Dec 05, 2023
Dec 05, 2023
"We could expect an epic battle between Shi'ite extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al-Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country [Iraq] - and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict." President George Bush in his State of union address.
" Mr Bush looks increasingly like a general who has run out of ideas, troops and hope ." Commented 'The Guardian '
"From inside Pakistan's border to the Mediterranean, almost every land (Muslim) is in crisis. Suddenly, all the Western talk of a Sunni-Shia war looks troublingly real". (one of the many options now on the table.)
US led western talk of a Shia-Sunni war looks troublingly real, although the option is now on slow backburner.
The policy of divide and rule is as old as the Roman empire – a constant guide to the Christian West and implemented ruthlessly during its colonial onslaught on the rest of the world. Evolution of Western nationalism based on a narrow definition of shared religion, ethnicity, language, culture or history after centuries of religious and ethnic wars was then employed to divide multi religious and pluralistic empires and kingdoms in the East and South during its crusade of colonial wars and expansion, masked as 'civilizing mission ' or 'white man's burden' 'or 'saving the soul' by converting natives to Christianity. Europe and Orthodox Russia became self proclaimed 'Guardians of Christians' or nationalities like Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks, Armenians and others to divide and break up the far flung Ottoman empire which had reached right up to the gates of Vienna. Religious 'millets' had full freedom of faith and Christians and Jews dominated trade and industry in the Ottoman empire.
By now it is crystal clear that the George Bush administration and Tony Blair government invaded Iraq on false claims and sheer lies, which now stand totally exposed. The main objective was to capture and exploit Iraqi oil resources, second only to Saudi Arabia and control the energy resources not only in the Middle East but even of the Caspian basin. Middle East history challenged Neo- Cons and other policy planners perhaps believed that a grateful 60% Shia majority of Iraq ruled by 25% Sunni elite would be so grateful for 'liberating' them that US corporate interests will have a run of the place.
So from the very beginning as Scott Ritter, a former UN Chief Weapons Inspector for Iraq, revealed after occupying Baghdad and Iraq (Kurdistan in any case has been a US protectorate since the end of 1991 Gulf War), US and allied special forces provided information on dethroned ruling Sunni elite for taking revenge to the Iraqi exiles, like Ahmet Chelebi, a convicted embezzler, Iyad Allawi, both intelligence assets of CIA , MIV and others, Shia outfits like SCIRI and Badr corps nurtured, nursed and financed by Iran, opportunists, carpetbaggers and others who rode into Baghdad on US tanks, helicopters and F-16s. Scott Ritter also revealed that the Baathist regime under President Saddam Hussein was quite realistic about West's objectives and had planned Iraqi resistance much before the invasion.
Later, Washington, London and Tel Aviv also looked at the option of dividing Iraq into Iraqi Kurdistan, with almost half of Iraqi oil wealth, which being weak would remain subservient to the West. Its oil can be easily sent to the Mediterranean via the Kirkuk Ceyhan pipe line. Perhaps even a defence alliance could be signed with the Kurds. Washington had in fact planned to have an air base in north Iraq on the pretext of saving Kurds from Saddam's forces in 1991, so an anxious Ankara offered its Incirlik airbase for US-UK jets to patrol over Iraq and bomb it at will.
Of course the grateful Shias of South Iraq masters of the remaining oil wealth would fall in line. The disenfranchised Sunni rump without any oil as yet, could stew in its own anger. It was most surprising that, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others were surprised by the Iraqi resistance, which they first tried to wish away as composed of dead enders, disgruntled remnants of the old regime and in its last throes in Dick Cheney's famous words. Only if they had read long Iraqi resistance to the British colonial rule in 1920s and 30s who finally got rid of the British and killed the Hashemite ruler foisted on Iraq.
The whole process shows total bankruptcy of those who muscled themselves into White House in 2000 fraudily won elections. They would not even make good corporate takeover artists unless it was by force. They could learn a lesson or two in takeovers from the new boys on the block say India's Laxmi Mittal. How he overcame European prejudices and courted the share holders to emerge as the biggest steel producer in the world. Or the House of Tatas, who took over steel conglomerate Corus.
Kemal Ataturk, who forged a modern Turkish state from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, had talked of Turks, Kurds and others in his new Republic but then declared Kurds non-persons perhaps to counteract British machinations and inspired Kurdish rebellions. The British led Allies had imposed the Sevres Treaty on a supine Caliph ( like imposing the Constitution in Iraq and the effort to pass the new oil law to deprive Iraqis of their national wealth). Ataturk expelled the Greek invaders and other allied occupation forces trashing the Sevres treaty. He then adopted the western model of secular and unitary Turkish nation state.
