The kings of irony: Saudi Arabia and Iran

The irony is that Saudi Arabia and Iran are more similar than they'd admit
5 min read
04 Jul, 2017
Comment: Both countries have succeeded in adopting versions of Islam that marginalise the vast majority of Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike, writes Laith Saud.
With Iranians barred from the annual hajj pilgrimage, thousands protested in Tehran [AFP]

The governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran are worthy of congratulations. 

They have obtained their goal of leading the Middle East; ironically, though the two regimes "hate one another", they could only have accomplished this task together. Together they are leading the Middle East into absolute destruction, an abyss of culture, thought and spirit.

Ironies abound when it comes to Iran and Saudi Arabia. They claim to represent Islam, but equally repulse any open minded critical thinking Muslim. 

Each claims to represent the legacy of Muhammad b. Abdullah, the founder of Islam, but Muhammad's movement brought foes together, established universal rules of justice, above and beyond petty tribalism, and laid the foundation for the birth of a civilisation. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iran are destroying this very same civilisation, all in his name. It is truly pathetic. 

If there is a God, that God blessed these two respective countries with exorbitant resources and wealth.

Now, I do not subscribe to the idea of a "clash of civilisations", but al-Afghani offered us the idea of a healthy competition between them. 

Iran and Saudi Arabia claim to represent Islam, but equally repulse any open minded critical thinking Muslim

In this competition, the West is, seemingly, becoming insurmountably superior. The United States put a man in the moon nearly half a century ago, yet neither Saudi Arabia or Iran can even produce a car. In such a desolate area, it is Israel leading the region in salinisation and irrigation technologies. 

Saudi Arabia and Iran? They spend this blessed wealth on buying weapons - always from other nations - to destroy their neighbours and stifle critical thinking at home. Pathetic.

Saudi Arabia and Iran resemble one another in so many ways, from the extremity of their official religious doctrines, to the stupidity of their foreign policy, to their equally embarrassing claims to "lead". 

For example, Sunnis in Iraq are easily the most open to and integrated into Shia beliefs, motifs and themes. No self-respecting Iraqi Sunni refers to Ali as anything less than "Imam Ali", but Iran chose to viciously persecute these Iraqis as its influence in the country grew, engaging in sectarian cleansing in Baghdad and beyond.

  Read more: Saudi-UAE demands challenge the fundamentals of international relations

But as I said, Saudi Arabia and Iran resemble one another more than differ. In Yemen, the Zaidis are the closest to Sunnis along the Shia spectrum, but Riyadh has decided to make US arms makers happy by bombarding this poor country with no end in sight, while millions of Yemeni children starve. 

It is disgusting, beyond pathetic. 

Saudi Arabia and Iran resemble one another more than they differ

Leadership? Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot even lead their neighbours into their embrace, but instead push them into the arms of their supposed "enemy". Meanwhile the world laughs at them, while a few white men become incredibly rich selling them weapons to destroy one another and the region.

Imam Ali wept following battles of the first civil war. Though he was victorious, he wept over his fallen brothers in Islam. Meanwhile, Muhammad bin Salman travels the world, shaking hands with Trump and Putin, constantly with a smirk on his face. Imam Ali weeps when Muslims fight one another. Salman smirks. 

 
Mohammed bin Salman met President Trump in March, and was
named Crown Prince by his father earlier this month [Getty]

And Iran. Many Arabs openly acknowledge that Iran possesses a deeply sophisticated civilisation and has done for centuries. One would hope that Iranian officials would know better. As Iranian militia leaders cry "Ya Hussein" in Syria, they kill innocent civilians to protect a goofy, incompetent, tyrant who holds power in Damascus. Does Bashar al-Assad remind us of anyone?

Iran and Saudi Arabia invoke power through similar means. They both rely on myths and completely simplified versions of Islamic history, both of which malign the actual complexity and great civility of this deep region. 

In Arabia, I kid you not, the historical remnants of early Islamic history are destroyed according to some strict "Wahhabi" mandate - to make way for… wait for it… shopping malls. 

Iranian clerics have adopted some misguided theological premise of "Sunni Original Sin," wherein all Sunnis are responsible for the death of Imam Hussein in the year 681 AD, who was actually killed by some punk tyrant who ruled from Damascus. 

Meanwhile the world laughs at them, while a few white men become incredibly rich selling them weapons to destroy one another and the region

This premise completely disregards the fact that "Khulufat ar-Rashidun" (the Rightly Guided Caliphs) is a Sunni concept, explicitly differentiating the early Caliphs from the Umayyads. 

But do not hold your breath waiting for the clerics in Saudi Arabia or Iran to make sense. 

Saudi Arabia and Iran, yes so much alike. They both have succeeded in adopting versions of Islam that marginalise the vast, vast majority of Muslims, Sunni and Shia alike.

I know many who truly believe the rise of both Iran and Saudi Arabia is a conspiracy born and bred in the West. They believe that brilliant analysts hiding in basements in DC or Tel Aviv pinned these two regimes against another by invading Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein. 

They believe these analysts exploited certain belief structures and fears to create a century-long civil war in the region - and that is what this is, a region-wide civil war. 

But I do not care for that line of thought. It absolves Muslims of their choices. Will we excuse the crimes of Saudi Arabia or Iran because we perceive either as defending our "sect"? I assure you that is hardly a spiritual position. 

Irony is defined by the "actual meaning of something that contradicts its literal meaning". Iran and Saudi Arabia embody irony in all sorts of ways. They claim to defend Islam, while killing Muslims. They claim to resist the encroachment of "Godless western culture", while each buys up US and Russian weapons to create hell on earth. 

And finally, they claim to lead - while in truth, they follow. If permitted to lead, the only place they are leading the region is off a cliff.  

The question is, what do we Muslims do now that we know this truth, because it is staring us square in the face. 

Laith Saud is a writer and scholar. He is co-author of An Introduction to Islam for the 21st Century (Wiley-Blackwell).

Follow him on Twitter: @laithsaud


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.