The Jihad Against Assad

Gregory Harms sees cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s call for jihad against Assad and Hezbollah in Syria as evidence of increasing sectarianism:

The influential Egyptian Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi recently issued a fatwa, or religious proclamation, with regard to Syria. The sheik called for Sunni Muslims throughout the Middle East to join the rebels in their fight against the regime in Damascus. Formerly an advocate of improved relations between the Sunni and Shiite sects, including the Lebanese Shiite guerrilla organization Hizballah, Qaradawi’s decree further points to sectarian relations moving in the opposite direction. A week earlier, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah openly declared involvement in the civil war on the side of Damascus and promised victory. Sectarian lines – within Syria and across the greater region – are growing sharper by the minute.

Marc Lynch, who is troubled by al-Qaradawi’s declaration, puts it in context:

Qaradawi can no longer claim to speak to a broadly unified Arab public because such a creature no longer exists. Indeed, it is worth asking whether anyone will again occupy his previously central position: The proliferation of media outlets and assertive new voices that define the new Arab public sphere tend to undermine any efforts to claim the center ground. So does the political polarization and the increasingly fierce power struggles which dominate regional politics. It just may be that nobody can fill Qaradawi’s old shoes — not even Qaradawi. All of this makes the Islamist cleric’s latest intervention even more profoundly depressing. Qaradawi has opted to join the bandwagon rather than try to pull Sunni-Shiite relations back toward coexistence. He clearly calculates that anti-Shiite sectarianism in support of the Syrian insurgency is both strategically useful and a political winner.  And those in the Gulf and in the West eager for any opportunity to hurt Iran seem happy to go along.

With the decentralization of political authority and the likelihood of a long Syrian civil war, expect the competition among “Sunnis” to adopt the most extreme stances to accelerate. By the time more responsible figures realize the destructive forces they’ve unleashed — or Qaradawi attempts his standard pivot towards reconciliation — it may be too late.