Ahmad Deedat is one of the most respected Islamic scholars in the mainstream Sunni Islam. In the 80s, it was a war between a secular Baathist, Sunni Iraq and an Islamist, Shia Iran, and Ahmad Deedat was on the frontline to raise the morale of the soldiers. But he wasn’t on the side of his natural ally, the Sunnis; instead, he showed his allegiance with the Islamist Iranians. It was because of Iran’s symbolic attitude towards Islam and the Muslim community post 1979 revolution of Iran.
Jump to 2012, and the same Iranian regime has positioned itself against the Islamists in Syria, supporting a dictator from the same Baathist party, against whom Iran had fought a valiant war back in the 80s.
The great revolution in Iran was met with widespread admiration, throughout the Muslim world, by Sunnis and Shias alike. Iran’s travails with the hegemony of the Americans and its support of the Palestinian masses were seen as a silver lining in the dark clouds of client Muslim regimes. Iran’s new setup received widespread acceptability, especially amongst the Political Islamists. It is also rumored that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards supplied the embattled Sunni Muslims of Bosnia with weapons and logistics during the Bosnian war. Iran also positioned itself on the frontline of the resistance to Israel by arming Hezbollah and Hamas, as also by professing a policy of supporting the suppressed Islamists in Muslim countries.
The Iranian policy with regards to supporting Shia insurrections in Pakistan, Yemen, etc., squandered a lot of the goodwill that it had earned. It’s financing of programs to convert economically deprived Sunnis to Shiasm, in places like Lebanon, created more mistrust. Still, a large section of the Islamists viewed Iran positively, till the war in Iraq by the US and its allies and the rebellion movement in Syria. It was in these two countries that Iran showed a distinct sectarian bias, and pitted itself on the side of the American stooges and the secular Baathists, focusing on a sectarian rather than an Islamist agenda. The Sunnis in Iraq were subjected to a gory genocide at the hands of a regime propped up by the Americans and supported by the Iranians. The tall Iranian claims of anti-Americanism were shattered beyond repair in Iraq. Iran had chosen to support a government that was doing America’s bidding of pacification in an occupied territory. The Maliki government is now returning the favour to the Iranians, by allowing over flights of Iranian weapons to the Syrian regime, much to the chagrin of its American backers.
Iran has also supported the Shia Houthi rebellion in Yemen with arms, as well as the Shia protest movement in Bahrain. Iran’s policy towards the subcontinent and Afghanistan has also been in line with its sectarian agenda. Even though Iran – as propagated by the Iranian media and governmental mouth organs – derives its national interests from an Islamist paradigm, it has had no qualms in aligning with Russia and India, both of whom have been shedding Muslim blood in Chechnya and Kashmir respectively. In Afghanistan; Russia, India and Iran have openly showed a common interest bank, where they are not willing to give Taliban a part to play in the post 2014 scenario. It has also allowed India access to Afghanistan through the Chah Bahar Port in Iran. Not only this, strategists believe that India invested in this Chah Bahar Port, not to access Afghanistan only, but also to neutralize the effect of Pakistan’s much talked of Gwadar Port. The US, on the other hand, also pooled in and supported the plan of India to facilitate Iran on these developments. It was also reported that during the blockade of the NATO supplies by Pakistan, in the post-Salala scenario, the same Chah Bahar Port was used by the NATO troops to carry on basic operations. These postures of Iran, though, can be attributed to geo-strategic reasons by the sympathisers of Iran. Yet, Iran has increasingly been isolated and has been in a desperate search for allies. But what is baffling is Iran’s ganging up with “atheists”, “secularists”, and “communists”; even American allies against Islamists. This speaks of a clear sectarian bias on the part of Iran and depicts a paradigm shift.
It’s a known fact that Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran in the Middle East. Hezbollah, much like Iran, had earned the goodwill and respect of a wide variety of Sunni Islamists, owing to its resistance to the Israeli occupier and to its professing a non-sectarian agenda. It is the latter that has been proven a facade by its actions in Syria. While it cannot be denied that Syria has been a vital ally to Hezbollah, and the most important conduit of Iranian arms destined for it; still, moral uprightness cannot fathom siding and fighting on the side of a dictator, who is ruling a majority of opponents who want him to step down; instead, they have joined the forces of oppression this time and soaked their hands in the blood of their fellow Muslims. First, on criticism, Hasan Nasrallah claimed and tried to justify that Hezbollah fighters are there in Syria to safeguard the shrine of Syeda Zainab Radhia Allahu Anha (May Allah be pleased with her). It may be pointed out that the shrine is as much revered by the Sunnis as it is by the Shiites. But now, the same Hasan Nasrallah is issuing statements of victory against the rebel forces.
As I am writing these lines, Hezbollah fighters, along with the savage Alawite Shabiha fighters, are reinforcing Assad’s soldiers who are laying a siege to the city of Qusayr in Lebanon, where the news of more massacres of hapless civilians is arriving. It is not that Hezbollah was alone in having to choose between the oppressor and the oppressed. Hamas, much like Hezbollah, faced the same dilemma. But it made the right choice, though it eventually had to pay the price for doing so. It had to close its international headquarters based in Damascus. Its leaders had to flee Syria to avoid incarceration. The Palestinian refugee camps in Syria have also had to pay a price in the form of frequent army operations and artillery bombardments.
To say that the stark difference in the decisions of the two movements points to a clear sectarian bias on the part of Hezbollah will be an understatement. It is not only bias but sectarian hatred that is pitting an avowedly Islamist Shiite movement, Hezbollah, and the Iranian regime, against an Islamist mass movement, fighting the brutality of Assad’s regime. This is clear to many people within the Hezbollah as well. A few days ago, the original founder of the group, Sheikh Subhi Al-Tufeili, exposed the un-Islamic credentials of “those who send our children to fight alongside the forces of oppression and criminality in Syria.” Tufeili, a man of integrity and intellectual honesty, added: “Iran and Hezbollah bear responsibility for every Syrian killed, every tree felled, and every house destroyed.”
It’s time for Iran and its allied Islamist groups to seize the support of dictators just on the basis of Sectarian bias. Its policy makers should now go for a comprehensive strategy, which will not be derived from Sectarian sentiments; only then, perhaps, Iran may manage to win back the love that it had enjoyed in the past.