How Syrian Conflict Morphed into a Sectarian Clash?

How Syrian Conflict Morphed into a Sectarian Clash?

It sours every heart seeing the Muslims from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, to Syria Lebanon and Iran going down the road of a Sunni-Shiite (shia) conflict, which is bound to have terrible results.


I believe the basic problem is that Muslims have failed to recognize the true causes of the conflict in Syria and it has morphed into a Sunni- Shia sectarian clash, which is attracting extremists who are rising to defend their particular brand of Islam. Al- Qaeda was already active in the area but now the news is that TTP has proclaimed that it has sent fighters to fight against the Syrian regime. This may have negative repercussions on Pakistan.


Perhaps the sequence of events is that the environment of the Arab spring became increasingly uncomfortable for a despotic Syrian regime. This gave the US and Israel the perfect opportunity to somehow exploit it to the fullest for their own purposes and raise it to the status of a major uprising against Assad. For this, they clubbed Syria with Iran and Hezbollah who have supported it traditionally against the US and Israel and used the “Shia card” to muster support from the Sunni countries in the area. While doing so they incorrectly and deliberately characterized Assad as a Shia.  He is in fact an Alawite, a sect whom the traditional Asna Ashari Shia consider as different from them, similar to their categorization of the Agha Khanis. More importantly Assad’s politics like those of his father are Secular- Baathist.

Why did the US and Israel act this way?


Israel does not tolerate any opposition or potential threat in its neighborhood. It has neutralized Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia (with US help after the Iraq war) and is now going after Syria, Hezbollah and Iran (again with US help).



It shares a direct border with Syria and captured the Golan Heights after the 1967 six day war and later annexed it in 1981 and started building settlements there which gives it a vantage point over the valley. In the past also, Israel has taken unilateral action against Syria when it bombed a suspected nuclear site in Syria in an operation called “Operation Orchard” in 2007, as it did Iraq’s nuclear reactor in an operation called “Operation Babylon” in June 1981.



Hezbollah has challenged the Israeli might many times starting with the attack on Israeli forces occupying Lebanon and its Phalangist allies, in the early eighties. More recently in 2006, they started a conflict with Israel (by kidnapping an Israeli soldier), to relieve pressure on the Gaza strip and Hamas who were at that time facing a massive onslaught from the Israelis.
Israel has always accused Hezbollah and Iran for supplying arms to Hamas. Please note Hezbollah is Shia and Hamas, Sunni. In this particular conflict between the Israelis and Hezbollah it may be recalled that after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon was stopped in its steps by Hezbollah and the Israelis suffered major losses, there was a Saudi Fatwa which stated that Hezbollah should not be supported since it was Shia. Why. I ask when the Shia Hezbollah had got involved just to help the Sunni Hamas?



Relations between the US and Iran changed from being friendly to very bad when during the initial years of the Iranian revolution, the Iranians stormed the US embassy and took all embassy staff hostage. They improved a little under subsequent regimes, However, dropped to a low again when ex-President Ahmed e Nijad, ill advisedly, unleashed a tirade against Israel and questioned whether the Jewish Holocaust in Germany took place or not.
This was pointless and inflammatory talk. Nazi Germany’s killing of the Jews and other minorities is well documented. It should be condemned. The creation of Israel in Arab lands by the western powers was not a fair resolution of the Jewish problem in Europe. It created another problem. However, Israel is a fact and its immediate neighbors like Jordan and Egypt recognize it. The whole world is trying to make the best of a bad situation and set up two independent States one for Israel and one for the Palestinians. This appears at this time to be the best second best solution and hope for peace in the area.



However, by the ill-advised tirade against Israel Ahmed- e- Nijad gave Israel the perfect opportunity to paint Iran as an existentialist threat to Israel. This was very much like the Hamas attacks by minuscule rockets from Gaza into Israel which caused no great damage on the Israeli side but resulted in many massive invasions of the Gaza strip and whole scale destruction and loss of life. To top it all this has been supported by the US by saying that Israel has the right to defend itself!



Ahmed I Nijad’s speeches were compounded by Iran’s stated intention to develop Nuclear technology even though they say categorically that this technology is going to be used only for peaceful purposes and the clerics have issued a fatwas that the production of Nuclear bombs fro offensive purposes is “Haram”. Also note that the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty ( NPT), to which Iran is a signatory, does not forbid it to produce Uranium required for power generation as long as the enrichment levels are much lower than those required for nuclear bombs. ( I think the numbers are 20-30 % enrichment for power and _ 98 % for nuclear bombs).
However, unfortunately Muslims have fallen into the trap and shaped the Syrian conflict into a Shia Sunni sectarian clash since Hezbollah and Iran are helping the Syrians.


