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May 26, 2016 / 18 Iyar, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘sunni’

The Sectarian Genie: The Sunni-Shi’ite Struggle Released by the Arab Spring

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The Islamic Oral Law (the Hadith) quotes the prophet Muhammad who stated: “My nation will be split into seventy two factions, and only one of them will escape Hell.”  Since Muhammad closed his eyes for eternity in the year 632 CE, the Muslims – regarding this tradition – have been absorbed by two questions, one theoretical and one practical. The theoretical one is: which is the correct and righteous faction which is destined to inherit Paradise, and which are all of the other factions to whom the gates of Hell are open wide to receive them. The practical question, which stems from the theoretical, is how each faction verifies that it – the correct and the righteous – is the one that will live in an earthly paradise, and how can it make concrete life hell for the other factions.

Shi’ites

These questions were first dealt with immediately after Muhammad’s funeral, when the Muslim elders met to decide who will be the Caliph, Muhammad’s successor. Ali bin Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin, who was also his son-in-law, claimed that the caliphate belonged to him, but his claim was not accepted and three others were named as caliphs before him. He waited twenty-four long years until he was named as the fourth Caliph. During this time he consolidated around him a support group, who were even willing to engage in violent battle in order to take over the status of sovereignty. They were the first Shi’ites. The meaning of the word Shi’a in Arabic is “faction”, meaning the faction of Ali.

After Ali was murdered in 661, his son, Hussein, continued to claim that the leadership belongs to him, because he was of the clan of Hashem, the family of the Prophet, and not the Caliphs of the Umayyad clan, a branch of the Quraysh tribe, which seized control. Because of this claim he was seen as a rebel and in the year 680 he was caught by the army of the regime near the city of Karbala in Southern Iraq, and slaughtered together with most of his family and supporters. This event was the seminal event of the Shi’ites until today, and the Shi’ites mark the “Ashura” – the “yahrzeit” – of Hussein with memorial rites, some of them beating and wounding themselves until they bleed.

Over the years, Shi’a developed its own theology and religious laws so different from that of Sunni, which is mainstream Islam, that there are those who claim that the Sunna and the Shi’a are two different religions. Many Sunnis see Shi’ites as heretics of a sort, and more than a few Shi’ites see Sunnis in the same way. Many Shi’ites see Sunni as najas, or unclean. The Shi’ites say that their claim to leadership is based on two chapters in the Qur’an, while the Sunnis claim that these two chapters are a Shi’ite forgery. For all of history the Shi’ites have been considered as a group which is rebelling against the regime and therefore the judgement for a Shi’ite is death. In areas where the Shi’ites have ruled, this was the fate of the Sunnis.

The struggle between the Sunna and the Shi’a continues in full strength until today, with Iran leading the Shi’a side while Saudi Arabia is in the forefront of Sunni Islam.

In Saudi Arabia, the Hanbali school leads, with its extreme Wahhabi version of Islam, according to which the Shi’ites are heretics. Therefore the Shi’ites who live in Eastern Saudi Arabia are ground into dust: they are forbidden to sound the call to prayer on loudspeakers because their call includes a Shi’ite addendum. They are forbidden to mark the Ashura publicly and they are forbidden to demonstrate. The Saudi regime relates to them with fierce determination and zero sensitivity.

The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) which cost one million people their lives on both sides, was part of the struggle between the Shi’a and and the Sunna, because Saddam Hussein was Sunni. In Lebanon, the Shi’ite Hizb’Allah fights the Sunnis and their friends over hegemony in the Land of the Cedars, and in Bahrain the Farsi-speaking Shi’ite majority has been trying for years to free itself from the Sunni minority which rules over it with an iron fist and an outstretched arm. This past year, when the spirit of the “Arab Spring” brought the Shi’ite majority into the streets, Saudi Arabia occupied Bahrain and forced the sectarian genie back into its bottle.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar

Syria’s Civil War is Spilling into Lebanon

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Syria’s civil war was doomed from the very beginning to spill intoLebanon. Trouble started last year shortly after peaceful demonstrations against Bashar al-Assad’s regime turned violent, and it started again last week when sectarian clashes ripped through the northern city ofTripoli, the second-largest inLebanonafterBeirut, and turned parts of it into a war zone.

