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The Middle Eastern Perpetual War Syndrome

Politics / Middle East Jun 01, 2013 - 08:52 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


While the US fixation with Muslim Terror, or homegrown terror, in fact any kind of terror can be said to have been ratcheted up to its current extremes from about 2000, Shia-Sunnin terror war has a long pedigree. Inside Shia majority countries, or in Shia areas of Sunni countries, Shia Muslims are obsessed with Sunni aggression, exclusion, or "cultural racism". The exact opposite also works for Sunni majority countries and regions of Shia countries. The fixation with the past is total.

For many historians and ethnologists, including Muslim and Arab scholars, this permanent war footing has morphed from a traditional type of historical consciousnesses, into a pathological format.

Proof of that comes from the deliberate absence of any historical then-and-now treatment of atrocities, mass killings, forced evictions, racist laws and customs operated by one side of the Shia-Sunni divide against the other. What happened to Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Mahdī, the "occulted" 12th Imam of the Shia, who was born in July 869 AD (about 255 years after Mahomet, therefore 255 AH in the Muslim calendar), is as fresh and rancorous today as the plague of car bombs that killed over 600 Iraqis in the month of May 2013 AD. Many of these car bombing outrages, but not all, were aimed at Shia by local and national Sunni terrorists. It is justifiable to call this Iraq's Car Bomb War of 2013.

Not forgetting history is different from treating an outrage of more than 1100 years ago as a legitimate motive for an attack on designated enemies, today. The methods used to keep history alive, and burning, are unfortunately spread across Middle Eastern and North African society, drawing together modern and traditional, high tech and word of mouth communications and methods. In the same way as childrens fairy stories in Western society often include, although unknown to either parents or children, multiple references to far-distant historical events which originally were violent or cruel, Muslim society uses the highly developed genre of Epic Poems to brainwash children from their infancy into hating their "miscreant" neighbors, of today.

The major differences between the "terror system" of Sunnis, and that of Shias could be called subtle, but their similarities translate to the same urge to kill. The story, legend or partly factual story of the 12th Imam was at its root a "purely ideological" dispute. Sunni Islam only recognizes 3 Imams, but even that is in no way cut and dried, because numerous "heretical Sunni" communities recognize more, sometimes different, Imams from mainstream majority Sunnis. Whether or not the Mahdi or 12th Imam was assassinated, or imprisoned under such harsh conditions he died in captivity, is completely impossible to prove - as impossible as knowing exactly how Jesus died, or whether Adam existed.

Much more grave, it could be argued that the roles of Aisha and Ali are myth, or that the Mahdi never existed, but making these arguments without extreme care in a large number of countries and regions inside them could result in summary execution, with or without torture before death. Sunni religious philosophy often dismisses the subject as at most a minor event, but also a direct challenge to their "ideological hegemony", with the word Sunni itself meaning "Tradition". Shia worship (again a term to be used carefully) of the Mahdi, to Sunni ideologists from as early as 900 AD is at worst pure heresy, and is comparable in its total unacceptability to the Christian notion that somehow Jesus was "the son of God", which for both Shia and Sunni Muslim ideologists is paganistic anthropomorphism.

Any Sunni politician in any Sunni majority country is firstly obliged to say he defends tradition, and secondly is able to use this for distancing himself from "ordinary concerns" of the people, the economy, jobs and growth, inflation or other similar humdrum subjects - like democracy. Defending tradition means persecuting Shia groups or can mean attacking them, under specific circumstances. Proving how seamlessly this works the other way around, one neglected but key reason for Syria's Bashr el Assad remaining in power is that he is seen as defending Alawite Shia against Sunni terrorists armed and financed by the Gulf Sunni dominated petrostates. El Assad is armed and partly financed by Shia Iran.

Even today, in Sunni majority regions of Iraq, and among millions of Sunni Muslims outside Iraq there is strong nostalgia for Saddam Hussein. For incredibly naive Westerners incluing politicians, this is a surprise or disappointment - completely forgetting that the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war was a Shia-Sunni war, and is what should be called the first modern Muslim Confessional War. To be sure, Henry Kissinger was quoted as saying in 1980 that he "hoped both sides would lose" but Western action to arm Saddam Hussein, supposedly the lesser of two evils, only further intensified this long and bloody war, and did nothing at all to calm or reduce Sunni-Shia hostility.

Saddam was a bulwark for Sunnis against the Shia Menace. When Saddam was hanged after a laughable kangaroo court trial, millions of Sunni mourned his death. President Mubarak of Egypt said that Saddam was a "martyr". Muammar Khadafi demanded that his torn-down Baghdad statue be shipped to Tripoli and put up again in Libya. Yasser Arafat and his PLO/Fatah and Jordan's King Hussein both supported Saddam, because Saddam was Sunni.

Since Arab Spring, in Western imagination but not in fact, former corrupt dictators, all of them Sunni to date, have been deposed or killed with or without Western military support, either open or covert. Their replacement regimes, nominally democratic but quickly becoming less so, have arguably sharpened the Sunni-Shia divide and the potential for civil war, as well as international pan-Arab war. While Western media gives headline treatment to the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Copts in Egypt, this "occults" (to use a handy term) the depth and intensity of Shia-Sunni war hunger.

