Interesting piece on the stunning incompatibilities between Iran and Turkey.
Who Will Win the Battle for the Hearts and Minds
- Iran and today's Turkish government are engaged in a battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab street. Iran represents the Shiites and Turkey represents the Sunnis. The Arab world is largely Sunni, with the exception of many of the Persian Gulf Arab countries and Iraq.
- Iran and the Turkish government are also working together against the non-Muslim world - most specifically against the U.S. and Israel.
- Both the Saudi government and private Saudi individuals are funding Islamist extremism throughout the Muslim world, most importantly in Turkey. They have a willing partner in the current Turkish government.
- It appears that the Saudis and the present Turkish government are interested in reestablishing the Caliphate - at first culturally, but later possibly even politically - most likely in Istanbul, the seat of the last Sunni Caliph until the early 1920s.
- Iran is Shiite and is appealing to the Arab Sunni street by trying to co-opt the agenda of the Sunni masses - the existence of Israel and the sanctity of Jerusalem - neither of which are traditional Shiite issues.
- In doing so, Iran seeks to undermine the existing autocratic and dictatorial Arab Sunni regimes by going over the heads of their leaders and appealing directly to the Arab street. That is the major reason why almost all of the regimes in the region hate the Iranian regime more than they hate Israel.
The Sunni-Shiite Divide
Iranian Shiites and Turkish Sunnis are engaged today in a huge battle to capture the hearts and minds of the Arab street, most of which, outside of Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and southern and eastern Lebanon, are largely Sunni. Sunni Arabs feel more of a bond with Turkish Sunnis than with Iranian or Arab Shiites, in spite of the Arab Sunni world's historical animosity toward what they define as Turkish/Ottoman imperialism.
When Muhammad died, the question arose as to who was going to inherit the mantle of Islam. Some supported the family of Muhammad, and later became known as the Shiites. Others - much stronger - who supported the aristocracy in Mecca, later became known as the Sunnis. The Sunni-Shiite divide occurred more than 1,400 years ago, but it is still alive and well. Iran represents the Shiites and Turkey represents the Sunnis in today's battle for the leadership of Islam.
Sunnis and Shiites have very different world views, and their disputes have often descended into violence (with the Sunnis almost always winning military confrontations). Even so, this basic disagreement has not prevented them from working together against the non-Muslim world - most specifically today against America (the leader of the West) and Israel.
Iran is at a terrible disadvantage in the Arab and Muslim worlds because it is Shiite. Besides a god they call Allah and a prophet named Muhammad, they do not have much else in common. They do not even agree on the role of Muhammad, because the main figure in Shiism is Ali, Muhammad's first cousin and son-in-law who was married to Muhammad's daughter, Fatima. From this line come the Shiite imams. The Shiites believe that the Twelfth Imam will return and their version of Islam will triumph.
Shiites and Sunnis often do not view each other as fellow Muslims. In Iran, it is not uncommon to hear Iranian Shiites ask foreign Middle Easterners, "Are you Muslim or Sunni?" The Sunnis - especially the Saudis and other Wahhabis - return the "complement" by labeling the Shiites "apostates" or even "Jews." The punishment for apostasy in Islam is death.
About 85 percent of the Muslim world is Sunni and most of the Arab world, except for Iraq, other Persian Gulf countries, and parts of Lebanon, does not really know what Shiism is. Therefore, the Shiites are at a disadvantage because their brand of Islam seems, at best, strange, if not heretical, to most of the people in the Arab world.
Some two-thirds of Turkey's population is Sunni. The Ottoman Empire, on whose embers modern Turkey was founded, was a Sunni empire which treated the Shiites and their allies - like the Alevis in Turkey - badly.
About a third of Turkey's population are Alevis. Historically, Alevism is closer to Shiism than Sunnism, as Alevis venerate Ali and traditionally have made pilgrimages to Najaf, where Ali is buried. Alevis are being terribly discriminated against by this Turkish regime. The government refuses to fund Alevi religious houses of worship - called Cemevis - but does fund mosque construction for Sunnis. The government also forces Alevi schoolchildren to take classes on Sunnism, trying to convert Alevis to Sunnism.
I have heard senior Turkish government officials call Alevis "dogs" and claim that Alevis engage in immoral acts. These are traditional Sunni accusations that were hurled at Alevis during the time of the Ottomans. During the earlier years of the secular Turkish Republic, where Ataturk and his allies, who had much Alevi support, tried to extinguish the differences between all citizens of Turkey, it was considered in bad taste for Sunnis to make such accusations. Since 2002, when Erdogan et al came to power, that is no longer the case.) Such discrimination was not always the case.
Until the 1500s, Iran was largely Sunni, but for various political reasons it became very Shiite within a hundred years, largely as a means of protecting Iranian culture from the Arab/Turkish/Sunni non-Iranian world around it.
Now, both Iran and this Turkish government are working together to undermine the West and to advance the Islamic cause around the world. The battle will continue until the entire world becomes Muslim. But deep down, they also loathe each other.