An Al Arabiya op-ed by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi — originally published in the Arabic daily Al-Hayat gives a glimpse of the chaotic tangle that fuels the civil war in Syria. While noting the various politics that informs the conflict — much of it politics of convenience and opportunism — he focuses on how driving a sectarian divide isn’t helping anyone. Pitting Sunnis against Shi’ites and making that conflict the primary narrative is doing long-term damage to the Middle East and to Islam.
In his piece, he lauds Saudi Shi’ite clerics for refusing to be drawn into the battles and for recognizing the traps that have been laid for the unwary.
The Syrian conflict is many-layered. It can be seen as a sectarian issue, with all the trouble that will bring. But it is also a civil uprising against an oppressive and ineffective government, just as in other ‘Arab Spring’ countries. Yet again, it is geopolitical, with movements attempting to amputate the over-extended limb of Iranian politics, seeking to push Iranian influence out of the region by bringing down the Syrian state that has long been its ally in the region.
‘You’re not helping me cast out sectarian bigotry’
If we were to map out Syrian regime supporters, we would regrettably find them mirroring the minority Shiite population’s distribution in the Muslim world.
In this, we are excepting a few voices heard here and there.
Among them, for instance, are Shiite intellectuals in Lebanon issuing a statement, or Hezbollah defectors going live on Arab TV networks, to declare the party does not represent them.
Or to express concern their community is being dragged into a sectarian conflict for which they would have to pay in a predominantly Sunni environment representing most of the Ummah.
The aforesaid exceptions prove, rather than undermine, the premise.
On the fringes of this Shiite landmass stretching from Iran to Iraq and Lebanon, there are in Arab capitals tiny and hardly discernible patches of nationalist intellectuals, Nasserite politicians, or Baathists rooting for Bashar al-Assad.
They also parrot the theory of an American-Zionist conspiracy aimed at undermining the bastion of contrariety and resistance and the ultimate Arab army.