After reading Syriana a slim volume in French by a Turk of Syrian origin living in Belgium and published by INVESTIG’ACTION, (www.michelcollon.info/La-CIA-la-grande-muette-du-Proche.html?lang=f) that details the ethnic and sectarian strife going back hundreds of years in the Middle East, I wondered why Bahar Kimyongur repeatedly affirmed that the United States supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.
Now, in a blog the same author accuses the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of using the Muslim Brotherhood to deliver arms to Syrian rebels. That may seem peculiar considering that these same countries’ fear the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt following presidential elections there.
Here is the explanation: much as in the nineties we opposed the Russian-backed Communist government of Afghanistan, funding various Sunni-inspired rebel fighters who since have turned against us, today we fear the growth of Shi’a Islam because this current has always represented the underdog. Officially, we are opposed to Iran because it threatens Israel. But in reality we are determined to see regime change in Teheran because since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that brought Shia clerics to power, we have feared their egalitarian – and hence anti-Western – ethos.
The countries that have significant Shia populations are known as ‘The Shia Crescent’. They include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. Syria, while having a minority Shi’a population, has been ruled by the Shi’a minority Alawite sect since Bashar Al Assad’s father, Hafez Al Assad came to dominate the Ba’ath Socialist Party in 1970. The current Syrian crisis cannot be understood without awareness of the Ba’ath Party which, from its inception after the Second World War, was a key player in the decades-long struggle for unity known as Pan-Arabism.
The Ba’ath party’s motto “Unity, Liberty, Socialism” was inspired by French revolutionary ideology. Unity refers to Arab unity, or Pan-Arabism, and liberty refers to self-determination, or freedom from foreign control. Arab Socialism grew out of that dual quest, its founders believing that only a socialist system of property and development could overcome the social and economic legacy of imperialism and colonialism. During the Cold War, these convictions were at the heart of Arab socialism’s strong internationalist tendency epitomized by its policy of non-alignment,.
But what is most relevant today is that Arab socialism has always been less ideological than cultural and spiritual, and this explains the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to cooperate with both right and left-leaning parties, as evidenced in the Egyptian elections and also in non-Arab but Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan. (In non-Arab Muslim countries such as Ahfghanisan and Pakistan, Sunni factions such as the Taliban are closer to the right-wing Salafists. And in Egypt, we would rather see a holdover from the Mubarak era than a Muslim Brotherhood President, because the latter can go with either ideology.)
At the end of the day, there is really only one political battle, that of equity. But there is also a fundamental conflict over God going on in the world. And because religion has always been the handmaiden of power, the two have often been inseparable. Following the onset of the Protestant Reformation, from 1524 to 1648, Europe was wracked by a series of religious wars. By the nineteenth century, these inter-Christian wars seemed a thing of the past. After the Terror and Napoleon’s Empire, the French revolutionary notion of equity was resuscitated, with the birth of the Socialist International. The 20th century was consumed from beginning to end with ever violent conflicts over the question of equity: Communism, which sought to definitively place power in the hands of the many, against fascism, in which the state led the few.
But September 11th, 2001 brought religion into the conflict over equity. It is not for geo-political reasons that Iran is Syria’s staunchest ally, but for ideological/religious reasons. In 1960, the Shia Crescent of the downtrodden recognized the Alawite Sect, which had acquired a political manifestation in the Baath (Socialist) Party of Syria and Iraq. Shia/Alawite opposition to Israel is not religious, but a consequence of their egalitarian and nationalist ideology which dictates support for the Palestinian Arabs’ struggle for independence from the Jewish state.
Commentators often note that opposition to Iran eventually becoming a nuclear power is inconsistent with tolerance of other countries’ nuclear status, whether it be Israel, Pakistan or India. This is to bypass the world ideological struggle between the few and the many, in which religion, as always, is a handmaiden. Israel, India and less reliably Pakistan, all with different religions, are American allies in that struggle, of which the Arab Spring is the most significant manifestation.
As of today, that struggle is reported to be spreading to Sudan, where protesters are rioting against austerity measures. Although African ethnic and tribal rivalries give protests yet another dimension, we should not lose sight of the fact that they are manifestations of a growing world cleavage based on efforts by the many to move religion into its camp.