Baby faces vs. heals? Cowboys vs Indians? Good guy always where the white hat. “Dig is he a good guy or bad guy?” Bad guys always, looked, well, bad. You’re either with us or you’re against us. Iraq, Iran, and North Korea are the axis of evil.
Americans, for the most part, have a pretty simple outlook on conflict: just tell us who the bad guys are and we’ll know who to root against. We tend to lump similar races and peoples into larger buckets, mostly due to the media’s inclination to treat us like potential Jeff Foxworthy competitors. But the world is anything but simple and as I have written previously, the Middle East is as confusing and confounding place as you can find. During the Iran and Iraq war of the 1980’s most Americans took the position that “…as long as they kill each other, I’m good.” When civil war ravaged Afghanistan, we joined the side of the Mujahedeen because they were fighting the Soviets and the Soviets were our archenemy, a position they occupied since the end of World War II. When the U.S. led coalition threw Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm, most Americans did not appreciate, and neither did some of our leaders, the centuries old schism that was again reaching boiling point within Islam. This Shia versus Sunni conflict has been prevalent in Islamic society pitting Muslim against Muslim for centuries, and we stepped right into it.
The 9/11 attacks thrust America right into a world we didn’t understand. Americans are better equipped to dealing with conflict on the national stag: Japan, Germany, Soviet Union, etc. We don’t do so well with tribal, ethnic, and religious nuances. On September 15th, 2001 Mesa, Arizona gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh from India, was fatally gun downed by Frank Silva Roque in retaliation to the 9/11 attacks. This was one of many retaliatory attacks against Americans or residents due to ignorance, racism, and stupidity. I am not condemning America, it remains the greatest nation on earth, but we are ignorant of the world around us; a tragic flaw in the hyper connected globalized world we live in today.
We live in a world of nuance that we view through a black and white lens. This is why the Arab Spring, an awful name, is so confusing to us and why our leaders may seem slow to react to events on the ground.
Let’s start with the political lightning rod: Israel. Full disclosure, I am a staunch supporter of the Israeli people and the state of Israel, but an open critic of the Netanyahu government. The majority Americans see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something I have written about extensively, as a matter of the Jewish Israelis against the Islamic Palestinians. Jew versus Muslim. Israeli versus Arab. But it’s not that simple. Legally and morally the two-state solution is the right thing to do, but politics and religion will not allow that to happen, and having previously analyzed Israeli politics I will focus on Palestinian politics and Islam. The more moderate secular Fatah runs the West Bank while the Islamist Hamas runs Gaza the status quo since the 2006 elections that led to the expulsion of Fatah from Gaza. Within Gaza, there are a number of other Islamist and Salafist factions that have no interest in a two state solution, because they don’t recognize national autonomy, only religious dominance. This divide amongst the Sunni Palestinians remains a roadblock to a peace treaty with Israel, a fact that is neither lost on nor remains unexploited by the Netanyahu government. Fatah, receives funding from the U.S. and other western governments as reward for seeking a peaceful solution. Hamas is funded, supported and supplied via the resurging Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and from its benefactors in Shia Iran. Wait, hold on. Shia Iran supports Sunni Palestinians? But I thought they hated each other? Iran’s goal was always to feed the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iran is not an Arab country another common misunderstanding, as a distraction to its greater goal of regional domination over its major Sunni adversaries in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, and the other oil-rich Arab gulf nations. But the Iranian influence on Hamas is waning due in part to the Muslim Brotherhood emergence in post-Mubarak Egypt, Hamas has always viewed itself as the child of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the decline of the Hamas presence in Syria due to the implosion happening under the al-Assad butchery of his own people(more on that later). Iran has even reached out to Islamic Jihad, a rival to Hamas in Gaza, to possibly usurp the usurpers and allow Tehran to regain influence. So far those advances have not materialized because of the power struggle now occurring within Hamas. Hamas’s political leadership is located in exile in Syria and is led by Khaled Mishal and it’s Mishal that has made overtures to Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas about reconciliation. Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is now looking to reconcile with Islamic Jihad to continue the conflict with Israel. Syria is becoming a noxious effect within the Palestinian rivals and as a reuslt Iran is losing influence. How bad has it become for Iran in Gaza? 25 Shia’s living in Gaza were beaten by Hamas security forces for gathering to mark the 40 day mourning period of Hussein, the Muhammad’s grandson and heir apparent murdered in 680AD. Yes events that occurred over 1,300 years ago still dominate this Muslim on Muslim conflict.
Meanwhile in Syria, an opposite effect is occurring. The Sunni majority is rising up against the Alawite, a Shia offshoot, minority power base of Bashar al-Assad. Iran has supported the al-Assad regime and between the two Shia dominated states, they have peddled influence in Lebanon through Hezbollah and, as previously stated, in Gaza via Hamas. But that could all unravel when al-Assad’s regime meets its inevitable end. The problem will be what fills the vacuum? Months after the demise of Gadhafi in Libya, his supporters still fight on and the infighting between different rebel factions continues. Stability is still a long way off. As bad as the Libya situation is, it pales in comparison to what could happen in Syria. Between Shias, Alawites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, and Druze plus the nationalistic objectives of Iran and Turkey plus the security concerns of Lebanon and Israel we are facing a cauldron of strife, death, instability. It is not a reach to say that an imploding Syria will likely take Lebanon with it as the powerful Iranian and Syrian backed Hezbollah could find itself battling resurging Sunni and Christian blocs, each with similar proportion of the population.
Take all of the above and throw in a nuclear aspiring Iran and you can see why the region grows significantly unsettled. The rift between Shia and Sunni is as violent as ever. On December 5th Sunni bombs killed 30 Shias in Iraq and 55 more in Kabul. During one week in January, 19 more Shias were killed in Iraq, 21 were killed in Pakistan, and 53 Shias were killed in Basra, Iraq. In Egypt the resurging Sunni powered Islamists have been persecuting Coptic Christians and Shia minorities, and in faraway Java, Indonesia, Sunnis torched Shia property. Mix in the ongoing unrest in Bahrain and Yemen and suddenly you realize what have we walked or stumbled into with our forays into Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Do you want to know how crazy it really is? Shia websites in Pakistan are now claiming that Sunni Al-Qaeda forces are collaborating with U.S. Armed Forces to destabilize Iran and Syria. Al-Qaeda?
Ok, so who are the bad guys again?