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DoubleTweet: The Ayatollah & the Mufti

Friday, May 29th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — nicely done DoubleTweet from Hasan Hafidh ]
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Noting, as you no doubt know, that Sistani of Najaf, Iraq, is the “quietist” ayatollah followed by more Shiites than any other, the Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran included:

And remembering that Rafidha is a derogatory term used by some unfriendly Sunnis for Shia…

Elegant.

Religious aspects of the conflict in Yemen – no easy answers

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — an attempt to make it clear how complex the various religious affiliations in the Yemeni conflict are ]
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My latest piece for LapidoMedia, briefing journalists on religious aspects of contemporary news, is now posted there under a slightly modified title:

BRIEFING: The roots of conflict in Yemen – no easy answers

by Charles Cameron – 22nd April 2015

Credit: screencap from PBS Frontline, The Fight for Yemen

Credit: screencap from PBS Frontline, The Fight for Yemen

THE prophet Muhammad is recorded as saying: ‘When disaster threatens, seek refuge in Yemen.’

He spoke those words after he and his small band of followers had been driven out of Mecca, and before it was clear that their emigration – the Hijra – to Medina would prove the success that turned the tide in favor of the new religion. Not surprisingly, then, religion means much to the Yemeni people and Yemen much to pious Muslims.

Indeed, less than a minute into the April 2015 PBS Frontline special on Yemen, reporter Safa Al Ahmad is told by a Houthi informant ‘Our borders are the Holy Quran and the Islamic and Arab world’.

In an article titled The Middle East’s Franz Ferdinand Moment: Why the Islamic State’s claimed attack in Yemen could spark an Arab World War, JM Berger of Brookings gives us context:

‘The crisis in Yemen is one of the more complicated stories to emerge from a complicated region. It involves a cyclone of explosive elements: religious extremism, proxy war, sectarian tension, tribal rivalries, terrorist rivalries and US counterterrorism policies. There is little consensus on which element matters most, although each has its fierce partisans.’

Berger offers the bombing of two Sanaa mosques on March 20 as his candidate for the spark that ignited the current situation in Yemen – just as the bombing of the Shiite al-Askari Mosque in Samarra was a turning point leading to all-out sectarian civil war in Iraq.

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Since Lapido commissioned this piece, they deserve your clicks: please read the rest of the article on the Lapido site.

Binoculars on the Middle East

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — current assessments — Iran trumps Saudi, AQ beats IS ]
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SPEC who is winning

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Sources:

  • Cambanis in Foreign Policy, Iran Is Winning the War for Dominance of the Middle East
  • Gartenstein-Ross & Moreng in Politico, Al Qaeda Is Beating the Islamic State\

  • Both are worth reading.
  • Blog friend Cheryl Rofer on the Iranian nuke deal

    Sunday, April 12th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — and Furnish pwns Sowell — corrected version ]
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    First there’s Cheryl Rofer‘s piece on Nuclear Diner, The Iran Framework Agreement: The Good, the Bad, and TBD. Then that gets quoted by Alexander Montgomery in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage for April 6. Note: I has originally quoted Montgomery but attributed the quote to Cheryl, see her comment below. I have now removed the quote in question. And now Cheryl has a piece in Mother Jones titled Never Mind the Doubters: The Iran Deal Is Good Enough:

    The final deal remains to be negotiated. The fact sheet is only an outline, and some issues will be easier to solve than others. Still to be worked out: Sanctions, particularly the schedule on which they are to be lifted. A list of research and development activities that Iran is allowed to pursue may or may not have been drawn up in Lausanne. Details on how Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile will be reduced and the redesign of the Arak reactor are missing.

    The extent of Iran’s past activity on nuclear weapons was relegated to the IAEA by the P5+1 throughout the negotiations, and is a lesser provision in the fact sheet. Do we have to know all Iran’s dirty secrets to police a future agreement? Probably not.

