It is always difficult to tell to what degree opinions are shared within communities with strong symbolic boundaries and a sense of besieged identity. Fact is, though, that yesterday's enlightening Guardian column by Haider al-Khoei states a view that even informally, one doesn't encounter very often. And qua formal, public statement, it is one of a kind. No other statements in the Western public square come to mind where Shiite notables have been so perceptively introspective, calling upon co-religionists to break free from narrower sectarian loyalties where they stand in the way of - and clearly contradict - a key universalist tenet of the creed, namely the drive for divine justice. One hopes that al-Khoei was putting into words what had been felt by larger sections of Shiite communities, particularly in the West. Here opportunities abound for a universalist recasting of the faith but post-migration pressures toward inverse inwardness are also much in evidence. But were he not yet speaking for a silent Western Shiite majority, then at least there's the fact of a key symbolic representative from among them stating such compelling words in a concise coherent message. This will ideally have the effect of internally opening up that long overdue debate.
Comment is free
Shia Muslims must beware of hypocrisy
Shia Muslims can no longer play the victim while turning a blind eye to crimes being committed in their name elsewhere
Hayder al-Khoei guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 April 2011 11.00 BST
Hundreds of Iraqi Shia gather in a Baghdad square to show solidarity for anti-government protesters in Bahrain. Photograph: Karim Kadim/AP
Shia Muslims, of which I am one, should not expect the world to take them seriously when they attempt to take the moral high ground regarding oppression. They should also be unflinching when it comes to self-criticism if their real goal is to achieve justice and equality.
The dilemma is that if the Shia show any signs of reluctance to admit human rights abuses carried out in their name, for whatever reason, they lose credibility when they attempt to shed light on the discrimination they are faced with across the Muslim world. More importantly, and regardless of how sincere their claims really are, they become a part of the very double standards they accuse others of.
People have a right to be angry when they see politicians enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya while doing nothing to alleviate the pain of Bahrainis, most of them Shia, who are being killed and maimed by weapons that are supplied by the west. What makes this even more striking is the fact that the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Saud al-Faisal, was cosying up with David Cameron at the same time as Saudi troops were in Bahrain helping another autocratic regime to violently put down a pro-democracy protest.
There is no denying that Shia Muslims are facing intolerable injustice throughout the Islamic world – even as far east as Malaysia where the state is deliberately treating them like second-class citizens and pushing many of them underground. While not detracting from their plight, it is imperative we do not forget that the Shia have also been oppressors themselves in countries such as Iraq and Iran.
In Iraq, Shia death squads and militias openly roamed the streets of Baghdad patrolling Sunni areas and targeting innocent people for simply being born with the wrong name. In what was a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat killings, many Iraqis lost their lives to this brutal sectarian war. Indeed, many of these attacks were retaliatory in nature and a response to other terrorist attacks throughout the country, but it is about time that blame is shared for the heinous crimes committed in post-2003 Iraq by all those responsible. If for nothing else, this will help in healing old, and deep, wounds for the coming generation, and lead to at least a glimmer of hope for real reconciliation.
In Iran, the events following the contested June 2009 elections were politically motivated and nothing to do with sectarianism, but it was a Shia ruling elite that desperately tried to cling on to power by unleashing its security services on pro-democracy protesters.
The largely peaceful protest was put down violently; civilians were shot in the middle of the street, run over by armoured vehicles, beaten with clubs and imprisoned for simply demanding their rights. Ironically, as is the case in Libya and Syria today, the government justified the violent crackdown on the basis that it was targeting a mass movement under the influence of an external power; Everything from America, Britain, Israel, Zionism, Mickey Mouse, imperialism to, more generally, "the west".
The sectarian identity of perpetrator and victim should not normally be so much of an issue – a crime is a crime no matter who commits it and where – but in both Iraq and Iran, many of these crimes were committed in the name of Islam and that is why it becomes even more important to condemn them publicly. The Shia can no longer play the victim card while turning a blind eye to other crimes being committed in their name elsewhere.
Shia Muslims across the world constantly invoke the memory of the battle of Kerbala, because in our belief this epitomises standing up to oppression and injustice. It is crucial to note that they may not necessarily have a sectarian agenda in doing so – the horrific slaughter of the prophet's grandson, along with his children, is etched into our memory at a very young age and symbolises an eternal fight against tyranny – but what good is this conscience if we deliberately ignore the fundamental significance of that battle? Specifically that we must stand up to oppression wherever and whenever it takes place, and at all costs.