"Shia Arab", a paradox?
NOTE: This article references the following books.
 The Social History of Iraq, Ali al-Wardi *Shiite*
 Preachers of Sultans, Ali al-Wardi *Shiite*
 Story of Shia in Iraq: The Complex and the Dogma, Saif al-Khayatt *Shiite*
 States Without Foundations, Abbas Kelidar *Shiite*
 When The Shiites Rise, Vali Nasr *Shiite*
 Sunni Ambition and Shia Fears, Mohammed Baqir Juwad *Shiite*
A beautiful Iraqi girl sent me a message on Facebook yesterday: "Where in Baghdad are you from?" After I told her I am from al-Adhamiya, she brazenly retored: "A Sunni, at last!" Because she was such a hot babe, I decided to shed a blind eye to her racism, but after a few minutes of conversation, I called it quits, the word "Sunni" was virtually the start of every line, and her hatred of Shias was quite simply more than I could stomach.
This conforms to the behavior of many Iraqis I have met, it is the norm, not the exception, I only know of Sunnis because sectarianism is quite evidently a members-only club, but I'm sure Shias are just as lovely ; what is interesting is that many, far many secular and atheist people that I have met hate, or at least are very suspicious, of Shias not out of religious differences, but simply just so.
And so here is the question that had haunted me for many months now, a question that I ask myself virtually every day, who are the 'real' Iraqis? Doesn't the Iraq that I knew before the war, the inter-marriage and the friendships, mean anything? Isn't this just an unfortunate phase, encouraged by foreign intrusions, before we bounce back someday to our uniform Iraqiness?
The only really good thing about life under Saddam Hussein for me is that the presence of a brutal tyrant violently suppressed all those schisms, many people, including sadly, myself, would rather content themselves with living that miserable lie than realize the bitter and horrible truth of our disunity. A truth that had revealed itself slowly, but surely, that the kinship of sects is enormously more than just a religious banner or because of the brutal acts of Saddam Hussein ; it is who we really are, far back before the modern state of Iraq was created, it explains many things that were amazing to me when I saw them first unfold: how virtually all Sunnis, both Iraqi and Arab, ignored Saddam's brutality and rallied to turn him into a champion-martyr overnight, Because in the end, he is one of 'us.' The secular identification with Iraq, for instance, the one that I talked about loving here, isn't real ; it's what I want it to be, but it isn't real, that country tried hard to bring itself into being, but it failed, there is no such country, we might as well be talking about France or the Waq Waq Islands ; Yes, all Iraqis shed a big wet one about the vague idea of a "One Iraq," but when it comes to details, we all differ quite irrationally. This level of cultural identification slowly reveals itself to people who didn't even realize they have it, like my late atheist Shia friend from Kerbala, whom both him and I cushioned our increasing awareness of our sectarian identity with jokes back in 2006, it is the reason why many good Iraqis who believed that the issue was quite a simple one of human rights and democracy vs tyranny would find themselves surprisingly but inescapably subscribing to those 'tribal' emotions, it is the difference between your people and their people, you can find that sort of thing in many Iraqis, while most are careful not to show it but it comes out in one way or another in the end, good examples about this are Zeyad, Iraqi Mojo and, to a hopefully lesser extent, myself.
So now that we have established that the Sunni-Shia relation is not a common-ground-to-build-upon , it's rather an eat-or-be-eaten kind of thing.
"If pro-Iran parties or politicians dominate the new Iraqi government, a new "crescent" of dominant Shiite movements or governments stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon could emerge, If Iraq goes Islamic republic, then we've opened ourselves to a whole set of new problems that will not be limited to the borders of Iraq." "Most of the Shiites are loyal to Iran, and not the countries they are living in."
Those quotes did not come from rabid Saudi Wahabbis or vengeful Iraqi Baathists, they are actually the direct quotes of two of the region's most-valued US secular allies, Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian president Mubarak, respectively.
