Wednesday, February 07, 2007

CIA divides Shiites and Sunnis

CIA divides Shiites and Sunnis by planting the Shia-conversion-meme?

NASRALLAH (Hisbollah leader, Lebanon) said:

For example, it is said that Iran or the Shi'i Islamic movements
throughout the Arab and Islamic world have a plan to turn Sunnis into
Shi'is. It is also said that there are plans, studies centres, programmes,
and huge sums of money geared towards this end. When you say this to any
Sunni leader, Sunni scholar, Sunni movement, or young Sunni man, they will
mobilize themselves against it. This is their natural right. This issue is
now presented strongly and some news media are working on it. Some Arab
leaders and senior men of religion spoke about this issue. Depicting this
as a basic and major issue on which others are working will lead the
nation to sedition whose end will not be known.

Some key figures in Lebanon - and they know themselves - said in private
meetings that 7 million Sunnis in Syria converted to Shiism. What sort of
talk is this? Yes, and they build on this assumption, which leads to other
consequences. They say a battle should be waged against converting people
to Shiism, but none has plans to spread Shiism..

"Araji clip as produced by Ansar al-Sunnah only a few minutes
long...speech with clips of heroic 'mujahedin' executing blindfolded Shia
in revenge for Saddam's execution. Lovely." Marc Lynch


... a tsunami of anti-Shiite agitation, propagandizing, and also
apparently real sentiment that has been sweeping many Sunni-dominated Arab
socieies. One of the first things to note is how incredibly fast this
tsunami has gathered its force. I mean, it was only last September that we
were hearing about the vendors in Cairo's (deeply Sunni) street-markets
naming the choicest among their special Eid baskets of dates after
Hizbullah head Sayed Hassan Nasrallah... But here we are today, a bare 4-5
months later, and rumors-- never yet substantiated!-- of widespread and
scary Shiite campaigns to convert Sunnis, and other nefarious plots that
are all somehow Shiite-related seem to be sweeping through Egypt and other
Sunni Arab communities like wildfire.

So one of the things that I want to do while I'm here is to really probe
what's been happening. And also, to survey the possible future directions
in which this sign of sectarian fitna (complete social breakdown) might go.

It seems evident that the whole series of episodes that surrounded the
execution of Saddam (and his half brother) at year's end did a lot to
catalyze and/or exacerbate this tsunami of anti-Shiite feeling among many
Sunnis... But that is certainly not all that has been afoot. Other very
relevant factors include the fact that after three-years-plus of
increasingly sectarian carnage in Iraq, the nerves and sensibilities of
nearly everyone in the Arab world are very raw. At this level, it doesn't
even "help" the argument much to note that the greatest number by far of
casualties from sectarian violence there have been Shiites-- those
thousands of Iraqi Shiites who have been killed over the past three-plus
years by acts of anti-civilian violence of almost mind-numbing
callousness... Bombs in markets, bombs in mosques, bombs at religious
festivals, etc etc.

And yes, there has also been some extremely callous counter-violence
against Iraqi Sunnis. The torture chambers, the mass arrest campaigns, the
hundreds of mutilated bodies of Sunni men tossed out on the roadside...
But in addition to the hurt from that violence there is also, probably,
for many Iraqi Sunnis a broader sense of a stark new vulnerability. From
having been valued members of (for many of them) a relatively
well-cared-for and well-educated elite-- and lauded by many of their
fellow Arabs for their role as a bulwark against Iran-- most of Iraq's
Sunnis were reduced within a few short months to being members of an
extremely vulnerable minority in their own country. That kind of rapid
downward mobility can easily-- as in post-1919 Germany-- be a ready
incubator for hate-fueled or even genocidal ideologies...

And in another corner of the Arab world we have Lebanon, where the
"national unity" of last summer turned very rapidly-- and with the
determined help of the Americans-- into a sullen form of Shiite-Sunni
jousting for power. In Lebanon, too, as in Iraq, the Sunnis have been
faced with having to give up a social and political ascendancy over the
Shiites (though notably never, in Lebanon, over the Christians) that dated
back to the days of the-- determinedly Sunni-- Ottoman Empire. In a sense,
I suppose you could say that what is happening in both Lebanon and Iraq is
a last-stage crumbling away of some last vestiges of the
Ottoman-bequeathed social order.... And it hasn't been a happy process for
the Sunni communities of those two countries.

Add into this mix a few other complicating factors, too. Starting off with
a powerful US-Israeli strategic axis in the region that (a) has projected
a very powerful message that the use of force is quite okay in the modern
era, while resisting and blocking nearly all the available channels for
talking through differences rather than fighting over them, (b) has played
a documented role in stoking the internal discord and violence in at least
one very visible area: occupied Palestine, and (c) has showed itself
openly eager to try to enrol the Sunni Arab regimes, and as much as
possible of the Arab publics, in a coalition dedicated to confronting or
rolling back the growth of Iran's regional power. Which, by the way, is

The complete smashing-up of the Iraqi state, which many other Arabs had in
an earlier era seen as a bastion of the "Arab nation's" defense against
Iran, has certainly heightened all these sensitivities and fears. (Less
so, I think, the Iranian nuclear program, though that has been the focus
of most of the concern in the west. The Middle Eastern Arabs have, after
all, lived for many decades now under the shadow of a local power that is
nuclear-armed and has a record of hostile actions against them that is
considerably lengthier than Iran's.)

