Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Solos on the Iranian Zither - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

A worthy note: there are major moves and changes in positions and attitudes among writers and journalists – in addition to fast-paced and diverse media approaches towards the major crises that afflict our despondent part of the world; the Middle Eastern region.

These are shifts and transformations that are perhaps dictated by the nature of the facts, which change on a daily basis on the ground, in addition to the twists in events that flow not unlike volcanic lava, dissolving the solidity in stances and hardening the rigidity of traditional visions.

In just a few days, Hassan Nasrallah transformed from being perceived as a resistance hero in the Arab collective unconscious to becoming the embodiment of an internal Lebanese political party that wrangles with Siniora, and whose militias instill fear in the hearts of ‘our Sunni brothers’ – in accordance with the term that is saturated with Sunni sectarianism. The transformation in image did not take long, only a few months, to shift from the divine victory in the recent war into becoming enraged individuals besieging the governmental palace, representing Nasrallah in his appeal to appoint an ‘upright’ Sunni prime minister.

Place all this in the foreground then glance behind it at the larger screen; it is one of Iranian tumult and the falling out of America with Iran – the dress rehearsals for war manifest in the form of testing the waters of the present situation. Among these rehearsals was the kidnapping of Iranian agents in Irbil at the hands of the American forces, followed by the Iranian response which came in the form of kidnapping and executing US military forces in Karbala. Add to that the American concern over the Iranian explosives flooding into Iraq, the very same explosives that the Americans assert to have destroyed their solid tanks – and other such stories in a similar vein.

Also in the background is the frequent ‘Sunni-related’ news relayed to the aggravated Arab Sunni street affirming that there is sectarian cleansing being practiced against them at the hands of Shia militias in Iraq and which are supported by Iran. This was further endorsed by the execution of Saddam Hussein in a manner that agitated the feelings of the Arab street – one that is in a perpetual state of agitation!

Try to view all the aforementioned features in light of a cultural background that is controlled by sectarianism, one that lacks the comprehension of a concept of citizenship that transcends sectarian or ethnic criteria. This is the scene in which most of the Arab street operates and of which only a minority can expose the feeble traces of a comprehensive national affiliation, national unity and cordial relationship between the cross and the crescent, or the greeting between a mosque and a hawza.

This is the situation as we describe the prevailing mood and the prevalent culture and all our rejection and loathing of such sectarian sentiments. We endeavor to view these changes in light of the attitudes and views of a particular segment of writers who comprise a fundamental part of the opinion-making process, so that these changes may be placed in their natural contexts.

For example, we know that the cornerstone of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement’s discourse and all Islamic movements that follow the same course as the MB is embodied in the ideology of conservatism, the protection of identity, the preservation of culture and the execution of the comprehensive Islamic project. In other words; the possession of the state upon the consideration that it is the bearer of the political project and seizing the society upon the consideration that it is a model through which the Muslim society may be realized.

As such, organizational activism with political revolutionary aim (upon the whole reality) is the trait that has distinguished the MB movement since its inception and differentiated it from the reformist trend, as represented by Imam Mohammed Abdu, and the traditional trend, which was exemplified through senior Al Azhar scholars. This resulted in placing the MB in a state of theoretical alienation from the ideology of reformists (Abdu and Khair al Din al Tunisi, among others) mainly because the reformists attributed the problems confronting Muslims to the fact they lagged in scientific development and modernization. They upheld that Muslims must first reform their religious discourse and adopt approaches that end in progress, as well as learning from experiences in the West – for that is the reason it has surpassed us. The reformists had adopted an open vision that was against isolation, in contradistinction with the MB which had from the beginning been focused upon its struggle with the West, fighting against it and attempting to preserve the identity that was threatened externally by the West and internally by Westernized Muslims. This is aside from the MB discourse’s alienation from the established jurisprudent vision of Al Azhar scholars, which was not in harmony with the MB’s ideology, steeped as it were in politics. Suffice it to remember the emotionally charged argument s of Sayyid Qutb over issues such as the prevalent ignorance in the 20th Century, the vanguard of believers and God’s governorship.

Following, one should compare these arguments to those of a professional jurist such as Sheikh Muhammed Abu Zahra. It is only then that one is able to see the difference between those who perceive the scene from outside and become sentimentally affected, as in the case with Sayyid Qutb and his poetic vision of the concept of Islamic Sharia, as opposed to the professional excellence of Abu Zahra’s vision that is not concerned with political baggage but rather with the meanings and details of Sharia and its mechanisms. Maybe this would explain why Abu Zahra wasn’t a member of the MB!