The continued divisions in and exploitation of the Arabs and Kurdish problems in the region are the consequences of British policy of divide and rule after the First world war, now being pursued by USA. Like the British then, now George Bush never tires of bringing liberty and democracy to the Arabs. Pentagon even called US led illegal naked 'shock and awe' invasion of Iraq as 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' - some cheek. Whose intelligence are they insulting? Their own as no one believed them except the info-challenged Americans. And even they have wised up.
Established to cut into the profitable East Indies trade on silk rotes controlled by Arabs and Turks, the British East India company (and others in Europe), having explored new sea routes, first nibbled at the decrepit Moghul empire piece meal and after the Indian war of independence against the English company forces in 1957, most of the Moghul empire passed on to the British crown. In the wake of the rebellion and resistance the citizens of Delhi, specially Muslims, were treated like those of Fallujah, Tel Afar and Haditha, as in Iraq now. It must be remembered that Marathas, Rajputs, Jats and other Hindu kings, who ruled almost independent fiefs accepted the Moghul emperor in Delhi as their sovereign, before he was exiled by the British.
British historians and colonial rulers then successfully sold the theory to Brahmin and other upper castes Hindus that all their problems could be traced to the rule of Muslims. At least like Hindu Aryans and others from central Asia earlier, Muslims from Turkestan and elsewhere made Hindustan their home. When the European traders arrived in the subcontinent, Hindustan's share in world manufacturing was 24.5 percent (in 1750) and after the British had done with India, the sub-continent's share had fallen to 1.7 percent (in 1900) and that of Britain had increased from 1.9 percent (in 1750) to 22.9 percent (in 1880) - [Rise and fall of Big Powers by Professor Paul Kennedy] In these bald figures lie buried multiple famines and deaths of tens of millions of impoverished Indians, when the British exported the food even in times of scarcity. It left the people of Hindustan degraded with deficit not only in calories but proteins and physically dwarfed. After 60 years of freedom and no famines Indians have partially recovered their physical well being and are surging ahead economically and intellectually. (How they dominate the Silicon valley in USA)
After the second world war, the British realized that there was no option but to quit the subcontinent. But India being a vital strategic asset,– "a base for Britain to continue their domination of the Indian Ocean and the oil-rich Persian Gulf with its wells of power," it was partitioned, as Mahatma Gandhi opposed to violence and war in principle and Jawaharlal Nehru with his idealism and vision of spreading friendship and understanding among colonized and exploited people of Asia , Africa, Middle east and elsewhere, would not join Western military pacts. The aim was to retain parts in the North and West of India, "for defensive and offensive action against the USSR in any future dispensation in the sub-continent".
Britain achieved its objective by using Mohammed Ali Jinnah as a tool to create a weak and hence a willing and subservient allied Pakistan bordering Iran, Afghanistan and Sinkiang, just below the Soviet underbelly (The Americans would love to do something similar in north Iraq). A retired Indian diplomat has brought to light these British machinations, based on records in London in his book , 'The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition.' The author also traces the roots of the present Kashmir imbroglio and how the matter was distorted in the UN to help Western ally Pakistan. (Like UN resolutions now against Iran for its enrichment of nuclear power fuel) But Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Islamabad now hover between the deep sea and the devil i.e. threat to be bombed back to stone age or a civil war between its troops and Pushtoons and other fierce tribes in its north west region and Afghanistan, if they do not obey US dictates.
Following the second world war President Marshal Joseph Tito created a composite secular and socialist state of southern Slavs and others in Yugoslavia, with natural affinity to Orthodox Russian Slavs, but after his death and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multilingual state was broken apart by West Europe and USA, by sheer aggression. The last word in this bloody dissolution is yet to be written, now centered in Kosovo, where north European diplomats have ruled as in old colonial era.
When the fulcrum of imperialism shifted from London to Washington and New York after the second world war, exploitation of the East and South was continued through IMF , IBRD and now after the fall of the Berlin Wall by Globalization and WTO, with struggle over control over energy pipelines instead of over sea trade routes earlier. Western troops would now guard the energy pipelines , like the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan one.
Four years of US led occupation of Iraq
'After centuries of vibrant interaction, of marrying, sharing and selling across sects and classes, Baghdad has become a capital of corrosive, violent borderlines. Streets never crossed. Conversations never broached. Doors never entered.
