What is This Sunni-Shia Business Anyway?

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cartoon Iraq mission accomplished

There is a method in the madness as the Islamic world burns from the coast of Africa to Central Asia, thanks to both external plots and selfishness and recklessness of its own

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat is the world coming to? It is as if the red tide of blood has engulfed the whole world. It is killings, bloodshed and chaos everywhere. And Muslims appear to be in the thick of action with what passes for Islamic world being the veritable center-stage of all the madness.

Look at the sheer brutality and savagery that was put on display in Iraq this week by the newly crowned champions of the faith, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (greater Syria).

More than 1700 Iraqi soldiers were apparently executed with their hands tied behind their back and the gory images of the massacre were duly published online. Heaps of human bodies lying around in ignominy like slaughtered animals. Not since the shame of Srebrenica and Rwanda in the 1990s has one seen such scenes of casual cruelty.

And these men call themselves Muslim and could soon take over the whole of Iraq as one fabled Iraqi city after another falls like a house of cards to the rebels who were born as resistance against the US occupation of Iraq. With the bulk of US forcing leaving Iraq, they had moved next door to Syria to fight the Baathists.

They returned to Iraq when they were reminded of their unfinished business back home by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki, who refuses to graduate from being a little-known provincial Shia politician to the leadership of a new, inclusive Iraq. Ostensibly, it was the logistical and material support that Syria’s Assad has been receiving from Iran and Russia via Iraq that drew the rebels’ attention back to their original battlefield.

The imperial, so-called blood borders map carving up the heart of the Middle East and Muslim world in powerless states along sectarian and ethnic lines, as envisioned by the Neocons.
The imperial, so-called blood borders map carving up the heart of the Middle East and Muslim world in powerless states along sectarian and ethnic lines, as envisioned by the Neocons.

If the chickens of Iraqi resistance have come home to roost and the country slides from chronic bad governance into total chaos, Al Maliki has no one to blame but himself. He had a historic opportunity to unify a war weary nation when he was elected prime minister. The Americans had packed their bags to depart Iraq, leaving behind their bewildering mess.

Like Nelson Mandela he could have offered a healing touch to his people by embracing every wounded soul and build a confident, forward looking nation at peace with itself. Instead Maliki chose to remains a prisoner of his narrow, sectarian politics and hopelessly limited worldview.

The ISIL thrived on the alienation and political dispossession of the Sunnis who after centuries in power suddenly discovered that they were a minority. As a result, the land that was once the pride of a great, glorious civilization today conjures up the terrifying visions straight out of Dante’s Inferno. Things are so bad that the Iraqis have now begun to recall the US occupation with some degree of fondness!

Of course, as one has argued ad infinitum the culpability for this whole bloody, bewildering mess fracturing the Muslim world along sectarian lines and opening the door to hell chiefly and squarely lies with the West and its various lobbies and interest groups.

It is hardly a secret that colonial powers and Christian Zionist supremacists have long plotted and dreamed of redrawing the map of the Middle East by breaking up major Muslim countries along sectarian, tribal and ethnic lines.

First it was the French-British plot by empire men Francois Georges-Picot and Mark Sykes in 1916 that dismembered the Ottoman empire to draw the map of what is today’s Middle East. The Picot-Sykes map, marked with crude chinagraph-pencil in the second decade of the 20th Century shows the ambition — and folly — of the 100-year old British-French plan that helped create the modern-day Middle East with a Jewish state in the heart of Arab-Islamic world.

Apparently, that messing up of Middle East’s borders by the Europeans in the last century wasn’t enough. There have been repeated attempts since to refashion and re-imagine the Middle East, according to the whims and fancies of the empire and its pampered, misbegotten child in the region.

In 2006, the US Army Lt. Col. (ret.) Ralph Peters in his now infamous book, Blood Borders, made a ‘strong’ case for “remapping of the Middle East,” even coming up with a new map of the Muslim world to aid Western powers in their mission!

“While the Middle East has far more problems than dysfunctional borders alone — from cultural stagnation through scandalous inequality to deadly religious extremism — the greatest taboo in striving to understand the region’s comprehensive failure isn’t Islam but the awful-but-sacrosanct international boundaries worshiped by our own diplomats,” wrote Peters.

