There is no doubt that the Middle East as a region has lost its sense of logic and become a theater of the absurd, full of irrational ideas and political stances. This is something that will have an impact for many years to come. It could be more influential than the Nakba [the 1948 Palestinian War], the Naksah [the 1967 Arab–Israeli war], both Gulf Wars, and even the consequences of the September 11 attacks, in terms of magnitude and impact. This is not pessimism; rather, it is an attempt to forecast a painful reality that has been emerging day by day in our region.
There has been talk of Gulf Shi’ites fighting alongside Hezbollah fighters, in opposition to groups of Sunni fighters that want to be free from the implications and historical burden of Al-Qaeda. They are seeking a new image for an armed solution after having been let down by the international community. Syrians are now experiencing a pincer movement of extremism; stuck between the Assad regime and Hezbollah on the one hand, and groups that have adopted Al-Qaeda’s mentality and ideology on the other. For the latter, any talk of terrorism is a political and moral crime, since they consider this negated by the fact that they are fighting Assad.
On a sectarian level, one can easily be besieged by footage, video clips, news, jokes and comments—sent by anonymous sources—all seeking to provoke an abhorrent sectarian agenda. In Egypt, video footage showing a group of Shi’ite men being dragged through the streets appeared amateur compared with the images of extremist Sunni groups—driven by a politically sectarian conflict—besieging Sidon and attacking the military. In the meantime, the Lebanese army does not dare to approach Hezbollah in the same way. Of course, this does not justify the discourse and attitudes of these groups, whose leaders have become stars and symbols in their own right among the Sunni community.
On a political level, those who see crises as opportunities are awake to any possibility, and the state of instability is allowed to further prevail. There are vociferous groups that pressure the Gulf States, yet remain silent over what is happening in Turkey, which serves as a model of political Islam. The most absurd people are determined to grant full legitimacy and support to the failed Muslim Brotherhood governments following the Arab Spring. A prominent example of this is the Freedom and Justice party’s experience in Egypt—led by Mohammed Mursi, who in just one year managed to do untold damage to the economy and the prospects of civil peace.
This theater of the absurd is not confined to the Arab state of affairs alone. It also relates to the way in which the larger countries and international organizations in the West are approaching matters. In Europe, there is a wall of silence about portraying political struggles and disputes as religious ones, ignoring catastrophic factors that could have repercussions in their own region. Sunni groups that have a strong presence in a number of European countries could once again become active and attempt to revive the main objective of Al-Qaeda organizations—targeting Western interests. This fundamental aim has been put on hold due to the change of circumstances. Furthermore, ignorance about Hezbollah’s violations of state sovereignty—and about Iranian support in this endeavor—will open the region up to a limitless proxy war.
There is a state of massive destruction caused by the deafening silence from the international community. There is mere speculation as to what Syria might look like after Assad—who has no reason to stay in power in light of the death toll, which numbers in the hundreds of thousands. This is not to mention the millions who have been displaced.
The wave of sectarianism and attempts to portray the struggle as a religious one through the lens of a Sunni–Shi’ite war is the major catalyst behind this regional theater of the absurd. By remaining silent and bending over backwards to avoid the general public’s sweeping rage, intellectuals and analysts are committing an unforgivable moral crime. This is something that only serves the Assad regime’s objectives. Bashar Al-Assad is well aware that the majority of his army are fighting for him on ideological, rather than sectarian, grounds. Assad regime forces are dominated by the Ba’athist ideology, and their commitment to Assad has little to do with religious identity. Furthermore, the Iranian voice of political Shi’ism—as seen through Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Huthi rebels—does not incorporate all the Shi’ites in the region. Therefore the rest of the Shi’ites silence over the crimes being committed by their brethren can only be explained as fear of being cast out by the rest of their sect. This, however, resembles someone justifying Al-Qaeda’s crimes on the grounds that it is the only organization now standing up for the Syrian people.
In the midst of this grave crisis, it is natural that we should become illogical and establish an unreasonable theater of the absurd in the same manner that the First and Second World Wars were reflected in the literature of the time. However, justifying such absurd policies and remaining silent about this will only serve to further aggravate the situation due to the absence of voices of moderation and logic.
There is a significant section of society that is turning a blind eye to everything that is happening out of fear of the wave of “extremism” now sweeping away the entire region. Now, in our region, sectarian and secessionist voices are only getting louder and louder, including those who want to adopt armed solutions and who view political crises as a business.
There is an ocean of sectarian blood now being shed, and it is our duty not to be dragged towards the calls supporting and inciting this. As Thomas Mann said, “War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.”