This deep alienation is what set the MB in search of a method through which it would enable it to expand its vision and create the suitable environment for its existence. Indeed, the MB has made astounding activist efforts of which the result was the expansion of its base, benefiting, of course, from the events and crises that have consumed the Arabs since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire to the present day. But this alone was not enough. Perhaps this is why the MB extended an outstretched arm and turned its eyes to the East and West in search of a party that could share its vision and spirit. I believe that the MB’s support of Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in Iran and its courting of such a movement from the start was partially because of the similitude in the ‘spirit’ between Khomeini’s political argument and that of the MB. In one of the readings, the point is made that there is no real difference between saying, “Islam is a religion and a state” [Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of the movement wrote, “Islam is faith and worship, country and citizenship, religion and state] on the one hand and the principal of the Wilayat-e-Faqih (Guardianship of Islamic Jurists) and Khomeini’s “Islamic government” on the other. Both arguments seek the demolition of the former Islamic discourse, revolutionizing the political dimension in Islam and appropriating it with the intention of seizing the state and the society because they had strayed off the righteous path.

This provides a brief glance at the ‘shared womb’ between the two ‘eldest’ Islamic brothers in the present Islamic arena; The MB and the notion of governorship on one side, and the Shia affiliated to Khomeini and the Islamic revolution and the Wilayat-e-Faqih on the other. This, of course, entails taking into consideration all the features, privileges and traits of each party, whether it be Sunni or Shia.

This amicable relationship has lasted long. And thus we see the most prominent Islamic writer, an Egyptian who highly valued the Iranian Islamic Revolution experiment and who stated in his latest article that he was accustomed to visiting Tehran on a ‘professional’ basis, according to his own words. He said, “I have become accustomed to visiting Tehran on a professional basis, and also by virtue of being a Muslim researcher who attempts to examine a compelling experience that raised the Islamic flag after it had been obscured for long.” But this time, however, he felt disappointed when he visited Iran as a Sunni – or rather he became aware of his Sunni identity for the first time. Still, he returned and foretold us in the same article that, “the ‘Almighty’ authorities in Iran of the Islamic Revolution had relayed, on leader Ali Khamenei’s tongue, that they condemned the killings in Iraq but that the weakness of Iranian media had failed to convey these voices abroad.”

This same writer, during the boiling point on the Arab street – on both sectarian and somewhat nationalistic levels – had hurled criticism against Iran and its ruling Shia class and called for, “Investigating the truth behind the sectarian cleansing in Iraq,” placing the blame on the Shia militias. Then, after writing a few articles that were critical of the Iraqi government, accused by the ‘inflamed’ Arab street of its subservience to Iran, he went on to urge us to visit Tehran describing Iran as a resistant state and one that was against the American ‘project’.

Another example is the letter issued by Jordan’s Islamic Action Front, which is the political arm of the MB in Jordan, after the rise in anger towards Iran and the Iraqi government on Jordan’s street (and how full of stories that street is!). The letter indicated the group’s steadfast position against the ‘American-Zionist project’ and judged Iranian policy on this basis, considering that Iran’s positions are not acceptable in Iraq and Afghanistan, while it was acceptable for it to possess nuclear power (against Israel!) and to support the struggling forces in Palestine. This description is according to Jordanian writer Mohammed Abu Ruman.

The same stance in adopted in an article written by Sajid al-Abdali, Kuwaiti activist and head of Kuwait’s Hizb al Umma (Nation Party), which was recently published in Kuwait’s ‘al Raei al Am’ (public opinion) magazine. In it he wrote, “It’s no coincidence that the spread of warnings against the ‘Shia threat’ would increase and spread widely coinciding with when the US administration besieges Iran.”

All these positions have primarily expressed anger towards the Iraqi government that is subordinate to the US occupation, then anger over the execution of the Baathist Saddam Hussein, in addition to sympathizing with the Muslim Ulema Council, which should have declared a stance toward the Sunni and Shia war. However, it failed to complete its mission and it wasn’t because of a progressive or enlightening position adopted towards sectarianism. In reality, the Islamic political discourse suffers misconceptions over the concept of citizenship, non-Muslims, and governorship, among other ideas. There has been no real critical reading undertaken of these deep and elaborate concepts. The reason for the lack of the Islamic Sunni discourse’s involvement is that such an engagement would require the amputation of the activist link with revolutionary Iran and limiting and stifling Islamic activism in its broader sense – especially since the prevailing sentiment among Islamic thinkers is that they suffer clashes and a reining in by governments, and the US’s silent joy. Thus, leading a major country such as Iran, which is led by radicals such as Ahmadinejad, provides a common language and a force which are both necessary and useful in the power card reshuffle game.

The gist of it is that the prevalent sectarian argument is an ugly one; it foreshadows other setbacks and postpones the modernization project indefinitely. However, there is a difference between voicing one’s rejection of sectarianism based on a deep intellectual, cultural, non-political perspective as opposed to justifying one’s refusal of sectarian ideology based on the fact that Iran is an ‘anti-American state’ or because it is against the ‘American-Zionist project’ and other such reasons.

We reject sectarianism because it is a backward and inhuman notion and that should suffice, not because we accept or reject positions in Ahmadinejad’s Iran – that is the point.

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.

More Posts