The uprisings in Iraq and Lebanon raise a number issues, among them the problem of the relationship between men of religion and men of politics. Even though this is not the first time that this issue has been put on the regional agenda, in the case of Lebanon and Iraq it is a bit different because of two things: these uprisings are intertwined with political Islam as practiced by Shia Muslims, where men of this doctrine retain a certain religious hierarchy; and the people on the streets are facing political parties with religious leaderships. This makes confronting the political party class extremely dangerous and complex.
A man of religion cannot be a political party leader, while surrounding himself, his role and his direction with an aura of piety. A man of religion is originally a public figure and, of course, vulnerable to criticism, controversy and disagreement, including condemnation if necessary. It all depends to a large extent on the nature of his performance and on his attitudes and faith-based opinions.
However, when a man of religion plays a dual role, switching between faith and politics, then he needs to tolerate people’s criticism and accusations. He is also obliged in front of both his supporters and his opponents to show a high level of tolerance towards such criticism.
The most dangerous people are those who lead religious or sectarian parties, without being men of religion, and whose biographies are full of accusations and suspicions, including the most heinous encroachments on public money, corruption, violation of the rule of law and acting with impunity.
I do not know why the Lebanese have the right to criticise the whole political class in their country, but it is taboo to criticise Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah or Nabih Berri of Amal. No one is talking about the sectarian or religious identities of these leaders. They are subject to criticism for political reasons, and for their positions arising out of the uprising of the Lebanese people. This must be self-evident, and treated with no false sensitivity or self-censorship.
Some religious or sectarian party leaders, in Iraq and Lebanon and a number of other countries in the region, seek to create immunity for themselves, by surrounding themselves with a religious aura, or giving some pious trimmings to their person, party and direction.
This is a something that cannot be acceptable. It does not stand on solid ground. Its proponents may be able to convince some people with it for some time, but they will not succeed in convincing all of the people all of the time with the sanctity of the theory.
The Lebanese uprising was not directed against the Shia, so there was no need for the chants of “Shia, Shia” to be heard on the streets of Beirut yesterday. Didn’t the Shia youth, men and women, from all over the place, participate widely in the uprising from the beginning and in large numbers?
Why are some young people being injected with these instinct-based slogans and pushed onto the street to confront the uprising of young men and women who are eager for a civil and just state? A state that is for everyone, with all its entities and components?
Why are hostilities being stuffed in people’s heads against members of the same nation, to serve immediate and tactical goals, and to gamble on losing the unity of the state, society and national identity? Why are they gambling with the unity of the country and the people for short term and short-sighted gains?
This article first appeared in Arabic in the New Khaleej on 26 November 209
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.