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The Islamic Revival and World Politics


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Title: The Islamic Revival and World Politics

The Islamic Revival and World Politics
  • Kevin J. Benoy

Background to Islam
  • Islam is a religion based on the teachings of
  • It is the majority religion in all of the Arab
    countries, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh,
    Malaysia, Indonesia and the Turkic successor
    states of the former Soviet Union.

Background to Islam
  • Mohammed was born in 570 AD in Mecca.
  • His first revelation was in 610.
  • From this and later revelations came the Moslem
    holy book the Koran.

Background to Islam
  • Islam is more than just a religion it is a way
    of life.
  • It has a strong evangelical streak to it, with
    followers called upon to spread the word.
  • This has, in the past, been done by the sword as
    well as the word.

Background to Islam
  • Early on the religion experienced a fundamental
    split that continues to divide it.
  • With the murder of the 3rd Caliph, the prophets
    son-in-law, Ali, became the leader in 656. He
    too was assassinated in 661 and the Governor of
    Syria established himself as leader, instead of
    Alis descendents.
  • Today, 90 of Moslems are Sunni (those who accept
    the succession of the Caliph) and 10 Shia (who
    follow the descendents of Ali).
  • Shias form a big majority in Iran, and a slight
    majority in Iraq and Bahrain while Sunnis
    predominate elsewhere.

Background to Islam
  • Further splits relate to racial and national
  • Arabs and Persians see themselves as different,
    as do Syrians and Jordanians.
  • As with Christians, there are also divisions
    between orthodox practitioners and those whose
    faith is more liberal.
  • On the other hand, other factors pull all Moslems
    together like the yearly haj.

Islam in the Modern World
  • Moslems, like Christians, faced strong secular
    pressure in the last century or so.
  • This was further complicated by the effects of
    colonialism and decolonization.
  • Pressures within Moslem societies have been
  • Modernization has also led to huge class
    differences as rural peasants lived in almost
    feudal conditions, while the rich and upper
    middle class lived like westerners.
  • Traditional values remain strongest with the poor
    and with those who most strongly sympathize with

Islam and Government
  • In many Moslem countries, Islamic principles
    underpin national laws just as Judeo-Christian
    values lie at the heart of most Western legal
  • In some, religion is more than just a
    philosophical basis as Islam does not separate
    beliefs from actions.
  • Some Moslem states implement Sharia, religious
    law. For instance, they forbid charging interest
    on loans or proscribe amputation of a thiefs
    right hand.

Islam and Government
  • In Saudi Arabia, punishments today are as they
    were in the day of Mohammed.
  • Thieves may have a hand amputated.
  • Adulterers are stoned to death.
  • The testimony of a man is worth twice that of a
  • Under Sharia law, corporal punishment is meted
    out and the public invited to attend floggings.
    This is very like what happened in pre-modern

The Iranian Revolution
  • Under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Aryamehr Iran
    prospered economically from the windfall profits
    of petroleum products.
  • The country became a regional political and
    military power as the Shah invested heavily in US
    equipment, becoming the policeman of the Gulf,
    with American blessing.

The Iranian Revolution
  • While the Shah, his family and supporters lived
    in opulence, little benefit accrued to the rural
    and urban poor.
  • Religious leaders objected to the increasing
    secularization of the country as the Shah pushed
  • The Shah dismissed calls for Sharia law as

The Iranian Revolution
  • In addition, the Shah increasingly relied on
    brutal actions by SAVAK Irans secret police
    against critics.
  • In doing so, and in his serving American
    interests, the Shah alienated much of the middle
  • US involvement in overthrowing the democratically
    elected government of Iran in 1953 to put the
    Shah in power -- was long a source of resentment
    of the West.

The Iranian Revolution
  • In 1978 things began to spin out of control for
    the Shah.
  • In January, religious dissidents were fired on in
    the religious city of Qom.
  • In February there were riots in Tabriz and small
  • In May the universities were close and protests
    and strikes in the Tehran bazaar became
  • By late 1978 the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an
    exiled cleric living in Paris, became the symbol
    of religious opposition. The clerics refused to
    compromise with the government, demanding a
    return to Islamic principles and an end to

The Iranian Revolution
  • Riots and strikes brought violent responses.
  • On September 8 between 100 and 200 demonstrators
    were gunned down by security forces.
  • By November, the armed forces were needed to back
    up the police.
  • The country was placed under military rule.