Sunni militiamen from Tripoli’s neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh are slugging it out again with militants from the adjacent Alawite stronghold of Jabal Mohsen. They have transformed their corner of Lebanoninto a mirror of the Syrian war, in which Sunni rebels are waging pitched battles with the Alawite-dominated military and government. As of Wednesday, the death toll in Tripoli was twelve, and a few more were killed yesterday. More than a hundred have been wounded.

Tensions are also increasing between Lebanon’s Sunnis, who support the Syrian uprising, and Lebanon’s Shias, who support the Assad regime and Hezbollah. Syrian rebels recently kidnapped a man they say is a Hezbollah member; his Lebanese clan members ran around southern Beirutwith AK-47s and ski masks and kidnapped almost two dozen Syrian Sunnis and even a Turkish citizen in Lebanon.

Some reporters are describing the violence as some of the worst since the Lebanese civil war that raged from 1975-1990 — so far a bit of an exaggeration, with numbers still insignificant compared to the thousands killed, tortured, and maimed next-door inSyria. But the numbers could easily mushroom, transforming the entire Lebanese political scene for the worse.

ASSAD’S OCCUPATION ofLebanonwas terminated seven years ago by the Beirut Spring, but the two countries still function to an extent as a single political unit.Syriamay no longer have its smaller neighbor under direct military rule, but it has been deliberately exporting its violence, dysfunction, and terrorism since the 1970s. Its hegemony there was partially restored when Hezbollah invadedBeirutin 2008, forcing anti-Syrian parties to surrender much of their power at gunpoint.

Even if Assad had no interest in mucking around inBeirut’s internal affairs — even ifLebanonwere entirely free of Syrian influence — we should still expect to see the conflict spill over. The Lebanese could not build a firewall even if the Syrians wanted to help them – but definitely not while terrified Syrian refugees are holing up in the county, and not when Hezbollah has a vested interest in keeping its patron and armorer in charge inDamascus, and not with Sunnis and Alawites living cheek-by-jowl in the north.

Lebanon, unlike most Arab countries, has a weak central government. The Lebanese designed it that way on purpose so that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to rule as a strongman; and as the country is more or less evenly divided between Christians, Sunnis, and Shias, so that no single sectarian community could easily take control over the others.

The problem, of course, is that weak central government combined with sectarian centrifugal force constantly threaten to rip the country apart. As the army is just as riven by political sectarianism as the rest of the country, when civil conflict breaks out, the army does a terrible job. Its leadership does not dare take sides lest the officers and enlisted men under their command splinter apart into rival militias as they did during the civil war. Further, the Syrian regime left pieces of itself behind when it withdrew fromLebanonin the spring of 2005. Many of the army’s senior officers were promoted and appointed byDamascus; they still have their jobs and their loyalties, at least for now.

So while the violence inLebanonis at the moment contained, it is barely contained. The real danger here is not that people will be kidnapped and killed by the dozen in isolated neighborhoods. The real danger is that if the situation does not calm down and stay down, the normally placid Sunni community will become increasingly radical.

For years the overwhelming majority ofLebanon’s Sunnis have thrown their support behind the Future Movement, the liberal, capitalist, and pro-peace party of Rafik and Saad Hariri. The Muslim Brotherhood hardly gets any more votes inLebanonthan it would in theUnited States. But conservative Sunnis are only willing to support moderates like the Hariris when they feel safe. If they feel physically threatened by Alawite militias, Hezbollah, or anyone else for too long, many will feel they have little choice but to back radical Sunni militias if no one else will protect them.

Michael J. Totten

Rubin Reports: Will the Rebels Win Syria’s Civil War and What That Means

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/will-rebels-win-syrias-civil-war-and.html

The tide seems to be turning in Syria. While the civil war is far from over, the regime is clearly weakening; the rebels are expanding their operations and effectiveness. There have also been more high-level defections. What does this mean and why is this happening? There are three main factors that are making a rebel victory seem more likely.

First, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with Turkey’s facilitation and U.S. coordination, are sending arms to the opposition.

Second, the regime has been rushing the same trusted units around the country to put down upsurges and these forces are getting tired and stretched thin.

