The current civil war in Syria has caused so many debates about many things. We are currently bombarded by videos and news about how hopeless civilian in Aleppo being shelled by Assed & friends (Iran & Russia).
In moslem majority countries like mine, the most heated discussion related to Syria civil war is about Sunni – Shia power struggle, not only regionally but also globally.
Some would dismiss it as the sentiment of majority that turns bind eyes over motives of geopolitical domination and pursuit of economic benefits between Iran vs KSA & Turkey and US vs Russia. As a result, many has called for stopping sharing news about Aleppo that could fire more religious divisiveness in domestic society. In some discussions, I was even branded as a religious intolerance just because I do believe there is element of sectarian competition (including politics and religion differences) in Syrian civil war. Well, I tolerate the accusation when it comes from people who only got interested on the issue recently when Aleppo is besieged. Obviously, they have no idea about what’s going on that lead to the current condition. But when it comes from people who is educated enough about how international relations works or from people that have access to credible sources, I became suspicious of hidden agenda in one hand and pity them on the other hand.
I agree that Syrian civil war is a proxy war between Iran vs KSA & Turkey. Geopolitically, both sides are always in competition over domination of highly strategic region (in term of energy resources and geographical position). Interestingly, both side also represent two major sects in Islam, Sunni represented by KSA & Turkey and Shia by Iran.
For long time, the region has been dominated by Sunni rulers, including the House of Hashemite (since 1900s) whose territory included Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and KSA. After the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Empire in 1916, Jordan and KSA became independent states rules by Hashemite dynasty until now, the oldest in Islamic world and the second oldest dynasty in the world.
In 1980s, King Fahd of KSA assumed the title of the Custodian of Two Holiest. It had been used by previous rulers of Mecca and Medina, first one was by Saladin of Ayyubid dynasty of Kurdish origin, Mamluk dynasty of Egypt and Ottoman dynasty of Turks.
Religiously, the title puts huge responsibility to the title holder to guard the two holiest cities in Islamic world. Politically, the title granted position of the leader of Islamic world to the regime that holding it.
This is where religion and politics collides.
Iran, previously Persian Kingdom, has a long history dated back to the ancient Median Empire in 600s BC. Persian first interaction with Islam was when Prophet Muhammad sent a letter to Sasanian rulers about Islam and was peacefully accepted. Since then, Islamic teaching flourished in the Persian Kingdom as were taught in its origin place of Mecca and Medina. The turning point was during the Safavid dynasty which established the Twelver school of Shia Islam as official religion of the kingdom in 7th century.
During World War 1, when Ottoman Empire was against British and France in Middle Eastern theater of WW 1, Iran under Qajat dynasty had to choose to side with its neighbor to held back the invasion of Allies forces to the resources-rich region and halting the disintegration of their empires. Both empires even plunged together in what later called Ottoman’s Jihad. But there was no consensus among Shia ‘ulama based in Najaf and Karbala about Iran’s involvement in Ottoman’s Jihad which some considered Sunni Ottoman as no better than infidels that were invaded their country (http://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/persiairan). This is when religious differences started to show its divisiveness.
The disagreement between Qajar dynasty and ‘ulama sharpened especially after Iran suffered by the defeat of Central forces and the disintegration of Ottoman Empire. Disagreement also weakened Qajar dynasty, later was taken over by Pahlevi dynasty, and consolidated power on the ‘ulama who had more political knowledge of Shia jurisprudence.
Later on, when many states emerged from the collapse of Ottoman Empire, Iran under Pahlevi dynasty enjoyed close relationship with European countries and imposed secular system that was denounced by Shia ‘ulama. Pahlevi dynasty was toppled by Iranian Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.
After that, everything moved fast. KSA thrived as the world largest oil reserves, became an influential state among moslem majority countries globally and enjoyed special position as the closest ally of the US. On the other hand, Iran was embargoed and was isolated from global interaction.
The Ayatollah in Tehran denounces KSA close relationship with the US and challenges the title of Custodian of Two Holiest Mosques held by KSA King, especially after KSA permitted the US to use its base to attack Iraq during Iraq– Kuwait war.
After Sadam was toppled in 2003, the new pursuit of supremacy was on. Right before US invasion of Iraq in 2003, King Abdullah II of Jordan warned the dangerous of toppling Saddam Hussein of Iraq. He introduced the term “Shia Crescent” refers to the expansion of Iran’s influence by exporting and exploiting Shia identity especially in the highly sectarian states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Bahrain (http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21647367-shia-militias-are-proliferating-middle-east-shia-crescendo). The invasion went on and the world witnesses how ugly the picture of liberation brought by Liberal Democracy champions.
After Iraq War, Arab Spring happened, mostly driven by social and economy discontent thought some political motives was in the background too. Different country, different story of the Spring. Syria is one of a country that has all the motives mentioned above. It was started by demonstration against violent treatment of teenager who painted revolutionary slogan. Assad’s security forces opened fire on demonstrators, leading more to the street to demand his resignation.
What started as another Arab Spring against autocratic rulers has burgeoned into a brutal proxy war. The conflict gets hold of sectarian overtone when regional powers involved, putting the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s minority Shia Alawite sect. As a president from minority sect, Assad regime has been supported by Tehran, Russia and Hizbollah for long time. Sunni-dominated opposition attracted support from international backers including KSA, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, US, UK and France.
Though on the surface it looks like a genuine geopolitics power struggle, religious motives cannot be dismissed here. Supremacy over the region not only provides political and economy benefits but also grants de facto leadership over moslem society in the world. It is also the best way to spread the winner’s belief across the globe and subdue the other’s, just like the Cold War winner did.
Thus, dismissing religious factor in Syrian civil war is ignorance not to mention clueless and pitiful acts.
Worst are, calling for not sharing news about what is happening in Syria just because fearing it could fuel religious discord in domestic. Because by doing that, we are closing the only door civilians in Syria could use to get notices from international community. Yes, the only door they could use because international system is not brave enough to stand up against state-sponsored massacre held by Assad regime (with help from Russia and Iran) over his own people.
So, if calling things as it is ended with me being labeled as intolerance or worse, then I do not really care.