And it was widely believed that the ‘blueprint’ of the US army veteran had the blessings of the born-again Christian US president and the bigots who advised him.

From the Arabian Peninsula to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey and from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Central Asian states, many powerful Muslim countries would be carved up in tiny, harmless Bantustans as part of this grand design. No one with a potential to question the writ of powers that be would be left standing.

Last year, veteran foreign-affairs analyst of the New York Times Robin Wright echoed Peters offering her own ‘vision’ for “remapping the Middle East to alleviate tensions.” The redrawn map, she mused, could be “a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.”

The Middle East’s borders have been redrawn in blood and the Ummah bleeds from a million wounds. But the Muslim world cannot escape its responsibility in allowing things to come this far. It has done little to check this dangerous sectarian rift.

The Middle East’s borders have been redrawn in blood and the Ummah bleeds from a million wounds. The Muslim world cannot escape its responsibility in allowing things to come this far though. It has done little to check this dangerous Sunni-Shia rift

So if Iraq is on fire today and the whole region is falling apart, you know who deserves the credit. There is a method in the madness as the Islamic world burns from the coast of Africa to Central Asia. The Middle East’s borders have indeed been redrawn in blood and the Ummah bleeds from a million wounds, as the victors envisioned it.

That said, the Muslim world cannot escape its responsibility in allowing things to come this far. It has done little to check this dangerous rift and thwart the imperial designs that are hardly a secret.

World powers, regional players, trans-border zealots, irresponsible scholars and international agencies—all have fanned and added fuel to the flames of sectarianism and extremism. As a result, today, it threatens to destroy everything in its path including those who sowed the seeds of strife.

The Sunni-Shia schism has been a reality of Islamic history. However, it has never threatened the Islamic unity and very foundations of the House of Islam as it does today. Unless saner elements on both sides—governments, political leadership, religious scholars and civil society–come together to stem the rot, we will soon have a catastrophe on our hands.

What is this Sunni-Shia business anyway? Who divided us into Sunnis and Shias? Islam certainty didn’t. We slaughter each other with impunity over a pointless academic debate that is as old as Islam and that too in the name of a faith that stands for peace, mercy and forgiveness. The followers of both sects love and revere Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his noble descendants. So what is the point of this conflict?

Islam came as a blessing to the whole of mankind. It does not condone the shedding of innocent blood, whatever their sect or faith. Standing before the Kaaba in Makkah, the Prophet had said: “O you sacred Kaaba, the blood of a human being is more sacred than you.”
If we can’t have mercy on our own, how can we possibly promise glad tidings to the rest of humanity? Belief in one God, one Book and the Last Messenger–is that not enough to unite us as a people?

All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan

15 COMMENTS

  1. Very well written! The neocon/Likudnik plan which was term securing the realm will explain a lot of things. Antiwar.com’s Justin Raymondo has written many articles on this topic. (http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2004/06/02/the-neocons-war/)
    I disagree with this part. The Ottoman Safavid rivalry and the safavid attempt to ghet the European powers to attack the Ottoman caliphate are well known facts
    Obama genuinely wanted Arab countries to get democratic and representative governments and went against the advice of Biden and Hillary Clinton as Clinton writes in her new book too. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran share the blame even more than Israel for the current crisis.

  2. A great article yet again. Congratulations.

    Wonder if those in power in the Middle East and rest of the Islamic World will care to read and take note of what you have written.

    I am currently in Karachi after visiting power corridors in Islam Abad last week.

    Karachi – my birth place – is struggling to survive while Islam Abad and rest of the country barring Peshawar and parts of the NWFP are enjoying business as usual. Karachi is a complex issue. Those in power, be it Sind Govt or Federal, wish to keep sucking milk out of the magnanimous city but do not have any sympathy with locals. For them they are mere money providers to maintain their luxurious life styles. Many times they are wanting blood out of stone – shameful.

    Aksar Muawar Rana yaad aatay rehtay hain – Muhajiroon (though I hate this word and wish to use it never) yehi tareekh rahee hai dunya ki + keh jis nay ghar banaya wohi sehen mein soya.
    (It may be that actual couplet is slightly different in wording however mafhoom yei hai.

    Sharminda hoon keh Nasir Kazmi kai baqaul: tujhay udas kiya kud bhee saugwar huway + hum aap apni muhabbat sai sharmsaar huway.

