Black Arts Movement Poet, Marvin X
Syrian poet, novelist, professor Mohja Kahf and poet Marvin X. She considers Marvin X the father of Muslim American literature.
Sectarianism has been known to spark religious violence throughout history. For many years we saw the ugly head of sectarianism in the struggle between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, the constant bombings and killings.
In Africa violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria has approached genocide. Iraq is the latest hot spot of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims. For decades the Shia had been oppressed by the Sunni minority, especially during the regime of Saddam Hussein. When he was overthrown by the US and the Shia majority took political power, naturally the Sunnis were resentful, no one likes to lose power and privilege. Because many Sunnis look upon Shia as heretics, this justifies their sectarian cleansing, even though there has been Sunni/Shia harmony, including marriages throughout the years, but presently there is migration of Shias from Sunni neighborhoods and towns and visa versa. Very little of the refugee plight has made news.
Of course the US is the cause when she installed the Shia majority, even though majority should rule, we are taught in American Democracy 101. But the resulting violence was predictable and much of it could have been prevented if the Americans had not been the "peacemakers."
Now the violence is being instigated by the insurgents who are directing their wrath against the Shia as well as the Americans. And naturally the Shia are taking revenge since they have political and military power, including their own militias integrated into the army and police but loyal to their sect leaders and imams.
We must see the Sunni violence against the Shia in the broader picture of regional politics. The Sunni regimes in Saudia Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, the Gulf States and elsewhere have no desire to see a Shia government in Iraq, however loosely allied it may be with Shia Iran. The Sunni governments have stated their opposition to a Shia expansion from the Tigris/Euphrates to the Mediterranean, uniting with the populations of Shia in Syria and Lebanon where the Hezbollah fighters are a political and military force supported by Iran.
Have no doubt that the regional Sunni regimes support the insurgency in Iraq. These regimes would rather have their young men leaving their nations to commit suicide in Iraq rather than be part of the opposition within their authoritarian regimes. Better their sons fight the infidel Americans and heretic Shia.
Of course the historical dispute between the Sunni and Shia began in 632AD upon the death of prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Thus this Sunni/Shia conflict is much more outstanding than colonialism, including the neo-colonial Americans. There is no hatred like religious hatred. We can see that violence between Sunnis and Shia has surpassed that between Sunnis and the Christian Americans, supposedly the enemy of all Muslims. For sure, Americans were the catalyst, but the roots of the present sectarian violence began over succession to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The Sunnis said the successor should be selected from among the people, Abu Bakr. The Shia said it should be from the prophet's bloodline, Ali. The Sunnis won out and labeled the Shia heretics, especially when they elevated the status of Imam Ali and future Shia Imams to the level of the Caliphs or rulers after the prophet, including veneration of their tombs in various Shia holy cities such as Qum in Iran, Najaf and Karbala in Iraq. Several Shia imams were assassinated, including Ali and Hussein.
There are major Shia rituals that celebrate the martyrdom of their imams. The Shia feeling of lost is similar to the feeling of lost among Sunni Muslims in America about Malcolm X allegedly being assassinated by the Nation of Islam. This feeling of lost is shared by much of the African American community.
Malcolm's death caused a great division that has yet to heal and may never heal, despite the unifying efforts of Farakhan with his Million Man Marches and other efforts.
Perhaps we can understand the Sunni/Shia struggle from this perspective. There are some Blacks who hate other Blacks as a result of the Malcolm X affair more than they hate the white man for all his centuries of evil and wickedness against Blacks. For the US government's role in the Malcolm affair—and have no doubt about their involvement, they benefited by divide and conquer, that classic Willie Lynch slave master tricknology.
Sectarian violence in Iraq may continue unabated, for it is beyond civil war, beyond American occupation, but deeply rooted in religiosity, myth and ritual. Even Sunni fear of Shia regional expansion is rooted in Shia eschatology or end time. This is evident in pronouncements from the Shia regime in Iran, boldly determined to pursue a nuclear weapons future and calling for the destruction of Israel, motivated by their belief the time has arrived for Shia geo-political and spiritual domination, and certainly Iraq will play a role in this Shia myth-ritual drama.
This drama has implications far beyond any American notion of installing democracy in Iraq or anywhere else in the region, for people are motivated by mythology and prophecy, political aspirations being secondary. It is their spiritual aspirations that are primary. Shia Iran appears prepared to commit mass suicide challenging the Americans and Europeans over nuclear technology, even though the Iranians have every right to posses the Islamic bomb, just as we have the Jewish bomb and the Christian bomb. I say get rid of all the nuclear weapons or level the playing field as in the wild wild west: let everybody pack.
As per Iraq, it doesn't matter whether the Americans stay or go, they have opened Pandora's box and mean spirits are blowing in the desert winds. Only Allah knows how these issues will be resolved. Perhaps the Sunnis and Shias shall fight until they tire of killing, then reconcile in the manner of Isaiah, "Let us reason together."
Source: Toward Radical Spirituality, Black Bird Press, 2007 (c) 2006 by Marvin X (El Muhajir)
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Marvin X has given permission to Harvard University to publish his poem "For El Haji Rasul Taifa" from Love and War: Poems by Marvin X (1995). The poem will appear in The Encyclopedia of Islam in America Volume II, Greenwood Press, edited by Dr. Jocelyne Cesari of Harvard's Islam in the West Program. Mr. X is co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Muslim American Literature, University of Arkansas Press, edited by Dr. Mojah Khaf. He is also in the forthcoming Muslim American Drama, Temple University.from Chickenbones, posted 19 June 2006