The Sunni Revolution
Al Hayat Newspaper
January 01, 2013
A member of the Muslim Brotherhood punches an anti-Brotherhood protester at Tahrir Square, in Cairo 12 October 2012. (Photo: Reuters – Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
In the region between Egypt and Iraq, there are several revolutions unfolding, but within which many layers can be identified. There is yearning for freedom, justice and for getting rid of tyrannical regimes, most notably the Syrian regime. On the sidelines of these revolutions, there are demands for democracy and catching up with modernity, and at their core, aspirations for a vindictive tyranny that is meant to put its proponents at the helm of alternative regimes, and perhaps even civil wars that would subjugate others and those who are different.
Yet there is also, in addition to all this, what one can call a Sunni revolution taking place, in conjunction with these revolutions and sometimes acting as their voice. We see this in Iraq, against a regime accused of being Shia-dominated and subservient to Iran, overlapping with legitimate demands and desperately pining for Saddam`s era.
We also see it in Syria, with the revolution inevitably taking on a sectarian identity in confronting an Alawi-dominated regime. Here, too, there is clear confusion between justice and rights, and a sectarian color that is becoming starker and starker, and ever more dangerous.
We see the same also in Lebanon, with the desire to end the marginalization that has been inflicted on the Sunnis, in some cases taking on the form of physical liquidation. But we also see it as an unjust desire to unleash Salafis, who would destabilize Lebanon and unsettle its fragile configuration.
And we see it in a special way in the Gaza Strip, where Sunnism has taken a detour away from the previous deviations [i.e. the alliance with Syria and Hezbollah], in order to realign itself with the “Brothers” in the same sect. Then in some sense, we see it in Jordan as well, where the clout of the Muslim Brotherhood is growing, under the slogan of reforming the electoral system, as well as the Islamists` pressure on a regime that has stumbled in its response so far.
What is happening in the small Levant is encouraged by what is happening in Egypt, the country that has pushed the Muslim Brotherhood to the apex of power, without shortage of moral support from Tunisia (and Libya and Morocco.)
This Sunni revolution has some of its roots also in the 1970s and 1980s, when Hafez al-Assad ascended to the presidency, the Iranian revolution triumphed, and Hezbollah was established. This was an overlapping Shiite revolution as well, with many currents and layers within its folds. What enhanced its image as a Shiite revolution was the accompanying decline of the Sunni centers of influence: Egypt was cast aside because of Camp David. Iraq was swallowed up by the Gulf War which Saddam Hussein had initiated with his usual stupidity. And the Palestinian revolution was deported by the Israeli invasion of 1982 to Tunisia.
It is bad enough that the sectarian dimension is overshadowing all other dimensions of social and political existence, but this how things are in this part of the world. Yet the final verdict on the Sunni revolution, which is in reality many revolutions with varying national characteristics, will be determined by the political newborn that it will deliver. This raises possibilities that evocate an earlier historical period: When Europe made contact with the region, two Sunni voices emerged: One whose symbols extend from Khedive Ismail to Rafik Hariri through Nouri al-Saeed, and another that begins with Ahmed Orabi onto Gamal Abdel Nasser and then Saddam Hussein.
It was the second voice that was louder in the 1950s and onwards, dashing the only possibility for stability in the nation-states that were the gift given to us by that contact with Europe. Back then, the curse came through Sunni hands that put “causes” ahead of countries, before that curse persisted, at least in the Asian Levant, with military officers from a minority community.
Today, the final verdict on the Sunni revolution depends on its ability to resume what has been interrupted with the symbols of the first voice. So will its slogan be: March to the nation states; and will its conduct match this slogan?
© Copyright 2013. Al-Hayat Newspaper.
2012: Sunni Islam and Shia Islam
The Frontier Post
December 30, 2012
A Sunni gunman runs and holds his gun as he moves his position during clashes in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, on Sunday. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)
Muslims as religious entity have never been united, nor can they possibly be one brand of Islam ever. The irreconcilable conflict between Sunnis and Shias is a pernicious spillover from the past precisely from the moment Prophet of Islam Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) breathed his last.
The ongoing orgy of blood and mutual killings in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. It has been there for centuries wherever Muslims societies existed. It is a colossal tragedy within Islam that this great faith is torn apart into two domains that cannot reconcile or converge on a common creed.
After the demise of the Prophet (PBUH), the issue of succession has been the bane of the unity among the Muslims for all these 14 centuries. Never was there an Islamic issue than the caliphate which brought so much of destruction and bloodshed between two leading sects of Sunnis and Shias.
It is still a living issue prompting both sides to spill each others` blood with religious fervour. In the present times in Syria, the civil war that has consumed 40,000 people is primarily between Shia Salafi minority rulers and the majority Sunni population.
The Prophet (PBUH) did not nominate a successor during his lifetime. The Prophet`s death provoked a crisis. He died without any male progeny and without a clearly designated successor. Although, the Prophet (PBUH) remained indisposed for several days before his death and he had plenty of time to decide as to who would be his successor, he did not take that vital decision.
It was during his last moments that he wanted to dictate his will and nominate his successor. But those who were around his bed did not write the will because the Prophet (PBUH) was in a state of faintness.
Following the demise of the Prophet (PBUH), the impromptu decision by a few of his close companions chose Abu Bakr as his successor and the first caliph. That led to a conflict between the Prophet`s own family of Banu Hashim and the traditionally rival clan of Banu Umayyad.
That nomination was not accepted by Prophet`s family headed by his son-in-law, cousin brother and later the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali. The first three caliphs were from not from the Banu Hashim tribe.
Shiite Muslims believe that the true leadership comes through the Prophet`s bloodline and that his cousin and son in law Ali-Ibne-Abi-Talib was the divinely ordained successor. They claim that Allah and his Prophet (PBUH) had clearly designated Ali as the only legitimate successor.
The Sunni sects believe that the four successors of Prophet Muhammad or caliphs were legitimate as they were chosen by the community in accordance with the custom of those times. The supporters of Ali always looked up for an opportunity to see Ali as the caliph. But their wishes and endeavours were blunted by the more crafty and powerful Umayyad notables.
However, the murder of the third caliph Hazrat Usman by the pro Ali supporters known as Kharjis intensified the rivalry between the Prophet`s family and the Umayyad tribe. After Hazrat Usman, it was Hazrat Ali took the mantle of caliphate (656-661 C. E.).
The deprivation of Ali of the office of the caliph through arbitration and later his death divided the Muslims into two irreconcilable groups for ever. When Hazrat Usman was murdered, one of the mourners predicted that the cleavage caused by his assassination would never be bridged till the doomsday. That prophecy holds true to this day.
This cleavage further sharpened when Imam Hussain, his entire family (excepting women and one male) and accompanying followers were massacred in the desert of Karbala near Baghdad by the troops of then Umayyad caliph Yazid, the son of the founder of Umayyad dynasty; Amir Muawiyah. Yazid to Shias is like a devil while Sunnis treat him like other caliphs. The Islamic unity has therefore, remained a mere myth and elusive goal for all these 14 centuries.
Although there are several scores of sects and denominations within the fold of Islam, the level of animosity and bitterness that exists between the two leading sects of Sunnis and Shias is horrendous. There is no way that their doctrinal rift can be healed and reconciled in any way.
The Shia and Sunni division in Islam is so drastic and hard that they do not pray together in one place. Shias do not pay Islamic tax Zakat while in Islam it is considered to be one of the five principal obligations. With the exception of a few common beliefs and traditions Shias and Sunnis differ on a whole range of beliefs with regard to Sharia laws encompassing both juridical( criminal and civil) and ecclesiastical.
The Shias believe in a lineage of twelve divine Imams or spiritual leaders. On the other side, besides four caliphs, Sunnis have four Imams but they are primarily interpreters of the Islamic Sharia law. Barring Ali, Shias discard the three caliphs as usurpers.
The Islamic history is replete with their mutual annihilations and massacres. In the past, the Sunni and Shia dynasties have been taking turns for wreaking havoc upon each other. During the Shia dynasties in Egypt, North Africa, Sicily, Spain, Arabian Peninsula, Syria and Iraq, Iran & Azerbaijan Sunnis have been terribly persecuted.
