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Badr al-Ibrahim

Calling murder murder

Demonstrations against the bombing took place in Saudi Arabia over the weekend [AFP]

Date of publication: 26 May, 2015

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Comment: Many in Saudi Arabia are unable to describe the attack on a Shia mosque as an act of mass murder, says Badr al-Ibrahim.
The initial shock from Friday's suicide bombing in eastern Saudi Arabia has now subsided and given way to widespread denunciations against the attackers.

From members of royalty to the general public, there has been almost universal condemnation in Saudi Arabia.

Sectarian viewpoints

However, the seriousness of the situation that was left behind after the dust settled makes it vital that we question the attitudes of some Muslim preachers and members of the elite in Saudi Arabia.

From Salafis to Muslim Brotherhood ideologues, sectarian interpretations of regional conflicts dominate the discourse of many in these groups.

While most condemned the suicide bombing in Qudeeh, some returned to a default sectarian rhetoric that blames the victims for their their own deaths because of the political views of some of their coreligionists.

We are living through a time of major regional conflict where nations and political actors are raising sectarian banners, and mobilising people based on their religious affiliations.

However, the sectarian dimension of these wars not does not truly reflect what is happening in the region. 

Countries involved in these conflicts are, in reality, fighting over political and economic influence. Regional alliances have been shaped after many long decades and have been influenced by external matters such as colonialism, Israel, and the relationship with major powers.

In other words, the causes of the conflict are not necessarily sectarian - although a sectarian character in these battles has emerged over the past decades.

Even so, it would be incorrect to say that a conflict between Sunni and Shia is taking place. The regional landscape is more complex than this reductive, superficial narrative. 

When we take a closer look at the region's hotspots, we find a real mosaic of different religious and ethnic communities interacting in different ways, despite the dominance of a sectarian discourse by rival militias.

In Iraq, for example, the Sunni al-Jabour clan has fought alongside the Iraqi government and Shia militias against the Islamic State group. 

In Syria, Sunnis make up a large chunk of the ranks in the Syrian army, which is battling Sunni-dominated rebel forces. 
     In Egypt and North Africa, there are dozens of conflicts taking place with no so-called Sunni-Shia dimension attached.


In Yemen, the sectarian analysis can never quite explain the alignments of the tribes in the conflict.

In Egypt and North Africa, meanwhile, there are dozens of conflicts taking place with no so-called Sunni-Shia dimension attached.

But many Islamists still believe that the Saudi suicide bombing was part of a tumultuous regional landscape.

Victims of victimhood

It is hard to deny that sectarianism has an influence. Every day, events confirm the existence of a single Arab continuum whose elements interact with and influence one another.

But many Islamists are keen to keep media narratives concentrated on the supposed victimisation of Sunnis. Sectarian-minded people from both side of the divide like to claim to be victims.

For this reason, sectarian Sunni Islamists are keen to remind everyone that regional "Shia terrorism" is the reason for the conflicts.

This discourse puts the Saudi Shia in this transnational "Shia bloc" that is pitted against a transnational Sunni alliance.

As a result of this thinking, those killed or injured in the attack on the Saudi mosque are not viewed as victims of mass murder, but in one way or another seen as responsible for having been targeted. That is because they suspect that some of the victims might sympathise with some "Shia bloc".

In both cases, it appears that they are calling for ordinary people to be interrogated, with Shia intellectuals questioned on their views towards the "Shia bloc", just beause they share the same faith. 

This is reminiscent of how some Westerners have demanded Muslims to denounce violent attacks from extremists, such as the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, because they share the same religion as the attackers.

Some Islamists view all Shia as guilty of hating Sunnis, unless they can prove otherwise.

They view people in their community as being one monolithic political bloc. Even moderates have shown little courage to countering hate speech inside Saudi Islamist circles to avoid antagonising certain segments of the public. 

While there are those in both communities who reject sectarian strife, the more extreme view is still held by many preachers and elites.

Those who view life through a sectarian lens are ultimately cheerleaders for populism and tribalism, constantly pouring oil on the fires of sedition.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

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