It has become increasingly apparent that the war on Syria has not merely succeeded in sowing sectarian discord among the Arab public at large, but has even infected the reasoning of once progressive, secular, Arab intellectuals.
Take founder of Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah as an example. Last week, Ali tried to sanitize the FSA of its sectarian crimes by blaming anti-Alawite hate speech on Twitter on “pro-Assad trolls”. This week, Ali has gone one step further in his defense of rabidly anti-Shia, sectarian takfiris by condemning all those who disseminated a fatwa [mis]attributed to Shia-bashing, Saudi Wahhabi cleric Muhammad al-Arifi who later denied ever issuing it.
The fatwa in question permitted Syrian rebels to engage in temporary marriages with Syrian women over 14 for the sole purpose of sexual gratification—a religious edict which is easily believable considering Wahhabi misogyny and Arifi’s record of morally repugnant social and political positions which Ali himself notes in his piece. For example, in one such instance, Arifi brands Shia as “treasonous villains”.
Viewed against this background and given that the fake tweet uses an identical Twitter handle as Arifi’s original account and an identical profile pic, reporting the fatwa can hardly be portrayed as an unforgivable sin at a time when mainstream media has done nothing but manufacture entire news reports and narratives about Syria, with an even flimsier grounding in reality.
Yet, despite Ali’s admission that Arifi “has openly engaged in sectarian incitement against Shia Muslims”, Ali seems intent on whitewashing the takfiri cleric by devoting an entire article and numerous tweets to dissociating the nefarious figure from the fake tweet—as though it were significantly worse than his other odious rulings and statements.
More disturbing still, is the Islamophobia accusation Ali levels against all those who circulated the offensive tweet. Ali suggests that Iran is in cahoots with Israel in spreading Islamophobia when he links his EI piece on the subject to the following tweet:
“Zionists, Islamophobes, Hindu nationalists, US progressives and Iran come together to spread Islamophobic trash.”
Ali makes a similar allegation in his piece : “Progressive news organization AlterNet has fallen for and disseminated a story, pushed by Zionist, Islamophobic and Iranian outlets, claiming that a prominent Saudi cleric issued a religious edict authorizing sex-deprived fighters in Syria to rape women there.”
Aside from the absurdity of lumping Iran together with Israel in ANY campaign, Ali’s branding of a nation which identifies itself as the Islamic Republic of Iran as Islamophobic, is equally, if not more, absurd. In so doing, Ali seems to be adopting Saudi media discourse which uniformly attempts to depict Iran as harbouring an anti-Sunni agenda, as well as a Wahhabi discourse that seeks to de-Islamicize Iran as a heterodox version of Islam . This attempt is further revealed by Ali’s assertion that Iranian tv outlets, namely Press Tv, reported that Arifi’s fatwa legalized rape, as indicated in the above excerpt. When distinguishing media which misinterpreted the fake tweet as a license to gang rape from those that didn’t (Ali informs readers that “the term “gang rape” does not appear in the New TV report”), he neglects to list Press Tv as an outlet which did not use these terms in its report. In fact, if one follows the Press Tv link to the fatwa story which Ali himself provides, all that can be found is a faithful translation of the fatwa and non-sensationalist headline “Militants can marry Syrian women: Wahhabi cleric in Saudi Arabia.”
I wonder what Ali’s next campaign will be, perhaps to justify Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s exhortion to: “fight all those working with the regime, whether they are combatants or civilians or religious scholars or the ignorant”?
No matter how ardently Ali will struggle in future to appease his pro-opposition fans with his takfiri-washing, the rest of us know full well the difference between Islamophobia and Salafi Takfiri-phobia. While the former targets Sunnis and Shias alike and does not distinguish resistance actors like Iran, Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, and al-Qassam Brigades, from Salafis, Syrian jihadis and Wahhabis, the latter exclusively targets mainstream Sunnis, Shia and Christians; in other words, the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims. Ali’s efforts would be better spent defending our people rather than those who seek to divide and destroy our region and who surely will not countenance secular progressives like himself.