By Waheeduddin Ahmed for New Age Islam
24 May 2013
As if the danger to Muslims from external enemies was not serious enough, we are facing the prospects of a civil war between the Sunnis and the Shias on a global scale. Such a war could have all the characteristics of world war three. Sectarian passions seem to be brewing with sizzling effervescence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Eastern Arabia. There are ominous signs of states such as Iran, Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia getting involved in the conflict. They are crypto belligerents for one side or the other.
Up until the Eighteenth century, there had prevailed an uneasy coexistence between the Safawi Shia dynasty on one hand and the Sunni Ottoman and the Mughal Empires on the other. Both the Shias and the Sunnis had gone about their daily routines on the streets of Basra, Baghdad and Beirut, unconcerned with ideologies and dogmas and with hardly any feelings of schism. Even during the rule of the Ismaili Fatimides in Egypt, the overwhelmingly Sunni population had ignored their rulers and had gone about their daily lives without interference. The world famous Al-Azhar mosque and the university, established by the Shia Fatimides was and still is the most important Sunni institution in the world.
This climate of tranquillity was blown away by Operation Desert Storm. Peace, tranquillity and serenity in the Muslim world became parts of the debris in the vortex of the storm generated by the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries crusaders, who came in iron juggernauts and monstrous flying machines, pushing and shoving people into opposite camps. Behind them came the victims of political oppression, both Sunnis and Shias. Their acute sense of victimization, especially among the Shias of Iraq was an open invitation to exploitation for schismatic goals. The invaders, who came from the west, were famous for their Machiavellian methods of subjugation of the subject populace. The British were the masters of this art, who shared it with their inheritors. The manual of imperialism was opened and followed to the letter. Iraq became a hell of a spot on the map of the globe. Assassinations, mass murders and pillage ensued and continue unabated.
In Afghanistan, the Shia population consists of Hazara people estimated to be anywhere between nine and nineteen percent of the population. They inhabit the central part of Afghanistan, called Hazarajat, which includes the province of Bamiyan (the place of the Buddha statues). They are thought to be the descendants of Mongol hordes, who had descended upon the country with Changez Khan. Their mongoloid features make them distinct in appearance from their Pashtun and Tajik compatriots. Animosity between Sunni Pashtuns and the Shia Hazaras is said to be dated from the days of Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, the Pashtun ruler of Afghanistan, who had persecuted the Hazaras because they had sided with his political rival. As a result of this persecution many of them had migrated to Pakistan and are now mainly concentrated in Quetta (Baluchistan).
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, there was a conflict in Mazar-e-Sharif in which many of the Hazaras were massacred. This conflict was not purely a sectarian one but was mixed with the elements of ethnicity and politics, as the Hazaras were a part of the so-called Northern Alliance. More serious however, are the systematic massacres, which are taking place in Pakistan. People who are taking responsibility of these abhorrent acts are those whose religiosities are molded in takfir workshops. Some Taliban are also products of such foundries, run by half-baked mullahs whose brand of Islam is their own adaptation of the script.
The Arab Spring was the awakening of the Arab youth from the long cold night of political oppression and tyranny, of despots and of single parties. It was not necessarily an ideological conflict but an expression of desire to choose their destiny by themselves and the path towards it. Those awakened could not be put back to sleep and a new day dawned in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
In Syria, the spring began with wall graffiti in the southern city of Dara’a against the Ba’athist regime. Instead of taking cue from what was happening in the Arab world in general, the regime fought back for its own survival, haunted perhaps by Qadhafi’s ghost, a darkened corpse in butcher’s cooler, a scene which became Bashar’s nightmare. In other countries, government officials retire or are not reelected and they go back to where they were before. Arab dictators on the other hand have no option. They either face death or prosecution for the crimes they have committed during their rule. Rulers, no matter how righteous momentarily, do not realize that righteousness does not remain right forever. Changing world sets new standards and new criteria; so they must make room for new symbols and new faces otherwise they become targets of shoe throwers. The Syrian regime and its supporters claim that the regime is under attack by the pro-Zionist interests because it is the vanguard of struggle against Zionism. This myth has stood exposed for decades. The Syrian army has furiously bombarded its own people, using every weapon in its arsenal but has not lifted a finger to defend the country and its people against the Israeli air raids --- Israel bombs Syria at will without a stir on the part of the regime and its comrade in arms: Vladimir Putin. So, would not anybody be justified in saying that the Ba’athist regime was in collusion with the Zionists?
In January 1979 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini landed on Tehran airport sitting on the floor of an airliner; thus began a unique revolution for which millions had waited for centuries. It filled many with hope, lifted many from despondence: brought many into the practice of Islam and converted many of us secularists into Islamists --- This author was one of them. In July 2006, Israel attacked South Lebanon and a war began between Hezbollah fighters and the Israeli forces, which lasted for over a month, in which for the first time in history an irregular guerrilla force had taken on one of the most highly equipped armies in the world and given it a bloody nose. This had allowed us all to raise our heads in pride. Iran and Hezbollah had captured the hearts of all Muslims, particularly of Arabs and Palestinians.
This universal good will is now being squandered by the successors of Ayatollah Khomeini and Nasrallah of Lebanon. Their support of the Syrian regime is frustratingly un-understandable by us all whose support of Iran and Hezbollah was in the past unwavering. We are forced to think that Iran, Hezbollah, the Alawites of Syria and the Iraqi Shias are united under the banner of Shia crescent and are quite willing to abandon the united crescent.
Are we now to rethink our loyalties and our associations? Is there a conscious attempt to divide the Muslim world on sectarian ground? Are the Saudis, their protégés among the Taliban and the Takfeer-mongers of Pakistan right? Have the enemies of Islam struck their final blow? There is still time to avert this impending Armageddon in the Muslim world. The ball is in the Iranian court.