Two things. First, Shaikh Yusuf Qaradawi. A ‘moderate conservative’ linked to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Qaradawi has previously made positive statements about the need for Sunni-Shia unity, particularly in Iraq. At the Doha Inter-Islamic Dialogue Conference a couple of days ago he condemned the cleansing of Sunnis from mixed or Shia areas. “No one can tolerate such unspeakable hatred,” he said. “Sunnis are suffering more in Iraq. I had repeatedly called upon the Shia scholars and leaders in Iraq and Iran to intervene to stop this bloodshed.” He continued, “Iran has influence in Iraq. It can stop this violence and put out the fire that could destroy everything.” Then he went on to complain about Shia attempts to convert Sunnis living in Sunni majority nations.
Qaradawi was right to raise the issue of Shia death squads. He was wrong to keep silent about Salafi/ Baathist/ extremist Sunni terrorism. The Shia of Iraq put up with more than two years of massacres before they began to respond.
When the Shii shrine of the last Imam in Samara was bombed, Qaradawi commented, “We cannot imagine that the Iraqi Sunnis did this. No-one benefits from such acts other than the American occupation and the lurking Zionst enemy.” Perhaps he has a point. But it looks a lot like when Sunnis commit crimes Qaradawi blames America, and when Shia commit crimes, he blames the Shia, and Iran. His paranoia about Shia conversion squads is also suspect. 90% of Muslims are Sunni. It doesn’t seem that is going to change. Why shouldn’t Shia, or anyone else, express their beliefs in public? If some Sunni are ‘converted’ it will be because they are convinced by Shia ideas. What’s the problem? The Prophet said al-ikhtilaf rahma, or difference of opinion is a mercy. If the aim is to defuse sectarian tension, surely what is needed is Sunni scholars who will publicly condemn extremist Sunni intolerance, and Shia scholars who will publicly condemn extremist Shia intolerance.
Second, Lebanon. Yesterday opposition strike action and street protests degenerated into fighting and rioting in which three people were killed and tens injured.
The conflict is political. The opposition (which includes almost all the Shia, half of the Christians, and a few Sunni) wants a more representative government. It is demanding enough cabinet places to give it veto power over government decisions. This seems fair to me. Better still would be a reformed electoral system, so that the vote of every Lebanese is worth the same. Currently the vote of a Christian is worth more than the vote of a Sunni, and that of a Shii is worth least of all.
The conflict also centres on economics and class issues. This is why the General Labour Confederation backed the opposition’s call for a strike yesterday. The government has been dramatically raising prices of basic goods and selling national assets to international corporations. Government figures like Marwan Hamade are making huge profits from the deals.
It is doubtful that the Cedar Revolution was supported by the majority in Lebanon, and its PR was certainly run by American companies, but it represented a widespread demand for an end to Syrian military presence and political interference. This is no longer the issue. Michel Aoun was perhaps Syria’s fiercest Lebanese opponent, but he is now in opposition to the so-called ‘anti-Syrian’ government. After the government’s half-hearted support for the resistance during the 2006 Israeli onslaught, all the Shia ministers resigned from the cabinet. The Shia are Lebanon’s largest community. Sinyura’s government is not representative, but it refuses to budge because its Saudi, Israeli and American backers are telling it to stand firm.
I have made it clear where my sympathies lie. You can disagree, for political or economic reasons. As I’ve said, the conflict is political and economic. But it is increasingly being understood in sectarian terms. What do working class Sunnis have in common with millionaire businessmen like Hariri and Sinyura? Absolutely nothing, except the mirage of sectarian identity. This mirage is so strong in certain Sunni heads that it has made them obey their banker leaders and stand with the killers and fascists of Geagea’s Lebanese Forces against those who defended Lebanon from Israeli attack last summer. I understand why opposition protesters held pictures of Nasrallah and Aoun yesterday – these are Lebanese figures. But why were Sunnis waving pictures of Saddam Hussain in the street? Only because Saddam was Sunni. A Sunni who murdered Shia.
I have a Lebanese friend who says he’s given up talking politics with other Lebanese. Tony says that after the civil war ended people began to talk about ideas, about left and right policies, about globalisation and imperialism, about economics, about democracy and rights. For a few years it felt to him that sect would never again be a basis for political discussion. But in the last months that has changed. An idea is judged by the sect of the person expressing it. It feels, says Tony, like the war years.