Third, President Bashar al-Assad really has nothing to offer the opposition. He won’t leave and he can’t share power. His strategy of brutal suppression and large-scale killing can neither make the opposition surrender nor wipe it out. Even if he kills civilians and demonstrators, the rebel military forces can pull back to attack another day.

Even though the fighting may go on for months, then, it is time to start assessing what outcomes might look like. Here are some suggestions:

–Ethnic massacres? While there have been reports of such actions — the regime killing Sunni Muslims; the opposition killing Alawites and Christians — what we’ve seen already might be nothing compared to what is to come. Such murders might take place during the civil war or after it ends.

–An Alawite fortress? Assad has built up his defenses in northwest Syria where most of the Alawites live to make a last stand or to try to hold out. How would such a final phase in the war go and could Assad keep the rebels from taking this stronghold?

–Obama Administration bragging rights? We’ve already had leaks about U.S. covert involvement in the anti-Assad effort. If the rebels seem to be winning or do in fact win the war before November, the White House will claim Syria as proof of its tough, triumphant foreign policy (The elections in Libya, in which reportedly the Islamists were held off by a U.S.-backed government, will be cited as another example of success).

–But at great risk. What if the Obama Administration increasingly claims credit for regime change in Syria and then has to take blame for massacres or an Islamist takeover?

–The Kurdish factor. Syria’s Kurds have essentially walled off their northeast section of the country. Their armed militia, helped by their compatriots in Iraq, can hold out against all but the most concerted force. The Kurds generally view the regime as repressive Arab nationalists while they see the opposition as Islamists and Arab nationalists. Would a new regime in Damascus make a deal with them for autonomy, or would it be tempted to try to conquer the area? If so, how would the opposition’s Western backers react to such an assault?

–And then there’s the biggest question of all: Who among the opposition forces would take power? Syria is quite different from such relatively homogeneous countries as Egypt and Tunisia. Let’s just list the different groupings:

Alawites now rule and in general support the regime. The treatment of the Alawites—who pretend to be Shia Muslims but really aren’t Muslims at all—would be a key indicator for a new regime. Would it seek conciliation or would it massacre large numbers of them? Unless Assad can hold out in the northwest, the Alawites will have little role in a post-Assad Syria.

Christians also generally support the regime because they fear Islamists taking power. Will they face massacres and flee the country or will the new regime work to accommodate them?

Alawites and Christians together number more than one-fourth of the country’s population.

The Kurds have been discussed above. Their goal is autonomy, one that a new central government could meet but will it want to grant them such status?

The Druze, who live in the southwest of the country, have not played a major role in the rebellion. They tend to accommodate themselves to the status quo. Will they organize communally and seek some autonomy? The Druze strategy is of special interest to Israel since they live closer to the Golan Heights and, indeed, Israel rules a Druze population there most of whose members identify as Syrians. Would a new regime’s treatment of the Druze make the Golan Heights’ residents more rebellious against Israel or more eager to remain under Israeli rule? Israel’s military intelligence commander has already warned of the danger of jihadists infiltrating into the border area, though one might add that Israel already has strong defenses in place there that would stop any cross-border attacks, a contrast of course with the Sinai.

Barry Rubin

Egyptian Clerics: Take Down the Heathen Pyramids

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Frontpagemag.com cites several reports in the Arabic media, that prominent Muslim clerics have begun to call for the demolition of Egypt’s Great Pyramids, or, as Saudi Sheikh Ali bin Said al-Rabi‘I put it, those “symbols of paganism,” which Egypt’s Salafi party has long been planning to cover with wax.

According to Frontpagemag.com, Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs” and the president of National Unity, Abd al-Latif al-Mahmoud, have urged Egypt’s President Muhammad Morsi to “destroy the Pyramids and accomplish what the Sahabi Amr bin al-As could not.”

`Amr ibn al-`As was an Arab military commander who is most noted for leading the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 640. A contemporary of Muhammad, and one of his companions, who rose quickly through the Muslim hierarchy following his conversion to Islam. He founded the Egyptian capital of Fustat, and built the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As at its center—the first mosque in Africa. Under his rule, many Egyptian antiquities were destroyed as relics of infidelity.

