The sudden and dramatic emergence of the self-styled Islamic State (IS) seemingly took the world by surprise when it quickly captured and ruthlessly subjugated broad areas of Iraq and Syria last year.
In truth, however, the rise of IS should have come as no surprise; its fundamentalist roots had taken hold in Iran 35 years before, when Ayatollah Khomeini usurped power after the popular revolution that overthrew the Shah.
As was the case in Tehran in 1979, IS’s current campaign is being waged by an anachronistic force that is engaged in a struggle for an alternative destiny to that which is aspired to by the majority of the modern Muslim world.
The phenomenon of fundamentalism, with all its associated savagery, neither rose accidentally nor expanded spontaneously.
It is only through the existence of a sponsoring regime in Iran that Islamic fundamentalism has been able to transform itself into a global threat.
The Qods Force, which was formed a quarter of a century ago by the Tehran regime’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), is Iran’s instrument for exporting fundamentalism.
Each of its nine corps has targeted a particular country or region.
Thus we see:
Shiite militias in Iraq, directed from Tehran, that are virtual mirror-images of IS and are equally disposed to carry out acts of almost unimaginable brutality;
The Hezbollah of Lebanon, dependent on the Qods Force, and whose financial and policy strings are pulled by Iran;
The Houthis of Yemen, who are seeking to take over the country and are sponsored by the Iranian regime; and
The murderous war against the Syrian people aimed at preserving Bashar Assad’s rule, and fundamentally commanded by the IRGC.
International sources estimate that Iran spends $1bn–$2bn every month to prop up the Syrian regime;
The Iranian mullahs’ regime, in essence, is the fountainhead of Islamic fundamentalism in terms of ideology, policy, money, weapons and logistical support.
Since 1979, it has provided a role model and inspired the growth of Islamist fundamentalism, both Shiite and Sunni, IS included.
Without that regime, there would be no intellectual, ideological, or political space, no dependable epicentre, for the emergence and growth of fundamentalist groups.
There is a baseless narrative that has been developed by those who favour appeasing the Iranian regime: that Sunni fundamentalism is somehow more dangerous than Shiite fundamentalism, and that the former can be defeated with the aid of the latter.
Therefore, goes the narrative, we must enlist the forces of Shiite fundamentalism, no matter the excesses that continue to be carried out in its name.
It is this narrative that informs the policy which has steered the world towards the current disaster, and risks the greater disaster of a nuclear-armed Iran.
It is true that Shiites and Sunnis have doctrinal differences; but today’s manifestations of fundamentalism, whether Shiite or Sunni, are in essence indistinguishable.
Both are characterised by misogyny and religious discrimination; both seek to impose belief through brutality; both rely on mediaeval law to justify the most inhumane forms of punishment; and both pursue the goal of a caliphate, which translates in practice into the cruellest of tyrannies.
To appease Tehran over its nuclear programme would ultimately be as perilous as to partner with it in the battle with IS.
The first would risk putting nuclear weapons in the hands of religious fundamentalists and hugely increase instability in the region.
The second, as Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the president of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran observed recently, would give looser rein to the Qods Force, making it an even more destructive weapon.
It is wholly naïve to believe that partnership with Iran in an attempt to stabilise the situation in Iraq, and thereby accord it international respectability, would somehow be an incentive for it to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
If the most pressing foreign policy objective today is to degrade and overcome fundamentalism, Western governments must begin with a realistic, hard-headed re-evaluation of their policy towards Iran.
They should not give succour to an oppressive, fundamentalist regime, nor should they provide it with legitimacy under the guise of diplomatic dialogue.
They should, rather, support the Iranian people and their aspiration for human rights, liberty, and rule of law.
That, ultimately, can only be brought about by democratic change, creating a new Iran, which, freed from theocratic rule, would ultimately be the best hope for stability in what is now a dangerously unstable region.
David Jones, the Conservative MP for Clwyd West and former Welsh Secretary, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom (BPCIF), www.iran-freedom.org