Given the present situation, Iran will cooperate with anybody in the area, including the devil to counter the Israeli and US pressure. At this time this happens to be Syria and Hezbollah of which the latter happens to be Shia and the former a despot. Iran also promotes friendship with Venezuela to counter the US pressure on its oil-markets!


The way out of this is to convince the people in the Sunni countries that this is NOT a conflict against the SUNNIS in Syria by a Shia regime. Assad is a secular Baathist and not even a Shia. Saddam was also a secular Baathist and not much of a Muslim or a Sunni. He suppressed everybody from whom he feared opposition. This included the Shias, who were a majority in the country and could become a threat and the Sunni Kurds who wanted a separate identity from Arabs.



Both Assad and Saddam were/ are bad people when it comes to their relations with their people. But his is not why Israel and US oppose them. Many other rulers in the Middle east are not much better. The Shah of Iran was a despot but had diplomatic relations with Israel and at that time Iran was not considered a rogue State.

The point is that Israel and the US would have still fought Saddam and Assad if they were good people. Iraq was a good friend of the West until such time that they required Iraq to put down Iran. I remember clearly that within two weeks of the end of the Iran Iraq war, The Washington Post started publishing reports saying that Iraq was the real potential threat to Israel and they acted quickly to take care of this threat under the two Presidents Bush I and II. Please note that in Iraq in the aftermath of the Iraq war, true to Muslim form, Al Qaeda and the Mahdi militia started killing each other’s co-religionists and the killing continues to this day.



This is the point that the Muslim countries in the area need to understand. They need to emphasize to their peoples that this is not a Shia-Sunni conflict. They should try to get Assad to relax his hold and become less repressive otherwise he will go the way of Saddam. This may not be bad by itself, but what saddens me immensely is that by the time this happens a serious divide may be created among the Muslim people and result in many innocent lives being lost and people being slaughtered in the name of “the correct version of Islam”.

Ali Hashim

A Ph.D. in Physics, from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, U.K and has also completed a post doctoral fellowship at the National Research Council of Canada

  • Anonymous

    Regime change in the guise of best interests – religion is only a an instrument/weapon in the new style warfare…..seeing the outcome in Iraq, Saddam’s secular/nationalist times appear progresive and positive in comparison with today.

    Contradictions too with Mursi toppled even when he opposed Assad – perhaps he was a bigger threat to Saudis than Assad…note the flow of funds into Egypt post Mursi. Wonder if tge US will support the next uprising in Bahrain!

  • Anonymous

    NASAH Sb

    There is NO quandary – as a liberal, progressive, democrat, one has to accept the likes of Mursi or Zardari, Sharif etc.that is the price to pay for progressing democracy and creates the difference between the ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps.

    As a pragmatist, surely more subtle ways can be found to be rid of dictators abusing their positions – even if they are secular/progressives. At least it will not greatly dent our belief in the righteousness of promoters’ of liberal/progressive/democratic agenda when they themseleves start playing double standards!

    In the meantime, a few like us will try and kerp showing the mirror as best as our ability allows. Either one makes someone like Adlai Stevenson a standard bearer for the norm or show him up to ge a cynical hypocrite – I’d much rather the former.

  • Anonymous

    NASAH Sb

    Can the US remain on sidelines or an unequivocal condemnation of the coup in Egypt is overdue to avoid that chronic ‘martyrdom’ (27th July killibgs have only added to it) syndrome setting in and spreading?

  • zaffi

    good point about hizbulah and Israel. One benefit toIsrael of then Arab spring is a chnace to close the bars against Iran. But muslims are and have been tooooo stupid to understand that real enemy is not shia or sunni, but geo politcal games that are played to advance economic growth. Muslims have been fighting over this since deatho of our prophet pubh, and it is not about to chnage, especialy wince muslims do not understand the meanings to the BOOK.

  • zaffi

    I should mention one more thing, the probems of Muslim countries are due to divisions of homegenous people among several countries so west can follow the “divide and conquer” philosophy.
    this crrent divide is so accepted among muslims that we call these countries by current name in our history. Iraq did not exist during imam Hussains time, neither Syria, but our hisotry labels them as such.
    The point is Muslims are too divided to make a major impact on anything in this world, as they cannot get over petty issues to understand geopolitical policies that are used to control them.