Now, argues Bahrain’s “Sheikh of Sunni Sheikhs,” thanks to modern technology, the pyramids can be destroyed. The only question is, he says, is whether the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt is “pious” enough to finish the job.

Jewish Press News Briefs

Finland’s Iranian Mega – Mosque

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

new mega-mosque has been inaugurated in the Finnish capital, Helsinki. Unlike most mosques in Europe, which cater to Sunni Muslims, the mosque in Helsinki ministers to Shia Islam. The Helsinki mosque has been paid for by the Islamic Republic of Iran; critics say that theocrats in Tehran intend to use the mosque to establish a recruiting center for the militant Shia Muslim group Hezbollah in Europe.

The dimensions of the new mosque are enormous by Finnish standards. The 700-square-meter (7,500 square-feet) mega-mosque, located adjacent to a metro station in the eastern Helsinki district of Mellunmäki, features a massive prayer room for 1,000 worshippers. The mosque has been built by the Ahlul-Beit Foundation, a radical Shia Muslim proselytizing and political lobbying group presided over by the Iranian government. Ahlul-Beit already runs around 70 Islamic centers around the world, and has as its primary goal the promotion of the religious and political views of Islamic radicals in Iran.

Ahlul-Beit is opposed to all brands of Islam that compete with the form of Islam dictated by theocrats in Iran: the organization has called for the persecution of Sunni Muslims, Sufi Muslims, and Alawites, as well as all secular and moderate Muslims. The organization also outspokenly opposes the integration of Muslim immigrants into their host societies.

Ahlul-Beit is especially focused on spreading Islamic Sharia law beyond the Middle East; its centers in Africa and Asia, for example, have been used to radicalize local Muslim communities there. In a typical quid-pro-quo arrangement, the organization offers money to the poor, who then convert to Shia Islam and are subjected to religious training by Iranian-backed Imams. The group has been banned in at least a dozen countries.

In Europe, Ahlul-Beit mosques are usually presented to the general public as centers for cultural and sports activities; in practice, however, they are often used by Iranian intelligence to monitor Iranians living abroad and to harass Iranian dissidents.

In Germany, for instance, the Imam Ali mosque in Hamburg was linked to the September 1992 assassination of four leaders of the Iranian Kurdish Democratic Party at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin.

In Britain, the Ahlul-Beit mosque in London was involved in issuing death threats against the British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie. The mosque has also been used to recruit terrorists and to spy on Iranian exiles living in England and Wales.

In Denmark, the city council of Copenhagen recently authorized Ahlul-Beit to build the first official “Grand Mosque” in the Danish capital. The mega-mosque, which will have a massive blue dome as well as two towering minarets, is architecturally designed to stand out over Copenhagen’s low-rise skyline.

The man set to become the main imam at the new mosque in Copenhagen, Mohammed Mahdi Khademi, is a former military officer who ran the ideology department of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps until 2004, when he was hand-picked by the Iranian regime to move to Denmark. Many Iranian exiles believe Khademi maintains close ties to Iranian intelligence and fear the new mosque will be used against them.

Although critics of the Helsinki mega-mosque have warned that the building will be used by the Iranian regime to recruit impressionable Muslim immigrant youths for service to Hezbollah, Finnish politicians have embraced the Shia mosque as a symbol of multicultural progress.

According to Egypt Today magazine, multiculturalism has turned Finland into a paradise for Muslim immigration, not only for Shia Muslims, but also for rival Sunni Muslims.

In a story entitled “Welcome to Finland,” Egypt Today writes:

“Tara Ahmed, a 25-year-old Kurdish woman, came with her husband to Finland seven years ago to work. ‘There are a lot of services offered to us here,’ she says. ‘Plus, during my seven years I haven’t had one single harassment, assault or discrimination case in any form.’ Like most immigrants, Ahmed and her husband took advantage of the free Finnish language lessons offered by the government, which pays immigrants €8 per day to attend. The government also provides immigrants with a free home, health care for their family and education for their children. In addition, they get a monthly stipend of €367 per adult to cover expenses until they start earning their own living. The government is able to pay for these services due to a progressive tax rate that can exceed fifty percent of a person’s income. Even so, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed that Finland needs immigrants and that, in the long run, they are not a burden on society.”