Taking the 22 Arab League states, ony 4 have Shia leaders. The rest are Sunnis. Including the non-Arab Muslim states in the 57-member state Organization of Islamic Cooperation, headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunni dominance is so total it is little surprise that Shia heads of state rarely turn up in person to OIC meetings. This is because of the de facto political and economic, but not demographic hegemony of the Sunnis in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and their near-total political and economic control in Muslim countries outside MENA.

In both cases reinforced by the age-old but modern Shia-Sunni divide, Shia and Sunni states and their political leaders claim they need to "stay on a war footing". Only in the few, non-MENA Muslim states with a massive majority of Sunni communities - Indonesia is the model -  can the state avoid needing, or pretexting the existence of a "permanent emergency". The basis for this can be called the most traditional possible form and type of pre-modern society, called "tribal". Other terms used by sociologists and ethnologists include "religious based moiety", or "confessional federations".

Islam overrides the nation state, and Islam is divided into Shia or Sunni. Even during national-defined conflicts the tribal affiliations which criss-cross most MENA states can operate in a completely different sense. For example, major Saudi tribal confederations who have total local or regional power in KSA, and crossborder Iraqi Sunni confederations throughout the 1980-1988 war ensured that oil production was pushed as high as possible. This had one goal: flooding the oil markets of the world and dramatically decreasing the price of oil to cripple the economy of Iran. The crippling effect this had on Saddam's finances, a major reason for the later Kuwait invasion, was the cause of major dissension inside Saudi Arabia, heightened because the fall of Saddam led to the replacement of Sunni leaders by the Shia leadership of post-2003 New Iraq.

At least as important as these new bases for enduring conflict, the "disappearance" in 873 AD, of Ali's 12th heir and descendent - the Mahdi - can cause a car bombing today, and will cause a deadly car bomb attack today or next week, or at latest within two weeks.  Shia Muslims have been waiting since 873 AD for the Mahdi's return. Since then, Sunni power has pushed out and pushed back Shia power.  In Sunni countries, a kingship and nobility system similar to traditional European monarchies but with absolute power only modified by the caliph-and-shura system, holds sway. In the Shia countries the most radical-possible power system exists. Shia Imams are a claimed hereditary bloodline dating back to Mahomet himself. The Imams, like Sunni kings and princes, and traditional European crowned heads of state are divinely appointed, but in the Shia and Sunni cases, absolute power is absolute.

The theological bases for Sunni-Shia conflict are the subject of multiple philosophical schools and traditions, tending to all extremes, now made more powerful by Internet. Saudi-owned and Saudi-financed schools in European countries and the US can and do teach that Shia Islam is "a Jewish heresy". Shia theological propaganda against Sunnis includes the accusatin that the Saudi royal family is not only a pawn of the USA, but is also of Jewish origin. During the existence of the Soviet Union, the claims were that Shia Islam "is Marxist", and the Saudi royal family are "CIA implants".

Political organizations in the MENA region are almost totally unable to ecape religious-based Sunni or Shia labeling. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has a long track record in Syria, and its nominal political stance can be considered highly similar to the nominal politics of the Baath party system. This, the Baath, was able to operate in both Shia-controlled Syria and Sunni-controlled Iraq at the time of Saddam. Making the analyis complex, the Baath was totally adapted to the two different religious hegemonies, but the Muslim Brotherhood was not. It started a Sunni political organization and stayed that way.

In 1978, Hafez el Assad ordered the death penalty for any identified member of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, which led to Saddam Hussein deciding to arm and train the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in order to overthrow the Syrian Baath party, which had become a power tool of the Assads. An early Syrian atrocity was el Assad's total destruction of the Sunni Brotherhood's stronghold, the city of Hama with a dispute number of total deaths, probably more than 25 000.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has a large regional canvas for its war with Shia Muslims, and throughout the North African part of the MENA region has a deep structure of local alliances - with Sunni groups and organizations. Since the fall of Mubarak, the Brotherhood's anti-Shia propaganda has intensified and been reinforced in the Middle Eastern part of the MENA region. Local "chapters" such as Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood are operating an increaisngly popular campaign to firstly "quarantine" the Shia in Jordan, followed by deporting the entire Shia population of Jordan.

Across the Gulf states, from KSA, Bahrain and Kuwait to Qatar, UAE and Oman there is not only media support, but national governmental approval of Sunni suicide car bombings in Iraq - because Iraq has a Shia dominated government. These bombings are officially called "acts of resistance" against Shia aggression and Shia hegemony.

Simply due to Lebanon's Hezbollah movement being Shia, there is no shortage of Sunni approval for Israeli cross-border "defensive" raids inside Lebanon, and outright bombing of Hezbollah forces inside Lebanon. Hezbollah, almost inevitably, has moved to give outright military support to Bashr el Assad in Syria with likely or probable replicate increase of military support from Sunni countries to the war inside Syria and Lebanon.

Anyone liking to imagine this age old but modern war and conflict system will or can end rapidly must face the facts.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2013 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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