Sectarian mobilization in the Middle East

We are going through a gigantic, chaotic war in the Middle East

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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We are going through a gigantic, chaotic war in the Middle East. It is worse than what the region witnessed during the two world wars. All kinds of weapons are being used, from primitive knives to the most advanced weapons such as drones.

However, the most dangerous weapon of all is religion, because it is capable of mobilizing communities and controlling armies of young people willing to die, and because it is similar to a nuclear bomb; its toxic remnants will continue even after the end of the war. Many were killed by radiation caused by the nuclear bombs years after the destruction of Japanese cities. This is also the case with sectarian wars: their consequences will linger for decades.

Ever since their failure in Syria and the ever-worsening situation in Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime have been keen on transmitting the sectarian bacteria to the Gulf states

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Citizens are dragged into civil wars after centuries of coexistence because they are mesmerized by propaganda. If you want to understand your opponent, put yourself in his shoes. Ever since their failure in Syria and the ever-worsening situation in Iraq, Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian regime have been keen on transmitting the sectarian bacteria to the Gulf states, which are modern and comprise a variety of social components.

Hate speech

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has done the same, focusing its hate speech against Shiites. Uncivilized, religious-oriented people have been dragged into sectarian clashes; clerics, intellectuals and a large audience fell for this trick. They started accusing each other of re-interpreting history and settling scores. That is what Iran, the Syrian regime and ISIS want.

Those who are blindly engaged in the war do not understand that they are cheap soldiers unconsciously fighting against their own interests. They cannot see beyond the end of their nose. Sowing strife inside communities through hate speech on podiums and websites will lead to fighting in the streets, the destruction of countries and the overthrowing of governments. Why do people destroy their homes with their own hands? This is willful ignorance!

It is easy to ignite clashes between villages, regions or communities when evoking historical or religious differences. We have witnessed Sunni, Shiite and Alawite conflicts because of the exploitation of religion. Hezbollah, ISIS and Al-Qaeda are all political organizations with jihadist ideologies. They all reflect the state of the region today, which has moved from leftist and nationalist ideologies to sectarian conflict.


Violence is not limited to sectarian groups. It was used by Baathist, nationalist and communist parties, which hijacked planes, led suicide operations, booby-trapped cars and plotted assassinations. Most of their battles were directed against their own people, such as the Abu Nidal group, which often targeted Palestinians and Arabs despite claiming to be anti-Israel. This applies to Al-Qaeda and ISIS today.

Despite the similarity of leftist and anarchist organizations with sectarian ones today, and despite their excessive use of violence - claiming that the end justifies the means - religion-driven groups are the most dangerous. Political disagreements between countries can be resolved in one night, but the use of religion in conflicts causes deep wounds that cannot be easily healed. That is why religious communities affected by war, such as in Iraq, will suffer for a long time.

The war in Syria was not religiously driven until the regime decided to classify it as such. The war against the Iraqi Baath party would have only been against its practices and crimes were it not for Iranian interference that led to a sectarian war. ISIS, which inherited the defeated al-Qaeda, has used sectarianism as a weapon to mobilize people, as has Hezbollah. The destruction of the Gulf with the same sectarian virus would not be difficult.

Facing sectarian wars requires the awareness of those working in the religious field. They should be warned that they are being used by external forces to destroy their countries. This should not be tolerated.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 5, 2015.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former 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.

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