Sectarianism, the most lethal of weapons

Sectarianism, the most lethal of weapons
Comment: Sectarianism has been used by Arab elites to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people to kill. It is time to stop this collusion, says Lamis Andoni.
4 min read
04 May, 2015
Sectarianism has torn apart Iraq and other countries [AFP]

The Islamic State group's murder of Ethiopian hostages, killed because they were Christian, confirms once again that the killing fields in our region make any person, and not just every Arab or even Westerner, and any worker who crosses seas and borders in search for a livelihood, is a potential victim of the creed of hatred.

It is as if we have all become legitimate targets for sectarian grudges. Death could come at the hands of people we thought we knew, whenever a sectarian war should erupt in any part of the Arab world.

We have all become instruments or moving targets for the conflicts among politicians and governments over power and influence.

The suspicious ease by which arms have proliferated has made this possible; every war has profiteers and merchants trading in death.

However, there is a moment at which a person with no history or priors becomes a savage killer, when he finds in religion and sect justification for murder.

Indeed, it is people, not weapons, no matter what kind they are, that kill. What we see today is that sectarian mobilisation and incitement are the most lethal weapon of all, because they can convince hundreds if not thousands to bear arms, turning them into instruments of death and terror.

Principles have become jumbled, and the notion of just war has nearly disappeared. If we have learned nothing from the Lebanese civil war and the horrors of sectarian killing, and how young people in their prime became lethal weapons against neighbours and friends, then anyone outside one's sect and its allies could become a legitimate target.
     What we see today is that sectarian mobilisation and incitement are the most lethal weapon of all.

We speak about the IS and its crimes, yet we ignore that the majority of parties, that only appear more civilised, use the same sectarian excuses.

I repeat here, what I wrote before, that intellectuals and elites, and not just political leaders and those who claim to be religious leaders, are also responsible for spreading sectarian intolerance.

The elites, albeit not all, are deeply complicit in this, because of their lack of awareness, or more likely, because they stand to gain personally.

Still, it is shocking how the majority allows itself to be easily influenced by the sectarian debate.

In my long years as a reporter, I often found myself astonished by the extent of sectarian expressions in conversations with friends and colleagues I had known for a long time, and whose religious affiliation had in the most cases been unknown to me.

Sectarian interpretations, at the time, replaced professional discussions. I started hearing from Iraqi colleagues about 'esotericism' among Shias, as the criterion by which they analysed political events in Mesopotamia.

Some, meanwhile, would say bombing Fallujah was legitimate, because it was the best way to deal with the nature of people there. I did not understand that this was a reference to the Sunni affiliation of Fallujah's residents.

I have always recalled events from Lebanon, and remembered those who were machine gunned at checkpoints manned by the Lebanese militias in the civil war.

I remember the first time I entered a Phalangist region on the outskirts of Beirut after the civil war. I found myself at a local radio station that broadcasted the Phalanges' statements against the Palestinians; Christian Maronite factions believed that since most Palestinians were Muslims, their presence in Lebanon threatened the existence and influence of Christians in Lebanon.

In both the Lebanese and Iraqi cases, foreign powers played a key role in reviving sectarian and ethnic strife. In Lebanon, French colonialism created a Maronite political base for its influence and devised a constitution that divided power among religious communities. In Iraq, the US justified its war by invoking the historical oppression of Shia in the country.

We are living the consequences of those interventions, as well as the policies of the regimes and religious establishments that generate backwardness and hatred.

Some are even justifying the murder of the Ethiopian or keeping silent about it, forgetting their humanity, and forgetting that each one of us will become a potential killer or victim, if the silence and collusion with any power that inflames the sectarian fire continues.

This is an edited translation of the original Arabic.