Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.
Among scholars of the Middle East, the term “sushi” is used as shorthand for the expression, “Sunni-Shi’a.” Anyone interested in the history of Islam knows that the seeds of the Sunni-Shi’a conflict were planted the moment Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, closed his eyes forever, in the year 632 CE, without leaving a mechanism for choosing a successor to lead the nation. The conflict that developed as a result, has become an open, bloody battle over the years, and it has been a thread in the fabric of Islamic history throughout all of its 1400 years. This conflict is being expressed on many levels: personal, familial, political and religious. The battle between the two factions of Islam is “for the whole pot,” and it continues to this very day.
In modern times, attempts have been made to bridge over the conflict and to find common ground between the factions of Islam, in order to create a sense of calm between the factions, on the basis of which it will be possible to manage states such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where the two factions live side by side, Shi’ites and Sunnis.
Even the Egyptian Sheikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is the Mufti (religious arbiter) of the Emirate of Qatar, has spoken and written about the need to find a way to “bring the schools of thought closer together,” as if Shi’a is another legitimate school of thought, in addition to the four Sunni schools: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali. In the good, old days, they used to call the Shi’a faction the “Jafari school,” after one of the fathers of Shi’a.
The rapprochement year between the Sunni and Shi’a was 2006, following the Second Lebanon War, when Hezbollah managed to create the impression that it had won a “divine victory” over Israel. After all, Hasan Nasrallah had survived despite 33 days of heavy Israeli attacks, some of which were aimed at him personally. Hezbollah was compared favorably with the armies of the Arab countries, which had failed in all of their attempts to destroy the state of Israel, and were defeated by Israel’s army in only six days in 1967.
As a result of the Second Lebanon War, Hasan Nasrallah declared in every public arena—especially on his al-Manar (“the beacon”) television channel—that the victory belongs to the whole Arab and Islamic nation, creating for himself the image of being the only leader in the Middle East doing the right thing, ignoring the objections of the infidel West and its paltry servants, meaning most of the rulers of the Arab states. Bashar Assad declared that Hezbollah’s way is the only way to fight and the only method that can defeat the Zionist enemy.
During the war, in the summer of 2006, great crowds across the the Middle East erupted in emotional demonstrations where pictures of Hasan Nasrallah were held high, and those who wanted to make a point also carried pictures of Bashar Assad, the great supporter of Hezbollah. It was convenient for everyone—including religious figures such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi—to ignore the fact that Hezbollah was a Shi’ite group, backed by Iran, because if the Sunni Hamas movement ended up in the same boat as Hezbollah, what evil could possibly have sprung from the Lebanese “al-Muqawama wal-mumana’a” (“Resistance and Defense”) movement, which supports all of the “liberation movements” regardless of religious sect?
The al-Jazeera channel, which serves as a mouthpiece for the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood movement, embraced Hezbollah and dedicated many hours of positive programming to it, and in many Islamic societies—including Israel’s—more than a few people crossed over from the Sunni side of Islam to the Shi’a. Only a small group of Saudi religious authorities were not overcome by the waves of sympathy for Hezbollah. They always had a jaundiced view of the Shi’ite dominance of Lebanon, as well as its influence on the collective Arab discourse.
But enthusiasm for Hezbollah has not survived the storm buffeting the Middle East ever since December 2010, known romantically in the media as “the Arab Spring,” as if presently in the Middle East the birds are chirping, the trees are budding, the flowers are blooming, the butterflies are fluttering, people are smiling and there is an air of rising optimism.
About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.
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