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Sectarian mindsets

May 22, 2014 - 1:40:36 am

Let me, in the beginning, tell you a story narrated by American writer Irving Wallace (March 19, 1916 – June 29, 1990) in one of his books. Britain’s King Charles II used to have two lovers: one of them was short and had red hair. She worked at an inn early in her life, but then turned to acting and became a professional actress. She then became the king’s mistress at the age of 19. The king’s other lover was a French Catholic. King Louis XIV of France had sent her to the British monarch. 

At midday one day in 1675, the short, red-haired beloved got into the wagon of the king’s French mistress and closed the curtains so that nobody would know she was inside. As the wagon wormed its way through the crowded streets of the British capital, people started yelling insults at her, mistaking her for the French mistress.

Conflict between Catholics and Protestants was at its peak in Europe and Britain at that time. Catholic courts of Inquisition were busy bringing Protestant violators to account and torturing them. Protestants took refuge in Britain and started marginalising Catholics, and even killing them.

Hearing the insults, the red-haired mistress lost her temper and asked the driver to stop the wagon. She opened the curtains, put her head out of the window, and said aloud: “Pray, kind people, stay united, I am a Protestant whore”.

The crowd’s mood changed all of a sudden and it started cheering the woman. She waved to the crowd and the wagon started moving again.

The difficult situation was resolved because the woman used her wits.

When there are religious, ethnic or sectarian tensions, logic disappears. People’s actions are an expression of their instincts: primitive ways of thinking devoid of humane feelings. If the conflict is between Catholics and Protestants, as in the story mentioned above, the problem is not the king who has two mistresses, including one who worked at an inn, as she is a Protestant. The problem is the Catholic mistress.

If we look at sectarian conflict in Syria and Iraq, we can find similarities with the story of the king and his mistresses.

In Syria, for example, the Al Assad family has ruled for decades and managed the country in a despicable, sectarian manner. The regime did not let go of any opportunity to confuse the people and humiliate them. It divided the people according to their sect, including one that is loyal to the regime. This sect is where power and its levers are concentrated. The other sect is totally marginalised, leading an undignified life. The place of birth of Syrian citizens decides the kind of treatment they get from the authorities. This sectarian division culminated in a violent revolution that ended Bashar Al Assad’s rule outside the Syrian capital. The revolution has made the Syrian president a hated figure whose early end is being awaited by the people. 

In Iraq, radical Shia organisations came to power in Baghdad and started treating people in a sectarian manner, similar to how Bashar Al Assad was ruling his countrymen. Baghdad’s rulers divided Iraq into Sunni and Shia areas. Sunnis left the Iraqi capital. Unqualified people were given leading positions in the government. These people spoiled everything and treated Iraqi citizens in an illogical manner unprecedented in the whole world. 

The Iraqi regime found creative ways to execute people, exploiting the feelings of ordinary Shias, turning Iraq into the country with the highest execution rate in the world. Most of the executions are carried out on a sectarian basis. Confessions are extracted from suspects in notorious secret prisons and detention centres amid silence from Shias who see in their leaders the Protestant mistress who belongs to their sect. What the mistress does is not important as long as she is one of them. The religion of the mistress is what really matters, not what she does.