122. Iran & Saudi Arabia: The Rivalry that Split the Islamic World
This episode explores the history of Iran, the turning point of 1979, the hostage crisis, the clash between modernization and conservatism in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi-Iran rivalry and its impact on Pakistan, radicalization and its consequences in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the transformation of Islam in Peshawar and sectarian conflicts.
The year 1979 marked a significant turning point in the Middle East
Multiple watershed events occurred simultaneously, shaping the region as a whole.
Saudi Arabia and Iran became rivals after 1979
Their rivalry fueled extremism on both sides and led to increased religiosity and conservative values sweeping over the region.
The hostage crisis at the US Embassy in Tehran marked a turning point in US-Iran relations
It lasted for 400 days and marked the beginning of a 40-year confrontation between the two countries.
Saudi Arabia experienced a clash between modernization and conservatism in 1979
The siege of the holy mosque in Mecca highlighted this clash and led to a silent cultural revolution within the country.
Pakistan became a battleground for influence between Saudi Arabia and Iran
The country's large Shia minority and Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization efforts were major points of contention.
Radicalization in Pakistan and Afghanistan was influenced by Saudi Arabia
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provided an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to send young zealots to fight against communism.
Peshawar transformed from a liberal Sufi city to a hub for political and militant Islam
The Saudi influence on Madrasa kids led to confrontations with locals and the rise of sectarian conflicts.
Women in Pakistan are actively fighting against conservative ideologies
They protest by taking to the streets and burning their veils.
Sunnis and Shias turned against each other within Pakistan
The late 1980s witnessed the first state-sanctioned sectarian massacre, marking a significant shift in the country's dynamics.
Despite conflicts, there is hope for change
It is important to remember that the current situation hasn't always been this way.
- The History of Iran and its Geopolitical Significance
- The Turning Point of 1979
- The Hostage Crisis and the Islamic Revolution
- Clash Between Modernization and Conservatism in Saudi Arabia
- Saudi-Iran Rivalry and its Impact on Pakistan
- Radicalization and its Consequences in Pakistan and Afghanistan
- Transformation of Islam in Peshawar and Sectarian Conflicts
The History of Iran and its Geopolitical Significance
00:01 - 07:27
- Kim Gattas, author of "Black Wave, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the rivalry that unraveled the Middle East," joins the podcast.
- The podcast hosts discuss the history of Iran and why it is a central player in geopolitics.
- Kim Gattas shares her personal experience growing up in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.
- Despite the danger and destruction, people in Beirut found ways to continue with their lives.
- The city of Beirut still bears scars from its turbulent past, but has also undergone reconstruction.
- Kim Gattas' family was featured in news reports during the war, highlighting their resilience amidst chaos.
The Turning Point of 1979
07:12 - 15:27
- The year 1979 was a significant turning point in the Middle East, with multiple watershed events occurring simultaneously.
- These events include the Iranian Revolution, the Siege of the Holy Mosque of Mecca, the rise of Zialhuk in Pakistan, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
- While there are individual books on each event, no one had previously studied how these events interacted and shaped the region as a whole.
- The collective memory in the Middle East is marked by the question "what happened to us," reflecting the profound changes that occurred after 1979.
- The contention that Sunni-Shia animosity has always existed is challenged, as 1979 marked a shift in Saudi Arabia and Iran becoming rivals and fueling extremism on both sides.
- The "Black Wave" refers to increased religiosity, political Islam, and conservative values that swept over the region due to rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
- This wave had far-reaching effects on various aspects of society including movies, literature, and dress codes.
- Both men and women suffered as a result of these changes. It's important to acknowledge that suffering is not limited to women alone.
- It is incorrect to dismissively claim that conflicts in the Middle East have been ongoing for millennia. Understanding pre-1979 conditions is crucial for gaining perspective on current events.
- Any note of optimism regarding the region's future is welcomed after decades of darkness.
The Hostage Crisis and the Islamic Revolution
15:11 - 23:08
- The hostage crisis at the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 marked a turning point in the relationship between the US and Iran.
- Anti-American sentiment started to appear among students and leftists in Iran during this time.
- Khomeini saw an opportunity to establish himself as a leader by seizing on the anti-imperial and anti-American sentiment.
- The hostage crisis lasted for 400 days and marked the beginning of a 40-year confrontation between Iran and the US.
- The revolution in Iran led by Khomeini eliminated secular constitutionalists, liberals, and leftists, resulting in an Islamic revolution.
- Saudi Arabia was deeply conservative before 1979, particularly in the interior desert area.
- Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Sunni Islam, was prevalent in Saudi Arabia at that time.
- Saudi Arabia was slowly modernizing and opening up to the West due to oil and construction projects.
- There were pockets of culture and openness in certain regions of Saudi Arabia, such as Jeddah on the Red Sea.
- However, there were also conservative clerics and young devout individuals who wanted to impose their religious beliefs.
Clash Between Modernization and Conservatism in Saudi Arabia
22:43 - 30:27
- In 1979, Saudi Arabia experienced a clash between modernization and conservatism, highlighted by the siege of the holy mosque in Mecca.
- The siege was carried out by radical zealots who humiliated the Saudi royal family and caused them to lose control.
- The events in Saudi Arabia were not connected to the hostage crisis at the US Embassy in Tehran, but rather a result of internal dissatisfaction with efforts to modernize and open up to the West.
- The Saudi kingdom made a deal with the clerical establishment, allowing them more leeway to impose conservative values in exchange for protecting their role as leaders of the country.
- This deal led to the exportation of Saudi radicals to other countries, such as Pakistan, particularly during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
- Ayatollah Khomeini questioned Saudi Arabia's role as custodians of the holy sites and advocated for international custodianship.
- The Saudis felt deeply wounded and allowed for a silent cultural revolution within their own country, tightening restrictions and shutting down cultural establishments.
- Both Iran and Saudi Arabia experienced cultural revolutions during this time period, but Iran's revolution was more visible compared to Saudi Arabia's silent revolution.
- The State Department was watching with horror as events unfolded in both Iran and Saudi Arabia but did not have direct involvement or control over these events.
Saudi-Iran Rivalry and its Impact on Pakistan
30:02 - 37:13
- The Saudi government initially welcomed Ayatollah Khomeini after his return to Iran, as they saw him as a potential replacement for the Shah.
- However, Khomeini had previously expressed hatred towards the Saudis and the Wahhabis.
- The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia began soon after the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the subsequent hostage crisis at the American embassy.
- Both countries started exporting their revolutionary ideas, with Pakistan becoming a significant battleground for influence.
- Pakistan has a large Shia minority, which is the second largest outside of Iran. The founder of Pakistan, Jina, was also from a Shia background.
- In Pakistan, Zia-ul-Haq, a dictator who wanted to Islamize the country, received support from Saudi Arabia.
- One major point of contention was Zia's implementation of Zakat (giving away 2.5% of wealth to charity), which had strong Saudi influence.
- Khomeini took notice of these developments and became concerned about Saudi influence in Pakistan.
Radicalization and its Consequences in Pakistan and Afghanistan
36:47 - 44:36
- Whipping is common to both sides of a brutal implementation of Islam in Pakistan, due to the influence of Saudi Arabia.
- Zhiyal Hak antagonizes the Shia population by making Zakat mandatory, leading to protests and his eventual backing down.
- The Iranians do not make significant inroads in Pakistan, but Ziya's decision creates a fissure in society between Sunnis and Shias.
- In December 1979, the Soviets invade Afghanistan, providing an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to send young zealots to fight against the communists.
- Peshawar becomes a hub for political and militant Islam, with fighters crossing into Afghanistan and returning home radicalized.
- The American CIA funds the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Cold War, but their real mistake was not having a strategy for dealing with the aftermath.
- The Saudis influence events in Pakistan by building Wahhabi madrasas, which produce radicals and contribute to the rise of Islamist armies.
- Peshawar attracts figures like Osama bin Laden who inject their worldview into the city and aggravate the local population.
Transformation of Islam in Peshawar and Sectarian Conflicts
44:10 - 47:53
- In Peshawar, the nature of Islam has changed radically over time, moving away from the old tomb worship of the liberal Sufi sect.
- The Saudi influence on Madrasa kids in Peshawar has led to confrontations with locals at a Sufi shrine, resulting in the destruction of musical instruments and even a bomb being placed in the main shrine.
- Raman Baba, a local saint who preached peace and harmony, is seen as an enemy by these new Madrasa kids.
- Women in Pakistan are actively fighting against conservative ideologies, often taking to the streets and burning their veils as a form of protest.
- In the late 1980s, Pakistan experienced its first state-sanctioned sectarian massacre when Zialhak sent Sunni militias to kill Shias in response to their attempts to protect themselves from Soviet shelling in their area.
- This event marked the beginning of Sunnis and Shias turning against each other within Pakistan.
- Despite these conflicts, it is important to remember that it hasn't always been this way and there is hope for change.