After the Egypt Today story was published, Muslim immigrants began arriving in Finland in droves. There are now an estimated 60,000 Muslims in Finland, which has a total population of just over 5 million people. Muslims have arrived from Afghanistan, Algeria, China, Egypt, Kosovo, India, Iraq, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Soeren Kern

Rubin Reports: The Middle East – Brave New World or Scary New Master?

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/2012/05/middle-east-brave-new-world-or-scary.html

“How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”

“Caliban has a new master….Freedom, hey-day! hey-day, freedom! freedom, hey-day, freedom!”

William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”

If you want a sense of where the Middle East is going, consider this viewpoint from an unlikely source. Suat Kiniklioglu is not just a member of the Turkish Parliament for the ruling (Islamist) AK party, he’s a member of the party’s Central Executive Committee and deputy chair of the party’s foreign affairs commission. In other words, he’s a very important person in Turkey’s ruling establishment and especially foreign policy.

Yet rather than take an optimistic view about the advance of Islamic politics in the region, he’s very worried, worried enough to write a column entitled, “Back to a Barbarian Age” in the May 16 edition of the Islamist newspaper, Today’s Zaman.

What is this barbarianism? It consists of rising group hatred and looking upon others as culturally inferior and uncivilized. One might think he’s about to launch still another attack on the West as evil, imperialistic, and anti-Muslim. Not at all.

His complaint is:

“We are now back to the very primordial identities that once dominated our political behavior and determined the group to which we belonged or were seen as belonging. We are no longer socialists, conservatives or liberals. These days we are first judged by what tribe we belong to and more increasingly what faith we believe in.”

Yes, he continues, “I am constantly reminded in Europe and the US that I am a Muslim.” It is interesting to note that he was born in Germany and clearly this played a role in his self-identification as a Muslim (and not just a Turk) and his affiliation with the AK party.

But his complaints are about the Middle East:

“When I travel in the Middle East, I am reminded that I am a Sunni. The Middle East is being ravaged by barbarians who want to divide the world into Sunni and Shiite. We can no longer make any political assessment without entertaining these ethnic, religious and sectarian identities. We are truly back to the Middle Ages. All of our accumulated knowledge, sophistication and political culture seems to have been lost. The Middle East is pervaded and increasingly infected by the sectarian rivalry between the Shiite Persians and the Wahhabi Saudis, who are now fighting proxy wars all over the region. As if we are all in agreement with the Saudis’ extremely harsh interpretation of Wahhabism, we Sunnis find ourselves in the same camp.”

Note what he’s saying here. On one hand, there is a Shia bloc led by Iran; on the other is a hardline Sunni Islamism which he blames on Saudi Arabia but might just as well refer to the Muslim Brotherhood. These two camps are now waging war in Syria for their “primordial and primitive agenda.” These “barbarians” (Islamists) “have blatantly hijacked the push for a normal democratic order in Syria,” instead committing acts of terrorism that must be condemned

And then he concludes: “With all its sins and shortcomings, the secular order we [Turks] established over the last eight decades has taken hold and promises to support our sociopolitical order.”

Why would a leading figure in an Islamist party identify the era of rising Islamism as a “great shame…[in which the Middle East ] fell prey to the thirst of barbarian bloodshed”?

Part of the answer is specifically Turkish:

–Kiniklioglu is one of those moderates swept up into the AK, in his case an expert on communications and foreign affairs, who may not be comfortable with the party’s program.

–In addition, he is (correctly) asserting that (up to now) Turkish Islam has been more moderate than the versions in Iran and the Arabic-speaking world. This is common, however, among others—I’ve often heard it from Egyptians—seeking to blame everything on the Saudis and Iranians. Ironically, (perhaps subversively?) he is praising the (secular) Turkish republic which his own party is now dismantling.

–He’s describing the biggest headache for Turkish foreign policy, since a battle between Sunni (Arab) Muslims and Shia (Iranian-led) Muslims is crowding Turkey out of any real influence in the region.

Barry Rubin

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/rubin-reports-the-middle-east-brave-new-world-or-scary-new-master/2012/05/20/

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