Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with prof. Riccardo Redaelli – a lecturer at the Catholic University of the Blessed Heart in Milan

WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: – Professor, it is not possible to understand the conflicts in the Near East – especially in Syria and Iraq – without consideration of the big division in the Islamic world into the Sunnites and Shiites. What should we know about it?

PROF. RICCARDO REDAELLI: – In the world of Islam there are at least two divisions, both strengthened by the policy of countries of the Persian Bay, especially Saudi Arabia. The first one is a traditional division of the Muslims into the Sunnites and Shiites. The Shiites are the minority in the Islamic world – there are about 10 per cent of them but in the Persian Bay they are 50 per cent of the population. They dominate in Iran, Iraq, Bahrajn, Lebanon and Syria.
But there is also a geopolitical conflict – between Saudi Arabia and Iran – about domination in the Persian Bay, which led to making the division political. It means that traditional religious differences became political differences and led to the appearance of a very strong and aggressive political radicalism. This phenomenon divided the societies which had learned to live together as it took place in Iraq and Syria.
Whereas another division concerns the Sunnite Islam and became deeper in relation to the so-called Arabic spring. This is a split between political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salalfi Islam supported by Saudi Arabia. Both movements are radical and treat religious minorities in a bad way with the difference that political Islam wants to create Islamic republics, whereas the Salafists are more dogmatic but politically neutral. This big split was noticeable for example, in Egypt where Saudi Arabia supported actions of the army against the government of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is also possible to register in Lebanon. Shortly speaking, empires of the Persian Bay are fighting against political Islam with money and influences. For this purpose they also use the Salafists who are even more radical and dogmatic.

– On the near-eastern chessboard there are both worldly powerful countries (United States, Great Britain, France, Russia), as well as the regional ones (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Qatar, etc.). What are political, economic and religious purposes of these countries?

– The situation is complicated, especially that actions of various international and regional ‘actors’ often seem to be hardly consistent. United States – the only worldly super powerful country after the end of the Cold War – invested a lot into the political, economic and military spheres in the Near East. But the results were catastrophic. It is seen in Afghanistan, in Iraq but also in the case of the policy towards Iran. Today America is weaker but the problem is in the fact that it has unclear strategy of action. For two years Iran was the enemy number one of the Americans, but today we see that the biggest danger is not Shiites’ but the Sunnites’ Islam. And, paradoxically, Iran would be a natural ally of the West in fighting terrorism of the Sunnite Jihads; while our allies in the Persian Bay, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are allies of our worst enemies. Saudi Arabia is obsessed with Iran and incited for anti-Iran violence. In this way it unleashed forces over which it lost control.
In this region Russia was marginalized but plays an important role in supporting Iran and Syria. Russian help was essential for Assad’s regime to survive.
Turkey has the biggest regional ambitions and during the cadency of Erdogan – the prime minister, now the president – wants to be an example of a moderate Islamic country. But Erdogan played his cards in a wrong way and today he is engaged in many regional crises. .
Qatar is a small country of extremely high ambitions. It wants to be a reference point for the Islamic world but it separates itself from Saudi Arabia which is an inconvenient neighbor for it.

– Qatar has a powerful media weapon, television of Al Jazeer which wants to be BBC of the Arabian world…

– Television of Al Jazeer is a powerful weapon but because it supports political Islam, it turned against Qatar in some way.

– Israel has always done everything to divide Islamic countries which surrounded it…

– First of all, we must say that today Israel is not Israel from 30-40 years before – at that time it was a country of Ashkenazi emigration (Jews originating from Europe), which had a laic, nearly socialist vision of a country. Today Israel is politically rightist and religious and xenophobic parties have big influences. Israel used to undertake actions from the position of its military and economic advantage. The more the Arabic world is divided, the more Israel feels safe. Israeli politicians, such as Netanjahu, are obsessed with Iran and perceive Sunnite Jihads and the civil war in Syria as a way of attacking Iran, by attacking its ally. It is an obvious mistake and this policy does not lead to anything good.
Israel must choose whether it wants peace, by returning occupied territories, or wants to be a country of violence, stifling or expelling Palestinian people. It cannot present itself as a democratic country without returning occupied territories.

