Anti-Shia victim blaming & its roots in Iranophobia

Eisa Ali
Eisa Ali is a correspondent at RT UK bureau in London. He is also a political analyst with a focus on Iraq, Lebanon & Syria. He studied Law & Marketing at university before becoming a documentary film maker, journalist and writer. His writing has appeared on, Informed Comment & Digital Resistance and he has appeared on the BBC, Press TV, and Etejah English as an analyst and commentator.
A fighter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) holds an ISIL flag and a weapon on a street in the city of Mosul. (Reuters / Stringer)
Since ISIS exploded onto the world stage last year, a common meme to have gained traction is that had Iraq's Sunni Arabs been given a bit more power, there would’ve been no ISIS. This is a dangerous fallacy that ignores some uncomfortable realities.

I can completely see how that makes sense. If only, for example, the Minister of Transportation in Iraq had been a Sunni Arab then the following would’ve happened:

ISIS would’ve realized their dreams of a global caliphate were misguided and would’ve disbanded.

Anjem Choudary, the notorious UK hate preacher, would have stopped his incendiary statements about ‘Sharia law for the UK’.

Boko Haram would’ve handed back all the land they’ve seized in Northern Nigeria to the army.

Al-Qaeda in the Peninsula wouldn’t have launched the attack against Charlie Hebdo for publishing their blasphemous cartoons.

Jamaat-e-Islami wouldn’t have perpetrated the Bali bombings.

The Pakistani Taliban would stop massacring Shia Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians for sport.

Al Shabaab would’ve disbanded in Somalia.

The list could go on and on and on. I am, of course, being somewhat facetious and of course the government in Baghdad has been an equal opportunity offender, with the towns and cities of the Shia south among some of the most deprived areas of the country. There are many groups who have been marginalized by corruption and incompetence in central government, including the majority Shia.

Thus ‘Sunni marginalization’ doesn’t wash as a narrative to explain what lies behind ISIS, not when one considers they have also targeted Kurds, Christians, Yezidis and even non-compliant Sunnis they claim to be protecting.

The actual connection behind all the groups mentioned above, what truly links them together is the philosophy underpinning their vision. That is a growing inclination within Sunni Islam towards the Salafi (also referred to as Wahhabi) ideology which has its financial and historical roots in Saudi Arabia and the wider Arabian Peninsula. In the case of the terrorist groups massacring Muslims, Christians and anyone else in their way, a particular reading of this philosophy is Salafi Jihadism, which sees as its end goal the establishment of the aforementioned global caliphate. Still the ‘marginalization’ canard persists to justify the barbarous rampage of ISIS which includes indiscriminate massacres against Shia Muslims, who they regard as heretics. It is interesting to note that in any other country, such equivocation would be shut down in a heartbeat as ‘justifying terrorism’. You can’t point to the massive inequality targeting French, mainly North African Muslims to try to explain Charlie Hebdo, but you can say the Shia deserve to be slaughtered like sheep at Camp Speicher because, you know, jobs and stuff.

There are, of course, several agendas behind this. The first is a quite shameless attempt by some who supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq to wash their hands of any responsibility for it. What better way than to blame the locals for the electoral system you imposed which has hamstrung repeated Iraqi administrations over the past decade, with the over-emphasis on sect and ethnicity, and the power-sharing structure which leads to inherently weak and corrupt governments.

The Shia Arabs form 60 percent of the Iraqi population but have shared power with all of Iraq’s other minority groups in order to keep the peace. These groups have played the role of spoilers in order to achieve their own respective interests. The mainly Sunni Kurds have consistently threatened to secede should Baghdad stop paying the Kurdish Region its $1 billion welfare check, while the Sunni Arabs have drifted between boycotts of the political process and terrorism in order to pressure the central government for more concessions. But as far as US leaders are concerned, when the US withdrew from its brutal occupation the message to the Iraqis was “it’s your baby now, you deal with it.”

Men stand in line to vote during the Iranian presidential election at a mosque in Qom. (Reuters / Mohammad Akhlagi)

As Shireen T Hunter, a Professor at Georgetown University, states in her seminal piece; “the exclusion of Iraq’s Sunnis from leadership posts in Baghdad has been blown out of proportion. Western and especially US dislike of Iran has been a major cause for the disregarding of mass killings and assassination of Shias.”

This brings us to the next agenda. The Iraqi government has built close ties to its Persian neighbor to the east. The Islamic Republic has supported successive Iraqi administrations, invested billions of dollars into the Iraqi economy, helped develop the holy shrine cities of Najaf, Karbala and Samarra and, particularly since last June, helped Iraq in its war with the so-called ‘Islamic State’. In fact numerous Iraqi officials have stated that if it wasn’t for Iran, and not the US, ISIS would’ve been fighting in Baghdad itself and not currently on the defensive against the Alliance of Iraqi armed forces, Shia militias and local anti-ISIS Sunni tribes.

This alliance which forms part of the broader resistance axis has presented a huge problem for the regional foes of Iran and by extension, their Shia allies, both in Iraq and the wider region. The first and foremost foe is the Israeli regime. The Israeli obsession with Iran has led to an alliance with the Syrian rebels and in particular the al-Qaeda branch in Syria, Jabhat Al Nusra, to which even the UN has borne witness. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the US congress at the invite of the Republican Party earlier this month and used his speech to excoriate a proposed US-Iran deal over Iran’s peaceful civilian nuclear program. His message was that Iran is the major threat to world peace and not ISIS.

He is joined in this assessment by the Sunni monarchies just across the Gulf from Iran. The Saudi’s are also terrified, and claim to be under siege as the Islamic Republic, which now wields serious influence in Syria to the north, Yemen to the south and Iraq to the East. Of course, the Saudi sponsorship of radical Sunni groups both within Iran’s borders and without doesn’t seem to be a problem or considered ‘meddling’ by biased and increasingly sectarian Western policy makers & analysts. Saudi money has gone a long way towards building this alternative reality, in coordination with their allies in Tel Aviv. Human Rights Watch, who have solicited funds from within Saudi Arabia and are funded by billionaire regime-changer George Soros, have also disproportionately focused their indignation against the Shia volunteer groups and Sunni tribes uniting to fight ISIS, while their chief Ken Roth extolled the virtues of ISIS’s outreach attempts with the local population.

As the volunteers and their allies have made gains with Iranian assistance against ISIS in Tikrit, the criticism has reached a crescendo with people having the audacity to draw equivalence between ISIS on one side and those fighting for their very survival on the other. While Christians and Yezidis are given a chance to “repent” or pay the Jizya protection tax to ISIS, Shias are afforded no such luxury. They are killed on sight, offered no chance of redemption, while ISIS has vowed to attack them in their holy cities in the heartlands of the South.

This narrative of victim-blaming draws on the most putrid sectarian & racist biases and plays into the hands of ISIS and its supporters. It helps them to justify their unjustifiable acts. But more importantly, it falls into the context of an attempt by two of the world’s most horrific regimes in Israel and Saudi Arabia to spread an irrational fear of Iranian influence in the region. It is a narrative that seeks to derail the nuclear talks as well, with all the devastating consequences that could entail.

Eisa Ali, RT UK’s correspondent in London. (Twitter: @EisaAli_RT)

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.