Since 2002 Sunni jihadi groups like Jaysh al-‘Adl have been active in Iranian Baluchistan, yet the region remains relatively stable. Dudoignon’s book shows that the key reason for this is Tehran’s cultivation of good relations with Sunni ulama in the Sarbaz area in Baluchistan, a policy that began after World War Two.
Educated in the socially conservative south-Asian Deobandi school of Islam, the Sarbaz ulama have conspicuous transnational connections and yet have been valuable to Iran’s governments. They were recruited by the Pahlavi Shahs as a bulwark against Soviet influence, and they rallied to Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 before playing a small part in the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad.
This book shows how this confessional network, through their hegemony in eastern Iran and their alliance with the Kurdish-born Muslim Brothers, has prevented the rise of Sunni radicalism in Iran since 1997 through the promotion of a ‘Sunni vote’. It highlights, too, the capacity of the Islamic Republic to transform a nascent ‘Sunni community of Iran’ into an asset, through Ayatollah Khamenei’s policy of ‘national union and confessional concord’.
Stéphane A. Dudoignon is a CNRS Senior Research Fellow at EHESS (Paris). He works on the emergence of counter-elites out of marginal ethno-social groups in the modern Middle East and Central Asia, and is co-editor of Allah’s Kolkhozes: Migration, De-Stalinisation, Privatisation and the New Muslim Congregations in the Former Soviet Realm (1950s–2000s).