"Sunnis and Shiites in many professions now interact almost exclusively with colleagues of the same sect. Sunnis say they are afraid to visit hospitals because Shiites loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr run the Health Ministry, while Shiite laborers who used to climb into the back of pickup trucks for work across the Tigris River in Sunni western Baghdad now take jobs only near home. Baghdad is increasingly looking like Sarajevo in the 1990s", said Damien Cave in International Herald Tribune in early March.
Real violence and fear has led to internal migrations. Displaced Sunnis push out Shias, who in turn push out the Sunnis in their areas. While three million have been internally displaced, almost 2 million have left Iraq to live in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere. USA the creator of the biggest refugee crisis in the middle East since the creation of Israel, has accepted few. The displacement is carried out by attacking a mosque or a grenade is thrown at a house, men kidnapped and killed, a few houses burnt - the message is clear - get out. Then there are instances of rapes of women of one community by another. It is the same pattern of killings and migration as after India's partition in 1947 or break up of Yugoslavia in early 1990s. The Kangroo Court trial of President Saddam Hussein and other Baathist leaders against international law and outcry from the world and his lynching under US occupation and watch clearly are intended to inflame Shia-Sunni hatred and conflagration.
Who is responsible for this civil war and Shia and Sunni conflict. If you watch CNN or other US Channels and even BBC or glance through western media, the emphasis is on Iraqis on Iraqis. They do not deserve democracy. Just more lies and spins.
Those who believe so might ponder that if some rampaging and barbaric 'extra-territorials' (ETs) were to invade America and by their superior destructive power nuke a major city, threaten others and then enforce 'equity and justice' and weighted elections and more rights to the Blacks and Hispanics to compensate for their past inhuman treatment and exploitation. What would be the reaction of these anger seething communities against Jewish and white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (Wasp) ruling oligarchy. After all, are not US allies only doing something like that for the historically oppressed Shia and Kurdish populations of Iraq. But producing terrible results. Even those Iraqis who were misguided into believing Western propaganda and US promises in 2003 now say that they were much better off under Saddam Hussein, even those who were jailed and their family members killed or even tortured.
Middle East Quagmire !
No wonder Patrick Cockburn said in Counterpunch last month, "The U.S. has a very weird policy--the Shia and Iran are the enemy, suddenly. But the government of Iraq is Shia--it's led by the Shia and the Kurds. Bush seems to be trying to create a common front of Sunni states--Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan--against the Shia and Iran."
A fascinating revelation concerns the 'disappearance' of billions of US dollars in Iraq to create "pots of black money" for covert purposes - with echoes of the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan presidency in the 1980s. And even help Fuad Siniora's beleaguered pro-western government in Beirut "to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shia (Hezbollah and Amal) influence" by funding Sunni radical groups with ideological ties to al-Qaeda. Walid Jumblatt, the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Druze leader, was quoted telling Cheney to support the banned Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and undermine the Bashar Assad regime in Damascus.
Seymour Hersh revealed last month that US military and special operations teams have escalated activities in Iran, entering from Iraq to gather intelligence etc, confirming allegations made by Tehran. Iran has accused the US, Britain and Israel of fomenting separatist attacks in Arab-majority Khuzestan in the south-west of Iran, in Baluchi province bordering Pakistan and in Azeri and Kurdish border regions.
In Riyadh, the emergence of a "Shia crescent" from Tehran to Damascus and Hezbollah in Lebanon (and Hamas in Palestine) raises the nightmare of a shift in the balance of power not only in the Arab world but also in the Middle East and beyond "That Iran should control Lebanon through Hezbollah is a red line that Arabia cannot accept," say Saudi officials .This was also echoed by Hashemite King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt at the time of the Israeli/Hezbollah war last year. Hezbollah's victory and crescendo of popularity for Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah and Mahmud Ahmedineijad caused fears of Arab street turning against the conservative and unpopular Sunni rulers in the region .
The warm reception and contracts for economic and even defence cooperation during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Riyadh (and Doha and Amman) last month is another card Riyadh with its cheque book diplomacy would play. Tehran needs Russian support and goodwill for its nuclear power plants and the Uranium fuel enrichment issue in UN and arms supply, specially missiles to defend itself. To begin with Moscow might use it to expedite payments for the nuclear power plant under construction and making itself indispensable to the US led West in the UN Security Council. As usual the notorious New York Times tried misinformation i.e. that Moscow is with Washington on the enrichment issue. Russia denied these reports. China is deeply interested in Iran's stability and development for its energy needs.
In the Shia-Sunni stand off being promoted by the West, aging King Abdullah is cautious but younger princes are pushing him to adopt "a more aggressive posture." All are agreed that Iran's influence will increase while overtime the American presence and 'protection' will diminish. The King sent his hot headed nephew Prince Bandar to Tehran many times in recent months for discussions with his counterpart, Iran's National Security Adviser Ali Larijani before Ahmadinejad visited Riyadh. "We know about your clandestine activities in Iraq; it's time to put an end to them," the Saudis tell Iran, "otherwise, we'll react" by helping Sunni groups confront the "Shia death squads". This was made public last November in the Washington Post oped, by Nawaf Obaid, who then was dismissed from his post of advisor at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Saudis tell the Americans "Don't leave Iraq; we'll suffer the consequences." The Saud dynasty is worried.
There is little doubt that Saudis, certainly the rich ones are privately financing armed Iraqi groups. But if Iraq falls apart, anything is possible. One "worst case scenario": is Shia region in the south (rich in oil) tries for autonomy with Iran's help; al-Qaeda and the Sunnis join in, and the civil war becomes an all-out conflagration. And what about repressed and restive Shias in adjoining oil rich areas of Saudi Arabia itself. Then "the Saudi government would have a hard time convincing the Sunni tribes in the North - which stretch into Iraq - to not go to the armed defense of their cousins on the other side of the border," acknowledges a European diplomat in Saudi Arabia, who adds: "The greatest danger to the Saudis is to see certain Iraqi Sunni tribes at their borders rally to the cause of al-Qaeda," which has been responsible for numerous attacks in the Kingdom itself.
Some in Riyadh suggest inviting Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the top Iraqi cleric and make some concessions (financial) to Iraq and overtures to Tehran. Inviting Ahmadinejad was one such step. But say the Saudi hardliners "What good is it to negotiate with Ahmadinejad, when the real power in Tehran is in the hands of the Guide and the pasdarans."
Iran- Saudi Summit in Riyadh
It was to bridge the Shia-Sunni confrontation that the first official visit to Riyadh of Iranian President Ahmadinejad came about after months of diplomatic efforts to ease the political standoff in Lebanon between Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, and the government of Fouad Siniora, supported by the United States, France and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni regimes.
Earlier, to counter Tehran's growing influence in the region, Riyadh hosted the warring Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, in Mecca to resolve their differences and to reach an agreement on the formation of a government of national unity ,which has since been done.
Both sides want to calm the sectarian violence in Iraq. Riyadh certainly does. But did they discuss frankly US efforts to exploit the Shia-Sunni divide.
Skeptics point out the absence of any tangible resolutions or initiatives after the visit. But at least the ice was broken. "The two parties have agreed to stop any attempt aimed at spreading sectarian strife in the region," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al- Faisal, told Reuters.
"Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are aware of the enemies' conspiracies," Ahmadinejad put it more colorfully. "We decided to take measures to confront such plots, and hopefully this will strengthen Muslim countries against oppressive pressures by the Imperialist front."
Saudis did not comment on this, instead official Saudi Press Agency claimed that Iran expressed support for the Saudi proposal based on land-for-peace which would lead to Arab states recognizing Israel in return for a Palestinian state in the lands occupied by Israel since 1967.Tehran even denied that the proposal was even discussed.
The Sunni-Shia Divide
It is necessary to look at the historic Shia-Sunni divide in depth to comprehend the problem and the inherent dangers. Not only Christians, even many Sunnis know little about Shias and their history.
The fissures in Islam are almost as old as the faith itself. In the Muslim community (Ummah) of over a billion faithfuls spread almost all around the world nearly 12 % are Shias. Majority of Shias are Twelvers – believers in 12 Imams (as in Iran, in a majority), but there are others too, like the Ismailis (of Agha Khans, Mohammed Ali Jinnah), from whom emerged the "Assassins" in early 2nd millennium, Alevis in Turkey (around 15%), ruling Alawite elite (12%) in Syria, Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon (over 40%), and Bahrain (perhaps a majority), Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan. In Iraq nearly 60% of its population are Shias, the rest are mostly Sunnis. There are some very extremist groups too, spread all over the Islamic world.
India has a large Shia population of about 25 million in a total Muslim population of 130 million, making it perhaps the 2nd largest Shia community in the world after Iran. After the US attacks in Najaf in 2004, Muslims of Lucknow (India), a big Shia centre, had declared that Americans were not welcome there.
