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Away from Sectarianism - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Today, there is no protector against an American strike against Iran. It seems that difficult times are approaching the seas and deserts of the Gulf. Talk on the subject of war, the logic of war and the language of war is what surrounds us every day. The fire ball, not the snow ball, is rolling in “nuclear” Persia.

Is there any shield against the blaze of the firestorm? So far no protective shield has appeared on the horizon, despite any strong efforts and the fears of all. Did I say all? Perhaps, I meant the majority. Many warnings have been issued by the former international [nuclear weapons] inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix, against the danger of striking Iran and more particularly against striking its nuclear facilities. The very same warning was highlighted in the Barnaby report in which the writer stated that any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would increase support for Iranian authorities. Barnaby further stated that bombing targets such as the Bushehr nuclear power reactor, “would be absolutely criminal — you’d have another Chernobyl on your hands”, according to the Oxford Research Group report written by international nuclear expert Dr. Frank Barnaby.

Iran is betting on time of which it wants to win more to be able to further aggravate matters to the point of no return and then negotiate on what it wants, and what Iran wants, in essence, is not the right to possess nuclear energy. Such a claim is merely a façade or a symbolic reflection of what is more important and deeper: Iran wants to have considerable influence on the region and not to be disparaged or have its ambitions curbed by the United States. In this consideration, nuclear power is only a “stake” that refers to the essence of the problem, which is summarized by the following question: “Who is the master of the Middle East?”

If the matter was simply a dispute over the possession of nuclear power or the lack thereof, then the problem could be solvable or even negotiable and Iran would have been granted a reward for its acceptance to refrain from entering the nuclear club. We had seen North Korea, Iran’s neighbor in the “axis of evil” road, as it succumbed, accepted the price and will dismantle its nuclear facilities, after arduous negotiations with the United States, Russia and other major countries.

Thus the nuclear issue is open to negotiations and relinquishment but what about negotiating the role of power and influence? Who will solve these issues and how?

I believe that Iran is deliberately exaggerating in talks about its nuclear capabilities. The fiery statements of the falcon, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, about the United States and Israel, which are statements primarily aimed at “the public”, are intended and do not stem simply from the personal enthusiasm of the Iranian president. These statements and stands are delivered as a message to the whole world and particularly to the United States. This message states that Iran is a “train without brakes”, as Ahmadinejad once said. What he meant is that Iran is a real threat unless its demands are listened to and its requests are met. Such requests are curbed by turning a blind eye to the Iranian role in the region.

As mentioned in the beginning, there are exerted efforts to extinguish the fire but Iran is an intelligent player and Ahmadinejad too is part of this game of intelligence. In Tehran, he is talking about the Iranian train that has no brakes and about the Great and Small Satans. On the other hand, Ahmadinejad comes to Riyadh and meets with King Abdullah, of course not to repeat such speeches, but in order to hear something else and to say something else. Iran is not like Syria, which only issues revolutionary speeches and coins new terms to add to the dictionary of political satire such as “half men,” however, it does not inflict harm upon any other party in order to “wound and heal,” contrary to its smart ally, Iran.

Ahmadinejad came to Riyadh and met with King Abdullah. High hopes were pinned on this exceptional summit that was held between two key regional players: Saudi Arabia and Iran. There were high hopes and many parties anticipate a share of relief, each in their own field. In fact, Nabih Berri [Lebanese Parliament Speaker] hurried, as usual, to distribute sweets, indicating that the end of the Lebanese crisis would be surface immediately after the Iranian President’s visit to Saudi Arabia. Many in Iraq had anticipated the results of this meeting between the two major poles. However the more important aspect is the result of Iranian-Saudi talks regarding the upcoming war. All these are major and disturbing issues, thus the Lebanese problem seems to be the easiest dilemma [to solve] despite the great fuss that surrounds it, in comparison to the Iraqi issue or the problem of the war with Iran, especially that Iran uses Hezbollah to transfer money into its “Syrian account”, the same Syria that is battling with the International Tribunal, the core of the problem in Lebanon. The statement by Iranian President Ahmadinejad after his meeting with King Abdullah was remarkable. He said, “My country is following up and supporting the good Saudi efforts that have been made to calm the situation in Lebanon and put an end to its political crisis.”

The results of the visit are yet to be disclosed, though it is quite significant that Ahmadinejad supported the Arab Peace Initiative. Nevertheless, the Iranian political discourse quickly reneged and practiced its game of saying one thing and meaning quite the opposite at the same time. In Riyadh, official Saudi news agencies reported Ahmadinejad’s support for the Arab Peace Initiative which was launched by King Abdullah at the Beirut summit. Such a stance meant that Iran renounced its usual revolutionary discourse towards the Palestinian cause. However, the moment that the falcon Ahmadinejad landed in Tehran, he delivered an address at the usual time and place. It was then that an Iranian official negated what had been announced during the visit to Riyadh about the Iranian president supporting the Arab initiative, which stipulates normalizing relations with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories as a step to settle the conflict in the Middle East.

We will not be very optimistic about the elimination of explosive elements in the region, however, what was somewhat uplifting about the talks was that they extended beyond politics and devoted more attention to very important cultural and ethical issues, namely the question of human identity and the exclusion of religion and doctrinal differences from the political arena. Undeniably, Saudi Arabia has its own interests and Iran has its own ambitions. In some areas, Saudi and Iranian interests conflict and this is no secret. However, political sectarianism, the disease that affects the mind and culture with the despicable plague of intolerance, must be wiped out.

For this reason, referring to the discussions between King Abdullah and President Ahmadinejad on sectarianism as reported by the Saudi News Agency should always be highlighted so that the constituents of society do not clash with one another and bleed the life and mind out of society!

The two leaders stressed that the greatest threat to the Islamic nation at the moment, is “the attempt to spread strife amongst Muslims – Sunnis and Shia.” This is an appreciated and cultured position that should never be forgotten or underestimated amidst the political heat.

This causes us to wish and say that we hope that a unified and legal stand would be taken against those who provoke ethnic and religious feuds. Why shouldn’t such acts of Sunni and Shia fanatics be “criminalized” on a legal basis?

I believe that this reference was the most important point in the dialogue but as for conflict or dispute between the Iran “of Ahmadinejad” and other countries, these are persistent conflicts that involve other parties. Such clashes will not disappear until the undeclared and hidden causes are eliminated. Until that day (which may never come), there are other elements that should be preserved, the most important of which is the clean human atmosphere that is free from intolerance and microbes of sectarianism.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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