These two quotes echo the sentiment of suspicion and outright repulsion that most of the Sunni Arab world views Shiism with, they are not just limited to religious differences, but is quite common among many seculars, like I have talked about earlier. So why exactly are the Sunnis have their panties so up in a bunch because of the Shia ascendancy? Doesn't the Shia have enough commonalities with us not to worry too much about this fuss?!
Sunnis accuse Shiites as being nothing but fifth columnists working for Iranian interests, as articulated by the brazen dismissal in Mubarak's quote. Why are Shias mercilessly insulted as being "Persian Saffavid agents" all the time from virtually all the Sunni Arab world?
Sunnis have a very self-centered explanation of how Shiism evolved, they bring out the usual soliloquy of the conspiracy theory and the evil jew, Abdullah bin Saba'a, to explain how the world was united against us from the beginning in a beautiful anti-semitic tapestry. Ali al-Wardi, who dismissed this ridiculous view, suggests an even more ridiculous one, perhaps affected by the Shiite version of conspiracy theory, he says that the Umayyad Caliph Muawiya tried to sow the seeds of discord between Umar and Ali. While Muawiya was a political genius, no man could quite set up such a devious plan and expect it to be carried out in such macabre detail long after he died, and why make up those cartoon-themed evil megaplots when there is a more rational, logical explanation to all this hoopla that agrees with the way human beings act facing an invasion that destroys their very civilization.
The only point I tried to make in my previous jittery post was the fact that Iranians, once rulers of a great civilization and domain, could not stand by just to see it all go away at the hands of people they held with the utmost inferiority. So when Shiism, a purely Arab resistance movement rose against the oppression of Umayyad monarchy, the Iranians leaped upon the chance to join the ranks of anything that opposed the rule of the invading Arabs, in the same way that the Ba'athists (and Sunnis in general) view the demolition of Saddam Hussein's regime, unjust and brutal as it was, as the end of their "rightful" dominance, even if they do not admit that ; in a sense, orthodox rule of the Caliphate was always attached to Sunnism, and opposition, whether rightful or mischievous, always moved under the guise of Shiism. There is no greater testimony to the statement than the fact that the Abbasids, after successfully assuming the mantle of the Caliphate, turned back on their Shia allies and became Sunnis themselves.
An important fact to notice that virtually all the fringe, gnostic and esoteric sects considered as extremist inventions by both Sunnis and Shias, including the Alawite present-day rulers of Syria, and the Carmathians, who hailed from what is today Saudi Shia regions, raided Mecca and adopted Persian customs of worship, all came from the womb of Shiism.
Another important detail is the fact that almost all the Shia areas in the world were part of the Persian kingdom at one point or another, such as Iran, Iraq, the Gulf, and Yemen. Even though Iran remained largely Sunni for centuries past until the rise of the Saffavids [x], Iran was the place most influenced and ripe for the ideas of Shiism more than any other place in the world, as Ayatollah al-Muntazeri says.
Perhaps an even important problem of being a Shia Arab is that you will view the entire history of the Arab-Muslim state not through pride, but oppression and injustice: every single prominent Arab Muslim is reviled by Shiism, from Umar bin al-Khattab (#51 on William Hart's The 100), to Harun al-Rashid and Saladdin.
It is in my belief then that the Shia-Sunni struggle is influenced in no small detail to the ethnic struggle between the Arabs and the Persians, the Persians, unlike other conquered nations, were a proud and mighty race, who were suddenly treated with inferiority they were not accustomed with, they worked their best to shape the religion that had been imposed upon them, and came out with a distinct identity that separated them from the rest of the Islamic world, allowing it to retain its uniqueness in one shape or another.
The Shias of today are oblivious to all that I have just said, they examine it with a heavy sense of spirituality and holiness that overrules any room for social or political explanations. And leaving all that aside and looking at the current affairs, the question that we must ask is: why SHOULDN'T the Shiites be loyal to Iran?