The Iranian Revolution
  • The economy collapsed as little productive work
    could be done in an atmosphere of perpetual
    strikes and protests.
  • The Shah acknowledged that he could no longer
    impose his will.
  • On January 1, 1979, General Gholam Reza Azhari
    was replaced as Prime Minister by the reformer
    Shahpur Bakhtiar, who insisted that the Shah
    leave the country which he did on January 126
    after urging the military to remain loyal to the
    new regime.

The Iranian Revolution
  • Further radicalization followed the return of
    Khomeini on February 1.
  • He called for establishing an Islamic Republic.
  • Bakhtiar tried to hold on to existing
    constitutional principles, but was forced out of
    office, into hiding, and into exile after the
    army withdrew support.

The Iranian Revolution
  • The army itself was deeply divided.
  • There was no cooperation between the army and air
  • Fearing complete disintegration, the army
    generals ordered their troops to remain in
    barracks, but when civilians and Islamic
    guerillas overran the major Tehran army bases
    army morale completely broke down.
  • Armed fanatics now controlled the city streets
    and power shifted from the official government to
    Khomeini and his Revolutionary Council.

The Iranian Revolution
  • Momentum was with Khomeini.
  • On March 30-31, 1979, a referendum overwhelmingly
    accepted establishing an Islamic Republic.
  • A President and representative assembly would be
    elected by universal suffrage, but they had
    little power.
  • A Council of Guardians, composed of clerics,
    would oversee the passage of all legislation.
  • Final decision making rested in a faqih the
    leading theologian in the country.

The Iranian Revolution
  • Khomeimi eliminated vestiges of opposition.
  • Revolutionary authorities executed hundreds.
  • Revolts in minority areas (especially Turkomen
    and Kurdish) were suppressed.
  • Leftists and others attempted to turn the
    situation to their favour, but were crushed
    though several clerics were assassinated and
    others injured.

Iranian Foreign Policy
  • Iranian foreign policy shifted dramatically.
  • Iran became anti-American and anti-Soviet.
  • The regime threw its support behind Shia
    minorities in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Gulf states
    and Lebanon.
  • Religion, rather than political ideology, now
    drove policy.
  • Fortunately for Irans Sunni neighbours, the
    revolution also sapped Irans military potential.

Irans Economic Trouble
  • The economy crumbled.
  • Many middle class Iranians fled the country, not
    wishing to live under a fundamentalist regime.
  • Anti-Khomeini sabotage was a problem.
  • The government took over many large enterprises,
    starting with private banks, then insurance
    companies, and finally all major companies.
  • Foreign investment withdrew, taking capital and
    expertise with them.

The Hostage Crisis
  • On November 4, 1979 radical Islamic students
    stormed the US embassy in Iran, holding 55
    Americans prisoner until January, 1981.
  • The US responded by freezing Iranian assets.
  • In April, 1980 a US special forces operation to
    free the hostages failed miserably.
  • Iran was an international pariah.

The Iran-Iraq War
  • Seeking to take advantage of Irans military
    decline, Iraq invaded Kurdistan and Khuzestan
    provinces in September, 1980.
  • The Iraqis likely expected anti-Khomeini forces
    would rise up however the opposite occurred.
    Iranians of all beliefs united against this
    foreign invasion.

Iran Iraq War
  • Iraq found itself in a prolonged conflict against
    a country with a much bigger population.
  • Saddam Hussein was armed by the US.
  • Iran secretly received parts for their US
    aircraft from Israel which found it useful to
    have two strong opponents butchering each other
    for nearly a decade (until 1988).

