Monday, February 26, 2007

Divide and conquer?

As U.S. Puts Pressure on Iran, Gulf's Religious Rift Spreads - "Shiites make up 15% or less of the world's Muslim community, but in many Sunni eyes they hold outsize influence because of Shiite-ruled Iran, which now rivals and sometimes even eclipses Israel as an object of loathing. On the gallows in Baghdad at the end of December, Saddam Hussein used his last words to denounce Americans and 'Persians,' or Iranians. He didn't name Israel.

A lexicon of Arab polemic previously dominated by 'Zionists' and 'Crusaders' -- i.e., Israel and America -- now has a new villain: the Safawis, or Iranians. The term refers to the Safavid dynasty that established Shiism as Iran's state religion in the 16th century.

The most splenetic diatribes against Iran and Shiites often come from militant Sunnis who previously focused their fire on the U.S. In a January document entitled 'Covenant of the Supreme Council of Jihad Groups,' for example, a Kuwaiti extremist cleric ranked Iran ahead of the U.S. and Israel in a hierarchy of foes. He railed against the 'Safawi enemy that seeks the destruction of Islamic civilization.'"

Mohammed Khaled Ebrahim, a hard-line Sunni member of Bahrain's parliament, urges visitors to read a document called "The Secret Plan of the Ayatollahs in Light of New Circumstances." It purports to detail an Iranian plot to dominate the Middle East and force Sunnis to convert. In tone and taste for conspiracy it mimics The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a century-old Russian forgery and classic of anti-Semitic propaganda.

"It explains everything," says Mr. Ebrahim, waving an Arabic translation of the supposedly covert, Farsi-language plan. He found it on the Internet.

Though he is a shrill critic of America, he says he supports any effort to restrain Iran. He doesn't want the U.S. Navy to leave Bahrain because this "would clear the area for Iran." This, he says, is "what Shiites want." America is "like a cancer" but Iran is still more dangerous and "much more devious."