24 September 2014

ISIS—a force for peace?

A juxtaposition of two articles in the Guardian this week suggested a very odd development indeed in the Middle East—the barbaric hordes of ISIS currently marauding through Syria and northern Iraq may actually be, in the longer term, a force for peace.

The first article referred to a meeting in New York between British PM David Cameron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The meeting, to discuss the support Iranians can offer in the fight against ISIS, is the first between British and Iranian heads of state since the 1979 revolution. It represents a significant thaw of the relations between the two countries. Cameron, while remaining critical of Iran's nuclear program and its support for Syia's President al-Assad, stated, "If Iran is willing to join the international community to defeat ISIS then we will work with them on that."

The other article concerned a foreign minister-level meeting between Iran and Saudi Arabia, indicating another possible thaw in some deeply frigid relations. Shia Iran and the conservative Sunni Sauds have been bitter rivals for influence in the region. After the meeting, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying, "Both my Saudi counterpart and I believe that this meeting will be the first page of a new chapter in our two countries’ relations. We hope that this new chapter will be effective in establishing regional and global peace and security and will safeguard the interests of Muslim nations across the world." Prince Saud, for his part, referring to the advancing ISIS, added, “We are aware of the importance and sensitivity of this crisis and the opportunity we have ahead of us. ... These two countries are influential in the region and cooperation between them will have clear effects on the establishment of regional and global security." Amen to both of you.

A common enemy often unites the strangest of bedfellows. The trick is to remain united after the crisis passes. If these bedfellows can achieve that, or at least be less divided, this would be an ironic but most welcome outcome—the emergence of a silver lining from a very dark cloud indeed.

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