The Facade of Sectarianism

‘Sectarian’ clashes in the second-most holiest site in Islam can only serve to achieve one forbidding outcome. The sight of bloodshed and hostilities in the near vicinities of this sacred site is tantamount to sacrilege in the hearts and minds of Muslims all across the globe. News of four deaths and several more critically injured in the aftermath of the recent clashes in Medina will have no doubt turned memories back to the 1987 massacre in the holy city of Makka during the annual Hajj. Despite the seemingly subsiding intensity of these clashes however, it is paramount to underline the lingering nature of its outcomes — just as was the case following the massacre — which will remain to influence and shape policies vis-à-vis segments of Saudi society, and wider regional relations.

In order to come to terms with the motives for the recent clashes in Medina, it is crucial to highlight the ongoing geopolitical shifts in the wider region. The Middle East today stands at a unique crossroads; its peoples are witnessing the displacement of age-old power structures that have been the symbol of this region for decades. Naturally, the ‘old-guard’ is pitted against the forces of change, with dear life stuck between their teeth. As loyal and attentive students of history will no doubt attest to, power holds an incredible capacity to corrupt. An even more real but no less frightening concomitant of power lies in its longing for eternalness.

The distressing events in Medina over the last few days are not sectarian clashes, yet the principle motive of its agitators is to utilize these events to heighten regional sectarian tensions. Faced with a climate of growing Islamic solidarity and imperialist rejection, these provocateurs are placing their last hopes in heightened sectarianism to secure their loosening-grip on power. The process of awakening amongst the Arab masses throughout the Middle East is alarming the oil-sheikhdoms, and at their helm the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh and Cairo once stood tall as the nerve centres of the Middle East from where regional agendas, carefully calibrated in line with US imperialist interests, were set. Times have changed. Today, the simmering revolution in Egypt is being restrained thanks only to the firing guns of an ailing Mubarak. Saudi Arabia, which proudly lauded itself as the counter-balance to Iran can no longer maintain a steady footing and finds itself replaced by a far more pragmatic and conciliatory, Qatar. Arguably, the final nails in the coffins of these historical ‘powerhouses’ have also been hammered down by the growing role that is being played out by a Turkey that is increasingly turning eastward.

The House of Saud today faces a distinctive predicament. Over recent decades, the Saudi kingdom has single-handedly pumped millions upon millions of US dollars to fund the Wahhabi sect of Islam around the world. The Saudi monarchy, which came into power on the crest of Wahhabi fanaticism, resolved to export Wahhabi ideology from 1979 with the particular aim of countering the Shia, following the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Today, the godfathers of the Wahhabi and Salafist groups are haunted by the products of their very own making. Faced on the one hand with the return of their now matured brood and on the other by a resolutely passionate political agenda on the Arab street strongly against US imperialism in the region, the Saudi monarchy has chosen to kill both birds with the fire of sectarianism.

The impression of a wounded fox with no other weapon in hand except for its most primordial ability to fan the fires of sectarianism is thus the proper context against which these coordinated attacks by the Saudi army aided by the fanatical ‘moral police’ (the Mutawwa’ah) ought to be seen. From Nigeria to Pakistan, Saudi policy is operating with the single goal of obfuscating the ‘awakening’ of the Arab and Muslim populous through providing regional developments with sectarian overtones. Invented terminologies like the ‘Shia tide’ and the ‘Shia crescent’ are used in line with this agenda: an agenda to polarize the unifying Muslim ranks that stand against US imperialism in the Middle East into ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ bastions.

Muslims around the world, especially those who are situated in the Middle East, should be cognizant of these underlying currents. They should not allow themselves to be utilized as instruments through which the waning power of client-states in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world is consolidated. In this regard, the primary onus falls upon Muslim leaders to refrain from pitching these clashes as ‘sectarian wars’.

Ali Jawad is a political activist and a member of the AhlulBayt Islamic Mission (AIM). He can be reached at: Read other articles by Ali, or visit Ali's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on February 28th, 2009 at 11:35am #

    wld it be better for palestine if muslims convert to christianity?
    yes, it wld! and changing one cult for another is easy. it wld also warm the hearts of all christians.
    and maybe US might finally abandon israel as a jewish state? i am much surprised that arafat had not ordered pal’ns to convert.
    which wld have been carried out by schuler or some other fundamentalist.
    maybe abbas can issue the command?!
    and instead of having a strong ‘zionist’ lobby, have a strong pal’n lobby, headed by me.
    i am atheist but wld convert to help pal’n. mind you, the devil and ‘god’ of my own wld know i was lying but wld fully support me.
    natch, i can’t do it for free.
    thank you, ‘god’; thank you devil!

  2. Brian Koontz said on February 28th, 2009 at 8:19pm #

    “As loyal and attentive students of history will no doubt attest to, power holds an incredible capacity to corrupt.”

    No – power simply requires different behavioral and structural choices.

    For example, if you become responsible for feeding 100 people your behavior will by necessity change – you must do what it takes to feed 100 people instead of “feeding my family”.

    Or, another example, if one becomes president of the United States one becomes responsible for the well being of the campaign donors. One must do what it takes to benefit them.

    Structures of power and positions within structures of power *create* monsters – a CEO for example *must* maximize profits, regardless of the consequences. Does power corrupt the CEO? Of course not – the CEO merely has behavioral changes brought on by his new structural (political) position.

    This can occur entirely in the mind – one’s mind can engage in a line of thought that then requires one to behave in an unusual manner – Hitler is a common example. Power didn’t corrupt Hitler – Hitler’s *ideas* and *desires* “corrupted” Hitler and he then sought the power to allow his ideas to become real.

    When does a CEO become corrupt? Perhaps it’s during childhood when the TV or maybe his own family tells him the definition of success – accumulating wealth.

    Power is a means to an end. Without power one can’t wage wars, control the fates of millions of lives, and “play God”. Without new power one is just like one currently is.

    “Power corrupts” is ridiculously naive. The motivations for seeking power can be good or bad, but that choice is always made prior to the attainment of power. With that power attained the desired behavior becomes *enabled*, and the person then revels in finally being able to achieve the things he’d been wanting.

    Since noble forms of power are rarely discussed, I’ll mention one briefly – friendship. Friends have power over each other that normal people don’t have. Friends use their power to benefit each other, to improve each other’s lives. Friends understand that power is exciting and without it life would be dismal and hopeless.

  3. Simon said on March 4th, 2009 at 5:19am #

    The Saudi kingdom is well known for its support of extremist groups across the world. Fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, yet very little was done to straiten the kingdom due to the cental position of petrodollars for the liquidity of the US economy.

    Presently, one of the more active conflict zones is the North West of Pakistan, where extremist groups are responsible for staging sectarian attacks.

    Brian Koontz, power has the “capacity” to corrupt, as it has the “capacity” to correct. When power is exercised in any social relation, it necessarily creates a power structure even if its parameters may not be well defined.