Consigning Sunniism and Shiaism to the history books

Is Isil finished as an attempt at forming a Caliphate — or, in Western terms, a new nation-state? It looks very much like it. Ever since al-Baghadi and his top officials fled to Libya three months ago — where their fate might also be in danger by now — the fight has gone out of them.

They seem to have lost any capability of co-ordinated attacks in Europe and, it would seem, only able to direct the fanatics it has left in Syria — potential suicide-bombers — to terrorise in Turkey, as in yesterday’s attack at Istanbul Airport which killed 40. Far more importantly, this attack was the latest in a series over the past three months which has largely vaporised Turkey’s attraction to European tourists.

A year ago, until Russian planes came on the scene in Syria and destroyed oil transportation between Syria and Turkey, Isil and Turkey were engaged in a highly profitable trade and all was well between them. But since Turkey had been encouraging the migration of hundreds of thousands of Syrians — and many more from elsewhere — to Greece and Europe, then the party was over. The Istanbul terrorist attack can now be regarded as revenge affairs.

If this interpretation is correct where does this leave the Middle East? To my own surprise I’ve come to the conclusion recently that all is now slowly, but steadily, being wrapped up. The amazing sight of seeing Arab fighters in the front-line side by side with Kurds — normally Kurds and Arabs despise each other — when fighting Isil in the outskirts of Mosul is a significant symptom of some big changes going on.

As to Mosul itself and the weakened condition of Isil, it is likely that it will best be left to an uprising within the city rather than an onslaught from without. This would not only minimise deaths to women and children, and devastation to property but also avoid any damage to Mosel Dam, built across the Tigris.. This is the largest dam in Iraq, responsible for wide areas of irrigation but also hydroelectricity. It is already fragile and greatly in need off renovation. Any breach of it could spell disaster downstream for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

As to the centuries-old enmity between Sunnis and Shias in the Middle East, this will not be alleviated in the slightest by the defeat of Isil or any cessation of civil war. What may start to happen, though, is a significant change of attitude towards education in Saudi Arabia.

Its previous ruler, Abdulla, had the greatest difficulty in getting reforms past the senior Wahhabi clerics — even stricter than Sunnis — but the new clique is hell bent on educational reform, particularly as to scientific education. This will stimulate Iran — already well-disposed to science — that innovation will be the best way to compete with Saudi Arabia. The quicker that both cultures are eased towards science and secularism, the quicker that differences between Sunniism and Shiaism will finally be consigned to the history books.

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