Saturday, October 07, 2006

Food for thought

Asharq al Awsat, Saturday Oct 7, prints a summary of the Ellen Knickmeyer piece in the Washington Post of Friday, talking about conversions of Syrian Sunni individuals to Shiism, a result of their admiration for the performance of Hizbullah in the Israel-Lebanon war. The only identifier of the source of this is Knickmeyer's name in the byline; it is presented as a straight news story.

There are sixteen comments appended to the article, many from readers in Saudi Arabia, but also some from other Arab countries and from Arab readers in Europe as well. The comments are mixed. Those that welcome the phenomenon generally take the position this shows the secondary nature of the sect-differences, the important thing being Muslim unity, one stressing also the idea that the historical roots of Shiism in Egypt and the Levant, going back to the Fatamid kingdom in the twelfth centure or thereabouts, are still a factor to be considered.

What I would like to highlight is the nature of the negative reactions to this phenomenon. Some of it is religious in nature (for instance, that those converting are of a weak faith, and the strong should pray for them). But by and large those expressing a militant concern about this phenomenon do so on racial and geopolitical grounds. Here is how one commenter put it:
When King Abdullah II of Jordan warned of a Shiite Safavid crescent there were those who enraged, and there were those who laughed, and when Egyptian president Mubarak spoke about the control of the Safavid sect in Iran and the world was upset. It is incumbent upon the Arab nation, which has been so long silent in the face of Syria's throwing itself into the welcoming arms of the Farsi Safavids on the day when Iraq is preoccupied with fighting off the Farsi ambitions at the eastern gate of the Arab world--It is incumbent, I say, to remove this Safavid thorn [lest it] work the destruction of the entire edifice of the Arab world, which God forbid, unless God corrects us with an historic and an effective leader, and I pray that from among those who govern us there will be one who can stand in that place. It is more than necessary. And God is our help.
I cite this not as a scientific sampling of opinion, but merely to introduce readers to the language of the hardcore Iran-at-the-gates psychology, bearing in mind that this Iran-threat psychology is precisely what the new Bush administration is trying to foster in the ranks of its Sunni-regime allies.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is good historic evidence that the so-called “Shia-Sunni religious” conflict is in fact an Arab-Persian (i.e. Iranian) conflict for many centuries. For example, A. J. Toynbee notes the differentiating ETHNIC characteristics of the Shia and the Sunni Moslems as the basis of conflict: “The Shi’ah identified itself with the reaction of the non-Arab subjects of the Caliphate against the Arab ascendancy. The most important of these non-Arab communities were the Iranians...

6:42 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Ill have to read up.

It certainly makes sense from what I've seen so far that the racial thing is where the real self-starting hatred comes from. And that for instance among these Syrians the whole issue of Sunni versus Shiite isn't a big deal at all. But then I guess you can also get the racial thing infecting the religious differences, for instance in Iraq. And it would make sense that there would be historical reasons for the importance of the racial side of things.

By the way, what do you think of this spectre (my next post) of the two race-based regimes Israel and Saudi getting in bed together to hit the Iranians?!

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog, badger.

Just a note, though: The disgreements between Shia and Sunni mostly have to do with matters of Islamic teachings. Some Sunnis (for example, in communities where there are no Shia, or in the West) really don't know much about Shia beliefs and practices and think, "We're all Muslims". Sunnis who do know (as just one example, that Shias curse some of the Prophet's Companions and wives) have sharp disagreements with Shiism, and it has nothing to do with race. Shias, on the other hand, hold Sunnis responsible for the death of Hussein and this also has nothing to do with race; after all, some of the most enthusiastic participants in the Shia practice of bloodletting on the Day of Ashura (to commemorate the death of Hussein) are Arabs in Lebanon.

12:36 PM  

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