Tangled Sunni-Shia history
The Shias emerged out of seeds of disunity in the embryonic Muslim Ummah , sown as soon as Prophet Mohammed lay dead in Medina. While his cousin and son in law Ali and the family were preparing the body for the burial, another clan of the Quraysh tribe elected Abu Bakr as the first Caliph i.e. Prophet's deputy, countering also the claims of Ansars of Medina, who had welcomed the Prophet (in Hijra) ..Abu Bakr's supporters claimed that he was closer to Mohammed, one of the very first converts to Islam and was from Mecca's Quraysh tribe. His daughter A'isha was wedded to the Prophet.
According to Shias, Prophet Mohammed had given enough indications for Ali to be his successor and cite many hadiths in support of this claim. The Prophet had lived with his uncle Abu Talib, Ali's father and Mohammed's only child Fatimah was married to Ali. Ali also became Muslim before Abu Bakr and had decoyed for the Prophet when he escaped from Mecca. Ali was perhaps his most trusted and the closest companion, even though he was much younger than the Prophet.
Ali's election as the Caliph would have denied a chance to the older generation of power brokers, so they played politics and got their way. Ali was overlooked twice with Omar and Uthman succeeding Abu Bakr in cleverly manipulated successions to keep Ali out. As a result Ali mostly kept to himself and stayed aloof.
Following the murder of Uthman, Ali was invited by the Muslims of Medina to accept the Caliphate; reluctantly, he agreed but only after long hesitation. His brief reign was marked by problems of inheriting a corrupt state, as the Quran and the traditions of Mohammed had been neglected. Ali based his rule on the Islamic ideals of social justice and equality which clashed with the interests of the Quraysh aristocracy of Mecca grown rich through the Muslim conquests. A rebellion was instigated against him. Ali was victorious in many wars, but was trapped into an arbitration. He was assassinated by a Kharijite and Mu'awiya of the Umayyads established the dynasty at Damascus.
Ali was a devout Muslim with an outstanding reputation for justice, unlike Uthman or the Umayyad dynasty that followed him, mired in nepotism with worldly and autocratic ways. Many Muslims feel this way about the Umayyad Caliphs except for Omar II. To many it was a betrayal of the Quran, which enjoins creation of a just and equal society as the first duty of Muslims.
Those opposed to Umayyads called themselves the Shia't-Ali (partisans of Ali) and developed a doctrine of piety and protest, refusing to accept the Umayyad Caliphs, and regarded Ali's descendants as the true leaders of the Muslim community. This schism became an unbridgeable chasm and remains so, when in 680, Shias of Kufa called for the rule by Ali's second son Hussein and invited him. Hussein set out for Iraq with a small band of relatives and followers (72 armed men and women and children) in the belief that the spectacle of the Prophet's family, marching to confront the Caliph, would remind the regime of its social responsibility.
But Umayyad Caliph Yazid dispatched his army, which slaughtered Hussein and most of his followers on the plain of Karbala with Imam Hussein being the last to die, holding his infant son in his arms. This event is now commemorated as Muharram. Both Karbala and Najaf, where Imam Ali is buried are very holy places specially for Shias.
For Shias, the Karbala tragedy symbolizes the chronic injustice that pervades human life. Shia Islam provides spiritual solace and shelter for the poorest and the deprived among the Muslims, as in as- Sadr city in Baghdad and elsewhere in the Muslim world. In almost all Sunni majority countries Shias are ill treated and persecuted.
Imagery and this Shia passion informed Khomeini's Iranian revolution, which many experienced as a re-enactment of Karbala - with the Shah Reza Pehlavi cast as a latter day Yazid.
There is no agreement among Muslims on the Caliphs. Shias do not recognize the first three and in many places curse them. For them Ali is the first rightful Caliph and the Imam. For Sunnis, Imam is only a prayer leader and could be any one. But for Shias, he is a spiritual leader with the divine spark and juris-consult (Vilayet-el-Faqih). The sacred Islamic law Sharia enacted under different situations and times has many schools among Sunnis, who unlike the Shias have closed ijtihad, independent reasoning in Islamic Law to meet new situations .The Shia Iranians (Aryans) perhaps created the office of Imam (like Shankaracharya among Indo–Aryan Brahmins) as only an Arab from the Quraysh tribe could become a Caliph. Later the Turks, who came as slaves or warriors to the Arab lands, captured power by the sword and raised the minor office of the Sultan to a powerful one, by now protector of a hapless Caliph. Then Turkish Ottoman Sultans in Istanbul appropriated the title of Caliph for themselves.
After the first dynastic Umayyad Caliphate based in Damascus ended, another branch of Quraysh tribe, Abbasids took over and shifted to Iraq in 750, but after having made false promises of installing the Prophet's family as the Caliph. Muslim Ummah's unity under the Sunni Caliph was finally broken when Fatimids anointed their own Caliph first in Tunisia, then in Egypt in 10th century. So an Umayyad prince in Cordoba too declared himself the third Caliph.
Evolution of Shiism
There are two things to note. First, political Shi'ism indicates a belief that members of the Hashim clan in the Quraysh tribe are the people most worthy of holding political authority in the Islamic community, but has no belief in any particular religious position for the family. As for religious Shi'ism, it is about the belief that some particular members of the house of Hashim were in receipt of divine inspiration and are thus the channel of God's guidance to men whether or not they hold any defacto political authority. This view was augmented by the Iranians who believe in the tradition that the mother of fourth Imam Zaynul-Abdin was Shahrbanu, the daughter of Yazdigird, the last Sasanian King of Iran.
From the very beginning all the Shia Imams, descendants of Ali, every single one was imprisoned, exiled or executed or poisoned by the Caliphs, who could not tolerate an alternative centre to their rule. So by 8th century, most Shias held aloof from politics and concentrated on the mystical interpretation of the scriptures. Says scholar Karen Armstrong "Long before western philosophers called for the separation of church and state, Shias had privatized faith, convinced that it was impossible to integrate the religious imperative with the grim world of politics that seemed murderously antagonistic to it. --
"The separation of religion and politics remains deeply embedded in the Shia psyche. It springs not simply from malaise, but from a divine discontent with the state of the Muslim community. Even in Iran, which became a Shia country in the early 16th century, the ulema (the religious scholars) refused public office, adopted an oppositional stance to the state, and formed an alternative establishment that - implicitly or explicitly - challenged the Shahs on behalf of the people."
The picture of early Shi'ism was created (as not much is available from records) from the point of view of Twelver Shias, ignoring the Ismailis, Mutazilites or orthodox Sunnis. Modern scholars believe that this picture was retrospectively imposed over the facts by historians of 3rd and 4th Islamic century for doctrinal reasons.
It is only after 6th Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (died 765) that there is any firm evidence that any kind of religious leadership was being claimed for Twelver Imams. He was a well-known and influential figure in the Islamic world. Several of his students later became prominent jurists and traditionalists even among non-Shia Muslims. Jafar as-Sadiq did not make an open claim to religious leadership, but his circle of students evidently looked to him as Imam, including some leading figures such as Abu'l-Khattab, who held beliefs of a ghuluww (extremist) nature regarding him, indicating that as-Sadiq was a focus of religious speculation and leadership in his own time.
Evolution of Islam into Shia and other forms
The number of ghulat groups, increased dramatically especially in Kufa during as-Sadiq's lifetime. It is therefore useful to consider the origin of the ghulat. When the Arabs arrived in the Fertile Crescent, they encountered ancient civilizations with sophisticated religious systems. Iraq was already the centre of intense religious ferment with the ancient Babylonian religious systems, Zoroastrianism, Mazdaism, Manichaeism, Judaism and various forms of Christianity contributing to a kaleidoscope of religious view points, debates and speculation. Islam by comparison was as yet simple and undeveloped. And with the Prophet already dead, there was no one to whom the Muslims could turn for an authoritative ruling on sophisticated religious speculations being posed by the ancient civilizations. There arose a ferment of discussion around some of the concepts introduced by these older religions and philosophical systems.
In the initial years the Arabs lived in their military camp cities and avoided intermingling with the native populations and their disturbing religious speculations but as more of the native populations embraced Islam, such discussions increased. In this spiritual and religious ferment ideas were injected into the Muslim community and intensively discussed by people interested in such matters which could be considered by the majority of Muslims heterodox concepts and called ghulat or extremists.
Among the ideas injected were such concepts as tanasukh (transmigration of souls), ghayba (occultation), raj'a (return), hulul (descent of the Spirit of God into man), imama (Imamate, divinely-inspired leadership and guidance), tashbih (anthropomorphism with respect to God), tafwid (delegation of God's powers to other than God), and bada (alteration in God's will). But the ghulat needed a priest- god figure onto which to project their ideas of hulul, ghayba , etc., a role admirably suited to the persona of' Ali.
While the ghulat adopted Ali and his family as the embodiment of their religious speculation the Shias of' Ali always looked on the ghulat with a certain amount of suspicion. However, the martyrdom of Hussein and the pathos of this event gave the family of Ali a cultic significance. It bestowed on Shias, earlier primarily a political party, a thrust into a religious orientation directing it firmly towards the ghulat, and giving the ghulat milieu a hero-martyr and a priestly family with which they could associate much of their speculations.
Can OIC counter the Western game!
Muslims now gather under the umbrella of Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC), Munazamat al-Mutamir al-Islami, to give its full Arabic name, which was institutionalized in 1971 by the Saudis, following the summits of Muslim heads of state and government in 1969, after the fire in the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the third most revered Islamic site after Mecca and Medina.
The OIC aims to promote Islamic solidarity by coordinating social, economic, scientific and cultural activities. It is also pledged to eliminate racial segregation and discrimination. Unfortunately, it has not evolved into a responsible and creative body. A main reason for the failure is the location of OIC offices in Jeddah, with Saudi Arabia mostly funding it, and in league with conservative Wahabi elements finances madrassas (religious schools) and fundamentalist organizations not only in non-Muslim but even in Muslim countries.
Many countries like Egypt, Algeria and many in Central Asia and elsewhere are victims of fundamentalist violence incubated and unleashed from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, a monster financially supported and created in the 1980s by Kingdoms and Sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, with full financial and other support from US led West and even China, until September 11, when the majority of the hijackers turned out to be of Saudi origin.
The OIC has had little autonomy as the secretary generals were more or less paid employees of Saudi Arabia. Some of them were obscure and not well regarded scholars, which greatly diminished the OIC's objectivity and credibility. Any debate on matters of substance is almost impossible at OIC meetings. Member countries bring chits of paper with grouses against non- Muslims, mostly neighbors, which without any discussion, as is the practice back home, are then put together as final resolutions. Unfortunately, many in the leadership use OIC meetings to let off steam against non-Muslims, which serves like a group therapy session. It brings a sense of wellbeing to many beleaguered regimes; venal, brutal and exploitative back home. The leaders go back flourishing a resolution or two to show to their oppressed masses, hoping that the real problems will be forgotten.
Many members have been accused of conspiring against each other and fought wars with each other. Many OIC members and diplomats from secular countries like Turkey, Syria, Algeria and others feel uncomfortable in the company of delegates from obscurantist regimes. The OIC also speaks on behalf of large Muslim populations in Russia and China, and many other millions in Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the US, which has 3 to 5 million Muslims but says little about the conditions of Muslims in these countries. Saudi Arabia used OIC for maintaining its influence by promoting fundamentalism in other countries and generally keeping the Muslims conservative and backward.
Very little is naturally said in OIC resolutions about Turkey, where democracy is shored up by its secular military, which has dismissed Islamist-led coalition governments, closed Islamic parties and even jailed its leadership, till Islamic oriented AKP won two-third seats in the parliament in 2002 albeit with only 36% votes. There has been discrimination and persecution of Kurds in Turkey, Over 37,000 people, including 5,000 soldiers, have been killed in a rebellion by Kurdish Labour Party (PKK). Until a few decades ago the Kurds had to be called mountain Turks, and could not use Kurdish for education or in the media. From time to time, Turkey's Shia Alevis have to be protected against persecution and pogroms by the Sunni establishment by the secular armed forces and the judiciary.
The OIC should set its house in order and look at the grievances of Kurds in Turkey, Mohajirs, Shias and others in Pakistan, Christians in Lebanon or South Sudan or the perpetually persecuted Copts of Egypt, or suppressed Shia community in Saudi Arabia, to be taken seriously.
In Cyprus, 18 percent Turkish Cypriot Muslims, recognized as an independent state only by Turkey, has occupied nearly 40 percent of its territory under Turkish guns since 1974. They cannot live with Christian Greek Cypriots, and want a separate state, while almost 50 percent Christian Lebanese who wish for a state of their own are denied one. There are innumerable such examples all over the Islamic world. Throughout history, Christian and other minorities in Islamic states have been generally oppressed, persecuted and eliminated, beginning with the Jews of Medina in the 7th century.
But then how can any one in OIC do anything against USA, which in return for exploitation of Arab oil wealth for decades protects the Saudi dynasty, which itself has a nexus with Wahabbi form of austere and early form of Islam.
OIC has failed to live up to its potential. It is not been even all inclusive; it has given Observer status to Russia with 15 millions of Muslims but not to 130 Million Muslims of India, on whose behalf it has the temerity to speak. In spite of Gujarat and Babri Masjid riots, as a minority, Muslims exercise real democratic power in Indian democracy, leading to the shrinking role of the rightist Hindutva party. Sectarian or other minorities do not enjoy empowerment in most Muslim countries. In many ways OIC has became a tool for Pakistani propaganda against India, creating a schism between Muslims and Hindus, a combined population of over two billion, still exploited by the West. Some of the OIC members should look themselves in the mirror before criticizing the treatment of Muslims in the West and elsewhere.
