Since the inception of the ‘resistance’ adopted by Iran since the 1979 revolution, and its regional proxies (the Assad regime in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon) against Israel and the west (supposedly), the regional alliance calling itself the ‘Resistance Axis’ (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah) has long utilised a sectarian narrative to fall back upon in the quest for legitimacy.
Although the ‘resistance’ is ostensibly a heroic anti-imperialist coalition (“It isn’t imperialism if Putin does it instead of Obama!”) the reality is that it is an alliance of sectarian dictatorships and Iranian puppets (namely the Assad regime and Hezbollah) who care nothing for resisting the US and Israel. To rally their flock to come to their defense, they invoke the most sectarian rhetoric possible, namely the rhetoric of Twelver Shi’a sectarianism, in order to justify their (often genocidal) campaigns against their own people in religious terms
Pe of the most disgusting aspects of this regional alliance of Iran and fellow proxies is the misuse of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, the Ahul-Bayt (House of Muhammad). In Twelver Shi’a doctrine, the members of Muhammad’s family are blessed as he was, and the succession of imams after Muhammad should thus descend from his family circle. Let us take the example of Imam Hussain.
Hussain Ibn Ali is the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. He was beloved by the Prophet, alongside his brother Hasan, his older brother. The prophet had even gone so far as to declare that anyone who hated them hated him too. He frequently described them as part of the house of Muhammad, even keeping them on his back during prostration.
After Prophet Muhammad passed away on June 8th 632, a struggle began among the Muslims as to who should be his successor. In the words of Augustus Norton, author of Hezbollah: A Short History: “There was a dispute in the community of Muslims in present-day Saudi Arabia over the question of succession. That is to say, who is the rightful successor to the Prophet?”
Most of the Muslims wanted a successor to be chosen by the Muslim Ummah (nation), a method by which they believed that the most rightful successor to the Prophet (SAW) would be chosen. Abu Bakr, one of the prophet’s first converts to Islam, was chosen by this majority to be the Caliph. However, the followers of Ali (the cousin of the prophet, a very pious man) disagreed and claimed that the successor to Muhammad should always be chosen from within the ranks of the family of Muhammad, and so advocated for Ali to be chosen.
However, Abu-Bakr was indeed made Caliph, and ruled between 632-634. When he died, he was replaced with Umar, who ruled between 634-44 before being murdered by a Persian agent. Ali was passed up for leadership of the Muslims in favour of Uthman. Uthman’s rule was apparently characterised by the rapid expansion of the Muslim empire. Uthman was eventually murdered and Ali became caliph. But Muawiya (governor of Syria) led a pro-Umayyad revolt, which culminated in Ali being murdered in 661, and Muawiya founding the Umayyad dynasty (661-750).
Hussain refused to pledge his allegiance to the Ummayads, travelling to Mecca. He declared that Umayyad rule over the Ummah was misguided as well as oppressive. He believed that if the Ummah was to survive, it would have to be put back on track. The people of Kufa joined Hussain’s bid to oppose the Umayyads, and he tried to reach the town in order to establish a caliphate there (since they had no leader).
As he made his journey, he and his followers were ambushed at Karbala on October 10th, 680, in an incident which became known as the Battle of Karbala. The battle was being a decisive defeat for Hussain and his small force, as they attempted to defend themselves against the immensely superior forces of Yazid.
Including a six-month old infant, his followers numbered 110, many of which could obviously not be expected to fight. Yazin’s army numbered at least 5000 men, and could have been as large as 30,000, or even 100,000. Hussain and all his supporters were killed, and the women and children became slaves. Not even Hussain’s six month old son was spared by Yazid’s forces.
Hussain had fought heroically, defeating any opponent who fought him in single combat, but he was unable to defend himself against such superior numbers, despite often forcing his enemies into retreat. Once he was rendered incapable of fighting by his wounds, Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan killed him as he prostrated to God, still refusing to capitulate. His enemies then looted Hussain and his followers of all their belongings and valuables.
Hussain is a hero for Muslims and those who value their freedom. Not only for his refusal to be silent in the face of corruption and tyranny, but for his translation of his words into action. He was prepared to fight for what he believed in. Ali is also regarded as a hero and a martyr by many as a result of his sacrifice.
However, the sick irony is in the use of Hussain’s image, and the image of fellow members of Muhammad’s family (Ali’s name also comes up very frequently) by Iran and its allies, as they go about conducting their genocidal campaigns against Sunnis. This has manifested itself most notably in the ongoing uprising in Syria, and in the strife engulfing Lebanon. During the rising in Syria, the population (mainly Sunni) has revolted against the 40 year-tyranny which is dominated by the Alawites (an offshoot of Shi’a Islam).
