Foreign Policy magazine has published a thought provoking and brilliant analysis of the Saudization of anti-Shi’ism which details how sectarian discourse has shifted to doctrinal sectarianism, which is far more divisive and exclusionary than its older, ethnic/national variant. What I find particularly terrifying about this shift is that it has the effect of depoliticizing [while militarizing] identity-driven conflicts and essentializing them so that they become seemingly irreconcilable. Nasrallah referred to this shift in his last speech when he said ” At first, they didn’t refer to it as “Shia” [threat]. Today I want to call things by their name; they didn’t say Shia, they used to say the Iranians or the Majoos or the Persians, were attacking the eastern gate of the Arab umma…. They made a new enemy and then realized that their language which used the words Persian and Majoos etc. didn’t serve their project. So they gave their invented enemy another name: the Shia expansion.”
The full article penned by Fanar Haddad, is here . Excerpts below:
"The overthrow of Saddam Hussein changed all that. Since 2003, ajam, a term that was ubiquitous in what was regarded as anti-Shiite sentiment in Iraq and beyond, has all but disappeared from public usage. In its place has emerged a style of anti-Shiism that was largely the preserve of clerical circles of the Saudi Arabian variant. This is a discourse of exclusion primarily based on religious otherness that is embodied by the word rafidha. This new form of sectarian animosity frames the Shiites as suspect not because of the allegedly ambiguous national loyalties of some nor because of the so-called “ethnic impurity” of others but because of the beliefs that define the sect as a whole.
There is a qualitative difference between stigmatizing the Shiites as ajam and stigmatizing them asrafidha. Its potential repercussions on stability and social cohesion explain why authoritarian regimes in Iraq and elsewhere employed the former and repressed the latter. Multi-sectarian states like Iraq need a convincing veneer of inclusivity to survive. Iraq can afford to treat its miniscule Baha’i community the way Saudi Arabia treats its religious minorities, but its internal stability is hardly served by the explicit, unabashed, and ideological exclusion of culturally or demographically competitive sections of the population such as the Sunnis or Shiites. In dealing with Shiite opposition, ajam was a far more useful tool than rafidha for successive Iraqi regimes, as it allowed for selective exclusion: the state line throughout the 20th century was that some Shiites may beajam but that does not detract from “our brothers” the “noble Arab Shiite tribes.” This starkly contrasts with exclusion on the basis of doctrine which would place all Shiites beyond redemption until they renounce their beliefs and their adherence to Shiism.”
There are no words to describe the absurdity of Moaz al-Khatib seated at a panel entitled “Syrian Arab Republic”. There are no words to describe the irony of hearing the Qatari Emir decry the “oppression and repression of the people” in Syria. There are no words to describe the oxymoronic notion of a US-Saudi backed “revolution”. There are no words to describe the treason of Syrians and Arabs who shamelessly support a movement which is begging John Kerry to rain down NATO Patriot missiles on Syria. There are no words to describe the gruesome images of severed heads “rebels” proudly flaunt before the cameras. There are no words to describe the irrationality of the state-sponsored sectarian scourge that has plagued our region and which threatens to dismember Syria and its neighbours. All this as Syrian and Arab opposition supporters cheer on. There are no words left…
Bet you didn’t know that sectarianism is the new moderation. Note how neither AP nor media which carried this story put quotation marks around the word “moderates”, but are all too eager to do so when referring to “terrorists”. Apparently, when suicide bombs, car bombs, summary executions, beheadings and rape are systematically perpetrated by the rebels against Syrians who don’t support them , then that violence is merely so-called terrorism and warrants quotation marks, especially since the Syrian government refers to it as such. But when the US specifies it is training “largely…Sunnis” to “bolster” the rebels then we must take their secularism and moderation as a given because the US said so. We must cast aside any apprehensions about how fighters selected exclusively from one sect can avoid being sectarian, and ignore the fact that sectarianism and religiosity are not synonymous considering that sectarianism characterizes many non-religious and non-jihadi types too, as the ‘75-‘90 civil war in Lebanon readily demonstrates .
In any case, I am sure the Syrian people will prefer to have their wives raped, their homes looted and their relatives killed at the hands of secular moderate rebels rather than al-Qaeda ones. So nice to have that option now.