Conversely, in Sunni Muslim dynasties, Shias had suffered with terrible discrimination and massacres. The sack and pillage of Baghdad in 1258 by the Mongol hordes was the result of the rivalry between a Sunni caliph Mustaasim and a Shia vizier Mohammad bin al-Kami. Kami invited the Tartars to come to Baghdad.
While in the past they killed each other with swords, in the present times they resort to mutual slaughter by suicide bombing, target killing and bomb blasts. The Shias are branded as infidels by the majority Sunni sects and therefore, their murder is justifiable to them as if they were killing a non-Muslim.
In Islam a heretic or apostate person or sect is more condemnable and liable to be punished with death than a non-Muslim who has clear denomination of not being a Muslim faithful and has come under the protection of the state as a Zimmi or dhimmi.
In all the Middle Eastern Islamic regimes there is always a simmering tussle, between the Sunni and Shia populations. For instance in Bahrain, the Sunnis are in minority but ruling. Conversely in Syria the Sunnis are in majority and Shias are in minority but are at the political helm. Same division and cleavage prevails in Iraq where most of the Shias religious and spiritual leaders are buried
One dimension of the Arab spring is the upswing in the ideological conflict between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, Bahrain and Syria where it is now turning into a civil war. In Iraq from the early days of Islam to Saddam Hussain`s era to the present dispensation of Nouri al-Maliki, the Sunni-Shia feud has always been mostly underneath the societal disorders and internal upheavals.
In Bahrain the minority Sunni regime is in place while in Syria, it is the Shia minority that is at the helm and wreaking all brutalities on the Sunnis. Presently in Baghdad the Sunni majority population is protesting against the Shia minority government for maltreatment and discrimination.
In Pakistan, the Shia community observes the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet of Islam, in a nerve-racking environment. They enter their congregational places as if entering a nuclear arsenal. Each and every person is subjected to body pat down by the security staff posted at the entry and exit points.
The entire country is placed under high alert with thousands of military and semi military personnel guarding the processions. Still the suicide bombers, callous murderers and sharp shooters from their rival sects keep killing them. Practicing of one`s faith is becoming extremely arduous in Islamic polities.
In the present times Saudi Arabia and Iran are hostile competitors in upholding the Sunni and Shia creeds respectively. The Saudis are aligned to the Christian West and America to browbeat and even contain the growing leverage and influence of Iran in the region. This antagonism is entirely faith based besides the historical rivalry between the Arab and non-Arab Muslims (Ajam).
Some of the Shia spiritual leaders migrated to Iran during the Umayyad and Abbasids dynasties while the others were killed by these powerful family fiefdoms. As such the discord between Shias and Sunnis is not only of faith but also regional, ethnic and political.
The unity of Muslims as one nation would always remain a myth and unattainable goal. The bridging of the doctrinal and theological chasms between these two main sects within Islam would always remain a tall order unless the Muslim clergy of both the sects reconcile on living in harmony despite their mutual differences of faith and Sharia laws. Would that be possible within an Islamic state cannot be fathomed.
However, if the Islamic polities turn secular wherein all faiths are allowed to practice freely without harming each other, this most coveted goal can become attainable. The example of such religious harmony can be witnessed in western societies where they pray in the same mosques and never fight.
© Copyright 2012. The Frontier Post
Turkish Commentator Views `Sunni Revival` in Middle East
Hurriyet Daily News Online
Friday, December 7, 2012
A Pakistani policeman raises his stick towards activists of Hizb ut Tahrir during a protest in Karachi on April 17, 2011. Hizb ut Tahrir staged countrywide rallies to demand the end of the presence of US military presence in Pakistan. GETTY
Column by Umit Enginsoy: “The Sunni revival”
It was 2006 when the American scholar Vali Nasr, of Iranian origin, wrote his masterpiece “The Shia Revival.” It was on former president George W. Bush`s inadvertent act to invade the mostly Shiite-dominated Iraq, which gave the country as a gift to the United States` worst enemy, Iran, without firing a shot. It was also on the divergence between two great Islamic sects, the Shiite and the Sunni, which happens to be worse than between Catholicism and Protestantism.
And the big prize of this conflict is now Syria, which has not been solved yet.
