Monday, August 21, 2006

Looking at differences in the Muslim world

From this distance differences among Muslims are strikingly similar to those among Christians. Some want to spread the faith, others are indifferent. Sunni and Shiite interests echo along political and national lines in the same way that Catholic and Protestant objectives seem to define this or that state, country, or political segment within each. There is a variety of commitment levels ranging from the most doctrinaire fundamentalism to to a sectarian approach bordering on atheism. In the midst of piety, sectarianism rears its ugly head. Thanks to the polarization of the last few years, domestic politics in America has developed a vocabulary to solidify our or that (supply here your favorite hobby horse: abortion, gun control, environment, political party, origin of life, education, immigration...). We need not go far to find the motes. Just name your poison and you will be able to find someone to join you at the bar for an evening of drinking and arguing.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Anton Effendi has a great post this morning looking at how recent events in the Middle East underscore differences among a multi-layered Muslim/Arab political landscape. The reader who has not been doing his homowork will not see what I see as he reads this. But you can be sure that this glimpse into the struggle for control in the wake of the Hezbollah revival is every bit the partisan political cesspool that seems to be the case here in America. The players are not the same, but the game is basically no different.

Mubarak also took a position surely antagonistic to Syria when he qualified the "right to resist occupation" by adding "on the condition that this comes from the people's own national will, and in accordance with its own interests." This statement hits at two things: 1- that Hezbollah is working for a non-Lebanese agenda, namely Iran's and Syria's, which is not in the national interest of Lebanon. And 2- There's clearly no "national will" in Lebanon to pursue this agenda, in clear reference to the fact that Hezbollah's actions and armed status are firmly outside the Lebanese consensus. It may even be said, again to Assad's dismay, that Mubarak's statement echoes Walid Jumblat's: "Is this (Hezbollah) resistance Lebanese or is it a tool of the Syrian-Iranian axis on Lebanese territory? ... We have the right -- and it is not treason to say it -- that we are Lebanese who look forward to a secure future without war of others on our land."
Comb carefully through the mess and you can find fundamentalists in conflict with sectarians, Sunnis pulling against Shiites with Alawis, Druse and other marginal groups doing what they can to be part of the struggle. There are democratic forces at work, to be sure, pissing in the strong wind of tyranny and power politics (read oil revenues and all they represent), but theirs is a very small voice in a bigger struggle for control.

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