By Barry Rubin
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife….
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds….
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war….”
William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”
This is not merely coincidental violence. True, the currently self-flagellating West used to have scenes like this but no more. Today, the West is an island of tolerance despite the orgy within it of self-blame and criticism. Meanwhile, other places daily show orgies of violence but not self-criticism.
Let’s take one little example from the daily situation of places from that vast expanse between Nigeria and Indonesia that coincides with Muslim-majority countries. Yet Muslims are also the main victim from the violence, due to the horror of radical Islamism and whipped-up-into-a-frenzy fanaticism which characterizes Arab World War Two.
In early June, Salafists stirred up hatred at the purported threat from a tiny minority of 30 Shia Muslims living in the village of Zawiyat Abu Muslim near Cairo. Shias are a microscopic portion of Egypt’s population, far less than one percent. Until recently one was barely aware they existed at all. But then until recently the same was true of that 1 percent minority of real Shia Muslims in Syria (along the Lebanese border, the Alawites are about as Shia Muslim as the Catholic pope is Mormon) which has done so much to prompt the Hizballah offensive in the Syrian civil war.
On June 23, a Muslim holiday, a leading Shia cleric named Hassan Shehata was visiting and spoke at a small religious gathering. A mob of up to 3000 regular people, the neighbors, marched on the house where the Shia were gathered. The guests were beaten up, three petrol bombs set the house on fire, and four Shia were murdered. Five Shia houses in all were burned.
Shehata, an inoffensive and apolitical religious scholar was stabbed to death and dragged through the streets.
Let’s not take any point for granted here:
–The attackers and killers were ordinary villagers.
–The attack was not spontaneous but deliberately organized.
–The Arabic-speaking world is gearing up for a massive Sunni versus Shia bloodbath as well as a Sunni war on Christians. The war on Jews is nothing new and if Israel could not defend itself what happened in that village would be our fate in this modern edition of the European Middle Ages.
Generally, please note, the Christians cannot defend themselves. And Kurds, Druze, the Bahais in Iran also face such potential or actual problems. In all cases these are wars of extermination or at least expulsion.
–The victims were not engaged in any violent or provocative acts. They were killed because of their religious identity and for no other reason.
–The villagers were proud of what they had done.
–The police did not try to stop the violence even when one Shia was killed in front of them as they stood by.
–The Egyptian government won’t do anything. Nobody who is not a conformist supporter of the dictatorship and in the right group can expect protection. (With occasional exceptions as with a single Muslim preacher brought to court because he burned a Christian Bible a few months ago.
–The government and police are on the side of the murderers.
–The police threw the victims into a pile, adding to the lack of respect for them.
–A Salafist television station and websites praised the killers and accused Shehata of having insulted Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Note that any non-Sunni or in other cases non-Shia can be falsely accused of doing something insulting to Islam and murdered.
–Certainly the government will not denounce this crime and the perpetrators probably won’t be arrested as those who attack churches and Coptic Christians are not arrested. This includes those who carried out the very public attack on the Cairo cathedral last month, during a service itself commemorating the earlier murder of Christians. Al-Azhar, the center of (Sunni) Islam religious authority did do so.
–An important principle in Islamic states is that the actual government, that is by the allegedly moderate Muslim Brotherhood, also unleashes and uses the more militant Salafists to do what they want as long as they don’t challenge the regime. You cannot just go by government behavior but by the vigilante activity the government permits. The recent upsurge in opposition activity has pushed the Brotherhood and Salafists together. A key point in an Islamist state is that there is no real government protection for the rights of minorities despite the promises based on Islamic texts.
Here’s a Syrian Salafist commander in a typical such claim:
“We have been providing the minorities with their rights ever since the establishment of the state of Islam, since the beginning of the Caliphate in the days of the Prophet Muhammad, and in the days of the Righteous Caliphs, and to this day. Throughout history, nobody has suffered injustice under the state of Islam – the state of truth and justice.”
Only now in recent years, that lie about minorities has been extended to Shia.
