The Arab World is at war with itself
An eventual break-up of the Arab world into sectarian splinters is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
As if the severe damage inflicted by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine were not enough, the Arab world is now engaged in a self-destructive process of sectarian polarisation and violence.
While it is true that the 2003 Iraq War triggered the rise of sectarian groups, many Arab political leaders, religious preachers and even some intellectuals have been fanning sectarian hatred and bigotry to serve what is essentially a struggle for power and influence.
What we are witnessing is an ugly sectarianisation of Arab societies that is affecting people's outlook, terminology and attitude as people get trapped in superficial trenches that cloud minds and close hearts.
The ensuing state of confusion and fear compel many to accept "sectarian-wrapped" myths that demonise one sect or another, and even condone, in the case of ISIL, horrific crimes against Christian minorities and Iraq's Yazidis.
Sectarian language is no longer the specialty of openly sectarian parties, but is steadily penetrating the mainstream lingo - expressed either in specific terminology or in supposedly neutral "analyses" of political developments in the region and beyond.
For example, some now see Iran as behind all catastrophes - this was recently evident when Iranian pilgrims were accused of having deliberately caused the stampede in Mecca last September and in the enduring claim that the Iran-Iraq war was sparked by a sinister Shia plan to control the Sunnis in the Arab World.
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The fact that more than 450 Iranians were killed in the stampede or the fact that the 1981 war started when the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein abrogated the 1975 Algiers agreement over border disputes are conveniently overlooked.
A sectarian anti-Shia language was not dominant in the Arab collective psyche which was more shaped by the legacy of the anti-colonialist struggle and commitment to the Palestinian cause.
Strangely enough, such sectarian language was not prevalent during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, even though it was pro-Western Arab governments - ie, those with Sunni majority countries - that instigated Saddam to provoke the war.
Certainly, chauvinist propaganda was strongly present but as ugly as it was, it was not sectarian but an attempt to rally the masses behind a pan-Arabist Iraqi defence of the Arab world against a supposed historic Persian conspiracy to conquer the Arab world.
To be sure, Iran did its part in fuelling anti-Arabism - I experienced it first hand during my stint as reporter from Tehran in 1995 - but it engaged in this enterprise more seriously, in its nurturing and training of a sectarian Iraqi Shia groups who returned to Iraq after the US invasion of the country.
Anti-colonialism and Palestine
Prior to this, a sectarian anti-Shia language was not dominant in the Arab collective psyche which was more shaped by the legacy of the anti-colonialist struggle and commitment to the Palestinian cause.
Therefore, a majority of Arabs, unlike the pro-Western Arab governments, openly supported and celebrated the Iranian revolution in 1979 that overthrew Reza Pahlavi's regime, seen as the region's "gendarmerie" protecting US and Israeli interests.
It was the pro-Western Arab regimes, who feared and incited against post-revolution Iran, not on a sectarian basis, but out of fierce rivalry over influence and control.
|Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, circa 1955 [Getty]
It was not until more than a decade later that fear of exaggerated Iranian influence over Shia Muslims in the Gulf states became an overwhelming concern for these regimes - a claim that was also used as pretext to suppress domestic opposition.
The rallying against "the Shia threat" that started in full swing in 2004, was part of the US-backed formation of an axis of so-called "moderate" Arab states versus the Iranian-led Shia axis, aimed at undermining support for Hezbollah and Hamas, as resisters against Israel.
It was King Abdullah of Jordan who in 2004, and again in 2007, made the anti-Shia sentiment more acceptable by advocating the urgency of countering the expansion of a Shia crescent in the region.
Also read: Did Arab uprisings deepen the Sunni-Shia divide?
The Jordanian monarch was talking about the expansion of an Iranian-sponsored political-ideological crescent, rather than a religious confrontation, but his words fed the rising beast of sectarianism and polarisation.
The catchphrases 'Shia expansion' and 'Shia threat' have seeped into the spoken and written Arabic language...