Several years later, it is time for another book in the wake of the Arab Spring, on effectively “The Sunni Revival,” which is replacing the Shiite revival. The United States` role in the origins of the Arab Spring is debatable, but the fact that Sunni Islam is on the rise is not. The United States, under the rule of President Barack Obama, has greatly benefited from the Sunni Arab Spring.
First, consider where Turkey was two or three years ago when and how it, in a collaboration with Brazil, worked hard inside the United Nations Security Council, as a non-permanent member, against new sanctions on Iran because of its unclear nuclear aspirations. Now the same Turkey has allowed a NATO X-band radar system on its soil in Kurecik to spy against the nuclear ambitions of the same Iran.
As has been repeatedly warned by Iran, Kurecik has been under constant threat. Now a few predictions: Republican People`s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is right to declare that the deployment of German and Dutch Patriot air defense systems in southern Turkey, agreed to under U.S. permission within NATO, are due to be placed somewhere that will definitely guard Kurecik against a missile attack.
See how a Turkey, which once protected Iran within the United Nations, has transformed. Now, did you think Turkey would act like it did a few years ago? This is a huge failure for Iran, and a huge success for the U.S.
Turkey also acted solidly with the Sunni Arab states of Egypt and Qatar in trying to find a truce a couple of weeks ago between the Palestinians in Gaza, under the rule of Hamas, and Israel, despite its own difficulties with that country. The effort was ultimately successful. I am not among the Turkish analysts who thought that Israel was ready to attack Gaza from the land throughout the process. Israel is most effective when it hits from the air and the sea. In the war against helpless Gaza in 2009, it can be said it was a draw. But when it started the land warfare against the Hezbollah in 2006, it was a clear defeat.
This is because in modern warfare, all modern armies, including the American and Russian armies, suffer heavy casualties against more primitive militaries on land. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan (twice).
Because on land you have almost equal chances or you are more vulnerable to losses. So it took me just a few hours to guess that the Israeli offensive would not be expanded to the land.
If we come to Egypt, the Arab Spring was seen by many as a largely secular movement aimed at establishing constitutional democracy. But actually, it was not certain that the secular constitutionalists would win it. And in practice, they lost it. President Mohamed Morsi is an Islamist, and his intention was to strengthen the role of Islam in Egypt and he is doing that now. The move on the judiciary signaled his intent to begin consolidating power. Now, do you want another prediction? He will win it against the liberals, because as an Islamist, fighting the remnants of the Hosni Mubarak regime, he is on the right side of the history.
And yet another prediction? Despite his recent victory against Israel and the United States at the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a member of the Fatah movement, fighting against the more radical Hamas, is doomed to lose, probably in a few months to be replaced by a Hamas member. Because he is on the wrong side of history, and Hamas is on the right side.
(Description of Source: Istanbul Hurriyet Daily News Online in English -- Website of Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review, pro-secular daily, with English-language versions from other Dogan Media Group dailies; URL: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/)
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Who should we back in this Sunni-Shia war?
December 11, 2012
In Sept. 1, 2012 photo, Waleed Abdul-Wahid, left, and his family participate in an interview in Baghdad, Iraq, after his family`s return from Syria. Abdul-Wahid and his family decided to return to Iraq when masked gunmen broke into the small apartment on the Syrian capital`s outskirts where the family had lived peacefully for nearly three years. The gunmen shouted, “Are you Sunni or Shiite?” (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
Syria is not a struggle between tyranny and freedom but a fight for dominance between two visions of Islam
It is always illuminating to look at things through different eyes.
An intelligent and worldly-wise Muslim friend said to me of Iraq recently: “The chief effect of the removal of Saddam Hussein was to advance the frontier of Iran 400 miles to the west.” With the current Shia-dominated Baghdad Government doing more and more of Tehran`s bidding, he could easily have been talking politics. But I suspect he was also talking religion.
The dominant struggle in the Middle East is not for control of Syria; it is the wider confrontation of which Syria should be seen as a part — the contest between the Sunni and Shia visions of Islam.
The history of Western policy in the Islamic world is rich in examples where we act on what we hope is happening, rather than what actually is. In the 1980s we hoped we were throwing the Soviet invaders out of Afghanistan, but ended up unwittingly funding and arming a deadly Islamic global insurgency. In Iraq during the 1980s we first helped secular Saddam Hussein against the Shia mullahs of Iran, then we removed him as a brutal dictator. Now we discover that we have enabled the expansion of Tehran`s influence in ways we wouldn`t have wanted.
We hoped that the Arab Spring would lead to a new secular enlightenment, but what we are seeing instead is the rapid growth of Sunni Salafism, spreading extremist Islam from Mali in Africa through Libya and Egypt to the increasingly radicalised and factionalised rebel groups fighting in Syria. And this extremist counter- revolution that we hate is being funded and promoted by wealthy private donors in Arab states that we regard as friends in the struggle against President Assad, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf monarchies.
Are we being played again? Probably.
Something curious and potentially very menacing is going on in the world of Sunni Islam. At first the Arab Spring looked as though it might lead to a broadly heterogeneous, democratic “secular” Islam, best epitomised by Turkey. Governments elected in the early plebiscites of the Arab Spring — even in Egypt — seemed in their first flushes, to support this. Islamic pragmatists by nature, broadly pluralist and tolerant in their approach and above all democratic, these were the West`s greatest hope.
But they are, for the same reasons, regarded by some in the Saudi and Gulf monarchies as the greatest threat. So, quietly and largely unremarked, a counter-revolution is now under way. In war-torn northern Mali, until now the home of the gentle doctrine of the Sufi, the Salafists are increasingly the dominant force. In Libya they run many of the armed gangs beyond the Government`s control. In Egypt the widening ripples of Salafist influence are dramatically revealed in a recent poll that showed 61 per cent of Egyptians would now support a Saudi-style (monarchist) government. In Syria, the rise of radical jihadism among the rebels is already bleeding instability into neighbouring Turkey. In Jordan there is a substantial and growing Salafist opposition to a king seen as far too Western.
But it would be a mistake to see the motivation behind this as simply anti-Western. Where it appears so, it is a secondary, not a primary, consequence. The days when Wahhabist Sunnis defined themselves by their attitude to the West are largely over. After Iraq and Afghanistan exposed the myth of Western omnipotence we are just not that important in the Middle East any longer.
Nowadays this Sunni world does not define itself, as Osama bin Laden did, in relation to the “Great Satan” in the US, but to the “Great Heresy” of Shia. That is the conflict they are now preparing for. And we again are helping them, albeit again unwittingly.
To us in the West the struggle in Syria is the struggle in which we can never resist intervening — the compelling, simple contest between freedom and tyranny. In reality it is much, much more complex than that. To the growing Salafist counter-revolution it is nothing to do with democracy and little to do with tyranny. It is the cockpit from which to control the worldwide Sunni community and prosecute the wider struggle against the Shia enemy.
Last weekend The Sunday Times reported that the US is providing covert arms and funds to the rebels. Probably America is. Probably the French are too. Probably, so far, Britain is not. But London is providing encouragement to the fighters and tacit support for their funders. We need to be much more clear-eyed about the dangers of a regional conflict here and much more active in persuading our friends in the Arab monarchies that the best reaction to the Arab Spring is to reform to meet its challenge and not allow some in their states to undermine it.
We hope for a peace in Syria. But even if Assad were to fall soon, there is one very big reason why a wider peace is unlikely. Syria itself is not the conflict; it is only the front line in something much bigger — a widening, long-term struggle between Sunni and Shia to define the future Middle East.
The Russians understand this very well. Their support for Assad rests not just on him being “their man” and the only one they have left in the region. It is far more about their fear of the Salafist contagion now also sweeping up into their own Islamic republics of Dagestan and Chechnya. The Chinese too worry about the radicalisation of their Sunni Uighurs.
If, as seems more than possible, the turmoils of the Maghreb and the Eastern Mediterranean dissolve into a wider Sunni-Shia conflict, then, unless we are much more cautious about who we back and why, the scene will be set for the West to be suckered into supporting one side, while the Russians are drawn into the other.
Mao Zedong used to call the First and Second World Wars “the European civil wars”. It is always illuminating to look at things through different eyes — especially if this reminds us that, as in Europe in the last century, so in the Middle East today, a regional war can have global consequences.
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon is former leader of the Liberal Democrats
© 2012 Times Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved