Saturday, June 02, 2012

Let's Talk Sectarianism

I don't know which bright spark decided it was a good idea to start taking hostages, but the captivity of these Lebanese hostages is disgusting. I've heard that their captors wish Hassan Nasrallah to apologise, and the latter responded in his latest speech saying that if the captors have a problem with him then they can deal with him in peace, war or love - which is a good answer. I once sat with some Syrians and Lebanese who started to speak of an upcoming "war of extermination" with the Shiites and I remember their eyes light up with a certain glee when they said that. I told them that I thought Ar'our, the salafist Syrian sheikh and demagogue, is an idiot and not the person I look to for inspiration. That comment was met with silence as they knowingly glanced at each other. Naturally they spoke to each other apart from me several times that evening and I have not been invited back to such gatherings. All the better.

Speaking to my friend Qunfuz recently, we both noted the sectarianism that is starting to rear it's ugly head, and it was then that he brought up the topic of Sunni persecution in Syria. It is interesting that amidst all the demands for 'guarantees' by Syria's minorities, it is a fact that the overwhelming number of deaths in the Syrian revolution so far have been from the Sunni majority. Who is giving them any guarantees? And is it any wonder that the crocodile tears that the Gulf states shed for the Syrian revolution are motivated by their belief that this is a Sunni revolution against what they perceive to be a Shiite/Alawite tyranny? When we hear words spoken of freedom and dignity on ugly sectarian channels like Safa, it is not in the context of human rights but in the context of a bizarre eschatology where the final Islamic Golgotha will be against Shiism. It is a remarkable intellectual delusion that has been cultivated slowly over a long period of time and which is finding more and more adherents.

In Bahrain, my guess is that the aggrieved Shiite majority is experiencing the same kind of crises. There are probably many Bahraini Shiites who do not look for Iran for inspiration, and are not interested in some kind of titanic struggle with Sunnism, but who are slowly looking to Iran for lack of sympathy and support elsewhere. In short, a moral vacuum is sucking up people to the two extreme poles of the region. On one side, Hezbullah have shown themselves to be primarily a Shiite militia, in spite of painstakingly building an image of themselves as a Pan-Arab, Pan-Islamic liberation movement. Nasrallah supports the Bahraini revolution but not the Syrian one, and speaks out for Lebanese Shiite hostages in Syria but ignores the thousands of Lebanese who are still missing in Syrian prisons since the eighties. On the other hand, Qaradawi has declared his support for the Syrian revolution whilst declaring the Bahraini revolution as a foreign instigation by Iran. A remarkable volte face for both of these characters.

In effect, the masks are coming off. When any pretence of politeness is dropped, even if difference is an established fact, then that is a step forward to open conflict. Know that the Gulf states' defence budget and close alliance with the West aims at countering the formidable Iranian military-industrial complex. There is, in effect, a 'Sunni axis' opposed to the Shiite 'crescent'. Both of these terms might have sounded laughable in 2001, but today they are very real, and the chances of a war between these two is what really lies behind Ban Ki Moon's warning of a catastrophe if Syria is allowed to slip into civil war.

The fact that we are in this mess is as much a fault of those who have supported the Assad regime for non-sectarian reasons as it is of those sectarians who have inflamed the tensions. Those who support Assad because they believe he is vital for liberating Palestine have fooled themselves into providing the intellectual justification for the repression and radicalisation of Sunni Syrians who are being slaughtered by a sectarian dictatorship. In the light of so much stupidity, I feel this whole region caught up in a Catch-22 scenario, with only one inevitable outcome looming. Inevitable, that is, unless Assad can be removed from power soon enough, and the Syrian boil is lanced before it is too late.

1 comment:

Lirun said...

by the way - where r the mass protests of gazans in support of syrians..