Copied from listserve contribution March 21.
In my rush to finish my degree, I have significantly reduced my attention towards the Arab Spring. Like many of you I am heartened and worried by the peaking in Yemen and sprouting of southern Syria. I will, however, make this brief comment about Qaradawi and Bahrain.
Sure, the unrest in Bahrain is different than the others. *NOT merely* because of the alienated Shi’a majority–but because the stakes are higher with the fall of each Arab dictatorship, especially one located on a tiny island between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Shi’a in Bahrain have lamented their alienation from the political process by the Sunni elite for years. And up till many months ago I believe, the Bahraini government was promising reforms, concerning which it utterly reneged. It seems to me that the sectarian form of Bahraini protest in its original context emerged from political greivances and civil demands (not unlike the poor kids in Cairo’s slums or the Shia of al-Qatif province). This is to say nothing about hired government thugs, Saudi-UAE invasion, or even Iranian influence, which had the effect of fomenting sectarian unrest. So, I would caution against those–most of all Sunni-Arab clerics who have a religious stake–who would dismiss, label or try and explain the unrest in Bahrain as a
*fundamentally* sectarian or religious problem of the other. What about the small non-sectarian protests which initiated the whole process of unrest in the first place? I doubt that an imam, mufti or sheikh (even one as progressive as Qaradawi [by traditional standards of course!]) can or wants to catch the nuances of these non-religious factors.
The bipolarity of sectarianism severely dumbs down the discourse of civil disobedience, political grievances, human rights, revolution, etc. Muslims and non-Muslims alike turn their attention towards the monolithic influence of Iran or the Wahabism of Saudi Arabia, or they start consulting the opinions of their relgious clerics, which I believe can be misleading.
Societies fragment along various economic (eg. Tunisia, Egypt), political,
religious (eg. Lebanon, Iraq) and other lines when civil unrest is introduced
into the equation. I would hope and anicipate that Muslim academics and
professionals are able to understand and articulate this critical nuance, which
if left unchecked may became the domain of polarizing forces like religious
clerics and Fox News.
For the religious worldview espoused by traditional Sunni Muslim clergy, Shi’is becoming part of the popular/democratic process might threaten the status quo of the Sunni majority. That they have legitimate political/civil greivances may be secondary or off the radar altogether. I cannot tell you how many salafis in Egypt–enlivened by the hope of Muslim-Christian unity–are proud that Saudi Arabia is helping to quell the Shi’is of Bahrain.
I recall al-Kubaysi advocating for Sunni-Shi’i unity after the fall Saddam many years ago, and that al-Qawsi agreed to the idea of a Christian president (no less a civil state) last month. I would hope that when all is said and done, similar players in Bahrain (Diya’ al-Musawi?) will call for Sunni-Shi’i unity.