The Hezbollah-Sunni Hoax
by Stephen Schwartz
It is a well-known rule of modern politics that crises sweep away legions of experts, as well as the "genies" that accompany them – their theories, rhetoric, and, in many cases, their general expertise. Most will attempt to maintain coherence in the face of events that often have an incoherent tempo, to say nothing of logic. But such pundits tend to sink like stones, to recall the old simile of Bob Dylan.
In the aftermath of the Israel-Hezbollah war, as is typical in such periods, the enemies of peace and the adversaries of democratization in the Middle East cling to a predictable, if false, consistency. Such elements have already advanced the claim that the "success" of the Lebanese Shia Muslims of Hezbollah in surviving Israeli military action has rallied the Sunni majority to join the Shia in the Islamic global community, or ummah.
The basis of this spurious reasoning is, of course, hatred of the Jewish state or, at least, affection for crude Arabism. In celebration of an anticipated victory over Israel, or the unification of Arabs regardless of religious identification – since not all Muslims are Arab, not all Arabs are Muslim, and not all Arab Muslims are Sunnis – certain commentators claim that 13 centuries of Shia-Sunni conflict have been wiped away by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.
One obscure Saudophile writer even came forward to claim that a new opposition alignment is emerging in Saudi Arabia, based on protest by radical Sunnis desturbed that the Riyadh regime criticized Nasrallah's adventurism, which plunged Lebanon into war in the absence of consultation with other Lebanese or Arab leaders. Thus, it is argued, Saudi Wahhabis, who had also denounced Hezbollah, and who bear a homicidal hatred of Shias, will now seek to overturn the royal government out of a suddenly-discovered sympathy for Hezbollah. This is a profoundly muddled view of the Saudi monarchy and its particular world.
A better known but no less befuddled academic savant on Islam, the French sociologist Olivier Roy, offered a model of self-contradictory improvisation. In the London Financial Times of August 18, 2006, Roy argued, according to the new common wisdom, that Hezbollah had elicited a vast wave of Sunni sentiment by its combat against Israel, and that the Sunni powers (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan) were deeply embarrassed by this outcome. Roy, in an apparent excess of enthusiasm, went so far as to declare, "The Sunni 'Arab street' has embraced Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, as the new Arab hero, the 'Nasser of our time'."
A remarkable allegation! Does the Sunni "Arab street" not happen to include a fairly long stretch running through the country of Iraq? And would it not seem that if Nasrallah and Hezbollah had managed, by their defiance of Israel, to heal a breach between Sunnis and Shia that originates in the first century of Islam – something the revolutionary Khomeini could not do – that Iraq would be the first place Sunnis and Shia would reconcile? Not to insist too much, but the exact opposite has taken place in Iraq, where Sunni terrorists financed (and often recruited) in Saudi Arabia continue to massacre ordinary Shias for nothing other than their religious identity. If the Sunni terrorists who murdered Shia pilgrims in Baghdad over the weekend of August 20, during the processions honoring Musa Khadim, the seventh of the 12 imams or spiritual guides of the mainstream Shia, were concerned for Arab unity against Israel or a common Islamic jihad against the West, it was because they consider Shias to be traitors in the war on Israel and the conduct of the anti-Western assault. Crazy it may seem, but that is the nature of Sunni extremism.
Back-of-the-hand claims that the Sunni-Shia split means nothing when it comes to fighting Israel are as common in Washington, DC today as crab cakes. People who make such arguments have not spent much time in the company of Shia Muslims. I have cultivated such relations, including friendships with leading Shias from the Balkans, Iraq, and Iran. Shia theology is based on one thing only: opposition to the injustices inflicted by the leaders of those who constitute the Sunni majority in Islam. Shias and Sunnis merge today in Sufi spiritual traditions. But the day is distant when the Shia-Sunni breach will be healed over any immediate political issue, whether because of Israel, Lebanon, or anger at the United States. Democracy may bring Shia and Sunnis together; radicalism will never do so in a meaningful way.
Olivier Roy further asserts, "Nasrallah's elevation also works partly to lessen the appeal of Osama bin Laden in the Arab Middle East." In other words, a strong Hezbollah means a weak al-Qaida. But Roy's exquisite French dialect is deeply flawed. History shows the opposite to be the probable future; their hatred of Shias will cause such resentment among radical Sunnis – at being surpassed by Hezbollah – that the Saudi-Wahhabis, especially al-Qaida, will be driven to outdo them by new, more ambitious, and bloodier efforts. That is why al-Qaida emerged: to prove that the Wahhabis could not be superseded in extremism by Khomeini and Iran.
Radical Sunnis and Radical Shias may allow each other occasional advantages, as Hitler temporarily embraced Stalin in 1939-41. But in the end, Hitler turned on Stalin and decimated the Russian population. In Iraq, the Sunni terrorists, who play the Hitlerian role, have yet to show the Shia majority any mercy. If the Sunni powers are embarrassed by Hezbollah, their support for Sunni radicalism in Iraq, which daily kills Shia, Kurds, peaceful Arab Sunnis, Christians, Americans, and other coalition and international soldiers and civilians, will increase.
Rumors of a Hezbollah-Sunni alliance are yet another disinformational hoax spread in the West, where real knowledge of the Islamic world continues to be elusive. In the information age, lack of information about Islam may condemn the democracies, and the moderate Muslims, to a long war against Islamofascism. Only firm measures against Saudi financing of Wahhabi terror and against Hezbollah provocations will hasten the victory of humanity in this conflict, which is a clash between civilization and its enemies, rather than between civilizations.