Sunni, Shia and US ME politics

There is a widespread belief amongst political theorists that democracies do not go to war with one another. Indeed, this political paradigm acted as a prime justification for the Bush administration’s call to “democratise” the Middle East.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this theme of “democratisation” has become a major topic in American political discourse and in fact accompanies nearly all discussions of the Arab-Muslim world and America’s so-called role in it.

The Bush administration’s response to the current conflict in southern Lebanon, reveals the hypocrisy and true ideology of this administration in aiming at provoking sectarian tension in the region.


Western analysts continue to discuss an alleged “historic” hostility between Sunni and Shia in the region. Dexter Filkins, an Iraq based New York Times journalist claimed in a recent radio interview that the Sunni in Iraq have now “realised that the Shia are their true enemy, not the Americans.” 

But the fact is that this statement contradicts history, Iraq Sunni and Shia have been living together for centuries. Modern history books are free from any reference to war between them, but not until the US-led invasion of Iraq.


They already chose Israel since long long time ago! Just in case if someone didn’t know. It is about us now, who have to choose between US or our dignity.”

Mohammad, Canada

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Martin Peretz claims that the most virulent social conflict in Middle Eastern history “is the Sunni hatred of the Shia, and vice versa,” another groundless claim seems to suggest that Muslims somehow cause more harm to one another than the illegal occupations of their land. Western analysts and journalists newfound enthusiasm for sectarian history in the Muslim world needs to be contextualised.

The danger in baseless claims made by western journalists, become even greater when policy makers and American voters begin to rely on them to assess appropriate action in the Muslim and Arab regions. 


It is remarkable that unpopular and unelected rulers, kings and occupiers are the only ones obsessed by alleged sectarian tensions in the region. King Abdullah II of Jordan, a close US ally had warned the west of the supposedly dangerous “Shia crescent” stretching from Iran, moving through Iraq, Syria and ending in Southern Lebanon. 


Many in the west, including influential pro-Zionist journalists like Thomas Friedman, are praising Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia—states that Nicholas Blanford described as “western friendly Sunni-led Arab states.” 

George Bush has always been keen to invite the Saudis to the White House for a smile laden photo session with a president who is a frequent user of the term “free world”. 


This insistence on sectarianism revolves around a dangerous twist. Western journalists have continued to suggest that the US presence in Iraq is needed in order to prevent civil war, an idea that many Americans believe in. 


Needless to say, the American presence has done nothing other than perpetuate civil tensions in the country. Arab kings are freighting their peoples with a false sectarian threat, further consolidating their forceful hold on power. 


While regimes like the Saudis are now ordering huge quantities of weapons from the west in order to protect themselves from an assumed sectarian threat posed by Iran. 

Western journalists and analysts repeating and confirming the existence of sectarian tension in the Middle East are actually justifying an American occupation of great parts of the region, instigate a local arms race where the west is the prime benefactor and protect tyrants’ grip on power and monarchies who rule by fear. 


The fact that the west is arming the un-elected regime in Saudi Arabia against the elected regime in Iran serves as an emphatic indicator of American wishes in the region.


It seems that the mounting tensions of Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, have placed too much stress on the American façade of freedom and democracy and have revealed the true nature of American policy behind it. 


American policy in the Middle East has two major components: First, the Bush administration has an absolute disdain for true democracy in the Middle East and, secondly, this administration is in great need for civil war throughout the entire region. 


These observations may appear bold to western reader—it is a common perception amongst Arab and Muslim readers­—when we examine US behaviour, however, it becomes difficult to conclude otherwise.


Firstly, the major targets of US criticism and Israeli aggression in the current crises—Hamas and Hezbollah are widely popular resistance groups who have democratically elected representative. 


President Ahmednijad of Iran, who came to office elected by Iranian people himself, is a target of international criticism because of his hard stance against Israel.


Yet Mr. Bush who often says he is a leader of a state belongs to the “free world” supports unelected rulers in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. The Bush administration’s cosy relationship with those rulers should serve as fair warning to green eared reformers in the Arab and Muslim world who seek out this administration’s alliance in the hope for political change. 


Furthermore, analyzing US policy in this regard should shed some light on the recent political history of Iraq and help explain why events have taken that turn in that country. 


These Arab leaders have justified their unpopular alliance with the United States by invoking sectarianism, while the US has justified its alliance with kings and dictators in the name of “protecting” the mainly Sunni Muslim world against alleged sectarian threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah who are Shia Muslims. 


Let us be clear—this threat cannot be detected amongst the Arab public, it exists largely as an abstract idea that conveniently serves those in power.

When one takes a step back and looks at the broad picture of the current conflict it becomes apparently and ironically clear that the elected officials and regimes of the Muslim world are the targets of American and Israeli hostility. 


On one hand we have Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah, all of whom were brought to power through an electoral process to greater or lesser degrees. In the case of Hamas and the regime of Ahmadinejad in Iran, we have majority elected governments, in the case of Hezbollah we have a popular organisation elected as a part of a government. 

On the other hand we have Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a couple of un-elected kings and an unelected ruler standing side by side with the United States, the supposed champion of democracy in the region, acquiescing in Israeli aggression.


Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, has described the current conflict as the “birth pangs” of a new Middle East, but it seems this is a Middle East that does not represent the wishes of the people. 


As I have mentioned, if anyone is curious about Rice’s vision of a new Middle East, you need look no further than Iraq, where the US encouraged a sectarian election and Iraqi citizens have become obsessed by Sunni and Shia affairs to the extent they have forgotten that their land remains illegally occupied. 


While western analysts are describing Hezbollah as merely an extension of Iran, and therefore “Shia interests,” the people of Cairo and Amman, predominantly “Sunni cities” took to the streets carrying pictures of Hasan Nasrallah the Shia Arab leader, defying the “Sunni-Shia rift,” described by Peretz. 

Most western observers have conveniently ignored widespread Sunni support for Hezbollah throughout the Arab and Muslim world. In Iraq the US employed a formula of sectarianism in order to entrench itself all the more deeply into Iraqi politics; we now find this formula being extrapolated across the greater Muslim world. 

Sunni in the Arab world are to forget the constant aggression of Israel against the Arab peoples and rely on the United States to “protect” them from the Shia, while the Shia in Iraq are being convinced they need the US to protect them from the Sunni.


Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has perhaps put it all in perspective by commenting on the issue of a “new” Middle East. He observes that what the Americans mean by “change” in the Middle East is an end to legitimate resistance against illegal and immoral occupation and Muslim subordination to American and Israeli domination. 

His observations seem well justified since the NYT has recently reported that the US is rushing arms to Israel. We must remember, these missiles are meant to bomb Lebanon, a nation with a democratically elected government (of which members of Hezbollah are represented).  So much for the theory that democracies do not go to war with one another.

Laith Saud is an Iraqi academic researcher and lecturer in the United States. 

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position or have the endorsement of Aljazeera.

Source : Al Jazeera

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