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Islam Faces War Between Moderates & Extremists - With Iraq & Iran At The Centre.

*** A Critic Likens Hamas, The Islamist Group Which Refuses To Recognise Israel's Right To Exist, To That Innocent Muslim Woman In Lebanon Who Lifted Her Dress To Cover Her Head As She Was Taken By Surprise By A Male Stranger Who Came To Fetch Her Son; She Couldn't Bear Letting Him See Her Hair

*** Damascus Jumps To The Occasion As James Baker Suggests Syria May Help In Stabilising Iraq; But Assad Can No Longer Afford Losing Iran As An Ally If Tehran Is To Reject An Offer From Washington To Assist In Ending Iraq's Cycle Of Sectarian Blood-Letting; It's Not A Good Opportunity

BEIRUT - War-torn Iraq and the Shi'ite theocracy of Iran are at the centre of conflict in the world of Islam between extremist movements and regimes which the US and its Western allies call moderate. In the Arab world the moderates include the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and the six-state Arab Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), but Qatar is aligning itself with an Iran-led axis of extremists.

The axis of extremists includes the Ba'thist regime of Syria which is in alliance with the Shi'ite theocracy of Iran and its Lebanese offshoot Hizbullah; the Damascus-based political leadership of Hamas, a Gaza-based offshoot of Egypt's Sunni Muslim Brotherhood which is at war with Israel and is backed by Iran and Syria; and Neo-Salafis who have recently announced their own Sunni Islamist state in Iraq (see sbme4-Iraq-N-SalafiStateOct23-06).

While the Neo-Salafis in Iraq are at war with the Shi'ites, their state only exists in cyberspace. The Shi'ite theocracy of Iran is claiming to be the only legitimate state in the world to rule all Muslims as well as the others. But the Neo-Salafis, part of Sunni Islam which accounts for more than 90% of the 1.5 bn-strong Muslim world, are extremely violent and want their "state" in Iraq to be a revival of the old caliphate - the last one of which was the Ottoman Empire but collapsed with World War I - to rule over the Shi'ites as well as the Sunnis and the rest of the globe.

Rifts are deepening in Lebanon between Shi'ites, who overwhelmingly support Hizbullah, and Sunnis who helped lead the campaign for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon after the Feb. 14, 2005, murder of former PM Rafiq Hariri in a massive Beirut bomb which killed 22 others. The Syrian regime has been accused of involvement in the murders, including the killing of other Lebanese politicians.

Likewise there is a recurring danger of civil war in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian movement which lost in the Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. For the time being, Hamas is facing war with Israel, which now regards itself as being part of the US-led camp of moderate states.

Hizbullah, claiming to have defeated Israel in its 34-day war that ended on Aug. 14, wants to crown its "divine victory" with a new government of "national unity" in Lebanon in which it will have veto power over any cabinet decision it does not like. Sunni party leaders and their Christian allies accuse Syria of being behind the Hizbullah move which they call an attempted coup d'etat aimed at derailing the course of a UN panel probing the murder of Hariri and the other politicians.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a moderate Shi'ite, says while a national unity government would grant Lebanon "immunity" from further conflict, such a decision would have to be reached through consensus before the sitting government could resign.

Speaking during an interview with al-Arabiyya satellite TV channel late on Oct. 17 from Geneva, where he was participating in the 115th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Berri said an agreement to reinstate national unity had been reached and would be announced during the Eid al-Fitr feast to take place on Oct. 22-23. He added: "I have strong reservations against toppling [Prime Minister Fou'ad Siniora's] government before reaching consensus on the next cabinet in order to avoid a political vacuum. Therefore, we need consensus and then we will form a cabinet which will give Lebanon real immunity". Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been pressing for such a government since his Aug. 15 speech.

On Aug. 15, Assad vowed that the days of Lebanon's March 14 Forces, a Sunni-Christian coalition which has a large majority in parliament, were numbered and called rulers of moderate Arab regimes "half-men" for being part of the US-led alliance against the axis of movements headed by Iran. Assad believes his Ba'thist dictatorship and Iran were the victors in the 34-day war which he says involved the US and its Western allies as well as Israel (see news6-LebanonIranUSAug7-06 and news9-LebHizb-IranUS-Aug28-06).

During a visit to Saudi Arabia earlier in October, Berri said Eid al-Fitr would bring good news for the Lebanese. The speaker, who leads the Shi'ite Amal Movement which is less sectarian than Hizbullah, said the surprise involved efforts to "reinstate national unity and solidarity among the Lebanese and support for the resistance".

Siniora has faced mounting pressure since the war to reshuffle the cabinet to include more allies of Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement headed by Maronite Christian MP Michel Aoun. The war cost the lives of more than 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers; but tensions with Siniora's US/EU-backed government have intensified in its aftermath.

Berri said his visit to Saudi Arabia focused on protecting Muslim unity in Lebanon, continuing Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and territory, and strained relations between Riyadh and Damascus. He said he was leading efforts to arrange a meeting between Hizbullah's Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Progressive Socialist Party chief MP Walid Jumblatt, who have frequently been at odds. Druze leader Jumblatt now is in Germany, where on Oct. 18 he met with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Economic Co-operation and Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul and officials from the Democratic Socialist Party and Frederich Ebert Stiftung (FES).

Berri told al-Arabiyya he believed the Arab-Israeli peace process should be revived after the Israeli offensive on Lebanon, adding: "Lebanon can liberate its remaining occupied land through the resistance, as it did in the past, but it can achieve that through peace...if it is a comprehensive peace that includes the whole region".

Hizbullah and its allies on Oct. 18 reiterated their intent to push for national unity government. "We are leading serious and strong efforts to form a national unity government... We want to participate in rebuilding the country and straightening the political speech", Hizbullah MP Kamil Rifa'i said during an iftar. FPM MP Ibrahim Kan'an said a national unity government "should not be a problem if there is a consensus" among Lebanese parties, adding: "Siniora's policies did not render any positive effects because there is no vision". He accused the government of violating the Ta'if Accord.

In response, the March 14 Forces said it would be impossible to topple the cabinet, as it was supported by the majority of the Lebanese. Maronite Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Oct. 18 said: "The March 14 Forces will not let anyone topple the government... They should not forget that we have a bigger popular base".

There is, meanwhile, a crisis of confidence between the Muslim world and people of other faiths. It is a cultural problem centred on the concept of honesty. In turn, Sunni Arab states have a crisis of confidence with the Shi'ite theocracy of Iran and its radical branches which are spread among Shi'ite communities in the Muslim world. The crisis is leading to a confrontation between the rulers of the Sunni Arab status quo and the axis of players led by Iran; both have a problem with the meaning of honesty. None of the Sunni rulers or religious leaders has come out with a clear condemnation of the Neo-Salafi project to establish a caliphate to rule the whole world (see news15-Arab-Iran-HonestyOct9-06).
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Oct 23, 2006
Words:1311
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