It is an understatement to say that the Sunnis have fought the Shiites in all the manners that they could, even their participation in the government is quite simply to obstruct political progress almost in all possible ways. Since the rise of the modern Arab nation-states, the Shias have been largely oppressed in the name of the Arab nation, with the identity of "Arab" and "Sunni" closely bonded together, not to mention, of course, the Shias own ideological stance which discourages political action until Imam Mahdi appears, a theory recently challenged by the rise of Vilayet al-Faqih (Deputy of Mahdi) in Iran.
If I was a Shia Arab, I would not hesitate to identify with Iran, which is ruled by a theocratic system based upon my precious beliefs, than I would with Arabs, the majority of whom do not follow my sect, and who view me with suspicion and send their sons to blow up my children and brothers. If anything, those attacks have further helped increase the rift between Arabs and Shias.
So, the Shias are bound to be loyal to Iran out of religious necessity, which is quite frankly the most vital constituent of kinship these days, in addition to the mutual lack of love from their Arab brethren, their identity is vastly different to the orthodox Arabs, and worst of all, Iran, like all theocratic nutcase movements, is expansionist, actively working to spread what it believes to be the divine truth and savior of mankind, it is the ultimate Shiite regional power, gee whiz, if I was Shia, where would I go?
Let me look at my own experience in that field, when I was first tackling those issues, I had a vague notion of Shiites as "people who don't eat Jirri fish and cry over Hussein." but after reading I realized that the differences are vastly more than simply that, the point that agitated me worst of all was, quite embarrassingly, the cursing of the companions ; yes that's right, this whole violent hatred is largely based on what these two sects think about people who died some 1400 years ago. I wouldn't mind flagellation or Mahdi or Mut3a marriage or any of that, but the cursing, lovingly propagated and cemented as a pillar of the Shiite faith by the Saffavids, is something that many orthodox Sunnis, whether obedient or non-practicing simply can't bear, the whole Shiite dogma focuses on the issue of victimization and the personification of those figures as pure evil. It is not just a matter of Sunnis insisting that a guy has black hair and Shias say he has yellow, it is about calling one's mom a bitch or not.
So how can we solve this problem in a manner that makes Shia Arabs acceptable to Sunnis yet enable them in the same time to retain their identity from Iran? Hasan al-Alawi, a former Baathist and a Shia opposition figure who fled Iraq since the 1980s and wrote many books criticizing the sectarian structure of government "Shia and Dawla Qawmiya" wrote a book called "Umar and Shiism," in which he tried to capitalize on a theme introduced by a major Iranian thinker, Ali Shariati, assassinted by Savak in 1975, by saying that the present mainstream Shia view of Umar, perhaps the only real obstacle between Shiism and Sunnism, was a theme that got picked on and propagated by Persian Saffavid nationalists. Of course, and as expected, those efforts were largely neglected and viewed with scorn by Twelver Shia, who looked on the effort as a Wahhabi-financed attempt to create tensions within the Shia community.
It is nice to find an article which can articulate and expand your thoughts better than you, here is a piece written by Mohammed Baqir, a Shia, on the website Kitabat.com:
"At the heart of all Iraq's problems is the duality of Sunni ambition and Shia worry, it is not a question of contradicting political agendas but is rather a politico-religious struggle that is distinctly sectarian, and has rallied support of many un-Islamic parties. At one side of this equation is a Sunni ambition to return to the days of old, an outright rejection of all the new realities, by the days of of old I mean not the Saddam regime, but the preceding eras of Sunni dominance, a fact supported by various sympathizing neighboring countries, as part of its perspective regarding historical claims of Iraq rule. This is especially felt from the stoic statements given by many Sunni Arabs, actually, their actions are a better mirror of that: Sunni parliamentary blocs curiously abstain from any projects or proposal that reflect an active participation and acknowledgment of the new order in a manner that reflect their desire to serve their voters through democratic means, save for the sectarian denomination system that reinstates sectarianism in the state through division of all posts between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, in spite of the fact that Sunni Arabs is the component must audibly crying over the sectarianism of the new Iraq!!!! Second, the Sunni Arabs constantly oppose most bills and projects served by majority blocs, especially evident in the presidency where al-Hashimi executes his rights with unjustified stupor. Those reservations stem from their rejection of the new political reality which produced a Shia dominance.
