[Note by The Saker: some of you had noticed that I did post this article and then almost immediately removed it. This was due to a technical reason: the transcript at the bottom was missing. I removed the article at the request of the author. Now that we have the full text, I am posting it again. Sorry for any misunderstanding. The Saker]
US vs Iran: a case of rotten apples vs rotten oranges
by Anwar Khan
I was reading a recent article by our most esteemed Saker, “US vs Iran – a war of apples vs oranges”, which examined the potential outcomes and scenarios that a war between Iran and US could create. Once again I felt being enlightened by the brilliant military analysis— the kind that only the Saker can provide. Only someone more knowledgeable in military affairs than him can really find an issue with his analysis. But that was until the Saker added an opinion on a religious issue, and suddenly made the article look a little more biased than it should have been, with the usual lionization of Iran and Shias appeared, a common feature now in Russo-Centric political commentary. He said:
Most Iranian are Shia, that is well known. But what is less well-known is one of the key motto’s of the Shia which, I believe, beautifully expresses one of the key features of the Shia ethos, is: “Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala”. It basically expresses the willingness to die for the truth at any time and in any place. Millions of Iranians, even those not necessarily very pious, have been raised with this determination to fight and resist, at any cost.(1) (End quote)
Before moving forward, let me clarify here, in no uncertain terms, that this bias is not a crime. We are all biased in some capacity in our perceptions. It cannot possibly be avoided at all times, or even most times. A Russo-centric worldview of contemporary times naturally inhibit a soft spot for Iran as it is seen as an important ally in the Russian efforts to challenge the Uni-polar Anglo-Zionist paradigm. Civilizational parallels between Russia and Iran are also often invoked, though they seem to be of secondary consideration. This is understandable. But what this embrace of Iran by Russo-Centric analysts have done is to (a) promote Iran as this passive political entity trying to peacefully live in a very difficult neighborhood, and overlooking many of Iran related excesses on the sectarian and political front, and (b) conveniently glossing over voices within the Shia community, which offer a much more nuanced view to the algorithm of being than we are led to belief. This, I believe, will not serve us with the complete picture of reality, even if its subscriber hold it to be sufficiently useful as a paradigm. This defensive posture on Iran, without taking into consideration many problems associated with Iranian politics, is also making Russo-centric analysis a little too predictable, and lacking depth.
I am not suggesting that the Saker is consciously peddling (a) and (b). In fact, time and again he has prefaced his writings with disclaimers that he does not hold the Iranian state to be perfect. But nonetheless, the thinly veiled soft spot for Iran shows up in his analysis, and does raise some questions on his objectivity. The folks over at the Soul of the East have gone as further as seeking a metaphysical bond between the Shia and Orthodox ethos, the embodiment of that being, according to them, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at Karbala.(2) While the last point is beyond the scope of this writing, let us briefly examine points (a) and (b), and see how they fare to the often invoked but little understood Everyday is Ashura and every land is Karbala, or “the willingness to die for the truth at any time and any place”.
Point (a)—Iranian excesses and getting away with it— is not very difficult to prove. All one has to do is examine the post 2003 American occupied Iraq and the Iranian role in turning it into—for all intended purposes— one of its provinces, and partly, if not fully, responsible for unleashing a most vicious sectarian politics on the populace— turning it into a nightmare where any idea of peaceful Sunni-Shia co-existence is becoming an impossible proposition. Pick your theory. Either Iran willfully unleashed this violence by employing sectarian outfits, or it turned a blind eye to what was happening knowing well it could stop it. There is no third option I am afraid. I can write a book on this issue but I do not see the need for it because those who want to refine their understanding will do even with small amounts of data, and those suffering from Certainty Syndrome will not be convinced even if oceans run dry from pointing the obvious. (3)
Having lived seven years in Jordan and having acquainted many Iraqi refugees who have become become good friends, their personal stories of suffering, torture and murder of loved ones at the hands of Shia militia, like the Badr Brigade, Jaysh al Mahdi, Kataib Hizbollah and Asaib Ahl al Haq, as had a personal impact on me. I have not formed my judgements through watching documentaries. It has given me a window into a world of which very few non-Muslim commentators (or Muslim for that matter) are even partially aware of. These painful anecdotes were supplemented by my own research into Sunni-Shia politics in Iraq, and the incontrovertible conclusion that this tragic sectarian politics could not have been conducted without Iranian knowledge at the very least, or their direct complicity at worst.