Aside from the shameless hypocrisy of the British and French decision to arm the foreign and local terrorists and executioners in Syria, aka, “Syrian rebels” or “resistance fighters” as they are now officially called, another stomach-churning aspect of this joint announcement is the language French and British leaders used to justify their intent to violate the EU arms ban. When asked yesterday if the UK would be willing to break the ban, David Cameron responded "We are still an independent country. We can have an independent foreign policy…” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius responded to the same question today by asserting that “France is a sovereign nation,” adding that both France and were prepared to “lift the embargo” even if there was no international support for the decision.
So while the White Man’s sovereignty is not dependent on any international consent for its existence, anti-imperialist nations like Syria do not enjoy a similar right to issue such self-proclaimed professions of sovereignty like France can or chart an “independent foreign policy” like Britain’s. The sovereignty of insubordinate nations like Syria is not merely dependent on the “international community’s” [shorthand for US and Europe] recognition but can be trampled on with impunity and justified in the most counter-intuitive and morally bankrupt terms. More than this, imperialist powers not only get to dictate and violate other nations’ sovereignty, but also to invoke the term as a legal and political defense when rationalizing their own disputed intent to destroy another nation’s right to remain sovereign.
One need only look up the concept of sovereignty in the White Man’s very own introductory text-books to see how brazenly hypocritical the western approach to Syria’s sovereignty is. Quoting from Michael Roskin et al’s “Political Science: An Introduction”: “Sovereignty means “national control over the country’s territory, boss of one’s own turf. Nations are very jealous of their sovereignty and governments take great care to safeguard it. They maintain armies to deter foreign invasion, they control borders with passports and visas and they hunt down terrorists.”
Yet bizarrely, when a state like Syria which still enjoys [international] legal sovereignty and has a seat at the UN, tries to reassert “control of its territory” and “be the boss of its own turf” by “hunting down terrorists” and foreign fighters, it is not merely denied this right but threatened with invasion and punished with externally funded, armed and trained proxies. But what else can the Empire do when its ultimate aim is not regime change but to strip the Syrian state itself of sovereignty by plunging it further into an endless and bloody civil war that can only result in the destruction of Syria the state?
An op-ed today in al-Akhbar referred to Israel as “the enemy” in Arabic. Although use of this term to describe Israel was once very common in Arab popular parlance and in local media, its use in this context has significantly decreased since the Syrian uprising. Once a term reserved almost exclusively to Israel, the concept of the enemy from without has been fast replaced by the enemy from within in both pro-government and opposition circles. While government supporters can hardly be faulted for depicting the Zionist-normalizing, NATO-loving FSA as an “enemy” force, especially given its proxy status and military links with Syria’s strategic enemies, as well as its intent to destroy Syria as a state, it is both morally inexcusable and intellectually indefensible for Syrians and Arabs who profess enmity towards Israel, to use this term to describe the Assad government or Hizbullah or Iran, all of whom have paid a high price for confronting the Israeli enemy both politically and militarily.
The danger of such labeling can hardly be overstated in this case; the link between power and language has been well documented by the likes of Michel Foucault and Edward Said. As these thinkers have noted, language creates not only knowledge, but reality itself. The resulting discourse, which becomes internalized by its subjects shapes their assumptions, values and cultural habits. In short, it changes and re-fashions their political identity and beliefs.
To be more accurate, this discursive onslaught began in 2005 when the Lebanese became divided over whether Syria or Israel was their real enemy, with some March 14 politicians referring to the Zionist entity as “our neighbor”. But irrespective of this semantic divide and March 14’s collaboration with Israel during the July war as Wikileaks documents later revealed, not once did Hizbullah refer to the opposing camp as “the enemy”,” and settled on terms like “ our opponents/rivals” and “the other camp”. Compare this to the Syrian opposition camp today, whose leading “intellectuals” and activists in the Arab world have no qualms about speaking of the “Shia enemy” or the “Iranian enemy”, or cheering on the FSA who issue empty threats to attack Hizbullah and assassinate Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah.
By redefining the concept of the “enemy”, both the Syrian uprising and to a lesser extent, its US- engineered counterpart in Lebanon, have succeeded in reversing decades of Arab political socialization, whereby those who prioritize resistance to Israel and the US are mocked and dismissed as old-school anti-imperialists, or more disparagingly by Third Wayers like Bassam Haddad, as “Fumigating Anti-Imperialists”.
