Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Saudi 'marinade': "The Language of Anti-Shiism "

"...Today it is no longer shocking to see violence framed and justified in terms of sectarian identity in and of itself as part of a wholesale condemnation and exclusion of the other. In such cases, ajamseems antiquated and hardly up to the task of vilifying the sectarian other. Sectarian extremists no longer pay lip service to the idea of unity and uniformity and state control has lost the ability -- and in some cases the interest -- to enforce the more selective and ambivalent sectarian discourse of the 20th century. Since 2003, a sectarian discourse marinated in religious dogma has emerged that leaves little room for compromise and even less room for "good Shiites" as was previously the case. The ajam were the "bad Shiites" whose ethnic impurities nevertheless potentially implicated the whole; however, the portrayal of Shiites as rafidha is a religious condemnation of all Shiite s for the fact that they are Shiites.The newly invigorated emphasis on doctrinal as opposed to ethnic otherness has been internalized by some Shiite groups. In these circles, the term rafidha has been adopted and turned into a badge of honor. One group of activists proudly calls themselves al shabab al rafidhi (the rafidha youth) and publicly revel in those elements of Shiism that are most offensive to Sunnis. Similar Shiite groups compose poetry and anthems in which they refer to themselves as rafidha in an aggressive assertion of a very belligerent Shiite identity heavily infused with sectarian dogma. While this phenomenon remains relatively limited, it is reminiscent of the evolution of the "N"-word's usage over the 20th century. Also stricking is the contrast between such forms of Shiite expression and the more apologetic, low-profile Shiism that was more prevalent in the Arab world prior to 2003. These changes speak volumes about Middle Eastern states and societies and how they have been transformed by the changes and pressures of the past 10 years. Far from being an issue of mere semantics, the disappearance of ajam and the ubiquity of rafidha in sectarian discourse reflects profoundly consequential transformations in how sectarian relations, the nation-state and the criteria for inclusion are viewed in the post-2003 Middle East. While the long-term ramifications and trajectories of these changes cannot be predicted with certainty, developments thus far raise serious concern for sectarian relations in the immediate future.Throughout the 20th century sectarian relations in Iraq -- and to varying degrees in Lebanon, Syria, and Bahrain as well -- were framed through the prisms of the nation-state, ethnicity and national rather than religious inclusion or exclusion. A glaring exception, as already mentioned, was Saudi Arabia where sectarian identity and sectarian exclusion has always been, first and foremost, an issue of religion and religious doctrine.Since 2003 however, the "Saudi exception" seems to be increasingly turning into the Middle Eastern rule. Today sectarian otherness in the Middle East is no longer framed in primarily ethnic or national terms but in starkly religious ones: where previously an Arab nationalist-influenced anti-Shiite discourse questioned the Shiites' ethnic and nationalist pedigree by referring to them as ajam, today a Salafi-influenced discourse questions Shiites' doctrines, religious beliefs, and ultimately their belonging to the Islamic world by referring to them as rafidha. This shift from ethnic or national exclusion to religious exclusion can potentially turn sectarian competition -- never pleasant even at the best of times -- into something far more divisive and intractable than anything witnessed in the history of the Arab nation-state. ..."

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