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New York Review of Books: The Revolutionary Shias

Author: Malise Ruthven
December 22, 2011

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Malise Ruthven argues that Hamid Dabashi's book, Shi'ism: A Religion of Protest, performs a vital cultural and political service by emancipating Shiism from its use by Iran.

In 2004, anticipating the victory of the Shiite parties in the Iraqi parliamentary elections, King Abdullah of Jordan warned of a "Shiite crescent" stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon that would be dominated by Iran with its large majority of Shias and Shiite clerical leadership. The idea was picked up by the Saudi foreign minister, who described the US intervention in Iraq as a "handover of Iraq to Iran" since the US was supporting mainly Shiite groups there after overthrowing Saddam Hussein's Sunni regime. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt claimed that Shias residing in Arab countries were more loyal to Iran than to their own governments. In an Op-Ed published in The Washington Post in November 2006, Nawaf Obaid, national security adviser to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, reflected on the urgent need to support Iraq's Sunni minority, which had lost power after centuries of ruling over a Shiite majority comprising more than 65 percent of the Iraqi population.

Shiaphobia is nothing new for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom's legitimacy derives from the Wahhabi sect of Islam, a Sunni Muslim group that attacked Shiite shrines in Iraq in the nineteenth century, and today systematically discriminates against Shias. We know from WikiLeaks that the US government regards the Saudi monarchy as a "critical financial support base" for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and other terrorist groups. As well as attacking American and Indian targets, all these are violently anti-Shiite. We also know that the Saudi king venomously urged his US allies to cut off the "head of the snake" by attacking Shiite Iran.

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