by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 8, Ramadan, 1427)
At the same time that Muslims are elated at Hizbullah's brilliant victory over Israel's war machine, they are deeply troubled by the mayhem in Iraq. Although much of the trouble is Iraq is foreign-instigated, the Iraqis themselves are not above blame. The two countries offer stunning contrasts in acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and important lessons for the global Islamic movement. In Lebanon, Hizbullah has achieved with a few thousand fighters armed with iman triumphs that have eluded hundreds of thousands of heavily armed Arab soldiers fighting under the banner of nationalism. In Iraq, what seemed to be and opportunity for the Islamic movement has become a disastrous mess.
In Crescent, we have always tried to see past sectarian issues, but on this issue, it is important to state that both in Lebanon andIraq, it is predominantly the Shi'as who are at the forefront of events. Although Hizbullah has emerged from the Shi’a community inLebanon, and remains deeply rooted in it, its leadership has never played the sectarian card. Shaikh Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah's behaviour has always been based strictly on Islamic principles which every Muslim can share. In fact, he is so magnanimous that he even describes Hizbullah's brilliant victory as Lebanon's achievement. This explains why he enjoys widespread support not only among all Muslims but also among Lebanon’s Christians.
In Iraq, by contrast, the Shi’a religious leadership has contributed to the sectarian problems now besetting the country. Instead of being inclusive, they have allowed themselves to be painted into a sectarian corner by foreign occupiers. Iraq also offers another sobering lesson for the global Islamic movement: one cannot achieve liberation from tyranny by aligning with other oppressors. The Americans and their Western allies did not come to liberate the Iraqis; their intention was and remains entirely selfish. Their object was to control Iraq's vast oil resources and take control of a strategically-important area in the region; hence the construction of massive US military bases in Iraq. Having made one mistake—allowing the Americans to enter their country—the Iraqi Shi’a leadership have made a a second by alienating other sectors of their society. True, the Shi’as were long oppressed by Saddam's brutal regime, but they must realize that Saddam brooked no opposition from any quarter—Shi’a, Sunni or Kurd.
The contrasting situations in Lebanon and Iraq are instructive, but let no-one be tempted by the notion that only the Shi’as are capable of fighting oppression. The mayhem in Iraq should disabuse them of such untenable positions. A very senior alim in Iranrecently told me, with deep anguish, that despite strenuous efforts the Islamic Republic had not been able to get the Shi’a and Sunni ulama of Iraq to sit together and hammer out their differences. Each side has stuck to its entrenched position; the Shi’as accuse the Sunnis of being Ba‘athist sympathizers, while the Sunnis accuse the Shi’as of collaborating with foreign occupiers. Both miss the point: Iraq under US occupation is no better than it was under the tyrannical regime of Saddam, and this reality will only be changed if Shi’as and Sunnis work together, first to get rid of all foreign occupation forces, and then establish a working relationship in which both sides are confident that their concerns and interests are protected.
Hizbullah's behaviour in Lebanon offers important lessons. Despite the confessional nature of Lebanese politics, Hizbullah has steered clear of the sectarian minefield, focusing instead on the task at hand: confronting the zionist occupiers. If fair elections were held in Lebanon free from confessional constraints, Shaikh Nasrallah would win the presidency by a wide margin. But he has not ventured into that area, being fully aware that this might well result in a civil war in which Hizbullah would ultimately prevail, but only at enormous cost to Lebanese society. This is a lesson that appears to be lost on the Iraqis. It is painful to see otherwise committed Iraqi Muslims rubbing shoulders with American officials who have never concealed their hatred of Islam and Muslims.
One thing is clear: the Americans will be driven out of Iraq sooner rather than later. What is less certain is the future of Iraq itself; this will depend on how the people of Iraq—Shi’as and Sunnis—conduct themselves. If they are not careful, they may drive the Americans and their Western allies out but end up with no Iraqi state. In their crooked minds, the Americans have already worked out a future scenario in which, if they cannot control Iraq, they will not allow anyone else to do so either. Iraq may fracture three ways, with the Kurds getting their own independent state in the North. They already have a de facto state largely free of central authority. The Shi’as would get a separate state in the South, with a Sunni rump left in the middle. Is this what the Shi’i leaders inIraq really want for the future of their country?
Iraq’s ulama and politicians need to think very carefully about the dangers of this evolving scenario. The Muslim world cannot afford any more divisions; Muslims everywhere yearn for unity and cannot afford for the lack of vision or narrow self-interest of leaders to fail them again.