Thursday, February 10, 2011

Eclipse of the Sunnis

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

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

Similar flows took place during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and the Palestinian flow is still raw because surrounding states refuse to settle these populations.

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

Eclipse of the Sunnis:

Power, Exile and Upheaval in the Middle East by Deborah Amos:


Sameer Rahim on a heartrending book about the plight of millions of refugees, 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 Britain knew the difference between a Sunni and a Shia. But since the civil war began in 2003, there has been considerable curiosity about the complexity of religious and political divisions in the Arab world.

In Eclipse of the Sunnis, the American journalist Deborah Amos describes how nearly two million mainly Sunni Iraqis have fled their country since the Americans and British invaded seven years ago. Her title references a now famous theory proposed by King Abdullah of Jordan that since the war a “Shia crescent” of influence has developed from a newly emboldened Iran through Shia-ruled Iraq, Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon. Abdullah contrasted these radical forces with the settled (some might say pliant and undemocratic) Sunni states such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The message was designed as a rebuke to the US for unleashing a Shia revival that 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 of those fleeing the violence, as well as Amman and Beirut. There she speaks to former members of the Ba’ath party, ordinary Sunnis, Iraqi Christians and others forced to flee from Shia militias or the general chaos of their country.

These interviews present a heart-rending picture of refugees who are the forgotten human cost of the invasion. Um Nour left Iraq when a militant 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 in a beauty salon. The only photograph the woman brought from Iraq, Amos notes, was of a smiling Saddam Hussein, which she proudly displays on her television. Another woman tells Amos that soldiers from a Shia militia came to Syria one summer, paid her for sex, and then told her that if she ever returned to Baghdad they would cut off her head.

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

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

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

The playwright Jawad al-Assady, an exile from the Saddam era, felt relieved when he watched on television as Saddam’s statue was pulled down. But when he returned, he could not believe what had happened to his country: “This was a different city and a different people. 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

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