Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Shia/Sunni situation

Al Jazeera recently ran an on air discussion hosted by Ahmad al-Sheikh the head editor and including both the Shia Marji' Ayat Allah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and the Sunni Alamah Sheikh Yousef al Qaradawi. The debate (which I unfortunately missed) according to the al Jazeera article was frank and in some instances strained (in particular with regards to the violence in Iraq and about who started what when). Both men stressed the importance of restraining from sectarian violence and focusing on resisting the occupation of Iraq. However, the "eight points of agreement" which the Sunni and Shia representatives had agreed upon in Tehran are still undeclared and are to be kept away from the hustle and bustle of the media according to al Qaradawi.

I've been watching for some time now the accelerating level of aggression that some Sunni's are exhibiting to the "Saffavid plot" which involves the Shia fifth columns in their own countries. Such thinking is ridiculous and dangerous in my opinion. The narrative of what is happening in the region is being systematically transformed into a Sunni/Shia 30 years war reminiscent to that which happened in Europe and which miraculously may provide the Islamic world with the "Renaissance" it needs to secularize and modernize. (Oops, that's the old label, I guess globalise is the new term I should use). The real dialogue people should recognise is that the region, in spite of the many problems it needs to face, is at the crossroads between a neo-colonialism and acceptance of occupation or the ability to resist this and somehow produce something new and different. Iraq and Palestine are under occupation and the overwhelming dialogue which many Arab liberals are falling under the influence of, is the accepting and legitimising of the status quo. This dialogue is along the following lines: Peace will ensue once the dialogue is dominant and the "challenge" for many peace activists is to somehow get these troublesome Arabs to get it in their head that "Israel is here to stay" and that though United States shouldn't have gone into Iraq, but oh well, we need to find a way to move forward. This is not the case.

We do have a choice of how we move here and this involves us neither bending the knee nor becoming Wahhabi's. I felt the Qaradawi/Rafsanjani dialogue was remarkable and an increasingly visible attempt by many to attempt to bridge this old and in my opinion totally unnecessary feud. The United States may be the world's only "superpower", but as Nasrallah stated in an interview a while back: "The Americans are strong in America, but here in Lebanon we are strong." The rest of the region needs to learn from the example of Hezbullah in that aspect (In other regards I feel they can be a bit too controlling and minimize avenues for debates and other opinions). Yet they seem to possess a dynamism which helps them deal with other denominations productively and actively, probably from their experience in the snake pit that is Lebanese politics. In 31 days that saw Lebanon ravaged, these men showed what dedication and courage could achieve in the face of modern Western armies and firepower. In the beginning Israel refused any and all outside "interference" as it "taught Lebanon a lesson". By the end, it massively escalated targeting civilans specifically to pressure the international community to intervene, having by then exhausted all hope of destroying Hezbullah or even gaining ground in the South of Lebanon. Hezbullah's version of political Islam is in my opinion a productive and useful template for other movements in the region inclined that way and serves as an excellent counter weight to the Takfiri/Wahhabi groups emanating from Saudi Arabia and responsible for most of the civilian deaths in Iraq. If I remember correctly it was also these groups who explicitly stated their intentions of fanning the sectarian flames and initiating an all out civil war. They have succeeded in Iraq unfortunately.

The dialogue in Washington has been increasingly hostile to Iran as it recognises their invisible hand behind the Iraqi resistance. To counter it, they have mobilised the "arc of moderation" from Egypt to Jordan and most importantly Saudi Arabia. These "moderate" countries as Tony Blair refers to them, are the starkest warning which faces Syria, Iran and Lebanon should they bend the knee to the West. From a neo-realist perspective Kenneth Waltz argues that a unipolar structure in International Relations would inevitably cause a 'balancing' between weaker states that feel threatened. Some countries in the region have already decided to bandwagon, but should the balancers (Syria, Iran, Hezbullah and Hamas) sufficiently alter the balance of power, internal regime change in the 'arc of moderation' and the installation of patriotic, nationalist and yes if need be Islamist (in it's true sense) parties could bring about massive change and turn the tide in a generation. The region has seen enough of Western intervention and occupation both physically and mentally. There is an urgent need of rethinking inter Arab/Islamic relationships along more liberal lines and Arab/Western relations along strictly realist ones (I mean that in the sense of International Relations theory). There is an Arab saying that states: My brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against the stranger. Right now, the stranger is breaking down the door to our house. It's up to us and our cousins to decide what to do next.

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