    The Supreme Leader issued a tweet stream that seems to give his blessing for a deal to go forward, but his words were unclear enough that domestic hardliners could seize on them in an attempt to scuttle the deal. Iran’s President Rouhani has voiced his support. In Israel, even the general who bombed the Osirak reactor thinks it’s a good deal.

    Methinks kudos are in order — and I personally am thankful for a voice of informed and informative nuance on so hotly contested and significant a topic.

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    In other Iranian nuclear deal news, blog friend Tim Furnish has taken on his fellow-conservative Tom Sowell‘s NRO piece on the topic, There’s No Deterring an Apocalyptic Nuclear Iran:

    That’s the extended analytic piece which Tim concludes with this paragraph:

    While in Iran for the 2008 Mahdism Conference, I heard both President Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Ali Larijani speak. Ahmadinejad said, regarding Israel and Shi`i eschatology, that “the problem of the+ false, fabricated Zionist regime” would not be solved “in the absence of the Perfect Man, the Mahdi” — effectively dousing the alarmist, and inaccurate, view that the IRI’s chief executive wishes to “hotwire the apocalypse.” Islamic fervor for lighting that eschatological detonation cord exists among certain Sunnis groups (including, quite possibly, al-Qa`idah) — but it is not characteristic of Twelver Shi`ism. Larijani, in the closing speech of that same conference, proclaimed that “Mahdism has three pillars: spirituality, rationalism and jihad.” It is admittedly possible, despite all the aforementioned reasoning, that “their own vitriolic rhetoric could conceivably run away with the leaders of the Islamic Republic, and an Iranian nuclear weapon find its way to Tel Aviv.” But the preponderance of evidence — Islamic history in general, specific Shi`i traditions and teachings as well as modern religio-political discourse in Iran — indicates, rather, that the rationality and spirituality of Iranian Mahdism is holding at bay its undeniable jihad aspect. Tehran thus, ironically, finds its potential nuclear policy fettered by Qom: mainstream Shi`i theology does not support violence (nuclear or conventional) in order to precipitate the return of the 12th Imam; furthermore, employing nuclear weapons is verboten in the Mahdi’s absence — except, perhaps, under the rubric of defensive jihad, were Iran itself to be attacked or invaded. Seen in this light, the Islamic Republic’s pursuit of nuclear weapons falls from the overly-alarmist apocalyptic register into a more mundane, and manageable, geopolitical one.

    If that was so duing the presidency of Ahmadinejad, it is doubly so now, with Rouhani in his place.

    The Israeli election: in the balance

    Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — the election itself a one day affair, and may even be settled by the time you read this — but the impact lingers, and the complex balancing of forces in the region remains ]
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    Calder

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    Nothing is ever black-and-white, it seems to me — but there are moment of exceptional clarity, and with the Israeli election (as best I can tell from afar) still in the balance as I write this, two quotes from Herzog (upper panel, below) and Netanyahu (lower panel) strike me as encapsulating the koan facing the Israeli people:

    SPEC DQ Israeli elex koan

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    Still in the balance.

    I was discussing the Middle East earlier in the day, an the issue of balance came up. Cheryl Rofer had said, “The big issue with KSA and Israel is balance of power” and I commented that if you throw Iran into the mix, the issue becomes one of a “balance of balances of power” — which could then be extended on out to include other interested parties.

    This brought me to the idea of Alexander Calder mobiles, and the sense that they offer a kinetic equivalent to the static formalism of my own HipBone Games — their precarious balances and homeostases representing by analogy the tensions and resolutions between stakeholders and / or ideas, ideologies, approaches, in a way that features both “equilibrium and its discontents”. Fascinating.

    To which Cheryl responded with gnomic accuracy:

    Multibody problems are hard.

    Ain’t that the truth!

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    Sources:

  • NYT, Netanyahu Says Never to a State for Palestinians
  • Fathom, We must divide the land: an interview with Isaac Herzog

  • Mobile, Alexander Calder in Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

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