Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Sectarian Cleansing and Sunni Rage | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraqi Sunni Muslims wave the old flags of Iraq during an anti-government demonstration in Falluja, 50 km (31 miles) west of Baghdad May 3, 2013. (REUTERS/Mohanned Faisal)

Does anyone believe Bashar Al-Assad when he speaks about terrorism? Does anyone believe Nuri Al-Maliki when he speaks of sectarianism? Does anyone believe the Muslim Brotherhood when its leadership speaks of “the homeland” or of “the people,” rather than their own interests?

These all are important questions for a new era in the Arab world: the era of political Islam that practices politics in the worst possible manner and seeks religious justification for its failures and extremism, blackening the reputation of Islam as a religion. This is something that applies to both Sunni and Shi’a political Islam.

Amid the heated situation in Syria and the terrible bloodshed taking place there, lies begin to melt and slogans vanish. Iran and its allies have long promoted claims that it is the Muslim Umma’s sole legitimate representative in the resistance against Israel. Yet Iran ultimately showed that the Palestinian cause is nothing more than a cover to allow the Islamic Republic to achieve its regional expansionist aspirations. This is also something that the Syrian crisis has clearly shown.

Here, we must ask: Why did Hezbollah stop making threats against Israel? Why did Hassan Nasrallah stop resorting to his usual discourse of threats and challenges to Tel Aviv? Why has Hamas completely distanced itself from any position that could even be misconstrued as being hostile towards Iran?

This is because Iran and its allies are more concerned about suppressing the Syrian people and ensuring the survival of the Damascus regime so that Assad can rule whomever is left. The same can be said about the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt, who address the Israeli president in extravagant diplomatic language. Furthermore, both Tehran and the Brotherhood have both disavowed any act of aggression against Israel in the same manner that Hezbollah denied the drone attack, and Hamas denied firing missiles from Gaza.

Last week, Hassan Nasrallah came out to speak of the Syrian crisis. Attempting to appear realistic and self-possessed, Nasrallah admitted that Hezbollah fighters were taking part in the on-going fight against the people of Syria. He tried to justify such participation by his supporters by putting forward a view that was completely detached from reality, lacked credibility and based on sectarian prejudice. Since Nasrallah is biased towards the Syrian regime, his justifications were irrational and sectarian, particularly in some of the issues that he raised, such as potential threats to the [Shi’ite] Sayyidah Zaynab mosque in Damascus.

Nasrallah said that his militias had not completely joined the Syrian battle, while in reality they have been wreaking havoc across Syria, as everyone knows. This claim can only mean one thing—namely, that the worst is yet to come. Actually, this is precisely the same approach that the Syrian regime used to kill its own people. At the beginning of the crisis, the Syrian regime always claimed that the situation was under control and that it was the police who were dealing with the protesters. After they involved the military in this, the regime began to resort to stronger means of confrontation, such as military chemical weapons.

Just last week, the regime committed a massacre in Al-Baidha village, Baniyas. In a phone call to AFP, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdul-Rahman, claimed that the region’s Sunni districts and villages are being bombarded, adding that the regime has set up road blocks along the Latakia to Tartus road to prevent Sunnis from escaping.

The Syrian National Coalition accused the Assad regime of resorting to “sectarian cleansing” and demanded that the Arab League and the UN transfer this case, as well as other similar cases, to the International Criminal Court (ICC). They consider this to be a war crime for which the regime must be held to account.

Iran and its allies are playing with sectarian fire. Look at what Iran is dong in Syria and how Hezbollah is interfering by attacking Sunni villages in Homs. Compare this to the fierce attack Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki launched against some Sunni provinces to quell peaceful sit-ins against his rule. Look at Iran recruiting Shi’ites across the Gulf to use them against their own countries, while also sending arms and logistical support to Shi’ite groups in Yemen.

The talk about sectarianism is abhorrent and worthy of concern. Systematically involving sectarianism in armed political struggles may serve Iran’s expansionist policies. Furthermore, Iran’s government may be capable of protecting itself domestically, considering the fact that it represents the Shi’ite majority, yet it will never be able to curb the “Sunni rage” that has begun to spread widely across numerous Arab and Muslim states. If this Sunni rage boils over, it will be catastrophic for the Shi’ite minorities in these countries.

Nothing is worse than the talk of sectarianism, yet any attempt to read and understand Iran’s strategy in the region in a rational and realistic manner is confronted by this abhorrent sectarianism. In fact, it is now vital to acknowledge the existence of sectarian conflicts and warn against further agitation to ensure that everybody is aware of what will happen should the sectarian conflict deteriorate further.

So far, the Syrian people have demonstrated a great ability to avoid sliding towards the regime’s purely sectarian policy. Similarly, the Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army have both refused to turn the peoples’ conflict with the regime into a sectarian battle that would rage for decades.

Sunnis constitute more than three quarters of the Muslim population, compared to the Shi’ites. These are both respectable doctrines, but what benefit will Iran gain from mobilizing one quarter—or less—of the Muslim community against the greater majority? What is the extent of this historical crime that it is committing? Is Iran truly aware of the harm that its policies are causing? Does its nuclear project and its expansionist ambitions truly deserve all these wars and conflicts, which are just beginning?

These are all legitimate questions, and there are many more. The politicians of the Islamic Republic will have to shoulder the historical and moral responsibility for any waves of rage that may be incited in the days to come.