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What About Sunni Sectarianism? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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What we are currently witnessing today are the flames of sectarian fire consuming our region whilst politicians and leading figures lie and tell us that everything is well.

Look at the situation in Iraq, many people warned against the waste of a victory and a “celebrated” event in the form of the toppling of a dictatorial regime and the potential for success in Iraq and for Iraqis after this rare historical occasion. The event came about as a result of American interest in deposing the Iraqi regime and exploiting the opportunity by building a pluralistic Iraq interested in construction and development and not allowing the opportunity to pass by as a result of allowing sectarian and ethnic impulses to surface. Such malicious instincts are strengthened by the fangs of doctrine and the claws of militias, however it seemed that nobody took heed of such warnings, most notably the Americans, thus the trauma began when Abu Musab al Zarqawi of Al Qaeda took hold of the situation in Iraq and invested in the existing Sunni tensions and the alertness of the Baathists, and so a bloody chapter of Iraqi history took form and killing in the name of identity commenced.

This period also saw fanatics, who drown in sectarian consciousness, become leading figures in Iraq, such as Moqtada al Sadr who now has his own representative bloc in parliament whilst his militia carries out acts of slaughter and spreads fear. This was the very period that saw individuals occupied by sectarian tension become key players in Iraq such as Harith al Dari.

What has happened has happened in Iraq and it has reached such a level of devastation that no political attempts to disguise or gloss it over have succeeded, including attempts by Iraqi politician Abdulaziz al Hakim who stated in a television interview that there is no case of a civil war in Iraq but rather only the existence of political differences.

In Lebanon today, we see the same state of “denial” in which everybody raises the Lebanese flag, including the March 14 forces and opposition led by Hezbollah. They all shout, “Long live Lebanon” and assert that they are against raising sectarian and doctrinal slogans. Moreover, they claim that anybody who speaks such a language of sectarianism and raises such slogans will be held accountable. However, they do not tell us about the individual who shouts out the slogan “Nasrallah, don’t worry, the Shia who will drink blood are with you!” [Ya Nasrallah La tahtam, maak Shia batashrab dem] or inform us of those in Sunni areas of Beirut who raise slogans against the Safavid Shia.

The reality is that the streets are charged up and cannot be loaded any more unless to mobilize the public as a force of identity whether religious, ethnic or tribal and this is exactly what is taking place now. In this regard, I will provide a few examples, unlike those given by the leaders of the two groups during their flamboyant speeches that are “purged” of the filth of sectarianism.

Some moving words voiced by two young Lebanese women were published by Asharq Al Awsat, 11 December, 2006. The first, Patricia, a young Christian woman and member of the March 14 forces living in east Beirut told Asharq Al Awsat that she avoids meeting certain people in order not to conflict with them, especially if they are her friends belonging to the other side. She said, “I am worried that I would have to hear any provoking comments to which I would have to respond as I can no longer remain silent. People are fed up. I can now see the hatred in people’s eyes in Beirut.”

Fadia, a young Shia supporter of Hezbollah, expressed her fear of areas where residents are of mixed faiths, “especially at night as you do not know what could happen between Hezbollah supporters and pro-government elements.”

On another level, feelings of sectarianism are being unveiled……..

In this context, let us talk about the sectarian sentiments amongst Sunnis that have begun to unravel in the roughest manner as a number of readers believe that talk about sectarianism is only directed at the Shia! This is incorrect. The fight against the culture of sectarianism is based on principle and position rather than community. Many writers had expressed their opinions against Sunni fanaticism, including myself. I have written against the Sunni fanaticism in Iraq, and have warned through my articles against terrorist Sunni groups such as Al Qaeda and the use of religion for political leverage as practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood and others. However, unfortunately, despite all these copious and continuous articles, supporters of Hezbollah, Iran, Sadr and Hakim forget that one merely criticizes or rejects the sectarian project that is implemented by fundamentalist Shia parties in Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain under the auspices of Iran. As soon as we criticize such movements, we are accused of Sunni sectarianism as well as overlooking Sunni fanaticism!

Perhaps this alludes to the domination of defective sectarian consciousness upon all parties, implying that everyone is lying to one another when they speak of nationalism and one nation etc.

In any case, that which causes major concern and fear is the reawakening of sectarianism in the recent Lebanese crisis. The Mufti of Mount Lebanon, Sheikh Mohammed Ali al Jozo, discussed Secretary General of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s recent speech that was undoubtedly convulsive and evil, however Sheikh Jozo’s response was even worse! He described Nasrallah, as published in Asharq Al Awsat, as having “illusions, sick fantasies, a psychological complex, doctrinal hatred that he cannot conceal as well as a deep-rooted culture of audacity towards the distinguished elders of Islamic history.”

There is a clear indication of the sectarian dimension and traditional and defamatory literature exchanged between Sunnis and Shia throughout the history of Islam.

Another Sunni cleric, of whose significance to Lebanon I am unaware, is popular amongst some fanatics in the Gulf who are against the Shia. Sheikh Abdul Rahman Dimashqia , who had dedicated a website to “defend the Sunnis”, attacked Sheikh Fathi Yakan, who led Hezbollah supporters in Friday prayers or rather “political prayers.” However, this Sheikh Dimashqia sought to improve the situation but actually made it worse by his blazing article entitled, “A Call for the Mobilization of Sunnis in Lebanon and a Call to the Traitors such as Fathi and others.” He addressed the Sunnis and Shia in Lebanon by using the “religious jealousy” approach, quite common amongst the Lebanese sects! He said, “This call is not for you to pick up your arms, however, to accept that protecting and defending lives and dignity is justified so that we would not be slaughtered like sheep or in the way that the grandchildren of Abdullah Ibn Saba slaughtered our brothers in Iraq.”

This matter is worrying and politicians should be concerned about it, as the political problem may come to an end and those in search of a peaceful solution might succeed. Nonetheless, who will cause the street to settle where the most devastating psychological inclinations were instigated?

It is unfortunate that we do live in “a powder keg that is ready to explode” as King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz said recently.

My message to the Sayyeds is the following: Remember how the religious sentiments were exploited in the war of the “Mujahideen” in Afghanistan and how this brought about the emergence of Arab-Afghans and their mentality, the latter of which is much more dangerous. Remember how the confrontations with Iran under Khomeini during the 1980’s and the accompanying support and encouragement from sectarian literature that addressed the Magi and the Safavids had caused deep fractures in Arab societies, of which the Shia constitute a significant part.

Playing the religious card is a serious and devastating matter. It is true that its use could grant a quick and effective victory, just as we now see Sunnis rally behind Siniora and this is the most effective weapon for government at present if we really want to know the truth! And perhaps this confused the plans of Nasrallah and his affiliates; however, there are those who are too quick to use this weapon that once launched, will only be put down after blood has been spilt.

We do not need anymore fuel to be added to the fire of sectarianism that is already widespread in our region. The recent elections in Bahrain were tainted by the same disease of sectarianism just as the statements of the Salafi Islamists in Saudi Arabia that called for the Sunnis to join the fight against the “rejecters” were. The most recent of such statements was addressed by news agencies this week and was signed by scholars including Ibn Jibreen, Barak and Nasser al Omar, the latter of who, it seemed, enjoyed inciting Sunnis and provoking sectarian tensions. Moreover, he is notorious for writing a “report” in which he stressed the danger of the Shia in Saudi Arabia.

We do not require any of this but rather are in dire need of something else.

Regrettably, the examples of sectarianism are abundant and are well known.

Does there not exist an entity to extinguish what seems to be an incessant fire of insanity and fanaticism in our homes? This is what we are in dire need of…

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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