Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Pandora's Box: Rewriting of the Struggle Within Islam

Damascus, the Ummayid Mosque and its minarate

Having just finished Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, I've added English scholar and author Fred Halliday (at the LSE) to the link list, next to Juan Cole.

For most of 2006 and now into 2007, the world has been watching to see if the much mooted struggle within Islamic polities among radical groups (with backward looking and discontinuous political "remedies") and moderate groups (seeking reform, integration, and individual freedom) has morphed into a different struggle at the hands of al-qa'ida and others, into a rapidly widening, full-scale struggle between Shia politics and Sunni politics. It is refined to put it that way, as Halliday remarks, "... this 7th-century division does not account for the major conflicts of the Islamic world then or later, in a way that wars between Catholic and Protestant were to do in early-modern Europe."

Halliday notes the paucity of analyzing the conflict by holy text, by creed, because it misses the important linkages with the evolving regional politics. He goes through an almost must-read of the historical evolution of the current state of political conflict, with a rich set of hyperlinks - the internet at its best, with layers of information at a click! - that turns out to be much shorter than having to read all of Shia Revival.


Still, he doesn't deny that what have been for many, many years lesser or dormant differences cannot come to the fore, in the passion of the times:

Modernity, and the use of communal or religious differences for contemporary political ends, are however no barrier to the spread of hatred and violence. These fires, once lit, can destroy forms of coexistence that have existed for centuries. This is clearly the case in the "war of elimination" in Baghdad today (a city from which, it may be recalled, the Jewish community who had lived there for over two millennia experienced a mass exodus in the early 1950s).

Moreover, while at the beginning states may seek to control such sectarian loyalties, as both Iran and Saudi Arabia have done, such control may not last: today Iran has much less influence over the Shi'a of Iraq than it had three or ten years ago. How far these flames will spread is anyone's guess, ...

Some may take comfort from the dire warning that issued from a conference of Sunni and Shi'a clergy recently held in Qatar. As representatives of each side promised to stop preaching suspicion of the other, and Shi'a committed themselves to stop cursing the caliphs, a prominent Iraqi cleric warned that if this conflict were to continue, the direst of all consequences would follow: namely that young people in the Muslim world would be tempted ... to turn to secularism.

No comments: