Islamic Sectarianism

The Middle East and north African countries were held in check by ruthless autocrats for decades until the introduction of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, coupled with the loud speaker that is social media, sent the message to the Muslim world that autocracy was not the only option, and so the “Arab Spring” emerged first across north Africa and conspicuously Libya and Egypt, but then in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.

This turn of events – the overthrow of tyrants – was a double-edged sword, for the tyrants had accomplished one positive result during their reign.  They had managed to keep a lid on Islamic sectarianism, a malady potentially pandemic in many Muslim countries with sizable sectarian minorities, whether Shia or Sunni.

What has evolved now is a full-bore sectarian civil war between the two prominent Islamic sects.  It is not confined to a single country or even a single region, and so intense it calls into question the practicality of maintaining many of these nations as is – Iraq, Syria, Yemen, etc.   These nations are composed of the two Islamic sects that will never again live peacefully together, so that to keep these nations intact ensures permanent disorder, that is, no end in sight to the sectarian violence.

The reaction of the West has often been to misinterpret this evolution as an assault on Western values and religions when, in fact, even though this assault may indeed be taking place, it is really more in the vein of collateral damage.  The main objective of this sectarian conflict is for the Sunni to put an end to the Shia and for the Shia to put an end to the Sunni, an internecine war among Muslims.  On a larger geopolitical basis, this sectarian conflict is represented by Iran and its bloc of nations representing the Shia side and by Saudi Arabia and its bloc of nations representing the Sunni side.

We in the United States have a bitter history and knowledge of the ruthlessness of civil war so that we should not underestimate how ruthless this one may become.   So what is to be done?   So far, the emphasis seems to be to target and bomb the Sunni side – bombing in Syria and Iraq to eliminate ISIS, the most extreme element on the Sunni side, although Yemen now sees bombing of the Shia side as well.  In effect, the idea is to bomb the oppressed minority into submission or oblivion.   But will this be effective in the long run?  I think not.

A more effective, long-term approach to end this sectarian civil war would be to evaluate the countries that are mired in it, and to subdivide them along sectarian lines.  We can only emerge from the sectarian civil war with Islamic nations that make sense by containing no oppressed minorities.  A Shia central government with an oppressed Sunni minority or the reverse — that very scenario is the cause of the civil war, and so its elimination is the real, political solution, not endless bombing.

Syria should be divided into a Shia western nation and a Sunni eastern nation that includes the Sunni section of Iraq, preferably under the control of the Sunni tribesmen, not ISIS.  The Kurds in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran should have their own nation so that they are not subject to a central government intolerant of their religion and way of life. What remains of Iraq should be exclusively Shia.  Yemen should be similarly divided along sectarian lines as well as any other country that has this sectarian cancer.

To those who would protest and say we should retain the territorial integrity of these nations, I counter that their sectarian composition – trying to mix the two Islamic sects under one roof — is the cause of the problem.  How can it possibly be the solution?  Neither will the sectarian civil war that has resulted be resolved by introducing the decidedly Western concept of fair treatment of minorities, as we have clearly seen under a Shia Baghdad now oppressing Sunnis and a Sunni (Saddam Hussein-led) Baghdad that had been oppressing Shias – in essence, doing the same thing but expecting a different result, the definition of insanity.

Only a sharp and clear separation of the two sects into their own distinct nation states, so that there are no oppressed religious sects within any countries, will put an end to this Islamic civil war, while wishful thinking about the fair treatment of minorities will merely perpetuate it, as we have already witnessed twice in Iraq.  Some may say that to subdivide these nations along sectarian lines is not practical, that such a solution is the wishful thinking.  I would counter that, in fact, it is the only solution.  And it has worked before in the creation of Muslim Pakistan in separating it from Hindu India along religious line — and it can work again, elsewhere.

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