-Assad, not Obama. Instead, Assad was their chuckling murderer, with the support of millions of Syrians, something that we cannot ignore. We are not a “people” yet. Not in the political sense. Our peoplehood in the country and the region is still an ongoing project whose final shape is yet to be determined. And though bloodshed will continue to be an integral part of the process, the final deal will be sealed with visions and ideas. No, not the ethereal kind the comes from on high, from the realm of wishful thinking, but the grounded kind, that comes from below from the very earth we are busy drenching with blood, “ours,” “theirs.” 

As for Obama’s inability to shed any tears for Syria’s children, it simply point to the obvious fact that “humanity” is also a project that is still in motion. We are not “humans” yet.

The Daily Delirynth

Saudaran: Notes on the confrontation between Khomeinists and Wahhabis: In his latest blogpost, the Arabist discusses “WSJ ON IRAN VS. SAUDI” and concludes with telling paragraph: “There is no such thing as Saudi-led Sunni moderation. If things do come to a head between Saudi Arabia and Iran, I know which one I'll be rooting for: Iran, while its current regime is awful, is at least a sophiscated civilisation. Its current regime will hopefully one day fall. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, represents one corrupt family and its alliance with the most fanatical, retrograde interpretation of Islam in the world. Their downfall cannot come soon enough.” This paragraph, especially the highlighted line nicely captures the driving ethos behind the academic left’s support of rapprochement with Iran, including its support for the Iran Deal, its indifference to its bloody dabbling in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere and its growing criticism of Saudi Arabia for the same kind of violations and infringements of which Iran is no less guilty, and, in some cases (executions) is even more so.

The belief that Iran is somehow more sophisticated than, and civilizationally superior to, Saudi Arabia is based on facile generalizations about the nature of both states and societies, and is, at the heart of it, quite racist. Do people who hold such a belief think that Iranian rulers are really more refined than their Saudi counterparts? It all depends on who they meet from either establishment. Do they think that Iranian Shia clergy don’t issue controversial religious opinions that are as equally laughable as those issued by Wahhabi scholars? If so, then, they probably don’t know anything about contemporary Shiism and Shia scholars. Do they seriously think that Saudi Arabia lacks a sophisticated technocratic elite, educated intellectuals and talented artists? If they do, they are obviously ignorant. Do they propose that the Iranian political elite less corrupt than its Saudi counterpart? If so, then, they are either idiots or people with an ideological ax to grind.

Does the fact that Iran is a “republic” and not a monarchy suffices to bolster a claim of civilizational superiority and sophistication? Perhaps, but only if we are willing to overlook the specific nature of this specific republic. For the fact that Iran has developed political and administrative systems that seem modern should not blind us to the fact that the ruling ethos governing the inner workings of these systems is quite anti-modern. Moreover, what’s really keeping Iran afloat at this stage, its republican vestiges notwithstanding, is its security and military complex. This observation should not be surprising to anybody considering the fact that we are in the final analysis dealing with a repressive theocratic regime, as is the case with Saudi Arabia. Political and social freedoms are highly lacking in both societies.

Graduates of University of Tehran’s Fine Art Faculty, Class of 1385! Summer 2015
Some might propose that the main difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia that carries civilizational implications lies in the realm of education. There is indeed a point to this assertion. Iranian universities are far more sophisticated than their Saudi counterparts, and there is a greater degree of academic freedom in them when it comes to teaching certain topics, such as philosophy and the social sciences. However, proportionally speaking, Saudis study abroad in far greater numbers, and, despite certain infantile behavior among some, often captured by Tabloids, the serious nature of their studies and their exposure to philosophical topics and to contemporary realities cannot be underestimated.

The real notable difference between the two theocracies and where Iran does indeed have the upper-hand is in the area of development. Iran’s mullahs long realized the need for developing their industrial sectors, especially the military industrial sector and their infamous nuclear program. While inexcusable, considering the resources at their disposal, Saudi’s failure in this regard could be, in part, attributed to the fact that they were starting everything from scratch, that is, they were, and are still, creating a state where none had existed for centuries. The Mullahs, on the other hand, took over a well-established and well-modernized state. The developmental differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia, in other words, could be explained by noting the objective conditions that surrounded their emergence onto the modern scene. While the developmental gap is notable, it remains insufficient to make one side superior to the other from a civilizational or cultural perspective.

And while many observers blame Saudi Arabia for spreading extremism around the world, this situation did not come around as a result of lack of trying on part of the Mullahs. Exporting the Revolution has been a priority for Iran’s leaders ever since the Khomeinist Camp managed to hijack it. But the fact that Iran was a majority-Shia country, while the majority of Muslims around the world are Sunnis proved an insurmountable handicap. They could never convert enough people to change the demographics, but they could always do enough to create internal problems for a variety of weak states, especially in Africa (where missionaries of all types still frolic).


