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Background Report Threat of Islamic Militancy

February 13, 1979
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The emergence of Islamic militancy as a political force in Iran and possibly other Moslem countries poses a threat not only to Israel and the Middle East but ultimately to American interests and the entire Western world, according to a group of Israeli social scientists and expert on Middle Eastern affairs at Tel Aviv University.

The current moves to establish an Islamic republic in Iran and its repercussions were the subjects of discussion at a symposium on current events at the university Prof Shimon Shamir, head of the department of Middle Eastern and African history, warned that the winds of Islamic fanaticism may blow all the way from Iran to Morocco.

Islam is not inherently in conflict with Israel or Judaism and, in fact, they have much in common culturally. But the brand of Islamic militancy that has emerged in Iran has taken a decidedly anti-Jewish, anti-Israel turn, he said.

The discussants attributed these developments in Iran and other countries of the region to the shock of exposure to Western culture by societies that had remained static for many centuries and the attendant shattering of traditional structures without any new, strong framework to replace them. Prof. Haim Shaked of the University’s Shiloah Institute of Middle Eastern Affairs noted the conflict between the traditional Islamic tribal family that was not only biological but a working machine and military unit, and the smaller modern biological family common to the West.

The participants in the symposium agreed that the fields of science and technology lack social status in Arab countries. They maintained that despite the recent increase of university students in those countries, they continue to lag in science and technology. Countries like oil-rich Saudi Arabia bring in Western experts who create friction with Islamic values, the panelists said.

They agreed that on the political level, both Communism and capitalism are perceived by Moslem Arabs as agents of Western materialism, opposed to Islam which offers spiritual as well as secular guidance. Nevertheless, the experts outlined one scenario that would have on Islamic republic in Iran form a coalition with the Soviet Union, Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

That alliance would probably command the support of Syria, South Yemen, Libya, Ethiopia, and possibly Somalia and would threaten not only Israel but the Hashemite Kingdom in Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the Arab Emirates, on the Persian Gulf and Egypt, and would constitute a major blow to vital American and West European interests in the region. The question remains, the experts said, if radical Islam can rally the necessary support and sufficient momentum to realize its political aims and impose Islamic law on every aspect of life in a country like Iran.

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