According to the United Nations, the civil war in Syria has claimed the lives of no less than 90,000 innocent people. The United Nations has also expressed concerns regarding the actual figure being higher and possible chances of the damage spreading to other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The appalling magnitude of the sectarian strife in Bashar al-Assad’s Syria has opened the eyes of the supposed ‘Islamic World’ or Arab World as I prefer to call it, to one of its biggest concerns: the deep divide between Shiites’ and Sunnis.
The fact that many of the major Sunni-Islam aligned countries namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar are backing the rebels in Syria along with strong support for Assad’s regime by the political class in Shiite Iran shows how deeply polarizing is the effect of this crisis. The aligning of countries on sectarian lines might not appear surprising to many but the fact that America-bashing countries in this part of the world are now calling upon Washington to intervene in Damascus proves the complicity of Arab leaders in political opportunism.
What is happening in Syria is an ideological culmination of propagation of hatred by radical Sunni-Shiite clerics against one another. It’s common to see some label Shiites as “bigger enemies of Islam than Jews and Christians” and so is the age old rhetoric of the Sunnis being “the enemy within who is a denier of the Prophet’s progeny and will”. In such a volatile environment, the Arab world would soon be (and I doubt is) abuzz with hilarious fatwa’s based on conspiracy theories involving the Jewish angle into the debate.
The solution to this problem lies in the realization that Islam-perverting Islamists are supportive of a kind of petrodollar-sponsored puritanical Islam where veiling of women and keeping of beards is mandatory, listening to music, singing or dancing is haram and so is watching television. The Islamist belief is that it is not only belief in the faith of his choice which would earn people mercy but faith in his ‘form’ of the faith. While the basic tenets of the different sects might be the same but the overall theological perspective involving statecraft and political power is diabolically different. In such a situation, the Islamist argument of the Sharia being the solution to all sorts of problems becomes redundant as even the Sharia can’t have one uniform interpretation.
For the Arab world to safeguard its peaceful future, it needs to first of all embrace the concept of nationhood. Islamists have bred in the Muslims a strange kind of thinking whereby they recognize the concept of nation-states as anti Islam. They reason that since nations and territorial boundaries are man-made, they are natural barriers in the way of the Islamic Ummah, they foster divisions and are hence against the will of God. It is precisely this idea which has to be sent packing into the annals of history. Being a nation, when you don’t recognize the concept of nationhood, you can’t be expected to solve problems of a nation-state. We need to realize that nations face similar problems be it in regards to poverty, hunger or development. It is only when you validate your existence as a nation state that you can strive to address these concerns. Denial of democracy and enactment of a semi-theocratic, semi-democratic and semi-sectarian regime leads one to nowhere except an ambiguous web of identity struggle and theological problems.
Countries have to be based on the plank of democracy and universal human rights. When religion becomes the dominant ideology in terms of public administration, as it has, then it is bound to throw up more problems rather than giving solutions. Why? This is because dissent in matters of faith in the 21st century is greater than ever before. I know that some might argue that the Islamic golden age was when things were apparently done as per divine revelation but that time has come to pass. The levels of dissent are so severe and space for free thinking so less that it is totally unjustified to compare the two ages. There are evidences of the latter society being far more liberal than the contemporary one where there is no space for heretics and dhimmis. Challenges are many but solutions are still to be searched for.