The alternative media’s focus on the Anglo-Zionist designs—among them the creation and employment of Wahhabi violence for the service of Empire— often make them blinded to the excesses of Shia outfits and Iran, as they are deemed part of the “resistance” block. Let’s take the example of the recently formed and highly romanticized Iraqi al Hashd al Shaʿbi (Popular Mobilization Units), who are lionized in the alternative media, especially the Russian-Centric (among them the South Front), for their efforts to win back territories lost to ISIS. But the alternative media often fail to mention the horrors—which would have made the Croatian Ustace proud— inflicted by them on the general Sunni populace. I do not belief in sharing violent videos to prove my point. But if you had the stomach for it, I suggest visiting Youtube and typing in Arabic “Shia Militia death squads in Iraq”, or “al Hashd al Shaʿabi murders” and you will be presented with hundreds of grotesque videos depicting violence inflicted on Iraqi Sunni population, among them children and elderly. Many of these crimes take place while the perpetrators are fully cognizant of being videotaped. It is often accompanied with shouts and slogans invoking Imam Hussein’s sacrifice in Karbala. I find it quite baffling how sectarian horrors by the Shia militiamen somehow escape the attention of the alternative media analysts, yet Wahhabi horrors are a daily reminder? Has the alternative media’s desire to categorize Iran and Shia outfits as the “resistance” block have turned them blind to some of these obvious crimes? Those who do mention them in passing, often employ a most soft language for them.
One cannot simply deny that this is happening. You can rationalize it one way or another, like, what I often hear, “yes, this is horrible but they are mainly reacting to what was done to them by ISIS and co”, or “Sunnis brought it upon themselves for siding with ISIS”, etc etc. Other than the inaccuracy of such statements, and the obvious lack of humanity in them, even if this was true, is this the best we have to say? Would Imam Hussein ever consent to such horrors perpetrated on his name, when he gave away his very life for raising the human condition from this depravity? Has the meaning of Imam Hussein’s sacrifice in Karbala parturitate barbarity as a response to barbarity? Is this Everyday is Ashura and every land is Karbala? This is assuming that the victims have any connection with ISIS. Most are simply innocent victims of sectarian hatred.
For those who want to argue that these excesses are the actions of Iraqi sectarian outfits— operating independent of the Iranian state— this position betrays a lack of in-depth understanding of the post 2003 Iraq-Iran nexus. Iran rules Iraq. Simple. This is not a headline from Foreign Affairs magazine or the Atlantic. Nor is this a rant of a disgruntled Sunni. This is the conclusion of every objective observer who has researched the geo-politics of the region diligently. While it could be argued that many on the ground operations of these sectarian militias are conducted without Iranian authorities’ knowledge, but to hold that Iran has no sway over the overall policy of sectarian cleansing is not factual.
If this is not enough to dispel the “the willingness to die for the truth at any time and in any place” myth, think of other betrayals of those raising the banner of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom, for example the Iranian cooperation with the Americans in overthrowing the Taliban, based on a totally fabricated pretext—which Iranian intelligence was fully aware of. I will shed no tears for the Taliban, an entity I detest intensely. But a war on a lie can never be justified, even if it is against the Taliban. There is a BBC interview of the then Iranian President Khatami boasting about this cooperation with the Americans, and how useful the toppling of Taliban was for Iran.Yes, Iranian cooperation—such as allowing the American’s to use their airspace— was a brilliant politically expedient act, but please let us not call it Everyday is Ashura and every land is Karbala. It was hardly standing tall to the wrongdoers. It was Machiavillian machination of highest order.
How about the Iranian performance in Iraq with the 2003 American invasion? Do we need to be reminded of the complete submission and then cooperation of Shia institutions with the occupiers? Iran instructed all Shia religious leaders, the most influential among them Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, to give fatwas or verdicts that resistance to the American invasion was prohibited. This was a calculated political move ensuring that the Baath party and Sunni institutions are given a resounding boot by the Americans, creating the space for the Shia outfits to grab power. Again, a brilliant political move, but hardly a Everyday is Ashura and every land is Karbala.