The Arab Spring may not be a revolution in the economic or political sense of the term, but it has achieved a semantic revolution which, if left unchecked by counter-hegemonic forces, will lead to the full intellectual and political colonization of the Arab mind and the Arab identity.
A friend on Facebook just asked me how tolerant Iran was of the Syrian MB given Iran’s 6 point plan solution. I answered this: The Iranians have to accept the Syrian Brotherhood just as they did in Egypt. Iran’s biggest threat today comes from the sectarian scourge. As I keep repeating, sectarianism is the new Israel for the Resistance axis. When we consider the amount of popular support the MB enjoys—as much we may dislike this fact—and the fact that the other option are the Salafis and Salafi Takfiris, Iran has to build bridges with the less intolerant and violent of the two. For all its “Islamic awakening”” rhetoric with regard to the Arab uprisings, Iran is of course much more secure with the type of secularism represented by Assad than the Sunni Islamism represented by these increasingly sectarian mainstream trends. But if Iran hopes to neutralize some of these sectarian tensions, it has to embrace the inevitable ascent of Islamism in the region, just as the Americans and NATO countries have. Islamic unity is not merely desirable on the doctrinal or ideological levels, it has now become a strategic necessity to thwart Empire’s divide-and-rule tactics. Israel was an easier enemy to defeat than sectarianism.
This is probably going to antagonize many of my Lebanese progressive comrades, but what’s the deal with this new “Neither March 14 nor March 8” campaign which denounces both camps for sectarianism? I have nothing against a third political force in principle, but when this campaign comes at the heels of March 14’s sectarian discourse, incitement and violence, why are we blaming March 8, i.e. Hizbullah, which is exercising admirable restraint in not responding to the Hariri militia’s attempts to drag it into a sectarian war? Why do we always need to revert to this Third Way nonsense at such strategically critical times? It is March 14 which needs to be called out for its warmongering, period.
I had my wisdom tooth extracted today, but reading this Reuters report below was by far more painful. The report resorts to the most brazen sectarian agitation and warmongering; the resistance front is reduced to an all Shi’ite alliance while its imperialist serving enemies (GCC, Turkey etc) are identified first and foremost as Sunni. The words Sunni and Shiíte are inserted so frequently that the paragraph just looks absurd. In the past, the words “Iran-backed” or “Syria-backed” were used to prefix every mention of Hizbullah, but now that the conflicts is being pitted as a Sunni-Shiíte one, that is no longer meets MSM’s war-mongering purposes. See excerpt below:
"The “axis of resistance” refers to Shi’ite Iran’s anti-Israel alliance with Syria’s rulers – from the Alawite faith which is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam – and the Lebanese Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, with Iranian and Syrian support. Damascus and Tehran have held Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states and Turkey, all allies of the United States and European powers, responsible for the bloodshed in Syria by supporting the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim rebels."
The composition of a government or movement is never sufficient grounds for branding it “sectarian”. There can be no denying that various [security-related] branches of the Assad government are largely, though by no means exclusively, Alawite (a useful analogy is Saddam Hussein’s reliance on fellow Sunni clansmen from Takrit, though his regime did not carry a Sunni agenda) or that Hizbullah is exclusively Shi’ite. But it is their domestic and regional agendas, their rhetoric and openness to other religious communities, as well as the identity of their constituencies, which should be the measure of their sectarianism, not the sectarian identity of their members. This is even more so that case when religious discrimination is not institutionalized as it is Saudi Arabia or Bahrain for example. Both the Assad government and Hizbullah enjoy cross-sectarian support, shun any kind of sectarian discourse and more importantly, the political agendas they promote have never been about advancing Shi’ite or Alawite communal interests, but about resisting Israel and the West.
"As a Shi’ite Muslim, here is how I see it: any Shi’ite who, because of this FSA hostage incident, or the recent clashes in Lebanon, maligns Sunnis or worse, has fallen into the imperialist-Zionist trap and is an unwitting and unpaid CIA-Mossad agent doing a free service to our joint enemy. The same applies to Sunnis. Any Muslim who succumbs to this conspiracy to sow sectarian warfare and divide our region is a collaborator and a traitor."