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Thursday, June 18, 2009

A religious conflict?

I have made the point many times that I believe that our conflict with our neighbors is a religious conflict - that the Muslim world will not stand for the Jewish 'interlopers' on what they regard as 'Muslim land.' On the other hand, Michael Totten points out - correctly - that Israel has and had relations with some Muslim countries (Hat Tip: DannyA). (It should probably be pointed out that relations with Turkey aren't what they used to be).

While it's true that Israel has relations with some Muslim countries who do not share borders with us, there are other non-Arab Muslim countries that do not share borders with us that still hate us. For example, while Indonesia was happy to accept aid from Israel when the tsunami hit there in December 2004, it does not maintain diplomatic relations with us, it condemns us regularly in all kinds of world forums, and it never deviates from the Muslim block party line. Indonesia also tried hard to keep it secret that it had accepted aid from Israel, and Israelis have not been allowed to travel to Indonesia since then.

Curiously, I have several regular readers of this blog from Malaysia (in case you thought I didn't notice...), another country which at least officially hates Israel. I recall in the early '90's having a client that was selling equipment to Malaysia that needed to do so secretly because the government would not deviate from the OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) party line. Officially, Malaysia, a non-Arab Muslim country that does not share a border with us, hates us.

Totten quotes a lengthy passage from Amir Taheri's The Persian Night in which Taheri discusses how the Khomeni regime in Iran and his successors have 'Arabized' Persia to bring it into conflict with Israel. I urge you to read it. While Taheri's characterization of what the Islamists have done as 'Arabizing' the conflict is correct, I also believe it's an oversimplification. What distinguishes Iran from Indonesia, Malaysia and other non-Arab Muslim countries is that Iran before Khomeni had warm relations with Israel and had a secular culture that did not hate Israel or Jews. Totten alludes to this:
Iran used to have normal relations with Israel. I met Israel’s last ambassador to Iran in Jerusalem in 2006. He was posted in Tehran before the old regime of the Shah was overthrown by the Khomeinists. His very existence reminded me that hostile relations between Israel and Iran need not be eternal.
That's true. I'm a little older than Totten, and I was in yeshiva in Israel when the Islamic revolution in Iran took place, and one of the discussions I recall at the time was how El Al was going to get its employees out of Tehran (yes, they flew there).

In fact, someone in my family was the Rabbi of a Persian synagogue for many years, and his congregants took him to visit Iran sometime in the '60's or '70's when he was in Israel for the summer.

And there's a (non-Jewish) gentleman in England with whom I do business from time to time, who used to work in the oil industry in Iran, and told me that he left Iran on the last flight to London in 1979. He was sitting in the cockpit - there was no place else.

Clearly, the Islamic revolution came as a surprise to the West. Iran was a normal country until then (to watch an Iran Air US television advertisement from the '70's go here).

Totten may well be correct when he says
A post-Khomeinist Iran, whether it comes into being now or later, might resume normal relations with Israel or at least dial down the hostility to a lower volume.
but Tom Gross was also correct when he wrote
No Muslim religious authority in Asia or Africa can or will rule that Islam can tolerate a Jewish state in Palestine with its capital in Jerusalem.
The key to any Iranian rapprochement with Israel will not be a change in Islam's attitude toward Israel, but rather a return by ordinary Iranians to the secular, Persian culture that they knew before Khomeni came to power. At this point, that's a culture that the majority of Iranians have only heard about and have never known. There is hope that the demonstrations in the streets of all of Iran's cities this week indicate a thirst to return to that culture.

The conflict between Israel and its neighbors is a religious conflict (yet another reason why it's existential and irreconcilable), but it's possible that a post-Islamic Iran (it should only happen speedily and in our times) will leave the Islamic orbit and return to Persian secularism. That's real hope for Iran and for the rest of the World.


At 10:58 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Iran has a long pre-Islamic history. Most Muslim countries know only Islam. Iran was conquered by the Arabs who destroyed the Zoroastrian faith and culture of Iran. The Iranians submitted to Islam but they never accepted outright Arabization and they have looked down ever since on the Arabs. Don't let the superficial warmth between Iran and the Arabs mislead one into thinking the past has been forgotten and forgiven. Hardly. And someday, the national and cultural differences will again highlight the divide between Iran and the Arab World.

When that day comes, Iran and Israel will again be friends instead of adversaries.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Ashan said...

When Muslim nations turn Islamic, the relationship with Israel erodes. This particularly true of Turkey and its Islamicization under Erdogan, and becoming true of both Jordan and Egypt as the influence of their respective Islamic parties increases. This may be Hussein Obama's wish too, as he "3rd World-izes" the US. (I understand that Hussein will not speak to Mubarak's son, Jimmy, but instead prefers to initiate contacts with the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.)

There are 2 good signs: One is the current Iranian revolution that just might overthrow the oppressive Islamic regime. And the second sign is that events in Iran might push the secular Turkish army to stage a coup.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger R-MEW Editors said...

I have spent time in both Indonesia and Malaysia and it is clear that it is the influence of Islam that generates intense enmity for "the other". The ethnic Chinese in Indonesia have suffered numerous pogroms at the hands of the Muslims over the years. This does not occur on the island of Bali which is predominantly Hindu.

Malaysia, despite being held up as an example of a modern capitalist country, maintains the Bumiputera system -- a type of institutionalized discrimination aimed at non-Muslims which, amongst other draconian mandates, requires non-Muslims to provide a 50% ownership stake to a Muslim if they wish to open a business.

Turkey only adopted open, secular values because Ataturk aggressively separated the state from Islam and reformed the legal and education systems. Under Erdogan, the country is now reverting.

Totten believes that there are "good" Muslims (and countries) and "bad" Muslims, e.g., Hezbollah. He generally ignores the fundamental basis for antipathy of non-Muslims grounded in the Qur'an.

At 7:30 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

There is no Muslim country that is tolerant and free. Obama could not give a single example in his Cairo address. Islam has a rigorous absolutism that fanaticism only fans and inflames. No non-Muslim minority anywhere is truly safe. And the Jews are the most hated of all, even in countries where no Jew has ever lived. That is the true state of Islam.


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