Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Islamic Reformation!

While Graham Fuller, former top Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, is quoted in this article as saying that "Resistance rises above sectarianism" in the region at the moment, is reporting on rising sectarian tensions among Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon at this stage, in particular on rising Sunni resentment and suspicions with regard to the increasing role of the Shiites in Lebanon, and the role of Hezbollah in instigating the current round of conflict. So, what’s really going on here?

I think that people really have to differentiate here between how the Arab Street is reacting to the conflict, and how the conflict is perceived in Lebanon itself. People who bear the brunt of conflict and pay the ultimate price have a slightly more nuanced view of it. And when there is history of sectarianism involved, the difference in perception is bound to straddle sectarian fault-lines as well.

But there is something even deeper at work here. The region is being rocked to its foundation through a variety of forces and agents, including US intervention. This is definitely bound to produce some sectarian manifestations. But, then, the region has been exposed and bombarded by modern values, culture, ideologies and trappings for a period ranging 1-2 centuries depending on where you are in the region and what part of the country involved you happen to belong to. This has served to complicate things immensely, leading to the emergence of moderates and radicals of all shapes and sizes and across the political spectrum. All the while, the interests of the different players and entities involved are in constant flux. Indeed, an organization might simultaneously be conservative and radical in its stances depending on the issue involved, whether it is political, social or economic, and whether it is purely domestic or involves certain regional and international actors.

For instance, the Assads of Syria are conservatives with regard to political and economic reform, as this might upset their power base and erode their control over the country, but they are, for a variety of reason, including the desire to divert their people’s attention from the internal situation, quite radical in their stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict and US regional interventionism. Indeed, they don’t seem capable of compromising here for fear of internal repercussions. For this reason, the Assads are willing to support a host of actors on the basis of their degree of adventurism and opposition to Israel and US policies, regardless of their actual ideologies and sectarian backgrounds. Alliances of conveniences are the name of the game these days and will be for a long time to come. For the entire region is in flux.

Indeed, the most hoped for Islamic Reformation could not have assumed any other guise than the current confusion taking place at this stage. New loyalties, identities, patterns of belonging will continue to emerge and interact with older ones in the variety of ways, ranging from the most accommodative and pragmatic to the most puritan and rejectionist, in a desperate attempt to root themselves in this rough terrain. (Was the situation really that different in Europe during the heydays of its reformation?)

In this, issues such as the Arab-Israeli Conflict, US intervention, globalization, energy politics, developmental issues, etc., and concepts such as resistance, integration, modernization, democratization, human rights, civil society, transparency, accountability, good governance and of course, Islam, will play both the role of catalysts and of measuring sticks for how much advance or retreat is made.
Uncertainty with regard to the final outcome will color our lives for the next few decades, albeit we are already moving as though on a hyper-drive.