‘Shiite-Phobia’ Among Arabs
By: Hussam Inani Translated from Al-Hayat (Pan Arab).
A deadly disease is spreading through Arab societies: Shiite-phobia. Its symptoms include a contempt for anything that is associated with the Shiite sect — including its jurisprudence, history and traditions — throwing accusations at followers of the Shiite sect, whether living or dead, and attempting to deprive them of any virtue.
About This Article
Across the Arab world, the fear of Shiism is spreading. The fear of the “other” is common in communities in crisis. But the problem is less with Shiism than it is with Iran, which intends to extend its diminishing influence by any means possible, writes Hussam Inani.Publisher: Al-Hayat (Pan Arab)
Author: Hussam Inani
First Published: August 30, 2012
Posted on: September 3 2012
Translated by: Tyler Huffman
In short, this outbreak refers to two things. First, there has been a rise in a fear of the “other” accompanied by an attempt to exclude the “other” from society and undermine everything they represent and believe. This phenomenon is common is communities in crisis — including Arab societies — and it is not uncommon for it to descend into social and political policies that border on fascism. The second issue involves a severe lack of self-confidence regarding any of the changes occurring around us, to the extent that any test firing of an Iranian rocket — even if it resembles a flying piece of scrap metal — causes wide segments of Arab society to worry about the "Iranian-Safavid expansion," and justifies a new round of Shiite-Sunni tensions in regional countries.
First of all, let us cast aside any differences in doctrine between the Sunni and Shiite sects. Numerous events have revealed the ability of Islam to tolerate jurisprudential and theoretical plurality and coexistence between various sects when factors arise that embrace this plurality and coexistence. In this context, Al-Azhar's positions toward the Jaafari sect are well-known. Thus, differences in doctrine are the least influential factor when it comes to fueling the Sunni-Shiite dispute.
From a historical perspective, it is not correct to rely on literature that curses other sects while extolling the innocence of one's own sect. It is necessary to acknowledge that Arab-Islamic history has been the least subjected to scientific and historical criticism, as a result of its focus on religion and sanctity that imposes a thick veil of mystery and prevents any objective examination.
At present, charges of "spreading Shiism" — that have sometimes been leveled against religious activists — are closer to accusations of collaboration with a foreign state than they are to unjustified accusations against freedom of belief that is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all constitutions of the world, including those based on Islamic law. But the issue here is not about loyalty to the family of the Prophet Muhammad or a disavowal of their enemies, since this is a position that is also adopted by many Sunnis. Rather, it is related to the current political situation and the struggle for power that is occurring in every Arab country and society. There is nothing we can say other than Arab authorities have shown very little wisdom in dealing with this matter.
In the background stands Iran, a key factor in the emergence of this climate in Arab states. Iran believes that the easiest way to resolve the structural crisis affecting its own regime is to find points of leverage and strength in neighboring countries. Thanks to the flow of arms from Iran to Lebanon, the latter becomes Iran's first line of defense, a bargaining chip in discussions related to the Iranian nuclear program and a means of deterring Israeli threats against Iran. Moreover, Iranian institutions are spreading throughout Iraq at an unimaginable pace, developing a market for Iranian products and a backdoor to evade international sanctions.
The reason for this Iranian behavior is the failure of the reform project that former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami instituted in an effort to save the Islamic system. More conservative forces in the regime had a different approach, preferring a rush towards more extreme positions in both foreign and domestic policies. One of the manifestations of these extremist policies was to raise the pace of sectarian propaganda to unprecedented levels, in an environment that already harbored animosity towards Iran and anything coming out of it. Furthermore, Iran's position regarding recent Arab revolutions — including the manner in which they differentiated between various revolutions and stood with the movement in Bahrain while unconditionally supporting the Syrian regime — gave new ammunition to anyone seeking to target Shiism or its followers.
Shiite Arabs may pay the price for these policies and the reactions they have elicited, which can be summarized as "fear of Shiism" or "Shiite-phobia." None of these policies or the reactions to them can be defended.
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