Then, too, have you seen how easily all these descriptions of the nature
of this current crisis can slide between one based primarily on sect
(Sunni and Shiite) and one based primarily on ethnicity (Arab and
Iranian)? This is another complex aspect of the problem. And in this
regard, once again, as in the early 1980s, the ultimate (or at least
medium-term) allegiances of the ethnic-Arab Shiites who populate the
northern reaches of the Arabian/Persian Gulf will prove key to the way the
whole situation turns out.

When Saddam invaded Iran in September 1980, he and his people were betting
(as some neocons do once again today) that they could rely on the
anti-Persian sentiments of many of Iran's non-Persian nationalities...
Including crucially, the allegedly pro-Baghdad sentiments of those
millions of ethnic Arabs who populate Iran's Ahvaz region, to the east of
the Shatt al-Arab. (Very productive oil territory, too.)

But it didn't work. Back in the 1980s some combination of "national" (i.e.
pan-Iranian) and sectarian (Shiite) allegiance proved strong enough to
overcome any tendency the Ahvaz Arabs might have had towards ethnic
solidarity with Baghdad. They didn't rise against the mullahs' regime in
Teheran. And nor did any of the other peripheral ethnic minorities whom
Saddam had been relying on.

This time around, a lot of what determines how the present threat of
regionwide fitna turns out will hang on the outcome of a broadly similar
clash of loyalties amongst the many millions of Shiites of southern Iraq--
who are the close neighbors and sometimes cousins of their co-ethnics and
Shiite co-sectarians right acorss the border. Over the coming months and
years will they show their loyalties more to the Iraqi nation and their
Arab ethnicity, or to their Shiite co-sectarians in Iran? (This is another
take on the issue of the "battle of the narratives" inside Iraq that i
wrote about a month ago, here.)

I'll note a couple of things in this regard. The Iraqis Shiites may have
"won" an unprecedented degree of political power, due to the US toppling
of Saddam and the subsequent de-Baathification campaigns pursued under US
auspices. But if political power was something they longed for for all
these decades past, then the actual experience they have had of it in the
past four years must have been extremely disappointing. Many of their
communities have been ravaged by those hundreds of acts of enormous,
anti-civilian savagery, and have lost any sense of public security. And
meanwhile the "government" to which they were handed the keys was one that
(1) had already been denuded of all the actual instruments of governance,
and (2) continued to have its freedom of action circumscribed at every
turn by the Americans... So they couldn't even use the government to
assure their own most basic security and wellbeing, let alone having tmuch
wherewithal with which to reach out "generously" to their Sunni

Also, we've seen generally lousy leadership from all strata of the
political class in Iraq: Shiite, Sunni, or "nationalist". Maybe this
shouldn't be surprising, given the extent to which Saddam, Hussein had
stripped the country of any ability to generate good and visionary
successor leaders. He murdered scores of such individuals as they arose
within the country! Tom Friedman has famously (and perhaps more than
slightly accusingly) asked, "Where is the Arab Martin Luther King, Jr.?" I
would say that more than that, what would be great would be an Arab Nelson
Mandela: someone who could help unify his people around a clear and
compelling political program, stick to it until victory, and then act with
gracious magnanimity to the people who had thereby lost a degree of their
earlier power.

Jihadi viral videos

Just one more example of the "jihadi viral videos" that I was writing
about yesterday.  Today I downloaded another clip, this one allegedly of a
Shia rally praising Sistani as a descendent of the Prophet, denouncing
King Abdullah as "son of an American."  I say allegedly because the time,
place, and nature of the rally are all unclear - one major feature of all
of these video clips is how decontextualized they are, allowing people to
put the worst possible spin on them if they are so inclined.  Like most of
these "jihadi viral videos", the clip was less than a minute long.  It had
been viewed more than 15,000 times on this forum alone since being posted

This particular clip actually led to some confusion in the ensuring
discussion.  One participant pointed out that everybody in the (virtual)
room hates and denounces the Saudi royal family, not least Osama bin
Laden, so why get so upset about Shia doing the same?  Was the clip being
circulated by Saudi intelligence agents, who might mistakenly think that
insults to King Abdullah would be negatively received?   But others took
the bait, denouncing the Shia as "worse than pigs" and defending Abdullah
as at least better than a Shia.    Another (rather amusingly) suggests
that perhaps the real target of the rally was Jordan's King Abdullah, not
the Saudi King Abdullah, since the former's mother was non-Arab (British,
not American). 

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posted by u2r2h at 1:34 PM


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