Iran Under Khomeini
  • The war helped solidify Khomieni and the Islamic
  • Religious principles underpinned Iranian society
    politically and economically.
  • The Iranian theocracy served as a model for
    Islami fundamentalists elsewhere to strive for.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • This remote, mountainous, backwards country has
    long been of strategic importance.
  • In the 19th century it was at the heart of the
    Great Game as the Russians and British both
    sought to extend influence into the country with
    little success.
  • Bordering directly on Afghanistan, Soviet concern
    for the area continued in the 20th century.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • In 1978 a coup overthrew the 5 year old
    government of Sarder Mohammad Daud replacing it
    with a pro-Soviet regime under Nur Mohammad
    Taraki who renamed the country the Peoples
    Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
  • In September, 1979, Taraki was killed in another
    coup by Hafizullah Amin and a Soviet sponsored
    counter-coup followed, led by Babrak Karmal, who
    called upon the Soviet Union to supply troops to
    help him.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • The attitude of many Afghanis to the governments
    after Daud was hostile especially among the
    orthodox Moslems who made up most of the
  • Moslem fundamentalists were also encouraged by
    events in Iran and Pakistan, where Islamization
    was taking place.
  • Fighting broke out between religiously-motivated
    rebels and Afghan government forces.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • The Soviets were concerned with events in
    Afghanistan for two key reasons
  • They feared the rising tide of Moslem
    fundamentalism because of their own large (and
    growing) Moslem population within their own
    borders. Anti-Soviet broadcasts from Shia Iran
    were bad enough. A fundamentalist and mostly
    Sunni Afghanistan was more threatening still.
  • No nation feels secure with chaos and civil war
    on its border. The Soviets wanted a stable
    neighbour particularly one that stood for
    similar social values to its own.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • The Soviets did not expect to station forces in
    Afghanistan for a decade.
  • At first the troops sent came from the Central
    Asian republics but they proved unreliable.
    They were replaced by European Soviet units.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • Afghan rebels proved more difficult to deal with
    than expected.
  • Veterans of tribal wars and fiercely independent,
    the mujehaddin believed they were involved in a
    jihad a holy war against infidel Soviets.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • A third of Afghanistans population eventually
    lived in exile, fleeing the bloody conflict and
    providing a vast pool of disaffected people from
    which jihadists could be drawn.
  • Soviet forces had difficulty distinguishing
    mujehaddin from ordinary peasants and many
    innocents were killed breeding new hatred.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • Support for the Mujehaddin was strong in the Arab
    world which meant considerable Gulf money
    financing their efforts and Arab volunteers to
    fight for the cause.
  • A war that started with antique rifles and
    home-made weapons escalated rapidly.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • More importantly, the conflict occurred while the
    Cold War was still active.
  • The US saw an opportunity to turn it into a
    Soviet Vietnam.
  • Very sophisticated weapons were provided to the
    mujehaddin including the lethal stinger
    hand-held anti-aircraft missiles much of this
    aid funnelled through Pakistan and their
    militarys Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) unit.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • The war was costly to the Soviets in lives,
    treasure and diplomacy.
  • Western countries boycotted the Moscow Olympics.
  • The world arms markets were awash in
    sophisticated weaponry that found customers in
    Asia, Africa and beyond.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • The human cost of the war was staggering
  • Almost 15,000 Soviet lives were lost.
  • 54,000 were wounded or injured.
  • 88 of Soviet forces suffered serious illness.
  • 1-2 million Afghanis died.
  • In the 1980s half of the worlds refugees were
    from Afghanistan.
  • In February1988 the Soviets withdrew, leaving
    the Afghanis to conclude the war themselves.

The Soviets and Afghanistan
  • The Soviet-backed government held on in Kabul
    until 1992.
  • Fighting between Mujehaddin groups continued as
    ethnic divisions split the country.
  • Unity was not restored in most of the country
    until the Taliban emerged. Beginning their drive
    for power in 1994, they took Kabul in 1996
    though the Northern Alliance continued to rule
    parts of the country.
  • Islamic fundamentalism underpinned Taliban rule
    with womens rights (extended with Soviet help)
    stripped and music and entertainment banned.
    Sharia law was rigidly enforced.

Afghan Aftermath
  • Weapons from the Afghan war flooded the world
    as did committed jihadists from Kosovo to
    Lebanon to Chechnya, well armed fundamentalists
    were buoyed by their defeat of a super-power.
  • Returning Arab fighters had much to oppose when
    they returned to their authoritarian governed
  • In 1992 a military coup prevented the coming to
    power of the Moslem Brotherhood in Algeria.
  • Ongoing civil war in Chechnya cost lives in the
    affected area, while terrorism spread to Moscow

Kuwait and the First Gulf War
  • Saddam Hussein faced economic collapse at the end
    of the Iran-Iraq war.
  • In 1990 he gambled with an invasion of oil-rich
    Kuwait on questionable historical grounds.
  • Arab neighbours and Western Countries were taken
  • US President George Bush put together an alliance
    to oppose the move and ultimately reverse it.

Kuwait and the First Gulf War
  • A Western air campaign quickly destroyed the
    Iraqi air force.
  • Smart bombs and cruise missiles disabled Iraqi
    command and control capabilities.
  • When the ground campaign began, in early August,
    1990 Operation Desert Storm had rapid success.

Kuwait and the First Gulf War
  • While the war was being fought, Saddam Hussein
    sought to break the coalition by bringing Israel
    into the conflict hopefully splitting the Arab
    and Western allies.
  • Scud missiles fired at Tel-Aviv brought no
    Israeli response as the US promised to deliver
    the new Patriot anti-missile system to them,
    provided they kept out of the conflict.
  • Fears that Hussein might employ chemical weapons
    in the Scud attacks that were also launched
    against Saudi Arabia -- came to nothing. Iraq
    understood that any such escalation might lead to
    an Israeli nuclear response.

