Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Era of Fools | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Pastor Terry Jones is a “fool”. The Kuwaiti preacher, living in London, who insulted Aisha bint Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, is also a “fool’, likewise the Sunni-Kuwaiti preacher who threatened to kill Shiites in reaction to the London preacher. Similarly, there are numerous other fools that provoke religious unrest and conflict over [sectarian] identity, and touch upon the most sensitive matters of a particular religion or sect. These “fools” include those who call for a full-scale war against the Western world, such as Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and their followers in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq and the Arab Maghreb. The term also applies to those who call for war conflict with the Shiites, and labelling them as infidels, or vice versa those who call for conflict with the Sunnis under the pretext that they are enemies of the “Ahl al-Bayt” [family of the Prophet] and that Islam’s holy sites must be “liberated” from them, such as some “foolish” Shiite activists in the US.

I’m not the first person to use the word “fool” in this manner. The Kuwaiti preacher in London – who insulted Sayyida Aisha and called for a Gulf Shiite revolution, in the manner of the Khomeini Revolution – had earlier been branded a “fool” by Kuwaiti First Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah. When asked by the Arabic “Elaph” website whether foreign parties had influenced what happened in Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah said that “the issue is being investigated and observed. It began with the childish remarks of a foolish man living in London, during which he insulted Sayyida Aisha, the mother of the Faithful, may God be pleased with her. Yet, there were those who sought to exploit these statements in order to plant the seeds of unrest amongst the people of our country, and senior Shiite scholars and dignitaries in Kuwait, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon have all condemned such childish words.”

Pastor Terry Jones, who intended to burn copies of the Holy Koran, was also branded a fool by practically the entire world. The same applies to the Sunni Kuwaiti “jihadist” preacher, who threatened to break the necks and kill certain Shiite MPs, in reaction to the Shiite preacher’s statements in London.

To brand somebody a fool in this context is a deep, psychological label. It announces to everyone that those who adopt an extremist trend in their words, attitudes and intentions do not represent their own society, and therefore should not be allowed to determine the public agenda, or seen to be acting courageously in order to raise public awareness. This is why we have seen many Sunni intellectuals in the Gulf rushing to defend the rights, integrity, and patriotism of Shiite citizens. This was in a bid to clarify that this “foolish” man living in London who had insulted the Sunni doctrine and one of its religious symbols was nothing more than a lone voice of dissent. Numerous Shiite scholars and figures in the Gulf region also hastened to distance themselves from the London preacher. In one instance, a notable Shiite family in the Gulf region, the Bukhamseen family, published a full-page advert in an Arab newspaper denouncing the preacher and condemning his verbal attack on the Sunnis.

The question here is not whether all radical Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, or anyone from any other faith for that matter, are ignorant or fools. Rather the question that must be asked here is: if these zealots are indeed foolish and ignorant, why are they able to shake the foundations of our world, and why must politicians and key religious and social figures react and respond in order to extinguish their inflammatory rhetoric? If the speaker is ignorant, or a marginal figure, why do we give him so much attention and concern?

As I said earlier, I think that the continuous branding of individuals such as this as being “foolish” is nothing more than a defensive and pre-emptive psychological reaction that aims to reduce the effect that radical opinions and statements have upon society, and prevent these attitudes from becoming catalysts to public activity, as well as influencing general beliefs and ideas. This is a special message issued by those wishing to safeguard public stability, whether they are politicians, statesmen or scholars, to all members of society, encouraging the public at large not to follow the example of these “fools.”

If we look at the bigger picture, we would see that there is a high level of sectarian and doctrinal tension in the region, especially in areas where different ideologies and sects are in direct contact with one another.

In Lebanon, the ongoing exchange of political insults of a sectarian nature that is taking place between the Sunnis and the Shiites is evidence of this ideological tension. Key Shiite figures in Lebanon, specifically those whose interests lie in inciting sectarian “spirit” issue statements against key Sunni political figures. For instance, the leader of the Hezbollah party’s parliamentary bloc, Mohammad Raad, warned against provoking sectarian unrest. This warning is, of course, in reference to Future Movement’s reaction to the verbal attacks made by Major General Jamil Sayyed [towards Prime Minister Hariri]. Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary-General, Sheikh Naeem Qassem also warned against this, as did another Hezbollah MP, who came out to warn against the unprecedented sectarian unrest. This all took place as a result of the fierce verbal attack launched by pro-Syrian Major General Jamil Sayyed and Hezbollah against both [Lebanese Prime Minister] Saad Hariri and the Lebanese Grand Mufti Muhammad Kabbani. This prompted a Future Movement MP to anger, and he warned against Sunni regions of Lebanon being attacked, as well as calling for the leader of the Sunnis – Saad Hariri – to protect the dignity of the Sunnis.

The Lebanese scene is a sectarian one, albeit under political cover, however this is a confusing issue as it is difficult to know which issue is covering the other; is it politics that is wrapped in religious elements or vice versa?

We must also make note of the Iraqi scene, and the wars that have taken place between the Sunnis and the Shiites there. In addition to this there is the Huthi sedition in Yemen, and the attempts to escalate this so that this takes on a sectarian nature, although fortunately this has yet to reach similar levels as that of the Lebanese or Iraqi cases.

Why is there so much [sectarian] tension this year? Did we suddenly wake up and discover that we are Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and members of different religions or sects? Or are we only now witnessing the results of our subconscious suppression of such issues, having failed to achieve genuine national identity? Is the stability that we see now in some Arab countries nothing more than a façade, with sectarian and ideological divisions rising to appear the second the situation becomes unstable?

Is it the rapid nature of contact and communication between people and culture responsible for this tense rhetoric? Recent developments in communication and globalization have made it difficult to digest different cultures and religions, resulting in people only being concerned for their own culture or religion. This has resulted in exaggerated fanaticism, and with certain groups surrounding themselves with symbols of identity in a crude manner.

Or is the media, with its strong desire for exciting and sensationalist news, responsible for us reaching this vicious circle of action and reaction? And so we see Sheikh Feisal Abdul-Rauf arguing with Reverend Terry Jones, while the media watches on, and then we see Yasser al-Habib arguing with Mubarak al-Bathali, while the media watches on, and Jalal al-Saghir arguing with Harith al-Dhari, while the media watches on.

Therefore is the media creating news, not just reporting it?

This is possible, but it is difficult to blame everything on the role being played by the media. This seems to be the result of a crisis in identity, as well as crises in development and poverty, and a cultural and political stalemate. This is the justification that is preferred by some development advocates in order to explain this general state of religious tension in the region.

Certainly, we live in a tense climate and we seem constantly on high alert, and at any moment any “fool” can shake up society or the entire world. Therefore, this is truly an era where any “fool” can become a “hero!”