Sectarianism will lead to our destruction

Syria's brutal war has claimed up to 250,000 lives

The Muslim ummah is passing through perhaps its most difficult phase in our lifetimes and the main reason is Syria, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.

The hope that all of us felt when the Arab Spring erupted two years ago has all but evaporated. The joy we experienced at the downfall of brutal pro-western dictators such as Mubarak and Ben Ali has been totally eclipsed by the devastation, death and destruction that has been wrought on Sham.

I have very strong personal views about the situation in Syria and who is to blame for it, but I am deliberately guarded with my words because I don’t want to pour fuel on the fire. And quite frankly there are enough people doing that already.

TV channels, newspapers and social media are full of sectarian hatred (some of it subtle, some of it blatant) because of events in Syria. This hatred is generally directed against Shia by Salafis and against Salafis by Shia. This is a reflection of the proxy war that is taking place in Syria between Iran and Saudi Arabia, two regional superpowers.

Moreover, many of the worst proponents of this sectarian hatred are supposedly moderate, respectable figures whose words are seized upon by others and taken to another level. They light the match which their supporters use to burn the house down. But I am convinced that these so-called moderate figures know exactly what the effect of their words will be.

This incitement is having a devastating effect on our communities, even here in Britain. As Muslims we are taught that Islam is a religion – first and foremost – of love, peace and tolerance, but it seems that for many of us our first instinct nowadays is to hate. It has become an obsession for us and it is very divisive and ugly.

Barbaric war

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I am not trying to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Syria because I know that the violence there is barbaric and that real injustices have been done to countless innocents. But I am also convinced that no military victory is possible for either side and therefore the choice is between continued bloodshed and an unsatisfactory political compromise that all parties are forced to swallow. I prefer the latter because it avoids total disaster.

Another fundamental point is that this war is not about good versus evil, right versus wrong, Sunni versus Shia (although it may appear that way on the ground). It is about politics, power and control, like all wars are. Those who simplify a hugely complex scenario really don’t deserve the airtime they get.

In general people are not being targeted because they belong to a certain sect, they are being targeted because of whom they politically support. Although as the sectarian rhetoric and reality becomes more acute I realize that argument may soon no longer hold water.

When I was growing up hardly anyone knew the details of our sectarian affiliations. We got on pretty well with each other and inter-married. We were taught that our differences were small and about the details, whereas our commonalities were extensive and about the fundamentals. And that of course was backed by 14 centuries of mainstream Islamic scholarship.

But it seems that emotions are too raw because of events in Syria for people to think calmly and clearly. Instead, they forget the simple truth that the world is not black and white and selectively ignore the facts which destroy their fantastical conspiracy theories.

And while they are fixated on creating more hate and division, Syria continues to burn and more foreign intervention becomes inevitable. But for some people that seems to be a price worth paying as long as they can blame the “other.”

West and Israel

Have we completely lost our minds? Are we incapable of thinking big picture, long-term like the most successful individuals and societies do? Or do we always have to be blinded by our emotions and manipulated by our enemies because of them?

The simple fact is that our enemies are laughing at us. Anyone with a sense of history must know that it has been Western and Israeli policy to exacerbate the sectarian differences between Muslims. It is one of their greatest weapons.Why? Because if Muslims are bogged down fighting each other they are no threat to Western and Israeli interests.

Yet Muslims do not seem to learn the lessons of history. We are on our knees for a reason and it simply won’t do to blame others for our predicament. Sometimes we have to take a good, long hard look in the mirror and realise that we are our own worst enemies.

In the meantime, while the Great Fitna in Syrian plays out,  it is incumbent on respected members of all Muslim communities to avoid pouring fuel on the fire with irresponsible sectarian rhetoric.


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