Conflict Resolution in the Middle East and the Islamic thought

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SHAFAQNA – Conflict resolution, or, at the very least, our ability to engage with those parties we disagree with, remains our era’s greatest challenge – even more so if we consider that the Middle East has bled several rivers over the past decades.

While many will hold to different ‘philosophies’ when it comes to conflict resolution, it is seldom we have considered such art from an Islamic perspective.

And yet most wars have plagued the Islamic world. It stands therefore to reason that we at least consider the possibility that Islam exists beyond the conflicts architected by an elite few, so caught up it has been in its decontextualisation of the sacred, and arching of the truth.

If wars have been waged in the name of those devolutions: Wahhabism/Salafism/Deobandism, maybe peace could be formulated away from it, by reclaiming that very ground fanatics have denied Muslims, and held others ransom over, to reform dogmatism.

Readers may recall that some 13 centuries ago, a man of the progeny of the Prophet Muhammad: Imam Hussain ibn Ali, took it upon himself to do just that – reform Islam away from deviation, so that justice could be restored. For all our ‘modern thoughts’ it could well be answers were formulated long ago if only we cared to ponder over it.

Before I get into the crux of it all, readers will forgive an early digression … although I’d like to think that what follows will in fact echo enough for many to recognise those dynamics we find ourselves stuck in.

“The man who refuses to judge, who neither agrees nor disagrees, who declares that there are no absolutes and believes that he escapes responsibility, is the man responsible for all the blood that is now spilled in the world. Reality is an absolute, existence is an absolute, a speck of dust is an absolute and so is a human life. Whether you live or die is an absolute. Whether you have a piece of bread or not, is an absolute. Whether you eat your bread or see it vanish into a looter’s stomach, is an absolute.

There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromise is the transmitting rubber tube.” ― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

It is often said that the devil is in the details … what if he in fact exists in the ‘middle’ Rand refers to when she speaks of compromises? While pragmaticism, and more particularly political pragmatism calls for negotiations – even those who would turn good folks’ stomachs, can we deny that such exercises are nothing but an admission of defeat before what we ought to oppose?

I recall for example how one assertive former US President George W. Bush clamored his government would never negotiate with terrorists back in 2001… fast forward a decade and US officials have conceded to sharing a table with the Taliban … among other things.

Such ‘compromises’ have forced the United Nations in 2016 to back-peddle on their criticism of Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights track record.

Such need for ‘resolution’ have powered cruel policies, so as to prevent what governments warned would generate: instability – whether financial, political, or military … Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan … the list of compromises goes on and on.

In other words: politics is not a game to be played by the faint-hearted, and decisions at times require for great many sacrifices. While this may well be true it is fascinating how those sacrifices are always been paid in full by the people and not their leaders.

Is there such thing as a sacrifice when another is made to live with it?

One may argue of course that idealism will not survive a day in the court of man, not when on its floor powerful men’s ambitions come to clash. And yes to some extent it would be impossible to engage the Devil and not come out of such struggle looking a fright. But what if instead of engaging, resolution could exist in opposing it by existing outside its paradigm? – the Devil’s that is.

Allow me to put it to you in concrete terms.

Since 2011 Bahrain has been locked in a conflict with its ruling family: al-Khalifa, calling for fair political representation, social justice, and freedom. For 6 years Bahrainis have been assaulted, battered, brutalised, imprisoned, tortured, demonised, criminalised … For 6 years a people’s call for democracy has been denied, silenced, and altogether ignored in the name of geopolitical pragmatism and the siren call of profiteering.

For 6 years, experts, politicians, and heads of state have worked to conceptualise the premise of a conflict resolution, only to fail before the resolve of Bahrain opposition.

6 years into this status quo an interesting debate has taken place, one I feel, ties in perfectly with the subject at hands: conflict resolution and the Islamic thought.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing both Jalal Fairouz and Dr Muhammad Haider on Bahrain and the two experts had interesting positions as to what should happen next to allow for a resolution to take shape. I would say that their divergence of opinions is rather symptomatic of our modern thought process.

Jalal Fairouz, a former MP for al-Wefaq remains unshakable in his commitment for peaceful opposition, in line with Sheikh Isa Qassim’s position, even when such a line has spelt heartache and hardship for tens of thousands of Bahrainis.

Dr Muhammad Haider holds that in the face of al-Khalifa’s disdain for human life, and change, Bahrainis ought to actualise self-defense and stand their ground against a regime which has enacted murder as its state policy.

What is particularly noteworthy here is that both parties are holding true to Shia tradition in their approach of conflict resolution – it is only context that will determine which path over the other ought to be considered.

In Islam both positions have been institutionalised: peace in the shape of a political accord through Imam Hassan’s treaty with Muawiya and armed resistance as an affirmation of one’s religious duty through Imam Hussain’s stand in the plain of Karbala against Yazid ibn Muawiya’s armies.

In both cases, in all cases it should be asserted, Shia Islamic thought has put emphasis on the greater good – within the confines of Islam, advocating patience and restraint in the face of hardship, not out of weakness but an understanding that to survive dark forces’ pull one must exist outside of it.

I will venture and say that such is the path Sheikh Isa Qassim has called for in his quiet resistance, or rather patient resistance. As a cleric, his ambition is not to assert political dominance but secure Bahrainis’ rights to live without fear of oppression – within this paradigm there can be no middle ground to be had, there can only be freedom or resistance.

Bahrain’s real conflict, that which exists beyond our TV screens and mainstream media is a clash of paradigms, rather than politics.

Where al-Khalifa regime understands but manipulations and political buyouts, Bahrain opposition seeks to assert socio-political self-determination from the perspective of the people rather than any particular institutional model.

Building bridges in between the two can prove tricky since both parties move in different planes.

By Catherine Shakdam

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