Gulf War Aftermath
  • The speed of Iraqs collapse caught many by
  • The coalition worked hard to promote dissent in
    Iraq prior to the collapse resulting in
    uprisings in the North by Kurds and by Shia in
    the South.
  • By surrendering quickly and accepting the loss of
    Kuwait, Saddam preserved much of his military
    force which he then turned on the rebels.
  • The coalition achieved its goals and now it
    turned its back on the Kurds and Shia.
  • Only a humanitarian disaster caused
    reconsideration as hundreds of thousands of Kurds
    fled across the mountains into Turkey a country
    with a Kurdish problem of its own.

Gulf War Aftermath
  • A safe zone was established in the North for the
  • A no-fly zone in both North and South forbade
    Iraqi aircraft from attacking.
  • Saddam Hussein continued to rule harshly, but was
    restrained somewhat by threats from the West.

  • On September 11, 2001 Americans were horrified by
    the coordinated attacks upon the World Trade
    Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington
    by Osama bin Ladens Al-Qaeda group.
  • Americans were shocked by terrorism at home, but
    this was not Al-Qaedas first attacks on America
    attacks on a US warship in Yemen and American
    embassy in Kenya preceded it.
  • Armed and supported by the US in the Afghan war
    bin Laden was consistent in his ideology,
    opposing American secularism as he opposed Soviet.

Response to 9-11
  • Osamas goal was to bring an American backlash
    against the Moslem world that would stimulate
    anti-Western feeling and possibly topple
    pro-American Arab regimes.
  • What would the Americans do?
  • Two schools of thought were voiced
  • Moderates, like Colin Powell wanted a measured
  • Radicals, like Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney
    called for a general attack on terrorists and the
    states that sponsored them including Iraq.

Response to 9-11
  • Al-Qaeda was quickly identified as the
  • The US prepared a dramatic response against the
    it and the Taliban regime that allowed it to
    operate in Afghanistan.
  • Working with the Northern Alliance and with NATO
    allies, the Americans quickly took control of the
    country, forcing Taliban and Al Qaeda across the
    border into Pakistans tribal territories.
  • The war now moved into a low-intensity conflict
    that still continues.
  • The Americans set up an administration under
    Hamid Karzai but real power in much of the
    country is in the hands of local warlords.
  • A decade of war left nothing resolved and the
    conflict seems more and more to parallel the
    Soviet experience though with lower casualties.

Response to 9-11
  • The US administration sought to use global
    sympathy to push a larger agenda.
  • George W. Bush proclaimed a War on Terror.
    Many observers noted that this was an illogical
    concept one can fight a particular group or
    country...but a tactic?
  • The declaration was largely unchallenged in the
    aftermath of 9-11, however.

Response to 9-11
  • The US passed the Patriot Act, which drastically
    curtailed civil rights allowing arrest and
    detention without establishing cause.
  • A detention camp was set up at Guantanamo Bay
    specifically to avoid possible interference by
    courts in the (mis)treatment of prisoners.
  • Other countries also passed similar laws, though
    none so far-reaching as the US.

Response to 9-11
  • Bush went on to talk of an axis of evil
    including Iran, Iraq and North Korea all
    contributors to global terrorism.
  • In June, he enunciated the so-called Bush
    Doctrine, claiming for America the right to take
    pre-emptive action against its enemies anywhere
    in the world without international sanction.
    The lack of serious public debate of this
    pronouncement was astonishing but clearly
    limited by public fear in the aftermath of 9-11.

Response to 9-11
  • Within the US government, the hawks won the day.
  • In September, 2002 Iraq announced that UN weapons
    inspectors could look for weapons of mass
    destruction in the country to prevent a
    Bush-led pre-emptive strike.
  • The US claimed Iraq was continuing secret
    chemical and nuclear weapon production.
  • Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council,
    presenting intelligence supporting the US
  • What he seems not to have known is that Vice
    President Cheneys office cited dubious
    intelligence and ignoring the CIA information on
    this file.

Response to 9-11
  • Cheney and the US hawks insisted that Iraq was
    involved in the 9-11 attacks. A case was being
    made for war.
  • On March 21, 2003 US, British and other troops
    invaded Iraq, quickly crushing resistance.
  • On May 1 George Bush announced that major combat
    operations in Iraq have ended and that the
    Battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror
    that began on September the 11th, 2002, and still
    goes on.

Response to 9-11
  • However, the war did not end. It merely entered
    a new phase a guerrilla conflict, something the
    military terms assymetrical warfare and the
    politicians called an insurrection.
  • No WMDs were found. Revelations of the use of
    torture by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq
    and Guantanamo Bay simply turned the Arab
    Street against the US.

(No Transcript)
Responces to 9-11
Response to 9-11
  • Furthermore, the use of pre-emptive war, the
    stripping of civil rights in the US and in allied
    countries, the revelation of special rendition of
    prisoners to 3rd states for torture and the
    reality of a war on terror that might never end
    to justify it all worried many.
  • Moslems wondered why the war on terror seemed to
    focus only on Moslems when terrorism was a global
  • Bin Laden failed in trying to create a crisis
    that would topple Arab regimes and help create
    new theocracies.
  • However, wars killing large numbers of Moslems,
    created huge resentments everywhere in the Moslem

Response to 9-11
  • The 9-11 response reinforced the feelings of some
    in the West that we were engaged in what
    historian Samuel P. Huntingdon termed a clash of
    civilizations. He theorized that radical Islam
    and liberal democracy were antithetical. Another
    historian, Paul Johnson argued that Islam was a
    religion spread by the sword and motivated by
    fundamentalist beliefs opposed to Western
  • To policy makers raised under the Cold War
    paradigm, this provided a new and simple world
    view. Arms manufacturers identify a new foe and
    those who sought restriction of civil rights, a
    new justification.

The Jasmine Revolution and its Aftermath
  • In the 1990s American neo-conservatives argued
    that America might impose a democracy in the
    Middle East that would become a model for change.
  • The Invasion of Iraq was thought to provide this
    opportunity but American imposed Iraqi
    democracy was messy, with sectarian disputes
    causing friction and no agreement about what
    democracy looks like.
  • In 2010 demonstrations against authoritarian
    regimes began in many Arab countries this time
    the call for democracy was internal triggered
    by the suicide of Mohammed Bouazizi after
    authorities impounded his market cart and beat
    him and other officials refused to hear his
  • A small demonstration in his hometown resonated
    everywhere and popular rage against authoritarian
    government in Tunisia exploded.

The Jasmine Revolution and its Aftermath
  • Attempts to put down the demonstrations led to
    hundreds of deaths and many injuries.
  • In the end, the military withdrew its support of
    the government of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. He
    resigned and an interim government promised
    reforms and free elections.

The Jasmine Revolution and its Aftermath
  • In January 2011, demonstrators appeared in Tahrir
    Square, Cairo.
  • The Jasmine Revolution spread to Egypt, the most
    populous and important Arab state.
  • President Mubarak used security forces to try to
    end the demonstrations, but failed. The army was
    reluctant to move against the demonstrators.
  • Cosmetic changes to government similarly did not
    result in an end to demonstrations that now
    extended throughout the country.
  • Mubarak himself resigned and an interim
    government promised a referendum on
    constitutional change and free elections to
  • The March 20 referendum passed and significant
    guarantees were made to the rights of Egyptians.

The Jasmine Revolution and its Aftermath
  • Demonstrations also spread to Yemen, Jordan,
    Bahrain and Syria where governments promised
    reforms, but delivered little (to the time of
  • In Libya it sparked a civil war, with opponents
    of the long-term autocrat Ghaddafi found success
    in the East, but were repressed in the West.

The Jasmine Revolution and its Aftermath
  • Western governments, taken by surprise in this
    Arab Spring played only a peripheral role in
    most Arab countries.
  • In Libya they took a more active role.
  • A no-fly zone was declared in Libyan airspace
    to prevent the better armed government forces
    from crushing the rebels.
  • The rationale was to protect civilian lives.
    However, it was also clear that the Western
    forces were supportive of the rebels, though
    their mission was not cleared to effect regime
    change. Rules of engagement seem murky and one
    wonders what might emerge if this conflict lasts
    very long.

The Jasmine Revolution and its Aftermath
  • Where all of this is headed is unsure.
  • Regimes that waiver will disappear. Some that do
    may be replaced by new regimes that differ little
    from the old but that play a better public
    relations game.
  • Other regimes will weather the storm and be even
    more repressive to do so.
  • Theocracies may result in one or more countries.
  • However, out of this should emerge some
    home-grown democracies that better meet the
    aspirations of their people. Westerners should
    not expect that their goals are identical to our
    own though.
  • The world is more complicated than our simple
    ideological positions tell us. We cannot expect
    everyone elses aspirations to be like our own.

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