Merchant of Death
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Blood from Stones

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The Looming Confrontation
The panorama of Islamist violence and activism that is surging in several places in the world is not encouraging:

The deteriorating situation in Lebanon, where al Qaeda threatens to retaliate if the Lebanese army attacks Fatah al Islam in the refugee camp; the emergence itself of Fatah al Islam, a Sunni/Salafist group operational in Lebanon;

Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi'ite cleric in Iraq, re-emerges after months of silence, to give a fiery sermon denouncing the United States and fanning the flames of Shi'ite violence.

In the Palestinian territories, Hamas is again encouraging suicide bombings in Israel and launching daily missile attacks, while waging a parallel war against the secular Fatah government.

In Afghanistan, a new al Qaeda leader is named, perhaps signaling a new version of the core al Qaeda leadership that is emerging (what Peter Bergen would call al Qaeda 3.0)

There is one interesting thing to remember in this panorama, however. Ultimately, as both Shi'ite and Sunni groups grow more confident in their ability to impose a solution by force, their desire to kill each other will likely come to the fore, pitting them against each other and inflicting more damage than the United States could ever hope to do.

One of the few advantages the non-Muslim world has in the current war is that the ideology and theology of hate preached by both the most radical elements in the Shi'ite and Salafist is so exclusive that they will eventually feel the need to heed the command to kill each other as infidels.

One retired former senior CIA official recently described this as akin to the Sino-Soviet split in the Cold War. What ultimately allowed for the fall of Communism was the inability of the two major Communist powers to get past their differences, no matter how petty and obscure those ideological difference appeared to the outside world.

So it is in violent Islamist theological wars. Killing fellow Muslims over a disagreement over who should have led the religion centuries ago strikes many of us outside the religion as still killing people over the papal successions in the Middle Ages. But it is very real to those involved.

This was perhaps among the great contribution of Sayyed Qutb, the theology of being able declare other Muslims _takfir_ or an apostate. As an apostate, one is a legitimate target for divine sanction, including execution.

Iran, through Moqtada al-Sadr and multiple other channels, seeks to create a Shi'ite state in Iraq. Iran, although far behind the Chinese, is trying to invest in Shi'ite outreach programs in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

It was the establishment of a Shi'ite theocratic state in Iran in 1979 that triggered Saudi Arabia's massive global _wahhabist_ campaign. Iran was seen (and is still seen) as a mortal enemy of the Sunni _salafist/wahhabist_ theology. The fear of Iranian/Shi'ite expansion is a major driving force in Middle Eastern politics now.

At the same time, al Qaeda leaders have repeatedly spoken against Shi'ites as apostates. There have been tactical alliances and Iran still protects some senior al Qaeda officials, but that should not be confused with love or friendship. To many in the al Qaeda camp, the Shi'ites are a dangerous enemy. The debate has not been over whether to kill Shi'ites, but whether one should first get rid of the "far enemy" in the United States or the "near enemy" in the form of the corrupted Islamist government in Saudi Arabia.

But make no mistake. Ultimately the _wahhabists_ view the Shi'ites as _takfir_, who must be wiped out or brought into submission. The Shi'ite theocrats feel the same way about the Sunni. This close-minded religious hatred may weaken the movement that, writ large, wants to destroy us. Perhaps they will destroy each other instead.

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