Syria’s Sunnis against Sunni extremists

In regional and foreign political conflicts, hatred has typically been focused against the West.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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In regional and foreign political conflicts, hatred has typically been focused against the West. Religious directives have been successful in targeting Western infidels and it did not take long until hatred invaded Islam itself, thus igniting conflict between Sunni and Shiite communities. Hatred then dominated different Islamic communities, whether Alawite, Sufi or others.

The use of religion as a political instrument has revealed a huge amount of hatred, expressing the ideas of those who want to use such feelings in the conflicts which torment the region.

The use of religious provocation began with the Iranian revolution and has lasted for decades. It is now being used in the Syrian revolution. Ayatollah Khomeini wanted to make Tehran the center of regional governance, thus he declared that his victory in Tehran was not just Iranian, but rather a victory for Islam against the West and the enemies of Islam.

Saddam Hussein, Iran’s enemy in Iraq, wanted to face this hostile propaganda, knowing that it was directed against him and not only against the United States. Hussein decided to resort to an opposing rhetoric of hate and revived hostility against Persians, Zoroastrians and Sufis. It must be said that hatred, whether religious or ethnic, has always been the same.

The second chapter of religious wars in the Middle East was opened after the 9/11 attacks, when Sunni Osama bin Laden stole Shiite Khomeini’s ideology. He declared holy war, dividing the world into two camps; believers and infidels, leaving no place for people who do not follow him.

Despite his provocative speech against the West, it later turned out the most of bin Laden’s battles were against Sunnis

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Despite his provocative speech against the West, it later turned out the most of bin Laden’s battles were against Sunnis: most of the victims were Sunnis! This is why the religious extremism that bin Laden espoused did not last for long. Sunnis launched a war against al-Qaeda until they finally cast it out of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco.

There is no doubt that Syria has witnessed the most untarnished and most civilized of Arab revolutions, until it was invaded by extremists and was abandoned by the international community. Groups raising black flags thought that digging up history and spreading hatred would provoke the deceived Syrians. They thought that inciting hatred against the Alawite regime would ensure them absolute allegiance. However, despite barrel bombs and starvation, Syrians turned against the extremists. Today, we are witnessing historical and important events in Syria: various Sunni forces are not just fighting against the Syrian Alawites but rather against the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). This is similar to the drift that we have witnessed in Saudi Arabia over the past decade when Saudis fought against al-Qaeda and won. Over the decade, Saudis disputed TV propaganda claiming Sunnis’ devotion to bin Laden’s terrorism. Syrians have not fought Assad’s regime because it is Alawite but because it is cruel. Today, they are relentlessly fighting against the Sunni al-Qaeda and ISIL for the same reason.

The case in Iraq

We are witnessing similar events in Iraq’s Anbar province. This afflicted region is a victim of Nouri al-Maliki and al-Qaeda and it is witnessing a citizens’ revolution against extremist religious groups. Terrorists such as ISIL and al-Qaeda have been able to take over the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, especially after the failure of Maliki’s forces sent to perform a dramatic operation for electoral purposes. Anbar’s citizens where the only force that confronted terrorist groups after the failure of the government forces. Anbar clans took up arms and began to cleanse their cities of those who falsely presented themselves as “protectors of the Sunni community.”

As long as we are labeling things as per their ugliest sectarian characterization, we have to state things as they are: the use of religion has failed because those who are now fighting ISIL and al-Qaeda in Syria are the Sunnis. At the same time, they fight sectarian Shiites groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Asaib al-Haq and Alawite pro-Assad militias.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 10, 2014.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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