The Islamic world is rife with political diversity, from ultra-conservative monarchies to new democracies. But two places reflect the escalating rivalry over an ideal Islamic state in the 21st century: The Islamic Republic of Iran, predominantly Shiite, was born of a revolution against centuries of monarchical rule; the Islamic State, purely Sunni, was born out of war in the modern nations of Iraq and Syria.
On the surface, the two have the same goal—a pure, idealized government based on Shariah law. Both have global visions. Yet the two Islamic systems differ in political systems, economic life, culture and, most of all, the role of religion. They are also now enemies that basically want to destroy each other. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, regards Shiites as apostates who should be killed to pave the way for a purer form of Islam. Iran views ISIS as a terrorist group and has taken a leading role in confronting the Islamic State.
Politics: The ISIS “caliphate,” declared in July 2014, practices a rigid Salafi interpretation of Shariah. It has no constitution. No country recognizes its borders, which include about one third of both Syria and Iraq. It has vowed to fight any state or group that does not share its rigid worldview. It is a member of no international organizations. It persecutes all other faiths and forces conversion. Its economy relies on smuggling oil, extortion, kidnapping and financial aid from Salafi supporters in the Arab world.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, which celebrates its 36th anniversary this week, is predominantly Shiite. It has a republican constitution, which blends Napoleonic laws from France and Belgium with Islamic law, although its human rights violations, economic corruption and social discrimination are well documented by international watchdogs. It has recognized borders. It is a member of the United Nations and several international organizations. It recognizes most (but not all) other faiths and provides proportionate representation in parliament. The economy relies heavily on energy and international trade.
Laws and Courts: ISIS has no rule of law or due process by international standards. It carries out the most severe forms of punishment allowed under Islamic law, known as hudud. Common practices include flogging, stoning and amputation. It carries out executions, sometimes in public, by beheading, crucifixion and even burying or burning prisoners alive. It has engaged in mass executions, some broadcast on social media. It takes foreign hostages, particularly aid workers and foreign journalists.
Iran has a constitution that lays out legal rights for its citizens and a sophisticated court system for criminal and civil trials. But additional courts for anti-Islamic behavior allow for prosecution and imprisonment on vague charges. Iran allows lengthy detention without charges or access to lawyers; some detainees have died in jail. It has detained foreigners too; it held 52 American diplomats 444 days shortly after the revolution. The penal code practices hudud, including stoning. Executions tend to be hangings, sometimes in public. More than 600 people were reportedly executed in Iran in 2014, according to a Human Rights Watch estimate.
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