WASHINGTON, June 26, 2014 — “Mideast Shi’ites defy Iranian Domination?” was the title of a conference held by American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) on June 19 in Washington.
It seems like the West is finally hearing what the Shia community has been trying to say.
Shia Muslims across the globe have consistently insisted that they should not be associated with Iran just because Iran is a predominantly Shia country. Yet, they have continually been ignored. In the Middle East and South Asia, fear of Iran’s nuclear power and political gains have led to a number of anti-Shia alliances such as the one in Malaysia that was announced in April, 2014.
The same fear led Egyptians to hold anti-Shia rallies and attack Shia rituals, and encouraged the international community to cover up the oppression of peaceful Shia pro-democracy protestors in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It also normalized the targeted killing of Shia in Syria, Iraq and Pakistan.
Fear of Iran and its influence in the region muted empathy for the Shia citizens of Mosul who were killed when ISIS attacked the primarily Sunni Iraqi city. The Sunni residents of Mosul welcomed the killing of their Shia neighbors and the ISIS takeover the city.
Associating Shia Muslims with the Iranian government has led to fear and distrust of Shia throughout the region, and this fear has cost hundreds of thousands of Shia lives. Because Shia are associated with the Iranian government, their loyalty to their home countries is unjustly called into question. Local support for Shia who are being killed, slaughtered and attacked in Pakistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Malaysia is undermined
The world’s apathy for the struggle of the Shia minority across the Middle East and elsewhere and its inaction in the face of growing anti-Shia movements could force many Shia to ask Iran for help and protection. This would only serve the Iranian government’s desire to claim to represent the entire Shia population.
Shia Rights Watch (SRW), a human rights organization in Washington D.C. was the first Shia NGO to reach out to governments, policy makers and senators to emphasize that Shia should not be associated with any government or political movement. “Shia hold different citizenships and are loyal to their own governments unless they are being oppressed”, said SRW director Mustafa Akhwand during an interview. “It is unrealistic and unfair to associate a certain faith with a certain government and then ignore their rights based on political agendas,” he continued.
AEI is among first NGOs to finally stand up and address how the United States can interact with Shia in Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq and Azerbaijan as they work to resist Iranian influence. Such conferences attract many American Shia who are eager to end their oppression, as well as many politicians who have finally decided to wake up and break the silence.
It’s good that finally some are listening.