Due to a huge lack of manpower as a result of mass-defections from the Syrian army at all levels, the regime has been left severely short of Syrians willing to fight for it. As a result, the regime has deliberately reverted to its sectarian roots, dropping much of its nationalist veneer and seeking to pander directly to the Alawite community it draws much of its strength from. The regime has also played on the fears of other minorities that the revolutionary fighters (who are understandably mainly Sunnis, given the demographic make-up of Syria) are a mass of inherently malicious terrorists who will massacre them all if they don’t stand up and defend the regime.
Nir Rosen visited some Alawite areas in Syria, and saw firsthand the effects of the regime’s sectarian fearmongering:
In late August I drove with an Alawite friend connected to Syrian security up to the village of Laqbee in the mountainous Masyaf area of Hama. That morning two State Security officers had been killed in an ambush on the road.
We drove past Alawite and Christian villages, avoiding Sunni dominated areas. Entrances to Alawite villages were blocked by stones and sandbags with armed civilians or security officers standing guard. We passed many children on the road, playing with toy guns. We saw few minarets as we entered Masyaf. “They don’t sell land to Muslims,” my friend said. “They don’t want them to come and build mosques.”
We wound up narrow roads past green mountain villages before coming to a one-room concrete structure where many officers and government officials had gathered to pay their respects to the family of Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Shawkat Ahmad. He had been attending a military staff college in Algeria when a suicide bomber attacked the Algerian military and killed him and another Syrian officer. Outside, the structure was adorned with so many pictures of the Assads that it looked more like a shrine to the ruling family.
Much of the Syrian ‘army’ is now highly sectarian militias (such as the NDF) drawn from highly sectarian recruits or fearful minorities. Thousands of Iranian mercenaries are also in Syria, as are thousands of Hezbollah militants, at any given time. Much of Assad’s army is now foreigners, due to the fact that Syrians are unwilling to kill for him anymore, unless they are sectarian Syrians. Thus, he also has to import sectarian foreign mercenaries to do his killing for him – namely from Shiite Islamist groups. Hezbollah is now heavily engaged in the fight, as are vicious militias from Iraq; Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas (Brigade of Abu Fadl al-Abbas), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (‘League of the Righteous), Kataib Hezbollah (‘Brigade of the Party of God), the Badr Corps, and others.
As such, their propaganda arm is now heavily engaged in attempting to convince Shiites at large that they are fighting in the name of Ali, Hussain, Zeinab, and other members of the Ahul Bayt, and for the survival of Shiism itself. The reality is the exact opposite. By trying to put their community so firmly in the pro-Assad camp, they only increase the danger of sectarian attacks on the Shiites. Then again, that is exactly what they want, as such attacks are likely to push fearful Shiites even more firmly towards the side of the faux-‘resistance’.
Propaganda from all these groups; Iran, Hezbollah, the Assad regime, the Iraqi government (currently waging a genocidal campaign against Sunnis in Anbar) and others clearly plays on the Ahul-Bayt in an attempt to show a noble fight for Shiism against the forces of the disbelieving Sunnis. Any previous attempts at nationalism or inclusive resistance (which initially made Hezbollah so popular) have long since been abandoned.
A Hezbollah fighter invokes the names of Hussain, Zainab, and Ali, to justify flying the flag of the al-Abbas brigade over the Zainab shrine in Damascus.
A sectarian Shiite Islamist YouTube channel claims that Shiites are fighting Sunnis in Syria to take ‘revenge’ for the killing of Imam Hussain at Karbala.
A sectarian propaganda video put out by the Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas brigade, invoking Zainab’s name and claiming that the reason they are in Syria is to defend her shrine. The invocation of Zainab’s name however, was yet another distasteful attempt to justify the intervention of thousands of Shiite mercenaries in Syria; the vast majority of the fighters coming to defend Zainab’s shrine are fighting all across Damascus and all across the rest of Syria, using the shrine to justify participation in a sectarian slaughter. ‘Oh Zainab’ by Ali Barakat, used in this video (with extensively sectarian lyrics) has become the de facto anthem of the brigade.
Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General, invokes the name of Ali to justify alleged support for the Palestinian cause… Despite fighting for Assad, who has killed more Palestinians than Israel lately, and helping him to starve Palestinian refugee camps into submission. He also opposes letting Palestinians settle in Lebanon, and assures Israel that he will protect their borders. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the true face of the ‘resistance’… Even the basic principle of resisting Zionism is non-existent. The guns of the resistance are directed on the Sunnis, and never at Israel.
This is the reality of the ‘secular’ Assad regime. Vicious hatred of the majority of the population. This song is entitled ‘The Alawite Expansion Has Exploded’, and openly venerates Assad on a sectarian basis, for killing off Sunnis. Assad is put on a par with Hussain and others. The Imam would turn in his grave.
It isn’t just the members of the ‘Resistance Axis’ who propagate sectarian killings of Sunnis either. A report on the activities of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army went as follows:
Just back from the front, the soldier – hair dirty, voice tired – used his smartphone to pull up another Facebook picture of a soldier standing over a corpse. The dead man’s body was splayed out in black jeans, his arms stretched above his head in the dirt. A slogan read: “The Golden Division keep trampling them.”
“Whoever we capture now as a terrorist we kill him on the spot except for someone we want to investigate,” the soldier said matter-of-factly.
“I’ve watched dozens executed.”
The soldier flicked to a picture of a friend shot dead in Ramadi, dressed in his green Iraqi uniform, and fell silent. He said he saw 62 dead soldiers carried back to Baghdad one week; 40 the next.
He pulled up another picture on Facebook. This one showed an ISIL fighter’s face mutilated by a bullet hole. He pointed to the AK on the ground by the fighter and said: “After we kill them, then we plant the weapon by his side.”
The slang term the soldiers use for executions is “article five terrorism”, the soldier said and the Facebook pages show. It’s a play on Article Four Terrorism, a clause in the actual legal code that allows the security forces to arrest people on a blanket terrorism charge.
“Article Four is to arrest and Article Five is killing,” said the soldier, grinning at the logic of the slang.
Iraqi army soldiers know about ISIL’s videos of executions and of dead Iraqi soldiers, he said. He described his peers as tired and wanting to fight back. “Whoever ISIL captures, they execute him, so we are doing the same.”
Commanders don’t want to know, he added. Nobody asks questions.
“We believe it is correct because they (the militants) are Kuffars (Infidels),” he said, explaining the views of his brothers-in-arms. “It is the right thing to do. All of the military is doing it.”
True to form, the same Shiite Islamist Iranian proxy militias released words of support for the Maliki government (Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki has long propagated a sectarian narrative in Iraq, at the expense of the secuity of the nation, to say nothing of the Sunni population) and the Iraqi army, justifying their sectarian massacres as a fight against ‘terrorism’. This is a statement of support from Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq to Maliki’s repressive, destructive regime:
The perverse invocation of Hussain’s name and image, as well as the names of the other members of the Ahul-Bayt, and killing of non-Shiites by Islamists on the basis of this, couldn’t be any more sickening; especially in the context of an oppressor against the oppressed. Syrians are being attacked by a huge war machine, much of which is invoking the image of Hussain, Ali, Zainab and others, to justify a slaughter. Badly armed and outnumbered revolutionaries are facing a mechanised army hell-bent on slaughtering them with superior weapons and firepower; RPGs against the latest armoured vehicles, tanks against AK47s, MiGs against Toyota pickups…
Hussain faced, metaphorically speaking, a similar situation in Karbala to the situation that the Syrian people are facing right now. He faced greater numbers, greater weapons, a murderous army, poor odds… And yet he fought on, just as Syrians are. Yet the well armed oppressors, Assad, Iran, Hezbollah, and others, invoke his name when fighting the weak and the badly armed. If anything, Hussain’s name is worthy of invocation by the oppressed Syrians who are desperately battling on against all odds.
Hussain’s fight against the Umayyads could be said to be very similar to the fight of Syrians against Assad. Yet the men who Hussain would no doubt consider his greatest enemies if he were around today, are trying to turn his name on its head, and make it into a weapon of the strong, as opposed to an invocation by the weak. They are trying to turn him into Muawiya.
The invocation of ‘Ya Hussain’ is supposed to remind Shiites of the suffering he went through; the same goes for Ali and Zainab. Would they want their suffering to be used as a propaganda weapon to justify sectarian genocide and killing in the name of tyrants whose actions are completely contrary to their beloved Islam?
Ben Allinson-Davies is a worker for Radio Free Syria, blogger, and film-maker, who spent over a week in Syria with the people there, including revolutionary forces. His documentary on the revolution can be found here.
See my older posts, and blogspot blog here.