Remember the one about the rabbi and priest walking down a street? Well, those days are over. Move over Judaism versus Christianity, we’re getting into Shia (Shiite) versus Sunni territory now. The unfortunate thing is that the jokes haven’t been crafted yet, only the sad punchlines.
The latest, Saudi Arabia’s (Sunni) execution of a Saudi Shia cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, on January 3, has lead to the condemnation of the execution by Iran (Shia), the subsequent storming and pillaging of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and the retaliatory suspension of diplomatic relations with Iran, by the Saudis.
This ungraceful dance is being played out in various Islamic national theatres: Syria, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of course, how could I forget, in Saudi Arabia. It’s the Coke versus Pepsi rivalry with very serious human consequences.
All the prophesying pundits have cast the bones and come up with various predictions for 2016. Not one includes some sort of resolution, let alone peace, in the Mediterranean theatre. And let’s not fool ourselves any longer: it’s no longer a Middle Eastern regional issue but something that is, albeit, an unpleasant and unpolitically-correct truth to swallow, a religious issue.
I know, I know, most Muslims are not supportive of quashing down their brethren who might view Islam through a different lens, and I know that most targets of all these various violent actions are Muslims themselves. The fact that Muslims are targeting Muslims, whether through rhetoric or through a loaded gun, shows that we really have to start using a religious-cultural lens through which to view what’s happening around the Mediterranean basin.
Back to the Saudis and the Iranians. Given that so many of the issues of 2015 – the migrant/refugee crisis, increasing jihadism, the virulent rise of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, Turkey versus Russia leg cocking, terrorist attacks in various countries around the world etc… – stem from the Syrian conflict, perhaps it’s time we not worry about getting the Syrian government and rebel groups to the negotiating table, but start higher up the pecking order, and work on getting the Iranians and Saudis to the table. Perhaps then some sort of resolution might trickle top down.
In the meantime, I’m going to start working on jokes.