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Saturday, November 10, 2012
OP-ED

Holy War in the Islamic World

Photo: AFP

In November, the Dhaka and Chittagong Allinances Françaises are holding a series of Arab-Spring related events including a conference debate at Dhaka University on November 20; bringing together French and Bangladeshi intellectuals and academics. The Daily Star is publishing below a number of articles written by leading French experts in the run up to this event. The opinions expressed in these articles are solely those of the authors.


Is the Arab Spring, greeted as the triumph of the idea of democracy, exposing new fault-lines within the Arab-Muslim world? Shi'ites (however they may be known: Alawis, Alevis…) and Sunnites are locked in bloody combat in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrein, the Lebanon… In Saudi Arabia, the Shi'ites have no rights, and in Teheran, a capital city of 13 million inhabitants, there is not a single mosque for Sunnites… The mosques of Timbuktu and Gao, typical of the Maliki religious rite, which is widespread in the Maghreb, are being destroyed by the Jihadists of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)… There are increasing difficulties between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt… In brief, throughout the world Jihadist terror is currently killing more Muslims than followers of other religions : there were 100,000 deaths in Algeria during the "dark years", Iraq has been the victim of kamikaze attacks (over 100 deaths in attacks on Iraq, in a single day, for which AQ has claimed responsibility), in the middle of Ramadan or the Shura; Afghanistan, where the Shi'ite Hazaras fear the return of the Sunnite Taliban these examples show that Arab-Muslim areas are indeed torn apart by a "Holy War in the Islamic World."

Analysts have long drawn attention to the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood, a visible opposition to the "modernist" dictatorships supported by the West, without paying attention to the growth of Salafism financed by Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism, a doctrine exclusive to the Riyad government, is the strictest form of Hanbalism, one of the four schools of Islamic law.

Mohamed Ibn Abd El Wahhab, its founder, prohibited any cult other than that of God, going ahead with the destruction of "profane" sites. Back in 1806 Ibn Saoud destroyed Al-Baqi, in Medina, a cemetery holding the remains of the companions of the Prophet, and the tomb of Mohammed was also nearly destroyed.

The same violence erupted in Algeria during the Civil War (with the destruction of marabout sites, the murder of official imams and young girls on their way to school), or in present-day Mali, where the Salafists have just carried out a second stoning within a week, following the legislation applicable to Riyad (and not only in Teheran).

Within the Salafist hierarchy, the other schools of law or Sufism are enemies just as other religions are. "Shi'ism was invented by the Jews in order to split Islam!"... "the Shi'ites are not Muslims" are the watchwords of Saudi theology.

Have Westerners become involved in this religious war by allying themselves with Saudi Arabia, with Pakistan, where the madrasas fill out the ranks of the Taliban, and with Qatar, which finances Sahel groups? Following G. W. Bush, Western strategists only interpret the Arab-Muslim world through the issues of Iran's nuclear capability and anti-western terrorism, limiting themselves to identifying what can be attributed to "Al Qaida." Why consider Iran as the exclusive enemy while the suppliers of terrorists and Salafist preachers are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Isn't there a risk that this instance of strategic blindness will lead western countries, to become cobelligerent of Salafists (i.e. lead to involvement in warfare) in Syria and Iran? Can democracy smooth things out?

Salafists legitimize violence by their literal reading of Sharia, leading attacks on places of learning (universities, television networks, exhibitions, cinema, media), the refusal of freedom of conscience, violence against opponents and women.

Their ambition goes a long way beyond setting up a national democracy in the interest of a mythical Califat. By principle this prohibits discussion, and thus democracy.

Are moderate Muslims not shooting themselves in the foot as a result of their reluctance to discuss the necessary aggiornamiento of Sharia? No religion on the planet sets so much store by solidarity among its believers, and yet…

(Translated from French by John Holstead)

Pierre Conesa is Research Associate at IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques), Paris. He is the author of The manufacturing of an enemy, or how to kill with a clean conscience, Paris, 2011.

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