Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The trap of sectarianism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on May 30, 2013 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview Lebanon’s Shiite Muslim party Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV in Damascus. Source: AFP Photo/HO/SANA

Perhaps, the most serious offense, hazard and threat to face the “Shi’ite” brothers in their contemporary history is Hezbollah’s involvement in the cold-blooded killing of the Syrian people, to protect a Ba`athist regime that long sang the praise of the Ba`ath party, Pan-Arabism and resistance against Israel. Yet, that regime was the bloodiest ever and marked the most dictatorial experience in the post-independence era for Arab states.

The Shi’ite Iraqis, in the Iran–Iraq war, did not dare to commit a crime like that committed by Hezbollah. When committing its crime, Hezbollah did not pay any heed to those who once championed it. It seemed paradoxical that the Muslim Brotherhood were among the most prominent of those who championed its “Godly victory” over Israel. At that time, just criticizing Hassan Nasrallah or Hezbollah was sufficient for one to be accused of championing Zionism. So what happened to make Hezbollah dare to overstep the Shi’ite and the Brotherhood course?

The answer cannot and must not take us towards the sectarian escalation we are witnessing now, particularly in light of the fact that a number of Shi’ite symbols disapprove of Hezbollah’s stance, even if reluctantly. This is because although all justifications in the Syrian revolution have religious dimensions, they act to promote the portrayal of the struggle there as “purely religious.” It is enough to remember that the fierce war between Hezbollah and the fighters from the Shiite Amal movement in the mid-1980s in Lebanon arose from political ideology that overrode the sectarian logic.

In the meantime, Hezbollah’s interference with its sectarian rhetoric drowns out the rational voice of a number of Shi’ite symbols and leaders who see the Syrian crisis as something completely detached from sectarianism or internal revolution, after the crisis has changed in their view from a local political revolution into a regional international one. In fact, portraying the struggle as “purely religious” is not commensurate with the details of the disgraceful Russian stance being backed by China, India and some Latin American states that did not object to Russia when it placed all its weight behind its Syrian ally, along with iran. In view of such Iranian and Russian consistency, there is no room for the questions raised by those deceived by Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah party with regards to the party’s independence from the Iran. We all are aware that what is happening in Syria has made it quite definite that the party is not only run from Iran, but it can also mobilize its troops for a battle other than their own.

Hezbollah fighters’ admission into Syria is an extension of direct Iranian interference. If we referred back to reports, we would find them highlighting Iran’s desire to change what remains Al-Assad’s gangs into “Pasdaran,” a name given to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Perhaps, the news of the killing of the first Iranian fighter in Damascus, and who was called a martyr, was the first admission of the presence of combatants from Iran. This is because the Iranian support at the beginning of the Syrian revolution was limited to logistics in the form of wiretapping and surveillance, and then shifted into offering Iranian expertise, the product of its own experience in quelling riots and demonstrations, according to a “Le Monde” report. However, as the Free Syrian Army (FSA)’s capabilities grew, Iran offered trained elements to aid Al-Assad troops, followed by the interference of Hezbollah before the very eyes of the international community. As for the US, it remained silent.

Iran and Hezbollah’s interference cannot be compared with the presence of “Al-Qaeda” and terrorist groups, for they do not belong to a specific country. Rather, they were and continue to be fighters even in their own countries, countries that share the international community’s apprehension and concern over the end of Syrian crisis when those fighters return home. There is an enormous difference between terrorism as practiced by a state and the calls for support to the Syrian fighters made by Jihadists who do not belong to a specific country, nor are they an extension of its institutions. This is apart from the fact that such Jihadist groups do not aspire for regional political roles.

Even a reverse reading of Afghanistan’s experience would be a misleading one, as the concurrence between the Americans and the Jihadists was an agreement of interest, rather than an alliance under one regional political umbrella.

In fact, stripping Hezbollah of its fake mask of resistance is much more important than falling into the sectarian battle that will seemingly explode as a result of the crimes carried out in Qusayr. A political blow to Hezbollah could give the opportunity to its Shi’ite political dissidents to criminalize it. Furthermore, this will also give the nationalists, leftists as well as adherent and members of other parties and ideologies a justification to end their neutrality that contributed to the idea that the war is a sectarian one between Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda. Unless we expose the truth of Hezbollah’s crimes against Lebanon and Syria, we will fall into the trap set by Iran and its allies—that of portraying the situation in Syria as a sectarian swamp that would stain the feet of whoever attempts to intervene to save innocent people.