The second dimension is the Shia anxious fear of not lasting in power for a long time, perhaps born out of psychological complexes bound to historical realities or worries about the changing dynamics of US under the pressure of the Arab lobby which does not favor this historical turn which had gave Iraq, with all its historical and religious legacy to an extraneous sect that is largely loyal to Iran, as stated by Egyptian president Hussni Mubarak. Shia are fearful of the diminishing of Iranian influence in Iraq, prominent Shiite politicians rely upon this influence greatly as it forms their repellent of Arab agenda which shall not sit back and watch developments in the interest of Shias for long.
This Arab disfavor of Shia had led to practices targeting Shia in which nationalists and Islamist agenda collaborated through political and/or military means against Shiites, in a way that actively contributed to the more hardline currents embracing justifications to diverge the Shiite path through constitutional means that may seem minor at first, by this we mean federalism.
Federalism was largely a political goal encouraged by audiences out of their conviction in the authority of its political elite. The Samarra incidents strongly ripped the social fabric, forming sectarian ghettos, this segregation led to the reduction of sectarian violence as a direct result of the lack of mingling between sectarian components.
Any observer of Iraq sees without doubt that division is a reality on the ground, only requiring to be recognized in a legal, constitutional facet, and federalism is perhaps the suitable frame in spite of the common belief that it is not an actual federalism but rather a polite inadvertent division. This course could be reversed in the occurrence of either of these three miracles:
1. A totalitarian military-styled government: An unlikely prospect, at least in the near future, due to the lack of any independent military organization detached from political discourse, in addition to the sectarian tensions and the presence of rogue militias, but most importantly the presence of occupation forces, which has sat back idly due to the complexity of the Iraqi scene, which is likely to remain ferociously intertwined for a very long time.
2. Sunni Arab minority acceptance of the new post-Saddam realities and formation of a new equation, also an unlikely outcome, as Sunni Arabs have been religiously attempting to restore things back to the way they were, an effort that we do not expect to see faltering anytime soon.
3. Concession of the Shiites to the rule of Sunni minority, supported by the idea that Shiites in general never did mind the dominance of Sunni rule in exchange for the respect of their rules and the respect of their freedom, a historically supported fact as Shiites never objected to the rule of Sunni minority because it is a minority ; perhaps this last statement is related to social, religious and psychological state of oppression and victimization that always made Shiites accepting of Sunni rule, as if it is a historical necessity. This can be perhaps taken seriously in the past, when Shiites did not have political movements, ideological parties, active militias, and a radical Shiite Islamist neighbor such as Iran, not to mention the fact that they are currently in power.
Although this article is obviously with a pro-Badr Shia slant, it contains many truths.
1. Shia Arabs, for many historical, political, and ideological connotations, will never be embraced by the mainstream Sunni community as equally valid citizens, and vice versa.
2. The problem can only be solved if both sides make concessions: Shia Arabs must make more efforts to distance themselves from Iran and be more receptive to Arabs, a fact somewhat difficult to accomplish with adherence to one's religious beliefs, on the other hand, Sunnis must be willing to embrace them. [Highly unlikely on both fronts.]
3. The normal interaction between the two sects is suspicion.
4. Some Daydream Solutions:
* Everyone will be sick from religion (like I did) after a while and decide to play with Godlessness, if that fails, spray everyone with ATHEIST ACID.
* Nuke the Shia. (~Thanks, Dad.)
* Await for the return of Saddam's Son, our Mahdi (HAHAH, in your face!), who will complete the genocides of Anfal and 1991 and resurrect Hakim and Sadr (La3nat Allah 3alayhim) from their graves to kill them again, and then I can go back home and have some ice cream.
* Invite Hakim, Sadr, Dhari and Dulaimi to a party and whip out drugs and bitches so they can have a jolly good time and realize that we're all human.