The Islamic Scorecard

By Yedidya Atlas

Since the collapse of the Soviet empire, American policy makers perceive Israel, not as a major Western strategic asset, but as a burden. Hence, the Clinton administration has pursued an increasingly pro-Arab policy tilt, encouraging Israel to give up strategically vital terrain in vain pursuit of a spurious peace process. At the same time, the U.S. pointedly ignores the current Islamic revival in the region with ramifications to western global stability far more serious than the threat Soviet exspansionism ever posed. Against such a growing peril, a militarily strong Israel, as a strategic asset to the West, is not only undiminished, it becomes critically important.

This blind spot in the U.S. foreign policy, bolstered by the delusory "New Middle East" policies being obliviously pursued by the Peres government, is predicated on the predominant misconception that assumes that the Arab world operates on the same logic and value system as does the Christian West. But wearing a suit and tie and speaking English with the correct accent does not make a westerner. There are radical differences.

Unlike the expected and accepted separation of Church and State framework that is prevalent in the Christian West, the Arab world is dominated by Islam. And despite the weakening in the theological norms of Islam due to the introduction of western ideas at the turn of the century, it has remained a powerful emotional force within the fabric of Arab society. Its recent revival sweeping the Arab world is proof of that.

Islam is an all encompassing religion, offering guidelines and a strict framework of influences that dominate not only the aspect of ceremonial religion, but communal, social, commercial, and political aspects of society as well. This is because the Quran, the Muslim "Bible", is "the source of all behavior and the guide to all actions."

The western concept of civic values, for example, is non-existent in the Arab world. Democracy, liberalism, and equality are principles that are basically unknown in Arab society. Therefore, just as the Arabs' system of values and priorities are dominated and shaped by Islamic thought, so too is their nationalist mentality, political behavior, and ultimate relations with non-Muslims. In the Arab world governments invariably change, not through the western method known as the ballot box, but rather via coup d'etats, assassinations, and violent internecine factional struggles. Ruling power is not based on functional parliamentary bodies, but is concentrated in the hands of a small military clique or an individual dictator. When ostensible western style elections do take place, one can predictably assume the fraudulent manner in which its conducted.

Islam perceives the world as two separate parts. The first, "Dar el-Islam" - "the world of Islam" (ie: Muslim countries), and "Dar el-Harb" - literally, "the world of the sword", or "the world of war" (ie: those non-Muslim nations that have yet to be conquered by Muslim armies). And concerning the latter, the concept of "conquering" is generally accepted, but not exclusively, to mean by means of direct military confrontation. But in fact, anything is considered a weapon with which to dominate the "Dar el-Harb". Oil and petrodollars are obvious examples of nonmilitary weapons wielded by the Muslim Middle Eastern powers in recent years. "Jihad" - "Holy War", is one of the major precepts in the Quran. Another Islamic concept, lesser known in the West, is "Hudaibiya" (dating back to Islam's founder, Muhammad, and the agreement he made with the Quoreish tribe, which he unilaterally broke and wiped them out) which permits Muslims to lie and break agreements with non-believers.

"And never will Allah grant to the infidels a way [to triumph] over the believers (Muslims)."../..../..../...(Quran: IV, 141)

Islam perceives the world as divided between Believers (Muslims) and Nonbelievers or Infidels (everyone else). Therefore, "the People of the Book", as Muslims refer to Christians and Jews because of their adherence to the Bible, are relegated to the status of "Dhimmis" - second class persons or tolerated (or not) subjects. Equality for non-Muslims is a fiction. The Quran is replete with statements of undisguised hostility towards Christians for their ignorance in not accepting Islam, and to the Jews for their "evilness" in rejecting it. Therefore, both groups, according to the fundamental tenets of Islam, are "to be degraded and humiliated."

