Mustafa Akhwand_threat of ISIS in middle east

WASHINGTON, August 4, 2016 – Despite continued persecution, Shia are often ignored in discussions about minority difficulties in the Middle East. Georgetown University and the Department of State last Thursday organized an event under the title “Threats to Religious and Ethnic Minorities under the Islamic State,” intending to bring representatives of targeted minorities to speak about their suffering and what their communities are going through in Syria and Iraq. This comes after Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark in March 2016, “My purpose here today is to assert in my judgment (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims.” As part of the agenda, the presenters were to suggest strategies “to ensure the viability of vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq and Syria.” Members of minority groups such as Yazidis, Christians, Kakai and Turkmen were invited to represent their communities. Notably absent were any Shia rights activists. Although other speakers mentioned Shia and their suffering, there were no direct discussions or Shia activists on the panel. How is that other minorities affected by ISIS are given an opportunity to talk about their struggles, but Shia and Shaback are not given the same opportunity? Shia are the largest minority affected by ISIS, not only in Iraq and Syria, but also by the ISIS-like mentality in other countries. In Iraq alone, approximately 1,500 Shia were killed during the first six months of 2016. Another attack in July killed more than 300 and wounded 215 Shia Muslims. The attack took place in the city of Balad in a busy area where young people were shopping to celebrate the Eid (End of Holy month of Ramadan). Two attacks in Kadhimiya, north of Baghdad, took the lives of more than 40 Shia Muslims. Kadhimiya is a Shia city where pilgrims were visiting their ninth Imam. In Syria, the situation is so bad that even activists cannot record and keep track of Shia victims. Beside ISIS itself, anti-Shia and ISIS-minded clerics publicly encourage and permit Shia killing. For example, “Alvisal have shown lecturer who told the viewer that Shia are (kafir) infidel and they must be killed along side of westerner.” Advocacy for any minority as one step forward in the broader human rights context. But seeing the State Department and Georgetown University ignoring the representation of Shia reinforces feelings of oppression by Shia. It also raises the very simple question, why would the United States Department of State ignore the minority most oppressed under the Islamic State?

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2016 — Despite the best efforts of human rights activists, journalists, and some members of Congress, the persecution of Shia Muslims in Bahrain continues apace. Only the nature of the persecution has changed. At first, regular individuals were targeted for their beliefs. Now there is systematic targeting of leaders and educators who have a better understanding of their rights and could transmit that understanding to others. One example is the arrest of Nabeel Rajab, a prominent human rights defender, and Sheikh Ali Salman, a religious figure with a message of nonviolence and coexistence. Both have dedicated their lives to promote freedom and educate the public about what can be done to prevent violence toward their community. The goal is no longer just to petition the Bahraini government for equality, freedom or recognition of religious minorities. It is also to assert the character of Bahrain as an independent state, independent in particular of Saudi Arabia, which embodies discrimination policies and inhumane treatment of its people. The many flaws in the Bahraini political system need to be fixed to establish a foundation for change and improvement in citizens’ lives. Mediators and conflict resolution experts have tried to help, but the government does not recognize that in order to resolve the conflict, the emphasis must be on shared interests, not on relative position. Peace-building endeavors must deal with threats to the security, education, equality, dignity and economic improvement of Bahrain, all national vulnerabilities in the ongoing conflict. Personal and structural violence threaten the Bahraini national identity. Structural violence fosters and supports an unjust hierarchy that discriminates on the basis of faith and fosters dependency on government and social agencies. Inequality has led to the resignation of many members of parliament, as their efforts were undermined  by discrimination against their ideology. Inequality made personal violence inevitable in Bahrain. Educators, scholars and activists aren’t just being ignored for upper level jobs and in decision making; their citizenship is being revoked. They are being targeted for physical and mental harm. Bahrain is home to an educated, diverse populace that for years managed to live peacefully together. Among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Bahrain has maintained one of the most educated, creative work forces. It’s Shia population has been an important part of this success. The current targeting of the educated elite will only damage the nation’s prosperity. Bahrain’s disregard for United Nations human rights standards and the GCC declaration of human rights, which Bahrain has signed, shows that the government is not committed to solving the conflict and is even trying to inflame it. Bahraini grievances cannot be answered with violence. No matter how many people are arrested, tortured and killed, the road to regaining their identity and dignity cannot include the use of violence. But failure to resolve the issue now will put a greater burden on future generations, who will struggle to follow their parents’ footsteps in building a better, more prosperous Bahrain. Direct violence must end now. The government must restore revoked citizenships and release political prisoners. Bahrainis must work together to build trust between the government and its citizens, who must have a say in making the laws. Bahrain must allow more participation of majority Shia in the parliament and give them a voice to address the issues that need to be improved in the country. The conflict in Bahrain has no one-sided solution; government and citizen, Shia and Sunni all have responsibilities. Bahrain must rid its political system and society of hierarchy and discrimination. Third-parties must be kept out so that the people of Bahrain can together draft a plan to build a better and brighter future for their youth. Read more at

Published in School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution Newsletter Link Many years of authoritarian rule and grievances in Tunisia ignited a popular wave of protests demanding social and political change. These efforts, which later became known as the Arab Spring, quickly spread to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Spring usually renews, rebuilds, and brings a renewed sense of purpose. This was the case in Tunisia and Egypt, where long-time dictators resigned from their posts and the people achieved a sense of reclaiming their democracy. However, not all such actions across the region proved to be joyous as the years progressed. It became clear that even spring could be categorized under discriminatory vocabulary. While the struggle for freedom (or democracy) was internationally proclaimed for nations such as Libya, for others the struggle for freedom was labeled under “terrorism.”

Is Saudi Arabia any different from ISIS?

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2016 — What has transformed Islam, a 1,400-year-old religion that has often spread a message of peace and nonviolence, into an inspiration for brutality? Islam’s history spans 1,400 years. Starting with the prophet Mohammad, its history was one of enlightenment, forbidding the oppression or mistreatment of minorities. People of different faiths were allowed to live and follow their own religions. Christians served as the close counselors and advisers to Islamic rulers, and when the Jews were expelled from Christian Spain, they found refuge in the Islamic world. Today, there are no Islamic countries in the world. What we see in the Middle East has nothing to do with Islam. Because most people there are Muslim, their corrupt leaders use Islamic identity to enforce their own agenda.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2015 — ISIS, arguably the most violent terror group in the world, has again released video of brutal killings of Shia Muslims. In the five-minute video released on Sunday, four Shia Muslims are interviewed one by one. They are told to introduce themselves, state the Iraqi tribe they belong to, and declare that they are members of a militia that defends Iraq from ISIS. ISIS accused the men of spying and of disloyalty to the so-called Islamic state. The video is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. Social media and independent news agencies have released videos of men, women and children of different faiths and backgrounds being held in cages and executed in brutal ways by ISIS.

WASHINGTON, June 3, 2015 — Over the last 10 days, Saudi Arabia has experienced terrorist attacks on Shia mosques, with attackers killing men, women and children as they pray for peace. On May 22, 2015, a suicide bomber entered Imam Ali mosque in Al-Qudaih, Qatif, Saudi Arabia, killing more than 20 people and leaving more than 130 wounded. Ambulances and medical staff did not respond to the scene of the explosion – a Shia mosque – leaving neighbors to move the bodies to the hospital in their own cars. A second explosion took place on My 29, 2015. A car bomb in front of Imam Hussein mosque in the Dammam left four dead. While ISIS detonated the bombs, the House of Saud laid the groundwork for the anti-Shia attacks.  

WASHINGTON,  May 2, 2015 – “Are you Shia?” This is the questions Muslims are forced to answer as they apply for Hajj pilgrimage. Every year, around three million pilgrims visit the city of Mecca. The process of getting a visa is either via  a travel agency or via applications directly from other countries. Due to limited space and lack of Saudi service during that time, Saudi officials have arranged for different countries to limit the number of people they can send to the Hajj pilgrimage. Some countries have created a ministry of Hajj to deal with limitations or discrimination against Shia who are attempting to participate in Hajj.  

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2015 — The United States has worked to defend people around the world and grant them freedom from discrimination. America’s fight in the Middle East and north Africa was based on the fact that the U.S. does not tolerate dictatorships, and that no one is above repercussions if they target innocent people. The atrocities perpetrated by ISIS have brought many countries such as Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar together to prevent this group from moving to another country and continuing their activities.