    Although Pakistan sai muhabbat mein sharmsaari ka koee pehlu na hai na kabhee ho sakta hai however
    aik hook see dil mein uthti hai + aik dard jigar mein hota hai.

    May God bless you more in your writing ability.

    Liyaya phirta hoon khayalon ka dhekta suraj

  3. If you read history you would come to know that the happenings of the present are shaped and influenced by the happenings of the past..There appears to be a parallel between the Khomeini regime in Iran and the Maliki regime in Iraq. The Constitution of the Khomeini Republic declares only the Jews, Christians and the Parsis to be the only religious minorities with protected status and reserved seats in the Majlis. So far as the Sunnis and fringe ethnic minorities and tribes are concerned, they are not recognized as minorities entitled to enjoy their basic rights. The Sunnis have been crushed under the boots of the Sipah [RGC], their political organizations banned and almost all their political leaders executed within Iranian prisons. Economically, politically and culturally they are living on the margins of the mainstream Iranian society.
    Hujjatul Islam wal-Muslimeen Nuri al-Maliki is being led and guided by his mentors in Tehran. The Sunni Iraqis have been removed from the armed forces and all important civil services. Recently, portraits of Khomeini and Khamenei were installed on all thoroughfares of Baghdad and big cities signifying the transfer of power to pro-Iranian Shia majority. The latest development is that Sunnis have been deprived of their personal law and brought under a common civil cod derived from the Khomeini shariat which has legalized mut’a for all communities. A sort of apartheid appears to be in place and the Sunnis have been marginalized absolutely.
    Iraq has been brought to the brink of a precipice by the aggressive sectarianism and hegemonism of the pro-Iranian Maliki regime. The ruination of Iraq opens the door for its occupation by Iranian forces.

  4. I was just reading that Syria has the largest number of refugees and displaced people – amounting to almost 2.5 million where women and children especially are being exposed to abuse in all its forms and are living in grinding poverty. It is obvious that Bashar Assad is refusing to take responsibility for the sorry state of his country leaving the door wide open for vested interests to wreak havoc.
    The Sunni/Shia divide is rampant in this part of the world where the infighting among Muslims is steadily weakening them from within. The only hope I see so far is the prevailing good sense which is preventing the Muslims from breaking apart completely. However, this may not last as long as we would like to wish.
    It is folly to advise on how we must live our lives and protect our identity in these columns but one can at least warn of the devastation we are headed for and take survival measures. Our governments should draw up strategic plans to safeguard the region. There is evidence of their doing exactly that: recently, Bahrain cancelled an EU high profile meeting because 28 of the member countries voted against the Middle Eastern country’s poor human rights record. Bahrain did not just cancel the meeting but moved to present evidence of the mechanisms in place for guaranteeing the individual’s rights. We may not necessarily agree with the human rights situation in the GCC countries but the point is that if you believe in something to be right then you should have the courage to stand up for it. And Bahrain did just that.
    However, western ideology is so influential and so insidiously pervading the eastern way of life that it is posing a threat to its culture which is enshrined in Islamic values.
    That said, Islamic heads of state are not unmindful of this very obvious threat and one can sometimes see them in conferences making a case of the issues we hold dear.
    In the meanwhile, let’s just hope that the tide of violence and bloodshed that has been unleashed upon the Levant and Iraq is stemmed quickly and instead of looking to their vested interests, the powers look to the suffering humanity which has unwittingly found itself in a vicious cycle of grief and yet more suffering.

  5. It’s all our fault! Figures! We are somehow forcing you all to butcher each other in the name of a religion we don’t share or frankly, give a Tinker’s Dam about….but still, you say we’re responsible! That is a position that is as stupid as it is illogical! I will agree with you on one point….the Middle East IS bleeding…..from nothing but self-inflicted wounds!.

  6. The first to scream bloody murder if the artificial state of Iraq had been divided into it’s logical small states armed to defend themselves from their neighbors and never be able to attack Kuwait or Saudi Arabia that would be the first to scream protesting the division but would be so relieved that the monster state created for the sole benefit of colonial Britain is no more. It is about to be finally done by the Iraqi’s themselves. Barak Hussein is about to try to prevent the making of the middle east a better place with no Iraq. You must love this best friend Islamic terror ever had in the White House, right?

  7. What a load of garbage, blaming the schism between the Shias and Sunnis on the west, saying it would be all academic except for the west’s meddling is just so much goobledegook. It proves that the region will invariably blame others as a default mechanism for not taking responsibility itself, and its consequent failure to sort out a course that differs from its historical divisiveness and bloodshed. Shias and Sunnis have been killing each other since the separation.

    Certainly imperialism in the form of western influence may have fanned some division in the region as it has elsewhere, however it has largely been imperialism with its leveling effects that has limited the bloodshed by attempting the drawing of maps that will delimit tribalism and other unseemly artifacts from a warring thoughtless past. This article is well written but its conclusions are as typically lacking in responsibility as the political and tribal entities in the region.

  8. It’s unfortunate that we are our own worst enemies. What I find most alarming is when the so-called custodians patronize and sanction such dissent if some sources are to be believed. This I learn from some of my students who bear the brunt of such divides in their own land. God knows best. Also, the hypocrisy of Muslim leaders, who on one hand will go to any lengths to promote a secular and an all-encompassing front to the world, but build fences around their jurisdiction within the same country. It couldn’t get worse than this. Alas, tribal mentality reigns supreme, whereas the struggles of the Prophet (p.b.u.h) to unite the ummah under one banner languishes in vain.

    Thanks again for another informative read.

  9. The red tide of blood has certainly engulfed the so called Muslim world thanks to the money poured in the conflict by some countries in the region.Who does the killing on their behalf is their own extremists sent to Syria and Iraq. Do not blame the west. It is we the Sunni Muslims who are on bloody and deadly war path. We have always killed and dismembered each other from the time of Umayyad dynasty and we are still going at it. If you are a Sunni you will dismiss this comment as propaganda because another characteristic of us is we do not believe there is anything wrong with us. We believe faults, always, and always lie with the critic and the others.

  10. I noticed that we constantly forget what is called the collateral damage. Destruction
    of civilian lives, property damage and destruction of the children psyche.
    When a family member that is the source of livelihood of the family dies he leaves
    behind 10 members without food and shelter. So in Iraq if 250,000 people died but the impact
    was on over 25 million people.

    Let us realize day of Karbala are way back 950 ad. Modern war fare is far deadlier.

    Let us all work to stop this idiocity, no one really wins.

  11. Dear Aijaz, Yes your observation is beyond doubt. We have been set upon.
    Shame upon us that we are getting bitten time and again and yet we fail
    to shake off the hegemony of our enemies and kings, presidents, emirs who pander to them.
    But your dubbing the ISIS as brutal and savage is subject to debate.

    Wars kill. You don’t expect soldiers to exchange candies. The ISIS fighters could also face even worse at the hands of Maliki’s army, Iranian Militia or Hezbollah.
    I am no supporter of violence. But this a war thrust upon people who profess a faith different from that of the perpetrators (USA/UK). Killing of Iraqi soldiers by ISIS, is no different from the beastly treatment of Saddam’s Army by the Americans after their surrender. Which by the Western morals is violation of human rights .Not to mention Islam,that strictly prohibits killing or torture of enemy after their surrender or ceasefire.

    The ISIS and its associates are bi- products of the ruthless treatment meted out to a legitimate, just and peaceful uprising of a people wanting freedom and dignity from a ruthless and extractive regime of Bashar. And in neighboring Iraq,the denial of space to millions by Maliki for the reason they did not belong to his sect.
    You probably are hurt as much as I and others, at the state of affairs the Muslim
    world is going through.
    No. The Iraqis do not long or cherish for the American presence in their country.
    The Iraqis are a proud people. The have fought prolonged wars with the occupiers in the past.
    A people whose daughters, mother, sisters and wives have been violated by the coward American GI’s at gun point. A people whose places of worship have been dishonored, a people whose heritage has been destroyed and robbed will never cherish the doers of these crimes.
    There is famous Arab saying.’ 60 years to tyranny is better than one day of anarchy.”
    Please do not believe war time images, news and the stories. Truth is the first casualty in times of war. We are all aware of the distorted news that emanated from embedded journos during the first Gulf War. The story about that British Nurse’s heroic escape from Basra hospital. The story of babies being snatched from incubators, etc. The truth will be known only after this terrible conflict is over.

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