The Islamic revival, or what the untutored label "the rise of Muslim Fundamentalism," has made Islamic principles increasingly significant, even among so-called nonreligious Muslims. Ultimately this could well result in the discarding of all imported ideologies by the body politic of Arab society. Hence, Arab behavior towards the West should come as no real surprise when one better comprehends Arab motivations.

One obvious symptom of this lack of understanding of the Arab world can be seen by the common practice among American and Israeli policy makers to describe and categorize events and groupings in the Middle East in western terminology (Eg: "right and left wing", "radical and moderate" etc.), although they don't really apply.

Although the Islamic sphere is radically different than the West, it is not a single unit, a single set of religious beliefs per se, but rather a variety of sects and factions which are often at odds with each other and frequently at each others throats. The following is only an introductory scorecard.

The two main bodies within Islam are the Sunni Muslims (800 million) and the Shi'ite Muslims (110 million). The split occurred in the Seventh Century over a dispute concerning the true successor of Muhammad. The Sunnis are the majority of the overall Muslim population except in Iran, Lebanon, and Baharein../.. The Sunnis themselves are divided into the Ibadhis and the Wahhabis. The latter is the dominant group in Saudi Arabia and the former is everybody else. The Shi'ites are split into approximately five separate factions. The two most important ones are the Ithna Asharis (literally "Twelvers", after the 12th Muslim Imam in the Ninth Century) and the Alawites.

The Twelvers (60 million) sect of the Shi'ites has been the official state religion in Iran since 1502. Khomeini turned it into an activist political doctrine and the basis for his Iranian Islamic revolution. The Ithna Asharis also comprise more than half the population in Iraq (a major element in the Iran - Iraq war) and in Baharein. They are also a vigorous and significant minority in Lebanon that includes such factions as the Hizbullah (Hizb-Allah, Party of Allah) and Amal.

The Alawites (1 million), or "Nusseiri" as they were originally known, although a rather obscure sect within Islam, takes on particular importance because they rule Syria, a primary example of a state sponsoring international terrorism. President Hafez al-Assad of Syria is an Alawite and has made sure that vital military and political positions are dominated by fellow Alawites.

The Alawites only comprise about 10% of Syria's approximately 8.5 million population. And the Sunnis, the overwhelming majority, perceive the Alawites as heretics. As a result, Assad has faced heavy opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood (Sunni fundamentalists) and their supporters within Syria. To maintain control, he has brutally suppressed all opposition to his minority Alawite regime. In 1982, for example, the Syrian Army massacred an estimated 20,000 or more Sunnis in the town of Hama.

Things become even more complex because of the existence of tribal groups within Islam such as the Kurds (10 million) who are spread out through Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. (Mostly Sunni, the Kurds include some Shi'ites too.)

In Iraq and Iran the Kurds have been at odds with the ruling regimes intermittently for years. In Iraq they fought an all out war during the 1960's and 1970's. In Iran, Khomeini issued orders back in 1979 to crush the Kurds. Subsequently they withdrew to the surrounding mountains where they have waged a guerilla war with Teheran ever since.

The Western governments - including the Peres government in Israel, cannot successfully deal with the Muslim Middle East, "Old" or "New", unless they approach the Arabs with a firm understanding of the prevailing Islamic mentality and goals, and with an accurate scorecard of who's who in the Islamic world.

Just as the West little comprehended the ultimate threat to the western way of life posed by the rise of communism after the Russian revolution, and paid the price for 70 years, so too today the developing growth in Islamic power and its potential global threat is not firmly grasped. Yet, particularly in view of the introduction of non-conventional weapons to the Middle Eastern theater, and the rise in international terrorism supported by Syria, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, and Arafat's Palestinian Autonomy, its high time both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Peres understand the real threat to Israel and the West.

Yedidya Atlas is Arutz-7's senior correspondent for events in Washington D.C. and the U.S. in general. His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Insight Magazine, The Jerusalem Post and other publications. Yedidya resides in Israel, but travels frequently to the U.S. on behalf of Arutz-7. Atlas is also a member of the Advisory Committee of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.

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