Monday, May 14, 2007

Sectarianism is how it is

Sectarianism is the big thing in Iraq now. It is also a bad word. You are sectarian! I even saw on a website a while ago one guy, a Sunni from Mosul (you should know Mosul is of course filled with Ba'thist supporter people of many kinds), made a graphic that changed the logo of the al-Iraqiyah (Iraqi state satellite channel) so it said “sectarianism” (al-Ta’ifiyah in Arabic). It was actually nice work with the graphics. The guy thought that al-Iraqiyah is now apparently a Shi’ite sectarian channel. I guess sectarian means being for your sect before anything else. In the ideal world Iraqis would be pro-Iraqi and pan-Iraqi before everything else, or really is that the case? Does that even make sense or is it not even human nature?

Think about this. What makes you more upset, if a random person in a far away place gets killed, or someone in your city gets killed, or if your cousin gets killed? I think it is normal for people to be more effected when something happens to their family than when it happens to someone who isn’t in their close family. And what about your community, people of your same religious beliefs or ethnicity? Isn’t it natural that they are closer to you then others in the same area who aren’t from your community? So do you blame someone for looking out for their community before the others? But that is sectarian!

But talking again about your family, sometimes being sectarian is what it takes to survive. I wrote about militias before, saying how sometimes the militias are what keep people alive. If only one choice will keep you alive, you will probably choose it. If you are a Shi’ite, are you going to vote for the big Shi’ite list (United Iraqi Alliance) that includes powerful parties that bravely fought Saddam (like Da’wa) and those who have militias who have been protecting your neighborhood? In the unstable Iraq it sounds like it makes a lot more sense to vote for them than to take a chance with a small list that probably can never protect you or a list that doesn’t really care about Shi’ite demands. And it is definitely a better choice than voting for the list of an ex-Ba’thist like Allawi or a Sunni sectarian list with politicians who cannot even admit that the Shi’a are the majority. So you see choices are limited.

Sometimes you chose sectarianism to stay alive, but I guess you should be criticized for it. Maybe this explains why so many Sunnis did vote for the bastards Dulaimi and Mutlag. They feel threatened by the Shi’a so they think that these terrorists or Ba’thist-thinking types can protect them against Shi’ite oppression. Of course, the Sunnis must feel more threatened by the Shi’a after the Shi’ite militias committed more crimes against Sunni innocent civilians. But this happened mostly in response to continued Sunni attacks against Shi’a. The worst Sh’ite attacks against Sunnis happened after the terror attack on the Askariya shrine in Samarra in February last year when the outrage just made people explode. Sectarian crimes lead to more sectarianism on both sides. If you live in a Shi’ite neighborhood and you see the Sunnis murdering your neighbors every week, then you will start to hate the Sunnis more. Same thing the other way around if you live in a Sunni neighborhood. It goes in circles and things get worse and worse, and today’s Baghdad is the proof of this.

Sectarianism is natural and makes sense. Being for your family and your community is the way things work everywhere in the world. When you are facing a huge threat (mass murderers in the case of Iraq) then you are of course going to protect yourself, your family, your community. I think only in Iraq it is automatically a bad word because people hate to see the Shi’a having power after the Shi’ite majority was oppressed for so long. Still, I think that sectarianism, if it means that you support your group against all others, and support your group in a way to harm others, then it is a crime and such people should be shown as criminals and condemned. It is a fine line, isn’t it? Never black and white and never good and bad!


Brian said...

The problem, of course, is that once allegiance is channelled through the local family and "sect" and they are given absolute priority, then actions and decisions that harm the long-term survival of the larger group, in this case Iraq, are inevitable. In Iraq and the ME in general there is the huge added factor of the "long memory", which requires retaliation and revenge for injuries and slights going back even into the faintest mists of time.

In such a situation, constructing a larger unity and enterprise, such as a country, can happen only by conquest.

So that is what you are choosing in the medium- to long-term when you choose to be sectarian. You are just waiting for the next conqueror.

Shaqawa said...

Hello Brian,

I think it is easy for you to say but as I write, if someone is going to protect you against the terrorists who are either your Sunni Iraqi neighbors or helped by them, then what do you do?

As far as a "long memory", it is true but you do not need a long memory to see why you need protection. You can look at 1991 or even before or after that. Or just look at Sunni terrorist attacks since 2003, like the bombing in Najaf that killed Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim and over 100 others in 2003 Ashoura in 2004 where many (also over 100) were killed trying to commemorate their religious ceremony. Even a very short memory will remember these terrible crimes.

The conquerors have been in Iraq for a very long time. Look at the Ottoman Turks and the British and then the garbage that followed (Saudi/Jordanian Sunni kings and then military dictators including the Ba'thist). Now the majority of Iraqis have a voice rather than being "conquered".

Brian said...

Yes, they do. I was just trying to point out the limits of local allegiance.

So, let's say you have a choice. Either you and your whole clan die, and the rest of Iraq survives, or the opposite. Which do you choose? What if it's your city? Or your province? Or your "sect"? Do you choose the home team every time?

The sum of such choices is death or permanent war for all if everyone is choosing the home team.

Greg from USA said...

Brian summed it up nicely. "The sum of such choices is death or permanent war for all if everyone is [blindly] choosing the home team."

The USA is choosing your team, fighting for you. If we always stayed at home when we saw great threats, you would still be living under Saddam and the rest of the world would be living under Hitler.

If a core group of men pick a worthy ideal, and fight for it, the sum of their efforts will lift Iraq out of it's hell. Look at what a few thousand men with a twisted ideal (Al-Qaeda) have done to sink Iraq so far. They are solid like a spearhead. They are bound tightly to an idea, like the nucleus of an atom. The sects are like long chains of loosely bound people. Formidable as a whole, but only strong as their weakest link and easily divided and conquered.

Shaqawa said...

Hello Greg from USA,

You can also remember that the USA chose to ask for the Iraqi people "team" to uprise in 1991, and then decided to watch the Saddam forces mass murder them. And if that would not have happened the Shi'a would be less scared to help the USA against Saddam in 2003. And before 2003 and 1991 do not try to tell me that the US was always for the Iraqi people "team" against Saddam, not true!

As for the sons of whores al-Qa'ida, without support from some Iraqis they would never still be a threat. But certain Iraqis let them have a base in areas and they spread hate and got some power. Dividing and conquering has worked for al-Qa'ida, they wanted a civil war. Maybe I can write about it soon.

Thank you for visiting.

Anonymous said...

Shaqawa, I think you do a good job of explaining why people tend to be sectarian. Iraqis are not wrong or crazy to behave in sectarian ways. And as you suggest, sectarianism is the norm across all of human society.

But that doesn't mean that sectarianism is a good thing for Iraq, or human society in general. Isn't fighting between nations just another kind of sectarianism?

One of the great paradoxes of human society is that if each individual just does what is needed to survive, the whole society will crumble. Large, complex societies exist only because people are willing to work together in a non-sectarian way. The same will have to be true of Iraq, at some point.

It is a lot to expect, especially right now, when emotions and violence are high, and trust and security is very low. But my hope is that someday, Iraqis will put aside their sectarian differences and begin to build trust and mutual interest in a cooperative society. Unfortunately, that is probably just wishful thinking for now, given how bleak the current situation is.

Shaqawa, what do you think it would take for Iraqis to begin to trust each other again and work together?