The Wahhabis, on the other hand, and as an offshoot of Sunni Islam, did not suffer from such a handicap in their proselytization efforts. As such, their disproportionate impact when it comes to producing extremists is not a function of their civilization backwardness, or Iranian civilizational superiority. The two sides play the sectarian game to their advantage with equal vigor wreaking havoc on communities far and wide. Their competing theocracies and conflicting interests are combining to drag the region into the current quagmire. Focus on one side makes things worse, as it empowers the other side, feeds the growing sectarian divide and prolongs the conflict. People who think that by attacking Saudi and advocating rapprochement with Iran they are helping somehow make the region better are either deluding themselves or trying to fool the rest of us.

In the battle between theocracies, there is no civilized side, because the institutional and individual bearers of the civilizational flame are effectively marginalized.

Furthermore, and for those interested in geopolitical considerations, nothing can be more disastrous to the region than a full-on confrontation between Iran and Saudi, followed by Iranian hegemony and Saudi collapse. Because, Iran is not capable or qualified, neither ethnically nor logistically, to re-stabilize the region, meaning that huge chunk of territory devastated by warfare will be left to a variety of new Sunni warlords to divide and rule, and none of them will be “nice.” With the rulebook now effectively thrown in the “trash bin of history,” this will not be a simple transition, but a bloody purge, a purge that is neither necessary nor inevitable. But such naive and facile thinking will make it so.

However, and just to be clear, it’s not my contention that Saudi Arabia is a force of stability in the Middle East. It is not. But neither is Iran. Their state ideologies by themselves have for decades been a cause for instability in the region and beyond. Their current actions, however, are making things worse. And things will get even worse, should they enter into direct conflict, and should Saudi end up losing and disintegrating, not only for whatever Sunni enclaves will end up emerging, but also for those Shia-dominated pockets that will fall under Iranian sway. For as we know from the treatment of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran, Shia Arabs are not held in high esteems by Iran’s rulers, and many of its peoples; a victorious Iran, driven by hubris, is bound to make them feel it, be it willfully or unwittingly.

As such, the following conclusion reached by professor Toby Craig Jones, highly cited and shared through social media, especially by the leftwing pro-Iran academic faction, applies verbatim to Iran as well. The inability of the pro-Iranian faction to see this, or their willingness to ignore it, is highly disturbing. Therefore, let me replace all references to Saudi in it with similar to Iran, perhaps this might help make the point clearer:

The real problem is not just that Iranians (Saudis) are willing to live with violent sectarianism. They are now beholden to it, too. That the Islamic Republic’s (kingdom’s) leaders have embraced sectarianism so recklessly suggests that they have little other choice. This should be frightening, considering more is likely to be in store. But it should also be clarifying for those who believe that Iran (Saudi Arabia) is a force for stability in the Middle East. It is not.

In the current showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both sides need to reined in, and if the benefit of doubt should be given to any one side, it should be given to old allies, because an image of fickleness does not aid in cultivating new allies, and because the U.S. and Europe have to do business with dozens of Sunni-majority states vs. only a couple of Shia-majority ones.  

The world was fooled by the Khomeinists once. It seems once is not enough for some people.
Stephen Kinzer, a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, makes an argument that the U.S. should not choose between Saudi and Iran, but, if a choice needs to be made, the U.S. should ally with Iran because

Countries should fulfill two qualifications to become U.S. partners. Their interests should roughly coincide with ours, and their societies should look something like our own. On both counts, Iran comes out ahead.

To support his hypothesis, a mere variant on the one introduced by the Arabist, Kinzer noted that Iranian society is “secular” exactly because the government has been theocratic for such a long time. The observation, however, doesn’t hold true for Saudi, where religion permeates every facet of life. If only things were that simple. If only one can tell the truth about Iran and Saudi by visiting the big cities, and holding conversation with the people most likely to want to talk to a Westerner.

The fact is: Khomeinism is still alive and popular among segments of Iranian society, and where it is not, an even more unenlightened version of Shiism is. The Green Movement represents the aspirations of certain urban middle class segments, and certain elements in the ruling establishment. If it seemed powerful back in 2009, (and I did support it back then, and am willing to do now so should its leaders prove more sensible on Syria) it’s on account of the divisions within the ruling establishment more so than popular support.

Mr. Kinzer also proposes that Iranian and U.S. interests can be harmonized on account of Iranian influence in Shia communities in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The fact that Iran has used this influence to share in devastating these states and undermine the U.S. is not mentioned.  

Quote of the Day

"This process closes an important chapter in the elimination of Syria's chemical weapon programme as we continue efforts to clarify Syria's declaration and address ongoing use of toxic chemicals as weapons in that country." --Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, the director-general of the OPCW

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