Consider a world in which theology is even more important than oil.
CounterJihad, Sept. 28, 2016:
The head of Iran’s greatest proxy force in the Middle East, Hezbollah, has joined Iranian calls to view Saudi-backed Wahhabi Islam as a perversion and an enemy of true Islam. Guerrilla leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the form of Islam promulgated by Saudi Arabia is “more evil than Israel,” and that Wahhabi Islam seeks to “eliminate whatever thing that has to do with Islam and its history.”
It is clear that these remarks are no accident. They follow a declaration from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that Saudi Arabia was not fit to serve as a guardian for the Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina. Likewise, Iran’s Foreign Minister, M. Javad Zarif, published an op-ed in no less than the New York Times calling for a unified global effort to destroy the Wahhabi form of Islam. Zarif pointedly referred to it not as “the Wahhabi form of Islam,” but as “Wahhabism,” implicitly denying that it represents a legitimate form of Islam.
The Saudis have responded in kind, with their top religious figure declaring that Iranian Shia Islam is not really a form of Islam at all.
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh said[,] “We have to understand that they are not Muslims. … Their main enemies are the followers of Sunnah (Sunnis)[.]”… He described Iranian leaders as sons of “magus”, a reference to Zoroastrianism, the dominant belief in Persia until the Muslim Arab invasion of the region that is now Iran 13 centuries ago.
The feud over who represents real Islam occurs alongside two more physical disputes between these nations. The first is the set of proxy wars that they are fighting in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. The second is a major dispute over oil production. The elimination of the sanctions against Iranian oil occasioned by US President Barack Obama’s “Iran deal” has opened the floodgates to Iranian gluts. The result is a driving down of oil prices for crude, crippling nations across the globe who rely on crude oil exports for their budgets. Iran and Saudi Arabia walked away from a deal in the last week, leaving no hope but for oil prices to continue to freefall through November at least (when OPEC has its next meeting).
Given the existence of both proxy wars and oil disputes, the theological argument takes on potentially serious ramifications. From the West, it looks like the gathering of stormclouds over a Middle East already at war. Yet consider these writings from Malaysian security analyst Mathew Maavak, who is describing how it looks from the Islamic world’s Pacific theater. He scans as someone whose analysis has a marked preference for Iran, but this is the future he sees:
The US has lost credibility on all fronts. Even its vacuous boast of being a “Christian nation” is belied by omnipresent national symbols such as the Eye of Horus on the dollar note, Ishtar masquerading as the Statue of Liberty and Jezebel reincarnated as Hillary Clinton…. Many are however taking belated note of this devil’s pact between the United States and the Saudi-led Gulf Arab world. Winning hearts and minds and attempting geostrategic pacts like the “Asian pivot” is impossible under current status quo. The Wahhabi and his ilk stand in the way of a reinvigorated US global outreach. The obscurantists need to go. Redacted portions of the official 9/11 report must be released to implicate the Saudis; legislation allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia must be allowed to gain momentum; and former ally Pakistan needs to be declared as a terrorist state….
Iran naturally has been tinkering with age-old plans to break this monopoly and replace Mecca with Karbala as the centre of (Shia) Muslim pilgrimage. Either way, once the Middle East turns into an inferno, the Sunni world may not have the WMDs and military backing of a Pakistan preoccupied with battling India. This scenario is not a chimera, for there is no shortage of spoilers and usurpers in the region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin himself had notably warned of ISIS’ designs on Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. While Jerusalem poses an almost insurmountable obstacle, ISIS may yet be able to level the Saudi cities under the patronage of a new, non-Wahhabi master.
That is an even more apocalyptic vision of the future than Western analysts proffer. The United States’ moral authority is dismissed as paganism pretending to false Christianity — it is interesting that he feels it important to say this, as it implies that a true Christianity would enjoy some moral force. All of America’s allies, both the Wahhabi Saudis and the Pakistanis, are likewise false Muslims. The inferno to come may “level” the traditional holy cities of Islam. Out of the fire, he expects perhaps Iran, perhaps the Islamic State (ISIS) to emerge as the new face of Islam.
While this vision is in many ways implausible, it is important as a demonstration of what serious thinkers in the eastern Islamic world are considering as possible futures. In the West we think of theological disputes as merely rhetorical: what is real, we would tend to say, is the dispute over the price of oil. That is not the case here. For these actors, the theological dispute is the really important thing. That is why it is important to dismiss not only Saudi Arabia’s standing as a Muslim power, but America’s standing as a Christian power.
If Western diplomats and security professionals fail to understand this central place of theology, they will act as if oil were the center of gravity for this dispute. In doing that, they will lose any capacity to prevent what increasingly looks like a terrible regional war.