–Every day such crimes are committed by pogroms and terror attacks, especially right now in Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. Indeed, terrorism against Israel is a militarily sophisticated type of pogrom, complete with the frequent rationalization of Palestinian governments. (And this is an issue that the American elite thinks is on the verge of solution, especially if there are one-sided Israeli concessions?)
–Violence in Iraq on a Sunni-Shia basis (mostly Sunnis attacking Shia) is at a high point. Imagine what things will be like when a Sunni Islamist ruled Syria hates and tries to foment unrest in s Shia-ruled Iraq which will no doubt push Baghdad toward the waiting arms of Iran! Two American “clients” at war backed by two anti-American backed alliances!
–Since this is such explosive stuff, the Western mass media and institutions put the main emphasis on playing it down on the off-chance that…what? Western citizens will go burn down houses and stab their Muslim neighbors? They assume that their audiences must be kept in ignorance lest they turn to prejudice and hatred. Even admitting that the contemporary American track record is better than the Middle East skirts the supposed edge of racism. Heaven forbid that Western civilization regard itself, at least today, as more advanced.
–The proper response would be to sympathize with the victims against the murderers and point out that, just as Germans oppressed other Germans during the Nazi era, sympathy and support should go to the victims against the political criminals and not to minimize the threat lest sausage shops or Lutheran churches be attacked.
–Iran condemned the attacks on Shias, saying it was contrary to Islam. But of course the whole central narrative of Islam is based on Sunni persecution of Shia. Of course, don’t try to find a Sunni mosque in Tehran, and Iran’s ally, Syria, is treating Sunnis far more ruthlessly than the norm in Egypt. Have no doubt about the intensity of this conflict. Egypt and Iran may well eventually find themselves in a proxy war. In fact, they are now doing so in Syria.
–A high-ranking Hamas leader even said that overthrowing the Syrian regime is a higher priority than staging jihad in Palestine. Of course, the Sunnis know that overthrowing Assad is a step forward on the jihad against Israel but he isn’t supposed to say that. Still, it reveals the depth of hatred and antagonism toward the fellow Arabs and Muslims.
As a new report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center puts it:
“The depth of the Sunni-Shi’ite schism can be seen in all the major arenas where regional conflicts are being waged. It is reflected in Hezbollah’s growing involvement in the fighting in Syria, the spilling over of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon, record-breaking sectarian violence in Iraq, and the aggressive stance taken by the Persian Gulf states towards Iran and Hezbollah. Thus, the Sunni-Shi’ite schism is emerging as one of the most influential factors shaping the Middle East in a time of regional upheaval.”
You can read about the modern history of the Sunni-Shia relationship in that report. It points out the new parallels with anti-Jewish thinking among Sunnis including the creation of a forged “The Protocols of the Clerics of Qom” which matches The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The Shia, for their part, reciprocate with their own hatred. How distant seem the days when Iran’s ambition to lead the Muslim Middle East seems credible or the Arab-Israeli conflict seemed central to the region!
As the report cited above continued:
“The meaning of that escalation is that, ideologically speaking, the fight against the Shi’a (and its representatives, Iran and Hezbollah) takes precedence over the fight against the West and Israel—although it does not mean that the fight will necessarily be backed by actual on-the-ground efforts. This coincides with the political and social reality brought about by the regional upheaval: a widening of the fundamental fault lines that run through the Arab and Muslim world.”
Here’s my article on a recent report from a Muslim Brotherhood think tank that confirms this analysis.
Yes, that is the fruit of the “Arab Spring.” Not as the Western sorcerer’s apprentices’ expected love, peace, and democracy but the rise of Islamism and the Sunni-Shia war.
This does not mean–as the brilliant young analyst Phillip Smyth points out–that the Shia Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Sunni al-Qaida won’t soon be competing over how many Americans each group can kill in Syria. It does mean, however, that things have really changed in the region.
Forget the dreams of a new era of peace and democracy. The next several decades—and that’s the optimistic version—will be full of Zawiyat Abu Muslim’s writ large. Anyone who is sensible will avoid the wreckage and send out the lifeboats.
Note: Arab World War One was the nationalist era’s equivalent of today’s battle,what Malcolm Kerr called the Arab Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s between the radical nationalists and the more conservative traditionalist forces.
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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.
Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition),
The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle
East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.