From Mon Oct 1 18:27:09 2001
Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2001 00:41:22 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <>
Subject: The roots of radical Islam; Growing Call for Proof
Article: 127251
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

The roots of radical Islam

By Jonathan Manthorpe, The Vancouver Sun 27 September 2001

Meddling by western powers fuelled the radicalization of Middle East

So what happened while we weren't paying attention?

How was it that suspicion and antipathy in the Muslim world towards the West and the United States slipped beyond reach?

What happened in the hearts and minds of 19 young men that it became reasonable to train for two years to kill themselves and take thousands of innocent civilians with them?

History is a treacherous place.

For those with unshakable political, philosophical or religious certainty, it can be a broad and clear highway.

For others it is a meandering and slippery mountain track poised precariously between the loose rocks above and the chasm below.

So let us take a deep breath, clasp our hiking sticks firmly and pick a time and place to start.

Tehran, the capital of Iran, Aug. 19, 1953.

That is as good a time as any to see the birth of modern and politically powerful radical, fundamentalist Islam and where the seeds of terror were sown.

At the end of a tumultuous day on the streets of the Iranian capital, the United States' Central Intelligence Agency had pulled off one of its few successful coup d'etats. It ousted the nationalist, secular prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq, and restored the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had fled to Rome a few days before.

Justification for the coup, which was a joint venture between the CIA and Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, was that in these early days of the Cold War, Iran under Mossadeq seemed about to fall under the control of the Soviet Union.

The secret service men and their governments saw this as having potentially disastrous implications for stability in the Middle East and for control over Iran's oil industry, then dominated by the United Kingdom's Anglo-Iranian, which later became British Petroleum and was 51-per-cent owned by the British government.

The Cold War's early years were times of alarm. It was easy for the British oil company, then about the only source of analysis of events in Iran, to persuade London and Washington that Mossadeq was not the affable but emotional liberal dedicated to a secular government that he seemed.

He was, the oil men claimed, a dangerous Communist sympathizer.

Mossadeq was actually a thoroughly European man who trained as a lawyer in Paris and practised in Switzerland for much of his career.

He was without doubt a dedicated democrat.

But by blocking the rise of liberal, secular nationalism in Iran in 1953, Washington and London played an important part in stirring the rise of radical Islam 25 years later.

The violent repressive state, overseen by the restored but paranoid Shah, led directly to a religious counter-revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

Khomeini's government became not only a model for fundamentalist regimes, but also for state-sponsored terrorism against American interests because of Washington's long, uncritical support of the shah.

In the early 1950s, even by the standards of other agreements in the Middle East, the oil companies' grip on Iran's resources was unfair. However, Mossadeq's pressure for a more equitable agreement was cold-shouldered.

In 1951, therefore, Mossadeq moved to nationalize Iran's oil resources, as Mexico had done a few years before. London and Washington accepted the oil company's analysis that the prime minister was a front for Soviet communism. y British Petroleum joined with the other major oil companies, known as the Seven Sisters, to embargo Iranian oil and confidently waited for the collapse of Mossadeq's government.

Mossadeq didn't collapse, but he became increasingly desperate as the country's major source of revenue dried up.

Meanwhile plotters in the CIA and Britain's MI6 were planning the coup.

Organizing the enterprise was the CIA's man in Tehran, Kermit Roosevelt, the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt. A key aide was General Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr., a friend of the shah who had headed the U.S. military mission in Tehran and who was responsible for the $1 million US available to finance the coup.

(The senior Schwarzkopf mounted a much more economical operation than his son, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., commanded to put another Middle Eastern royal house back on the throne in Kuwait nearly 40 years later.)

Kermit Roosevelt began by attempting to destabilize the Mossadeq government.

Paid Iranian operatives posed as Communist supporters of Mossadeq to threaten Muslim leaders and even set off terror bombs.

Roosevelt and Schwarzkopf had picked the man they wanted to be prime minister, General Fazlollah Zahedi, and hidden him in a series of safe houses. The shah knew what was going on, but was indecisive.

Only after great pressure was exerted did he agree to sign proclamations replacing Mossadeq with Zahedi.

Early in August 1953, Mossadeq realized there was a plot against him.

The prime minister called a referendum to dissolve parliament. The vote was rigged and he won by 99 per cent, which did nothing to inspire confidence on the streets.

The coup began on the night of Aug. 15 when pro-shah soldiers fanned out across Tehran to take control of key institutions. But Mossadeq was warned and when soldiers appeared at his home to arrest him they were themselves detained.

The following day the coup seemed bogged down and the shah lost his nerve.

He fled to Baghdad.

The whole enterprise seemed poised to fail when, on the morning of Aug. 17, the shah finally broadcast a message from Baghdad acknowledging he had signed the decrees replacing Mossadeq with Zahedi.

Roosevelt and his agents grasped at other straws to keep the operation alive, but on the night of Aug. 18, CIA headquarters in Washington advised him to abandon the coup.

Then, on the morning of Aug. 19, the mood on the streets changed as newspapers published the shah's decrees. y Truckloads of pro-shah troops began appearing and by mid-morning controlled much of the city. By the end of the day the outcome was beyond doubt.

The shah knew to whom he owed his throne. Very quickly Iran became the largest customer for American arms and the U.S.-based oil companies quickly supplanted the British as prime controllers of the industry.

In the months before the ousting of the shah in 1979, there were 40,000 Americans living and working in Iran, mostly being paid much more than Iranians doing the same job and all of them given immunity from Iranian law.

Of the several U.S. presidents who spanned the shah's rule, only John F.

Kennedy was more concerned about internal discord than the Soviet threat.

But even Kennedy's pressure for reform backfired.

In 1962, at Kennedy's urging, the shah launched a white revolution of land reform. His refusal, however, to exempt the massive land holdings of mosques and other religious institutions from redistribution as well as his plans to emancipate women and install secular municipal administrations brought fierce opposition from Muslim clerics.

Chief among the clerics was Ayatollah Khomeini, based in the ancient southwestern religious centre of Qom.

Khomeini was sent into exile in 1964, but his tape-recorded sermons and tracts sent from Paris became, perhaps, the first example of arms length popular revolution in the electronic information age.

It is worth pausing here at the city of Qom, which, as much as anywhere, symbolizes the historic inability of the Muslim world to strike a workable balance between civil and religious power.

Why, many are asking in these days after Sept. 11, are there no democracies among the Muslim countries of the Middle East?

That is not entirely true. Turkey, for more than 100 years, has and continues to struggle to maintain a secular Muslim state.

In the somewhat less conservative climate of Asia, Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, is trying to create an even more pure democracy. Neighbouring Malaysia, a majority Muslim state, has what has been described as a guided democracy.

But most Muslim states are either religious monarchies or kingdom's thinly disguised as republics.

Part of the reason for this can perhaps be found in the highly legal nature of Islam itself.

The Koran is not only a book of faith, but also a setting out of laws to govern Muslim society.

Judaism is similarly a law-based religion. It can only be a matter of speculation whether Israel would have adopted democratic forms if its founding impulse had come from the Sephardic Jews of North Africa rather than the Ashkenazi steeped in the civic traditions of Europe.

Jesus, in contrast, drew a distinction, not always followed subsequently, between church and state. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's, he said.

To broaden the context, the great Chinese sage Confucius, whose writings continue to provide the moral underpinning of many Asian societies, set out duties and obligations within the extended family.

While much of Islam remained a collection of rural, pastoral or nomadic communities, there was little challenge to the primacy of religious law.

In Iran, for example, the shahs of the last several hundred years were never effective rulers of the country. The religious leaders coming from the Islamic institutions of Qom and nearby cities were considerably more powerful and central to the daily lives of Iranians.

There were similarly powerful and rich centres of clerical authority all over the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia.

It was out of this tradition that Ayatollah Khomeini emerged in 1979 to create the puritan Islamic revolution.

His fierce brand of Islamic conservatism sprang to the fore because other ways of adapting Islam to the modern world, especially in the trials with Western industrialized powers, seemed to fail.

In the 19th century Islam found itself impotent in the face of European colonialism and unable to adapt the underpinnings of its societies to the industrialized world.

There were plenty of courageous attempts, to be sure.

But from North Africa to India, Muslim societies were brought under the authority of Europe at the height of the imperialist vogue.

There was little interest either among the imperial powers -- Britain, France, the Netherlands and later the U.S.—in encouraging the evolution of an Islam attuned to urbanized industrial society.

That predisposition grew more acute after the First World War when the Middle East's oil reserves became a matter of strategic importance to Western nations.

With the oil companies' desires often forming the policies of their governments, it was usually found more advantageous to strike agreements with narrowly based authoritarian governments, such as monarchies, rather than messy democracies.

Thus there has been a tendency to prop up increasingly insupportable monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and several of the Gulf oil states in the face of popular demands for reform which could put these countries on a more equal footing with the developed world.

Even quasi monarchies such as Syria, Libya and Iraq have often been seen in the West as inherently more stable and manipulable than the alternative.

And, as in Iran in 1953, there has also been a willingness to undermine domestic attempts at reform or to otherwise curb national aspirations.

The result of all these pressures, internal and external, has been to radicalize and polarize the mix of politics and religion.

The failure of reform and of Muslim countries to join the developed world has led to radicals rejecting the idea that such changes are desirable and they've retreated into hardline interpretations of Muslim doctrine from a simpler age.

Ayatollah Khomeini was the first revolutionary from this tendency to come to power. Despite the divisions and sects within Islam, he conveyed a heady message of the power of refusing to compromise.

He began funding such terrorist groups as the Palestinian Hezbollah and made terrorism a fixture of radical Islamic discontent.

That message of unswerving devotion to the cause was given added potency when, in 1980, Iraq was prodded into invading Iran by the U.S. and the promise of Saudi Arabian financing.

Many Muslims see only one common strand running through the West's attitudes towards the Middle East in the last 100 years and that is maintaining control over oil supplies.

It is a dark irony then that the destructive force employed by the terrorists this month against New York and Washington was not the nuclear, biological or chemical weapons of countless disaster scenarios.

It was oil, the fuel in the tanks of the four hijacked airliners.