This last point actually raises many questions which I will not deal with here. I will leave the astute readers to ponder over them:
How do we understand the complete take-over of Iraq by Iran post 2003 American occupation? Is it possible that the Iranians could stretch their muscles right under the nose of the Empire’s military might, the like of which history has not witnessed before? Was the Empire that naive and incompetent to see Iran run away with the prize, only to pose as a more potent military threat and “resistance” block later? Are reports of a certain General Qasim Sulaimani calling General Petraus, cautioning and threatening him that “he rules Iraq”, have any credibility? Or is there a level of cooperation between Iran and the Empire the degree of which mere mortals like us are simply not aware of? Does the Empire really want to get rid of the theocratic Iranian state, or is it an indispensable tool in advancing the Shia-Sunni blood-letting which is one of the pillars of Empire?
As for point (b)— voices within the Shia community that differ from the mainstream narrative— let me introduce you to Sheikh Subhi Tufayli, the first General Secretary of Hizbollah. Below is a translated transcript of a brief interview and a snippet of a talk he delivered. Sheikh Tufayli is someone that many political commentators in West may not be aware of. As a Shia, Sheikh Tufayli’s take on the geo-political developments in the Middle East, is a departure from homogenization stamped on the political Shia narrative, and a proof of the non-monolith nature of voices within the Shia community, of which most non-Muslim or non-Arab analysts are simply not aware of. He is not necessarily right about everything he claims, but he certainly dispels many of the myths that some of us have harbored about Iran, Syria and Hizbollah. He has been called all kinds of names for his controversial stances, among them “an agent of Saudi Arabia”, “a Zionist tool” etc etc. How convenient for people to call someone an “agent” because he/she does not represent their cardboard-cut view of the world? This “agent”, by the way, lives in Hizbollah dominated Beqa valley, where he could be very easily targeted for his harsh criticisms of Hizbollah, yet he puts his life and loved ones lives—some of whom have died under very suspicious circumstances once he openly became critical of Hizbollah— in danger for “being a tool”? We can disagree with people without associating ulterior motives to their claims. Additionally, do Russian-centric analysts know about the population transfers along sectarian lines that Sheikh Tufayli claims to be taking place in Syria with Hizbollah’s participation? Is Hizbollah and Iran really part of the resistance block to the Empire, which is a foregone conclusion in the alternative, especially Russo-centric media? And finally, does the alternative media necessarily has to side with Iran and Hizbollah in their quest to resist the Empire’s designs? Can it not maintain its neutrality?
I do no have the answers to all of these questions, but I am willing to refine my understanding further, even if it causes me inconveniences. I certainly do not hold many of the cardboard-cut notions that many of my friends in the alternative media hold, even when their understanding is highly limited due to their lack of understanding the local languages, religions, cultures, and a very complex geo-politics of the region.
Let me conclude here with the following points, which ideally goes without saying, but since some readers are the trigger-happy type, I feel obliged to mention them to do away with any potential misunderstanding:
*Iran does not necessarily represent the Shia ethos. Just like Saudi Arabia does not represent Sunni ethos. These are states who have wrapped themselves in the garb of religion, doing as much bad as they can, and as much good as they must, to maintain their existence.
*Far be Imam Hussein and his sacrifice from the actions of sectarian outfits in Iraq and Iran. Millions of honorable Shias conduct their lives with utmost dignity and humanity and they are disgusted to no end to see the horrors perpetrated on the name of Imam Hussein, conveniently serving the Empire.
*Those of us who are against the Empire and their employment of Wahhabi groups for the destruction of Middle East, should not feel obliged to side with those who are, in the short-term and in a very limited capacity, opposed to its designs, like Iran or Hizbollah. Our job is to speak the truth wherever we find it, without hesitation, even when it causes us inconveniences and loss of friends and alliances. Remember, both Jesus and Imam Hussein were abandoned and friendless at the hour of truth. It comes with the territory.
George Orwell famously said “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” I am sure what he intended was the whole truth.
Here is the transcript of the interview. It seems to be conducted sometime in 2014-15, I believe. The video link is provided below.
Moderator: Sheikh Subhi Tufayli was born in 1948 in Lebanon. He studied religious science in Najaf Iraq, at the hands of Imam Mohammad Baqir al Sadr. He was one of the first to form the Association of Islamic Scholar in Lebanon in 1979. Then he became the first General Secretary of Hizbollah in 1980. He is known for many of his controversial stances… among them his denial to the obligation of imitating Wilayat al Faqih (Shia theocratic state, as in Iran), in the light of Quranic guidance and Prophetic Traditions. And his belief that the 2006 War [between Hizbollah and Israel] was an Iranian project. As well as his opinions regarding the Syrian Civil War and Hizbollah’s involvement in it. Let’s welcome from Beqa Valley (Lebanon) Sheikh Subhi Tufayli, former General-Secretary of Hizbollah.
Moderator: Your eminence, today a day does not pass except we hear about Hizbollah casualties in Syria. The latest statistics put the figure at over a thousand casualties, since its participation in the Syria War. In your opinion, does Hizbollah, today, find itself to be stuck in the Syria theatre?
Sheikh Tufayli: In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate.Not only is Hizbollah stuck in the Syrian theatre, we are all stuck in it. The whole Islamic nation is stuck in this theatre. A theatre of strife, a theatre of serving the Zionists and Americans. Hizbollah and Iran and other regional countries are all stuck in the Syrian theatre which is most unfortunate.
But what really causes me pain is to see that a people’s organization like Hizbollah, a force that was created to be a uniting front of the Islamic nation, leading the fight against the Zionist enemy; an organization that was supposed to raise all the banners and weapons and means for the most important goal, which was the liberation of Palestine.. but most unfortunately the Iranian State and politics diverted all those efforts and means, and all of Hizbollah’s work, its youth, its martyrs, its legacy…Iran diverted it all towards projects of strife that only serves the Israelis and Americans. And serves all the Western projects in our region.
Not only is Hizbollah stuck in the Syrian theatre, but also quickly running out of blood, and with it wasting the efforts, aims and overall direction of the Islamic nation.
Therefore I invite all parties and especially Hizbollah to return to what pleases God and to stop its crimes against the Syrian people. Because the disintegration of Syria is a disintegration of the Islamic nation. Today its Syria, tomorrow it will be somewhere else. It won’t stop. Yes, many groups are involved in this, but Hizbollah is also involved.
Moderator: You have said that what is happening in the Syrian theatre is benefiting Israel, do you believe the actions of Hizbollah is of service to Israel?
Well.. their actions, at the end of the day, only benefits the Zionist Entity, and those who stand behind them in their nefarious projects against Muslim nations. That’s the only conclusion.
Because what is happening in Syria is part of a whole, what is happening in Iraq…in other Muslim lands, Arab lands, they are all parts of a whole which is the destruction of this nation, and its marginalization so that there stands no one in the region except Israel. And I believe that whoever enters the Syrian theatre, knows exactly this… and here I want to address the Iranian leadership in Tehran. I find myself baffled when I hear them talk of “Islamic unity”, and “resistance of Muslims to Israel”, and other Western projects, etc etc; and yet…your (Iran) actions do they mirror your slogans? I am sure you know well what you are doing does not achieve anything except help the Israeli enemy, whether intentionally or un-intentionally, but that’s what it is doing. It is helping Netanyahu and his supporters.
Moderator: But the General Secretary of Hizbollah, Hasan Nasrallah claims that the road to Jerusalem is through Zabadani, Homs and Aleppo, which is opposite of what you see?
Sheikh Tufayli: Yes on the death bodies of Muslims, their children, their homes. Yes [the road through Jerusalem] it is through all Muslim cities except Palestine! These are projects towards Hell. When I hear these kind of slogans I am simply baffled… how does one understand these slogans, after seeing the total destruction of Syria, how can the road to Palestine be through Syria?
Moderator: They claim to be fighting terrorism.
Sheikh Tufayli: Has anything remained of Syria? Are there any terrorists in Zabadani? By their own [Syrian government/Hizbollah] confession, they are claiming that Zabadani is only hosting its own inhabitants and there are no foreigners. Nothing has remained of Syria. Its over. Even with the best case scenario according to them[Syrian government/Hizbollah], they want Syria divided into separate parts. They want to make a small state around the Alawite Mountains along sectarian lines. This is what they want. Its over. Nothing remains of Syria anyways. Even if we hypothetically hold that the Syrian government will succeed in the Civil War, they are irrelevant anyways. For as long as one can remember, they never had any interest in advancing any of its people’s causes, whether the Palestinian Cause or otherwise.
Their [Hizbollah’s] involvement in this war is baseless. I want to ask what is the goal of transferring the [Sunni] natives of Zabadani out of their areas, and people of other villages, and fill it in with other people and create territorial cleansing of sectarian nature, if not to enforce an already thought out sectarian division? What is the need and wisdom in that? I was saying from the beginning of the Syrian conflict that the plan is to make an alliance of minorities, be them Alawis, Shias or Christian under an Israel laid out plan and management. And this compartmentalization of the region is most suitable for Israel as the Muslim resistance is weakened, and any challenge to Israel out of question.
The consequence of [Hizbollah’s] involvement in Syria was most obvious from the beginning. It only would have resulted in one thing and one thing only, and that to become agents of change for Israel, and to become their accomplice. Today in the mindset of Shia, the Israeli enemy is much more preferable than the other side. We hear this logic in the streets… everywhere. That the enemy of Shia is the Sunni and the enemy of Sunni is the Shia, and that the Jew is not the enemy. This is the reality now. We see it everywhere now. In the best case scenario we will have small powerless entities along sectarian lines, orbiting around the Israeli planet, only serving it and nothing more. Oh people have fear of God! Return to your faith! Don’t forget that one day you will be held accountable by God for standing with the Jews against your own kind.(End)
This is a transcript from another talk, delivered in 2016.
Sheikh Tufayli: We know, that the most corrupt people on the face of this earth are the current Iraqi leadership. The most corrupt system, the most lowly, the most despicable is the Iraqi government. I don’t mean the people. No. I mean the government. Americans only want people in power in our lands who are the most pathetic, thieves, scums, the lowest of the low.
And today the Iraqi government today is a Shia one. Don’t make any mistake about that. People have the right to say “this is your government O Shias”. Iraqi is one of the the richest in the world [in terms of oil], yet the people are suffering most miserably. The corruption in Iraq is, arguably, more dangerous, and hair-raising than the sectarian war within it. More dangerous than terrorism, and all other forms of challenges. Corruption is the real destructive force in society. If there was no corruption and criminals running the government, trust me, a lot of other issues, including the sectarian problems could have been solved.
It is important to know that the Shia religious establishment is running Iraq. Those with turbans. Make no mistake about that. There is no scarcity of religious piety in all departments. Its the same people who talk of the oppressions inflicted on the Ahl ul Bayt(Family of Prophet Muhammad), and that Imam Hussein(Grandson of Prophet Muhammad) stood against the oppressors and criminals of his time, and that Imam Ali did this and that, etc etc. Oh please spare me that. I am more than certain that no where in history, not in the Ummayad time, nor Abbasid, nor Ottoman you will find a more despicable example than those running Iraq today. And if our master Hussein sacrificed his life standing for righteousness and truth in the face of an oppressor like Yazid, trust me, the Iraqi government today is much worse than Yazid, in all departments. No doubt about it.
[Iraq]is the core of corruption, rather American corruption. That’s how they want it.
The bitter truth is that we, playing the Shia card and Sunni card, close our eyes to all kinds of despicable acts and enormities. We commit all kinds of crimes, destroy our societies, and allow it to be run by all kinds of dogs, just because “I am a Shia and you are Sunni”.
You see, the American do not want dignified people to run our governments. In Syria its not permissible for a ruler to be dignified. He has to be approved by the Americans. That’s the truth. Same thing in Libya. Same thing in Egypt…You see when Morsi became president, he thought of something. He said “you know what, Egypt as an influential government, along with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey should sit together and solve the Syrian problem”. Turkey went even further, it offered some economic packages and shared market engagements. Something like that. Check this out, Morsi was right about this. Listen to me, if Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Saudia and Pakistan formed some sort of alliance, just like Nato. These 5 nations have more than 500 million population. They have significant petroleum deposits, which is the lifeline of global economic. They have nuclear capabilities. They have all kind of capabilities. But it is required that you become a follower of a Russia or America, serving the bigger powers…Then they got rid of the guy [Morsi], and brought a 100% Israeli agent [Sisi]. You got that?
Just so you know I was against Morsi. But that doesn’t mean that we overthrow everything. Imprison him and torture him. Or we get rid of Erdogan or others and turn the whole region into a cess-pool like Iraq, Libya or Syria. Oh brothers! I want to address all who are listening to me. The Muslims are being targeted by the West for no just cause by the West. They say that “they are fighting terrorism”, by God they are lying. They created this terrorism, as a means to play with us and destroy us.(End)
(1) Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala, is a statement ascribed to Imam Jaʿfar al Sadiq the great-grandson of Imam Hussein.
(3) For further reading on this sectarian policy, I suggest the writings of Patrick Cockburn.