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Lawrence of Arabia - Azara Feroz Sayed


Monday, June 2, 2008 

Came across the below article in our local newspaper. We all try to ignore cold articles such as the one below about the future of the Sunni-Shia strife, in the hope that things would change for better soon.

Couldn't help thinking, why is that even with so many people involved in resolving the situation over the years - there isn't any one closer to what T.E. Lawrence did (uniting the warring Arab tribes against the Turks). He was able to win over arab tribes (Auda) working for Turks too, in the cause.

Why was Lawrence successful, while the situation gets worse every year - even though we have all learnings and the tools needed for problem solving, negotiation, conflict resolution based on what worked for Lawrence and his likes over the years? Or is it just that, there isn't anyone dreaming with open eyes about Peace in the Muslim world, as Lawrence did about Arab Freedom?

Quote from Lawrence -
"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”

A Sunni-Shia War Would Usher In Islamic Enlightenment
By: Joseph Puder, The Bulletin

Iraq is more than an American problem, it is a battleground where the two main streams of Islam: Sunni and Shia seek to resolve their theological and political differences. American intervention in Iraq is only delaying the inevitable outcome for Iraq, the Middle East and the Islamic world.

Behind the Arab Sunni and Shia struggle for dominance in Iraq stand their "protectors" - Arab-Sunni Saudi Arabia and non-Arab Shiite Iran. Saudi Arabia is the guardian of the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina and the leading Sunni champion. Iran, across the Persian Gulf, is the only Shiite state power with nuclear ambitions and visions of leadership in the region.

While the Saudis supported Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) as an act of solidarity among Sunnis against Shiite Iran, in 1990 Saudi Arabia needed U.S. protection from Saddam's megalomania. Still, the Saudi Wahhabi creed makes the idea of Shiite control over Arab Iraq intolerable. Fear of Shiite Iran projecting its power and influence in the region, that might result in large Shiite minorities throughout the Gulf rising against their current Sunni rulers (Shiites dominate the oil rich Saudi province of Hasa) keeps the Saudis and fellow sheikhs in the Gulf states awake at night.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a major obstacle to the spreading of Iran's Islamic Republic revolution throughout the Middle East, and U.S. toppling of Saddam created a power vacuum that Iran's leaders hope to fill with Shiite dominance extending to the Gulf, Lebanon and beyond. The Sunnis in Iraq understand that the Shiites have no intention of sharing power with them, but seek instead to rule Iraq with Iran being its source of guidance and support.

Neither the Iraqis nor the regional Muslim (Sunni and Shiite) powers and people appreciate America's sacrifices and costs - economic as well as in human lives. The Bush administration's determination to rebuild Iraq and create a democracy is admirable but futile. The rival Islamic powers and streams need a catharsis, and it seems to be happening in Iraq. A Sunni-Shia bloodbath, however politically incorrect it might sound, is the only hope for Islamic Enlightenment.

Europe in the first quarter of the 17th century found itself in a similar position that the Islamic Middle East finds itself today. The Protestant Reformation threatened the dominance of both the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, particularly in Germany and Northern Europe. The spread of Protestantism created a Catholic backlash that resulted in the Thirty-Year War that devastated Germany, and northwest and central Europe. The toll in human lives was enormous - nearly a third of Germany's population perished.

This religious catharsis in Europe helped (Catholic) France emerge as a European super-power at the expense of the (Catholic) Hapsburgs (Austria and Spain) and confirmed (Protestant) England and Holland as maritime powers, it also contributed to the decline of the Holy Roman Empire.

More importantly however, it ushered in the 18th century Age of Reason and European Enlightenment. Religious freedom and pluralism replaced religious intolerance and conformity.

Baruch Spinoza's (1632-1677) writings gave rise to the idea of separating church and state, and deism. John Locke (1632-1704) came up with the Social Contract, and Thomas Paine (1737-1809) contributed the Rights of Man and Age of Reason. These 18th century philosophers and reformers as well as many others, reacted to the 30-year War, and paved the way for the ideas that influenced America's Founding Fathers. This ultimately led to the establishment of democracy, and individual rights in the West.

Such a catharsis is perhaps necessary to take Islam out of the throes of fundamentalism and into a new age of reason accompanied by the practice of ijtihad - the exercise of one's reason in order to arrive at an independent judgment.

For Europe, the religious wars, however cruel and devastating in human terms, brought about human and intellectual progress, and enabled the West to rise politically and economically to global dominance. It might just be the agent of change necessary for progress in the Muslim world.

We ought to consider that, up until the last quarter of the 17th century, the Muslim Ottoman Turks were the super power and literally stood at the gates of Vienna in 1683 ready to finalize jihad's imperatives and to force the world to worship Allah in the Muslim tradition. After which there was to be the conquest of Rome and the defeat of Christianity. What followed, in the wake of their defeat, was a European metamorphosis that revitalized Europe and left the Islamic world stagnant.

America's determination to create and sustain a unitary state in Iraq is unrealistic. The Shia majority nourished by Iran is growing confident as the rulers of Iraq. The Sunni minority however, will not accept their inferior status following more than 70 years of ruling Iraq. With the best of intentions the United States cannot - should not -prevent the struggle for dominance in the region between Sunni and Shia Islam on the battlefields of Iraq. The U.S. should relocate the American forces to Iraqi Kurdistan, and help democratic Kurdistan achieve independence. The Kurdish Peshmerga fighters could be employed as the protectors of Iraq's oil wells.

A Sunni victory would bring down Hezbollah's power in Lebanon and end Syria's alliance with Iran and its grip on Lebanon. An exhaustive war of this nature would also create a political and economic rational for Sunni cooperation with Israel as well as an Islamic political, religious, and economic renaissance.

The genie is out of the bottle - peace in Iraq is unlikely. There is little chance for long-term Sunni-Shia reconciliation. Let us hope then for an Islamic religious war out of which will emerge an enlightened Islam that would benefit all of humanity.

Posted by Azara Feroz Sayed



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