Eclipse of the Sunnis

This book speaks to the plight ofthe Sunni middle class diaspora that is now two million strong and has littleprospect to return to their homeland.  This is a fact on the ground that has been ignored in media coverage andit will not get better.

Recall that the aftermath of allmodern conflagrations is a massive movement of peoples away from sectarian danger.  The end of the second war saw many millionsof Europeans displaced, mostly Eastern European Germans who had no hand in thewar itself but were still uprooted from deep into Russia.  A counter flow of Poles was also initiated bythe Russians to secure their borders at the time.  Many other movements took place at this time.

Similar flows took place duringthe Korean and Vietnamconflicts and the Palestinian flow is still raw because surrounding statesrefuse to settle these populations.

That Iraq has failed to makerepatriation attractive as yet is a serious problem.  Yet as it all settles down, perhaps this willall have a somewhat happy ending.  Germany’sexample is there for all to see and it can be done easily.  A handful of new Sunni towns in the SunniTriangle with high-rise complexes and two million are happily housed.  Security is assured and a major economiccounter weight to Bagdad is also created.

Eclipse of the Sunnis:

Power, Exile and Upheaval in the Middle Eastby Deborah Amos:


Sameer Rahim on a heartrending book about the plight of millions ofrefugees, Eclipse of the Sunnis by Deborah Amos

By Sameer Rahim 6:30AM BST 21 Jul 2010

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq,I doubt many people in Britainknew the difference between a Sunni and a Shia. But since the civil war beganin 2003, there has been considerable curiosity about the complexity ofreligious and political divisions in the Arab world.

In Eclipse of the Sunnis, the American journalist Deborah Amosdescribes how nearly two million mainly Sunni Iraqis have fled their countrysince the Americans and British invaded seven years ago. Her title references anow famous theory proposed by King Abdullah ofJordan that since the war a “Shia crescent” of influence has developedfrom a newly emboldened Iranthrough Shia-ruled Iraq, Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon.Abdullah contrasted these radical forces with the settled (some might saypliant and undemocratic) Sunni states such as Jordan,Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Themessage was designed as a rebuke to the US for unleashing a Shia revivalthat would work against its interests.

Amos seems to accept this argument. Her research takes her to Damascus, the Syrian capital that has absorbed the bulk ofthose fleeing the violence, as well as Amman andBeirut. Thereshe speaks to former members of the Ba’ath party, ordinary Sunnis, IraqiChristians and others forced to flee from Shia militias or the general chaos oftheir country.

These interviews present a heart-rending picture of refugees who arethe forgotten human cost of the invasion. Um Nour left Iraq when amilitant threw acid in her face. Her crime was being a Sunni married to a Shia.Her husband abandoned her and she moved to Damascus, where she works as a prostitute ina beauty salon. The only photograph the woman brought from Iraq, Amosnotes, was of a smiling Saddam Hussein, which she proudly displays on hertelevision. Another woman tells Amos that soldiers from a Shia militia came to Syria one summer, paid her for sex, and thentold her that if she ever returned to Baghdadthey would cut off her head.

Terrible as these stories are, Amos’s focus on the non-Shia victims ofthe invasion leads her to idealise the Saddam era. She speaks to some actorswho had, apparently, flourished in the theatre before the invasion. But tolament the censored theatre of the Ba’ath era when, as Amos admits, nearlyevery Iraqi family now has a satellite dish on its roof, is peculiar.

A casual reader might also not register that much of the violence inpost-Saddam Iraq – certainly all suicide bombings – have been carried out bySunni insurgents or al-Qaeda and have targeted Shia mosques and markets. Orthat Shias make up 60 per cent of Iraq and so in a democracy willhave the lion’s share of power.

None the less, this book is worth reading for the varied opinions ofthe Iraqi interviewees, which show that the invasion caused terrible losses butalso brought measurable gains.

The playwright Jawad al-Assady, anexile from the Saddam era, felt relieved when he watched on television asSaddam’s statue was pulled down. But when he returned, he could not believewhat had happened to his country: “This was a different city and a differentpeople. These were no longer the people I knew. This was not my memory.”

Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile and Upheaval in the Middle East

by Deborah Amos

No comments:

Post a Comment