Along with developments in Iraq, the recent events in Lebanon may reinforce the Sunni-Shiite rift in Islam. According to Stratfor (July 19), a publication of Strategic Forecasting, condemnations of Hezbollah for threatening everyone’s future are as strong as condemnations of Israel in countries such as Saudi Arabia. Stratfor emphasizes that the issue is not only theological, but geopolitical, with Iran becoming a major force and regional power in the Muslim world. Many experts are warning about the risks involved in a growing Shiite-Sunni divide.
At a recent conference at London Chatham House, Swiss Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan said that the schism needs to be addressed on both a theological and political level, reports UPI‘s Hannah K. Strange (July 7). Most analysts say that Iran is far from completely controlling Shiite movements in Iraq or Lebanon. These nations have their own agendas, but circumstances may lead them to reinforce their ties with Iran (e.g. fear of a Sunni restoration in Iraq). And Iranian support to Hezbollah has played a significant role in building such ties. Hezbollah is now attempting to raise its standing by being seen as a stronger supporter of Palestinians and the anti-Israel struggle than Sunni countries, observes PINR‘s Dario Cristiani (July 20).
However, Hezbollah is still far from being able to play the role it would like: its ability to help Palestinians effectively is “nonexistent”, writes Juan Cole on Salon.com (July 19). He adds that Israel may aspire to drive the Shiite population away from Southern Lebanon for security reasons. But this would only further radicalize the Shiites, who would then get not only Iranian but Iraqi Shiite support. Once again, when looking at prospects for the Middle East, one is reminded that religious and geopolitical issues cannot be separated.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)