Intramural Islamic violence
Three headlines in today's New York Times raise what some might regard as a politically incorrect--and possibly bigoted--question: Is there an inherent streak of intramural violence in Islamic society?
I am not prepared to answer the question, but I believe it is reasonable to ask. The issue underscores the problems that the Bush Administration is encountering in the Middle East. The U.S. has intruded into Islamic society aiming to, among other goals, spread cultural values that are not necessarily consistent with those of the inhabitants.
One headline read: "3 Palestinians killed as Hamas and Fatah fight on." The article reported the latest episode in the fierce battle between the two rival Palestinian factions that has been raging over the past year in Gaza and, to a lesser extent, the West Bank. The two groups have what they regard as a common enemy, the state of Israel. But they appear willing to exhaust manpower and resources to fight each other.
Another headline read: "Iraqi Shiites attacked as holiday nears." The holiday is Ashura, a period of intense mourning. It commemorates the death in 680 A.D. of Hussein, Mohammed's grandson, who was killed in a battle to succeed the Prophet as Caliph or leader of Islam. The opponents were the ancestors of today's Sunnis.
Ashura is the tenth day of the Muslim month of Muharram. Sunnis also observe that day as a holiday, but with much less intensity for different historical reasons. The Sunni holiday marks Ashura as the day that Noah left the Ark and Moses was saved by Allah from the pre-Muslim Egyptians. These beliefs are among the many examples of the Jewish Bible's influence on Islam.
The third Times headline read: "Bombing kills 14 Pakistanis, mostly police." The bombing was apparently also linked to Ashura. The victims were Shiites, who are a religious minority in Pakistan. When the bombing occurred, the police were clearing a narrow street near a mosque before a Shiite religious procession was to march through. Although there have been no reports in neighboring Afghanistan, the Shiites are also a minority there, where they are often victims of similar acts of violence.
It has become increasingly evident that the Bush Administration was unprepared for the intensity of violence among different Muslim sects, ethnic groups, and political factions. That has been an important factor in the U.S. failure to achieve its basic goals--curbing terrorism, establishing stable governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and settling the Israel-Palestine conflict.