The Islamic Republic
Was there something in the air in the late 70s / early 80s?IMHO, yes.
All over the world, the rate of cultural change was becoming too much for some people to handle. It was (and IMHO is) Future Shock. Technology and capitalism are the twin engines of change, and by the 70s it was becoming clear that there was no way out of dealing with them: everyone was going to get a full meal of change whether they're hungry for it or not.
I perceive that the biggest emotional problem people have is with changes in sexual mores and the role of women. I don't know if this is because sexual issues are actually more emotionally important than other things (pace Freud), or if all the issues of technology and economics that people have trouble dealing with are projected onto women. Either way, restrictions on women are the banner of fundamentalists all over.
I also find attempts by American Protestants to paint Shi'ites as "the more dangerous Muslims" rather ironic. When I read Hodgson's The Venture of Islam, it definitely seemed to me that over the course of history Catholicism:Protestantism::Sunni:Shiite.
It seems to me that Shi'a, like Protestantism, tends to be more doctrinally firm and thus prone to schism, and schism again, and schism again, so that today it is smaller but less unified than Sunni. Sunni is much more small-c catholic, more accomodating to different cultures and personalities, so it's got a lot of the amoeba-like quality of Roman Catholicism. I have the impression that Shi'a is also like Protestantism in being more apocalyptic than Sunni (or Catholicism).
In this analogy, the Wahhabis would be Opus Dei, I guess, but that may be a metaphor too far.