– In Europe the idea of tolerant, multi-cultural and multi-religious society is prevailing. But these democratic and free societies gave the beginning to thousands of Jihads who on all frontiers of the Islamic ‘holy war’ are fighting with ‘non-believers’. How does it happen that so many young people in Europe are attracted by Islamic terrorism?

– It is a very important issue. I would like to mention a book by cardinal Angelo Scoli, the archbishop of Milan. Entitled ‘Do not forget about God’. The problem is that in Europe, we forget about God and we reject our religious roots as if it was something of which we should be ashamed. We can notice reluctance in speaking about Christian minorities here, persecuted and murdered in the last years in the Near East.
Considering the idea of multiculturalism, it was implemented especially in Great Britain. Multiculturalism is something positive if we understand the presence on a particular territory and ability for a dialogue and discussion of many culture and religions. But in Great Britain there was no interference into inner issues of particular religious groups and everyone was doing what they wanted.

– It might seem a sign of full freedom guaranteed to citizens…

– But this rule of turning a blind eye, not intervening led to the increase in number of radical Islamic preachers who started having big influence on emigrants, especially on the ones from the second and the third generation. Today in Great Britain we have Pakistani people of the third generation who feel neither as Pakistani people or the English. This crisis of identity makes them become easy victims of radical propaganda. For the sake of tolerance we perceived danger of radicalization of some groups in our society too late, and we were counteracting this phenomenon much slower.
We must understand that in the organization the Islamic State people of postmodernist mentality are fighting. These terrorist groups have great abilities of advertising – their presence in internet is enormous. They attract many people because they give simple and effective information.

– Speaking about the tragedy of people in the Near East, we cannot forget about the dramatic fate of the Christians. Why are the Christians living on these lands since the apostolic times the first victims of the Islamic terrorism?

– The Christians are a minority of the Sunnite and Shiite groups. Those who had lived on these lands before Islam, are a society which is the least sectarian, are not armed like other groups, are conducting a dialogue with everybody. When the society collapses, its all non-sectarian elements are attacked. In the recent time we have been dealing with groups of the Jihads of the Islamic Country which do not tolerate cultural and religious varieties – they want to create an artificial Near East only for such people as them. Therefore, for this reason, the Christians are attacked and are an easy target because they are not armed.

– Archbishop of Mosul Emil Nona has a very clear opinion on this situation. First of all, he notes that it is possible to fight fundamentalist fighters, ‘declaring them a war and blocking means of financing them’. He warns us, in the West, because - according to him – we do not understand Islam: ‘fundamentalists are a danger for everybody, for you, in the West than for us. There will come time when you will regret your policy. The area of action of these groups is the whole world – their purpose is to ‘convert’ people with a sword and kill the others’. If these words are said by somebody who lives in the Muslim world, and knows it very well, we should think seriously about them…

– The bishop of Mosul, working in the dramatic situation, has many right opinions. The West has been diminishing this problem for too long – it left Christian communities on their own and hesitated to defend them, not to be accused of colonialism (this is nonsense because the Christians have been there for two thousand years!). Defending the Christians in the Near East means defending holy rights of these communities – right to live where they have lived for ever and right to religious freedom.
We have been proving for years that we do not know that our allies, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey support dangerous movements of fundamentalists. It is obvious that these movements do not concentrate on the borders of countries because their ambition is converting the world into Islam. However, it should be emphasized that these movements are the minority in Islam and fight mainly against other Muslims (the secular, moderate ones). But this is like gangrene – if we do not prevent it, it will spread. So, it is necessary to attack these movements with much force, because we have already lost a lot of time. But we cannot forget that in the ranks of the Islamic State many European citizens are fighting – these people, after their return to their countries in Europe, will bring their jihad – ‘the holy war’ to us. So, this phenomenon should be noted – we must fight against it, but only repressions can be the response to it.
We must also think deeply on the fact that Europe has rejected its Christian roots till now. We cannot be afraid of these roots. It does not mean that we must impose Christianity by force, but we should not conceal the fact that Europe was born as the Christian continent.


„Niedziela” 41/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl