Operation Iraqi Freedom

The Problem within Islam

Why the nations of the Middle East are uneasy 
at the prospect of a democratic
Iraq
.

AMERICAN EFFORTS towards a democratic Iraq seem to have created some strange bedfellows in the Middle East. The Sunnis of the region--from Baathist loyalists in Iraq and hardcore Wahhabi zealots in Saudi Arabia to secular-minded elites in Amman, Cairo, and elsewhere--are now united around a common anxiety: Since the Shiite Muslims constitute more than 60 percent of Iraq's population, a democratic Iraq will likely be a Shiite-dominated Iraq.

 

This is anathema for most Sunnis in the region, many of whom regard Shiite Islam as a perversion. (The feeling being mutual, the Shiites don't think very highly of the Sunnis either.) Thus, the possibility that another Shiite state may emerge next to Shiite fundamentalist Iran has exposed some raw nerves in the region, awakening ancient religious prejudices and creating modern political fears. Those anxieties, together with festering anti-Americanism, explain the reluctance of the region's Sunni regimes to extend America a sincere hand in transforming Iraq.

 


To be sure, sectarian divisions are not unique to Islam. Other world religions have their own share of internal prejudices: witness the persecution of the French Huguenots, the Thirty Years War, or the flight of the Puritans from
England. Yet, while Christianity has mostly moved beyond intra-religious hatred in the modern times, Islam has not quite done so.

 

Islam remains rooted in its history of deep mistrust between the Shiite and Sunni sects, which, since the 8th century, have been violently feuding over the issue of succession to the Prophet Muhammad. The past 1,300 years of Islamic history have been almost uniformly marked by episodes of strife between these two sects, and political domination by one group has almost always meant persecution of the other.

 

The legacy of this history of persecution is that Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East view each other with distrust. In most cases, mutual hatred is almost as deeply rooted as any aversion they may have towards non-Muslims.

 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN for Operation Iraqi Freedom? With the exception of Iran and Syria (which is ruled by an Alawite minority--an offshoot of Islam distinct from both Sunni and Shiite orthodoxies, if somewhat closer to Shiism) all Muslim states in the Middle East are run by Sunnis, who view a Shiite-ruled Iraq as a potential threat. (The only exception to such authoritarian regimes, Turkey--which is democratic--is also a Sunni majority country.) The Sunni states of the Middle East are unwilling to whole-heartedly support Operation Iraqi Freedom because of what it may produce in the end.

 

This predicament can also be helpful, however, by showing a way out of sectarian hatred within Islam. It is time now for Muslims--clerics and secular pundits alike--to begin a frank debate towards healing sectarian divides through ecumenical dialogue.

 

Such a process should interest not only the Muslim world, but also the West. There has been much talk since the September 11 attacks about the need for a constructive dialogue between Islam and the West. Before Muslims can extend the courtesy of respect to non-Muslims, however, they will first have to treat each other with compassion. In other words, the path to inter-regional equilibrium between Islam and other faiths is through intra-religious peace within Islam. It is time for Muslims to address the decades-old problem of hatred within Islam, for their sake and for the world's.

 

In the end, I would like to send this message to the Nation of Islam:

 

Religion -- all religions -- create a world of make-believe. Nothing in religion is related to objective reality, to science, to real life. Every religious idea you have goes on only in your head. Every bit of religion is subjective, not objective. No prayer you ever said, no outcry you ever made to god has ever been heard or answered.

 

If you want to make the world better for all its inhabitants -- all animals, all life forms, all vegetation -- you need to work on it. There needs to be a scientific analysis of what we have, what we want, and how to get from one point to another.

 

Religion has caused more misery to all of humankind in every age of history than any other single idea. You need to be free of irrational ideas. You need to repudiate those who would attempt to return you to medievalism. You need to look forward, not backward; you need to strive for intellectual freedom, not mental bondage; you need to seek joy, not sorrow; love not fear; and you can do that only when you realize who and what your oppressor was -- and is.

Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)

 

 
Tags: ,

Comments have been disabled for this post.