Sojourner on Earth

Escalation of Sectarian Violence
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Escalation in Iraq.  Though the news media terms current Shia on Sunni violence as an inevitable spiral into civil war after the loss of an authoritarian government, recent escalation in the targeting of Shia shrines indicates Islamist desperation.  Attempts to destabilize the Iraqi government and prevent the achievement political milestones in the form of successful elections and the constitutional referendum were met full-on by Shia and Sunni Iraqis alike.  The attempts by Islamists to terrorize the population into boycotting the elections didn’t work on the previously terrorized though it did work on the former dominants in the first election.  The Shia violence against Sunni from the fall of Baghdad in 2003 held heavy overtones and reference to the historical oppression of Iraqi Shia.  Though recent attacks on Sunni may be considered retaliation for attacks on Shia shrines, it is more likely retaliation for forty years of the secular oppression of the majority Shia population by the Ba’ath party.  This violence began immediately with the fall of Baghdad in 2003 and was contained for several months by an administrative de-Ba’athification of the government.  With the replacement of the Sunni Minister of Interior, Naqib al Sammara’i in April 2005 by Shia Bayan Sulagh Jabar, a disturbing trend of renegade de-Ba’athification in the form of kidnapping, unlawful imprisonment and execution began breaking in the news media by July 2005.  Soon after, Abu Musab Zarqawi successfully played on sectarian prejudice and fear of retaliation against the deposed Sunni minority in Iraq.  He initiated an Islamist purification campaign against the majority Iraqi Shia.  A purification based on ideology is unlikely.  The exceptions outlined in Zarqawi’s declaration included by description Shia dynastic heir Muqtada al Sadr and his followers.  Sadr, though currently engaged politically has made multiple attempts to destabilize the western supported government of Iraq, an apparent aim of the al Qaeda in Iraq movement, and called for the unity of Sunni and Shia, Kurd and Arab against western involvement and presence in Iraq.  This is a repetitive theme among Sunni political and religious groups in Iraq, a variant to the governmental message “One Iraq” that is easily adopted by opposition groups for their own purposes.

Each period of violent escalation in Iraq was preceded by the achievement of political milestones or followed the announcement of political liaisons and plans.  The 2003 fall of Ba’athist Bagdad was immediately followed by the annexation of several state mosques by Shia and several exiled Shia religious leaders returning to Iraq with strong political followings were targeted and assassinated.   The development of the Association of Muslim Scholars as a political entity for the congregation of Sunni former Ba’athists was quickly followed by the murder of the key AMS member relatives.  The February 2004 agreement to move up the political timeline in Iraq and transfer sovereignty to an Iraqi Interim Government by June 2004 was followed by the suicide bombing in Karbala and Khadimiyah during Ashura, ostensibly the first international view of  large-scale sectarian violence in Iraq occurring two weeks prior to the first anniversary of the Iraq invasion by US-forces.  The 2004 Iraqi campaign season started with bombings of Christian churches and Shia mosques that were sites for election registration or voting sites.  A Christian-Shia alliance developed even though Christians had more freedom and position than the Shia during Saddam’s reign.  This alliance forged during the campaign season was followed by the kidnapping of several Christian Bishops and priests.  The successful election in January 2005 was followed by the multiple suicide bombing attempts during Ashura.  None were as successful as any of the three 2004 Ashura attacks even in combination.  The March 2005 seating of the Interim Governing Council was followed by the bombing of a marketplace outside a police station taking applications and passing out paychecks in Hillah.  The incident occurred three days after the second anniversary of the Iraq invasion by US-led forces.     

Escalation in Pakistan.  Since joining the multi-national coalition against global terrorism, Pakistani President and Army Chief of Staff Pervez Musharraf has suffered setback after setback in the movement toward more moderate Islamic influence and establishment of a secular centric government in Pakistan.  Since his January 12, 2002 speech denouncing all acts of terrorism and his pledge to fight Islamic extremism within Pakistan, President Musharraf has faced ever increasing casualties from an escalation of religious violence.  This escalation in violence is very likely undermining support for Musharraf who is seen by the Islamist element of immigrants and citizens as far too liberal for the good of Pakistan. 

Pakistan’s Shia Conference opposed the 1947 formation of Pakistan preferring instead a united India which makes Shia an approximately 35 million strong Pakistani minority a valued target. Shia mosques have routinely been targeted since 1997 with escalation in rate and casualties of attacks increasing since 2002.  The Sunni Tehrik, a political party made up of Sufi followers from the Belravi school of thought, has been cited as Islamist targets because of its moderate mystic Islamic beliefs and work toward tolerance within and without the Muslim world.  The most recent targeting was the April bombing of a celebration in honor of the birth of Muhammad.  This type of celebration is abhorred by Islamist groups as veneration.  However, no group stepped up to claim the attack and Pakistani authorities have not released information on suspected groups.

Escalation in Indonesia.  Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country and it has the highest concentrated population of Muslims in the world.  Considered a moderate Muslim state, it is being seen as an increasingly valuable partner in the war against Islamist militants in Southeast Asia.  With the reversal of Indonesia’s terrorism policy following the October 2002 Bali attack, the freedom of movement previously enjoyed by Islamists throughout Indonesia has been restricted.  The restriction has decreased centralized command of the independently operated cells but this does not seem to have reduced the number of attacks planned or conducted.  The proliferation of Islamist cells and offshoots of Jemaah Islamiyah has seen the increase in violence directed against the western and Christian targets in an apparent effort to call into question the ability of the Indonesian government to protect its citizens.  Evidence of an increasingly influential Islamist movement was seen in the March 2006 demonstrations outside the American Embassy in Jakarta sponsored by Hizbut Tharir, Liberation Party, which used banners that read, “Now is the time for the Caliphate to rule the world with Sharia” and “Crush the Zionist America and Israel.”

Attempting to weed out nationalism, separatism and ethnic strife from the current Sunni-Shia conflict is unwise.  Islamist propaganda uses these loyalties to further the ultimate goal of domination. The Taliban as an alien Islamist movement successfully fomented ethnic strife in Afghanistan to ouster the communist government left in place after the Soviet withdrawal and to usher in an Islamist theocracy.   The influence of the radical Islamist belief is yet in place in Afghanistan as seen by the demand of Islamist Afghani clerics for the execution of Abdul Rahmann because of his conversion to Christianity. 

Further escalation of sectarian violence is inevitable as Islamist movements gain political and geographic ground.  The focus for Islamist recruitment is in fertile areas of poor, disillusioned, unemployed young men.  The former Soviet satellite countries, including the Baltic and central Asian states, and south eastern Asia recovering from economic crisis provide more than sufficient recruiting pools.  Sectarian violence in Iraq and Pakistan will continue to expand to include not only Shia Muslims and Non-Muslims but also moderate or secular Sunnis. 

To prevent their identity from being diluted, Islamists tend to be singularistic and exclusive and do not tolerate the existence of other forms of worship within or around itself. Rather than tolerating other forms of worship it attempts to convert members of other faiths to itself. When such a religion has the support of the force of arms, it normally follows a policy of persecuting members of other religions to compel them to convert to it.  If the politicians do not improve the conditions of life of the vast majority of the people in these developing democracies, the population will express its discontent through political movement toward Islamist ideology.  The main effort in countries where Muslim populations are significant yet a minority should be focused on the inclusion of Muslim populations in national and regional assimilation thereby ensuring equitable economic and cultural status.