The latest poll on Iraq, rightly finds Iraqis pessimistic at what is being done to them under US led barbaric occupation. It might indicate that they feel that the country is not in a civil war and would remain united after having been a nation for 8 decades. In early 1990s most Yugoslav diplomats said that the country will remain united, mentioning inter ethnic and religious marriages. Many Hindus and Muslims in Hindustan who had lived as neighbors since centuries insisted on staying put after the announcement of the partition, but had to flee when the communal carnage started. US led West having failed in its objective of colonizing the proud Iraqi people has done all it could to ignite the historic Shia-Sunni schism represented by the political centers of Riyadh and Tehran.
Only the hubris laden arrogance of military power US which spends as much as the rest of the world put together on defence, now mostly financed by trade deficit, made the crazy Neo-cons and former scheming and manipulative CEOs like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld believe in their being received with flowers in Baghdad. What does Washington mean when it demands that Tehran and Damascus must help stabilize Iraq i.e. get US out of Iraqi quagmire, so that US can then bring about regime changes there!
I wrote in my article 'Occupation case studies: Algeria and Turkey' of 7 January , 2004, that "while formulating foreign policy options, political leaders also look to history for guidance. Unfortunately, the United State's history is only two centuries old, and to meet the challenge of terrorism, Frankenstein monsters partly of its own creation, the mujahideen, jihadis, the Taliban and al-Qaeda , the US can only recall a long genocidal war against its native Americans.
"Those who resisted were called "terrorists" for defending their native land and way of life against foreign invaders. There are Hollywood films galore that depict the "American Indians" as savages to be hunted down by the US cavalry. The same cavalry units now force Iraqis daily to lie face down in the land of their ancestors and describe those fighting to free their country from the occupying forces as "terrorists". The Iraqis, other Arabs and Iranians are the new "American Indians", and those who collaborate with the Bush administration are like the good Indians who helped the Americans fight and defeat bad Indians."
In my article of 15 July, 2003 "Iraq's history already written" I said " US chief administrator L Paul Bremer unveiled Iraq's 25-member governing council in Baghdad on Sunday. It now looks like the beginnings of the rule by the British Governor Sir Percy Cox in the 1920s, after the British had carved out three
provinces of the Ottoman empire after its collapse in World War I. After a long national resistance, King Feisel II - of a British-appointed dynasty - and his prime minister, Nuri-as Said, were overthrown and killed in a 1958 military takeover ".
When George Bush along with old chieftains from his father's era and the Neo-cons were beginning to beat the war drums, my article of 27 August, 2002 "The Bush family's phony wars" was introduced by Asia Times Editor "An entire region from Jordan to Iran is on the brink of catastrophe as it awaits one man's
decision on how he will pursue his family' vendetta. India's former Ambassador to Jordan looks inside the Pandora's box which George Bush holds in his hands".
Another article of 14 February, 2003, 'Iraq ;the Middle East kaleidoscope', had warned that Iraq must be handled carefully, -- When a post-Saddam Iraq is discussed in the US, generally not enough thought is given to the ethnic, religious and other differences of the constituents and their tortuous history that make the country the delicate kaleidoscope that it is."
Ambassador Peter Galbraith revealed that in January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq, Bush had not yet heard of the Sunni-Shia divide within Islam.
"Today the world faces a single man armed with weapons of mass destruction, manifesting an aggressive, bullying attitude, who may well plunge the world into chaos and bloodshed if he miscalculates. This person, belligerent, arrogant, and sure of himself, truly is the most dangerous person on Earth. The problem is that his name is George W. Bush, and he is our president: " said Yale Law Prof Jack M. Balkin, on September 22, 2002.
There were many learned men and objective experts and analysts in USA, with understanding of history including of the Middle East and ramifications of a real war, in many of its universities, even in the State Department, but they were never consulted by the White House or asked for comments by corporate news networks like CNN and others. The rot in US polity has gone too deep down and become too pervasive. Only a massive restructuring of its polity can save it from a deadly fall as the decline is irreversible. The malaise covers the whole gamut of US way of life, irreverence for its Constitution, electoral law, its Judiciary, total and absolute domination of money power of military –industry, energy and other corporate interests, which are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. There are many excellent books exposing this malaise which has brought USA to this sorry state in at home and in Iraq. Say, ' Iraq, inc-a profitable occupation' written by Pratap Chatterjee in 2004 or "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of Washington Post recently.
K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. Copy right with the author. E-mail: Gajendrak@hotmail.com
More by : K. Gajendra Singh