At the outset of 2012, irrespective of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue, the defining geopolitical and religious schism in the Middle East is boiling, exacerbating violent intra-Muslim fragmentation, religious, tribal, ideological and geographical.
The Syrian death toll is approaching 7,000, trending toward Papa Assad’s 1982 massacre of 20,000 Sunni rebels. The Turkish-Kurdish confrontation has shifted to a higher gear, exceeding 40,000 casualties since 1984. During the first week of January, a series of sectarian-driven bombings devastated Baghdad and Nasiriyah in Iraq, murdering more than 140 persons. More were killed in the Sunni stronghold of Mosul. Car bombs, suicide bombing and improvised explosive devices have become daily routine in Iraq, whose Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a Shia Arab, President Jalal Talabani is a Sunni Kurd and Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi is a Sunni Arab. Iraq has become an explosive platform for its vindictive Shia Arab majority (60%), which was dominated and oppressed by the Sunni Arab minority (20%) since the seventeenth century. The historic conflict between Iraq’s Arabs and Iraq’s 15% Kurdish minority – which claims independence in northern Iraq, where it also confronts the Turkish military – further complicates matters.
The Sunni-Shia confrontation, which has traumatized the Mid-East since the seventh century, has re-emerged in Iraq in the aftermath of the US military evacuation, fueled by Iran’s policy of expansion. The US withdrawal from Iraq, its expected departure from Afghanistan and the perceived US abandonment of Mubarak – simultaneously with the Islamists’ victories in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia – have emboldened Iran, escalating the anxiety level of the highly vulnerable pro-US Muslim regimes in the Persian Gulf and throughout the Mid-East.
The seismic Arab Winter has triggered a political earthquake effect by violently destabilizing and weakening the three traditional ideological and military power houses of the Arab world –Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad. The fact that Mubarak, Qadaffi and Ben Ali – who were perceived to be invincible dictators – were trounced decisively, attests to the expected violent intra-Muslim volatility, civil unrest, terrorism and wars during the coming months and years. Civil war is raging in strategically-located Yemen, where Ahmed Saleh, the oldest son of the deposed Ali Abdullah Saleh, commander of the Republican Guard, is participating in local tribal and religious conflicts, fanned by Saudi military intervention. The House of Saud is heavily involved – as is Iran – in Bahrain’s sectarian strife, pitting the subordinated Shia plurality against the ruling Sunni minority of the Khalifa family. Although the island of Bahrain is small, the outcome of its civil unrest could determine the fate of Kuwait and other Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia. The tectonic intra-Muslim turbulence is further agitated by the artificial boundaries of all Arab countries, which were drawn by the Ottoman, French and British empires.
The Turkish journalist, Burak Bekdil, put the current intra-Muslim turmoil in historic perspective in an August, 22, 2011 article in the Turkish daily, Hurriyet: “Let’s ignore the genocide [in the Sudans]. Let’s ignore, also, the West Pakistani massacres in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) totaling 1.25 million in 1971. Or, 200,000 deaths in Algeria in war between Islamists and the government in 1991-2006…. One million deaths in the all-Muslim Iran-Iraq war; 300,000 Muslim [Shia and Kurdish] minorities killed by Saddam Hussein; 80,000 Iranians killed during the Islamic revolution; 25,000 deaths in 1970-71, the days of [Jordan’s] Black September; and 20,000 Islamists killed in 1982 by the elder al-Assad in Hama. The World Health Organization’s estimate of Osama bin Laden’s carnage in Iraq was 150,000 a few years earlier…. In 2007, Gunnar Heinsohn from the University of Bremen and Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, found out that some 11 million Muslims have been violently killed since 1948, of which 35,000, (0.3 percent) died during the Arab wars against Israel, or one out of every 315 fatalities…”
Intra-Muslim violence is gleaned through entrenched hate-education and Islam’s attitude toward apostates. According to Prof. Bernard Lewis, the world’s leading authority on Islam, “Apostasy was a crime as well as a sin, and the apostate was damned both in this world and the next. His crime was treason – desertion and betrayal of the community…. He was a dead limb to be excised.” A December 2, 2010 Pew global poll found that “the majority of Muslims would favor changing current laws in their countries to allow stoning as punishment for adultery, hand amputation for theft, and death for those who convert from Islam as their religion. For instance, 76% of Pakistanis agree – and 13% oppose – that apostates are to be killed. In a country with a population of 172,800,000 (96% of whom are Muslim) that would be 126,074,880 individuals in a single country. They are not simply a fringe group.
The delusions of the Arab Spring, the “Religion of Peace,” the Arab Coalition, and Arab peaceful coexistence are rapidly dissipating. 2012 could deteriorate into one of the most unstable years ever in intra-Muslim confrontations, completely independent of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue.