Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ajam and rafidha

Fanar Haddad, The language of anti-Shiism:
Prior to 2003, anti-Shiism in Iraq was perhaps best encapsulated in the term ajam. Ajam (singular ajmi) is an Arabic phrase meaning non-Arab; however, in the modern Middle Eastern vernacular, particularly in Iraq, "the ajam" is usually understood as "the Iranians." Throughout the 20th century this term was used to discredit Shiite activists and political opponents by casting doubt on their national loyalty and Arab pedigree. Sectarian otherness was framed in distinctly national and ethnic terms with scant, if any, reference to sectarian dogma, doctrine, or beliefs.
Few bothered, for example, with [the Shiites'] somewhat ambivalent views toward Aisha or the first three caliphs -- rafidha. Even the Iraqi regime's denunciation of the 1991 southern uprising largely stuck to the prism of ethnicity and only gingerly approached elements of faith, ritual, and doctrine.
Since 2003, ajam, a term that was ubiquitous in what was regarded as anti-Shiite sentiment in Iraq and beyond, has all but disappeared from public usage. In its place has emerged a style of anti-Shiism that was largely the preserve of clerical circles of the Saudi Arabian variant. This is a discourse of exclusion primarily based on religious otherness that is embodied by the word rafidha. This new form of sectarian animosity frames the Shiites as suspect not because of the allegedly ambiguous national loyalties of some nor because of the so-called "ethnic impurity" of others but because of the beliefs that define the sect as a whole.
In dealing with Shiite opposition, ajam was a far more useful tool than rafidha for successive Iraqi regimes, as it allowed for selective exclusion: the state line throughout the 20th century was that some Shiites may be ajam but that does not detract from "our brothers" the "noble Arab Shiite tribes." This starkly contrasts with exclusion on the basis of doctrine which would place all Shiites beyond redemption until they renounce their beliefs and their adherence to Shiism.


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