Saturday, 22 June 2013

“You’re not helping me cast out sectarian bigotry”

Saudi national flag (top) and a Shiite banner 

By Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s authoritative political analyst, author and kingpin of the impending Al Arab TV news channel, writing in Arabic today for the mass circulation newspaper al-Hayat
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.
Like the Shiite fundamentalists shepherding the Shiite general public to back Syria’s regime, they do not see the limpid, unobstructed and good-sized “banner of freedom” the Syrian people have been raising for more than two years.
But they clearly notice the Takfiris, the eaters of human organs and the suicides.
They make these out to be the Syrian Revolution, which at heart is nationalist, Islamist, moderate, broad-based and genuinely representative of all spectrums of the Syrian population.
Yes, there are Takfiris linked to al-Qaeda and to hardline Salafist currents fighting in Syria.
True, they are motivated by their hatred of Shiism, modernism and all “The Other.”
They don’t strive for democracy or a modern civil state in which all Syrians are equal.
They can’t be part of a Syrian national body politic, whether headed by a turbaned sheikh or its current leader George Sabra.
They are the same underground movements Syrian Intelligence used to send to Iraq, prompting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (in 2009) to press for the trial of Syria-based terrorists by a UN tribunal.
That was two or three years before the outbreak of Syria’s uprising.
The uprising saw Maliki bury old differences, switch sides, and become Bashar’s partner – a bizarre turnaround that can only be explained by sectarian motives.
Thieves, highway bandits and opportunists joined the mavericks infiltrating the Syrian revolution since revolutions don’t attract honorable people only.
But to put those in the spotlight is sheer escapism, which Bashar cheerleaders use in order to justify turning their back on a bona fide revolution against a tyrant and a repressive regime that people have been itching to bring down for decades.
Bashar’s non-Shiite disciples, on the other hand, can find an excuse for their evildoing.
For example, Lebanon’s Maronite Marada Movement thrived on the Syrian regime’s protection and was able to challenge Lebanese Maronite parties hostile to Bashar. The Marada in other words has a political, albeit contemptible, motive.
That is also the case of Lebanese Gen. Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, except that Aoun will be the first to jump ship when Hezbollah and Bashar lose out.
There are also politicians and journalists endorsing Bashar simply for cash.
In South Lebanon’s port city of Sidon, there is the Popular Nasserite Organization, which suffices with its Nasserite credentials to account for its stance.
The organization’s icon in Cairo is former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi who doesn’t hide his affinity for Bashar.
Other than those, you hardly find in Arab capitals any Bashar partisans, except perhaps the habitués of state-run Syrian TV.
They are what I would call “Speakers’ Corner forces” or “political megaphones” with no presence on the streets or in national assemblies.
One exception perhaps is in Jordan, specifically in its al-Karak city, which is home to some members of the pan-Arab Command of the Syrian Baath Party who are now lying low in view of the circumstances.
All the tiny pockets cited above are swamped by an Arab torrent sympathetic to the Syrian people.
Taking a second look at the Shiite landmass in our midst, we come up against a cohesive bloc ready to fight and die on Bashar’s side.
That’s what Hassan Nasrallah did in Qusayr and is still doing elsewhere in Syria.
Likewise, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is propping up the Syrian regime with arms and oil and allowing Iraqi Shiite volunteers to stream into Damascus. He is very familiar with the regime they will be fighting for.
These volunteers include politicians and clerics entrusted with the task of exonerating crimes committed by Shiites against their Sunni brothers.
A Kuwaiti parliamentarian has also openly defended and backed the interventions.
The sectarian commitment we are seeing is both unparalleled and alarming.
Even the Marjas (or highest authority on religious laws in Shiite Islam) who regularly issue fatwas and opinions have fallen silent.
They neither spoke in the revolution’s favor nor denounced the Shiites’ intervention in favor of the offender.
In my country, Saudi Arabia, the Shiite religious scholars and dignitaries kept mum on happenings in Syria.
They seem perturbed when asked, “What’s your position on the affront of the century that has seen the death so far of 100,000 Syrian Muslims?”
One cleric mouthed off: “Are we supposed to issue a statement on each occurrence? It’s a sedition and we’re distancing ourselves from it.”
My Shiite friend wanted to be amiable. He wrote to me saying, “I sympathize with the Syrian people. They deserve better than the regime killing them. But they also merit other than the Free Syrian Army.”
He probably believes he made me a big concession by saying what he did.
My answer is this: “My friend, I don’t want to be sectarian. I hate my growing sectarian penchant. But you’re not helping me.”