The War Against the Shia Catches All in Its Crossfire
It is a ferocious war waged by assassination, massacre, imprisonment and persecution that has killed tens of thousands of people. But non-Muslims - and many Muslims - scarcely notice this escalating conflict that pits Shia minority against Sunni majority.
The victims of the war in recent years are mostly Shia. Last week a suicide bomber walked into a snooker club in a Shia district of Quetta in Pakistan and blew himself up. Rescue workers and police were then caught by the blast from a car bomb that exploded 10 minutes later. In all, 82 people were killed and 121 injured. “It was like doomsday,” said a policeman. “There were bodies everywhere.”
Responsibility for the bombing was claimed by the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni fundamentalist group behind many such attacks that killed 400 Shia in Pakistan last year.
The dead in Quetta come from the Shia Hazara community, many of whom migrated from Afghanistan in the last century. “They live in a state of siege,” says Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch. “Stepping out of the ghetto means risking death. Everyone has failed them - the security forces, the government, the judiciary.” In this they are little different from the 30 million Shia in Pakistan who are increasingly beleaguered and afraid in the midst of a rising tide of anti-Shia sectarianism.
The atrocity in Quetta will soon be forgotten outside the area ,but the victims were not the only Shia community to come under attack last week. In Bahrain, where the Shia majority is ruled by the Sunni al-Khalifa royal family, the high court confirmed prison sentences - including eight life sentences - on 20 activists who took part in the pro-democracy protests in 2011. This happened even though the original sentences were passed by military courts using evidence extracted by torture.
The sectarian nature of what is happening in Bahrain has never been in doubt. At the height of the crackdown the Bahraini security forces bulldozed 35 Shia mosques, husseiniyas (religious meeting houses) and holy places. The authorities claimed that they were inspired by a sudden enthusiasm to enforce building regulations despite the political turmoil.