Let’s be clear, the disturbances we’ve recently seen in Lebanon, Bahrain, Syria and Iraq have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with politics. However, tragically, the most noticeable result of these events are the fragmenting societies; as complex political issues are simplified into a Sunni-Shia dividing line.

Here in Bahrain, I have many old friends who refuse to talk to me anymore, because they are from a different sect. Numerous marriages have been stretched to breaking point because of a difference in religious practices between the spouses which seemed irrelevant just a couple of years ago.

It seems that nowadays, to be a Sunni Muslim here in Bahrain entails blind loyalty to His Majesty the King, pro-Saudi views, a dislike of all things Iranian and sympathies for the Syrian opposition. Meanwhile, the average Shia is assumed to be loyal to the opposition, a sympathizer with the Islamic Republic, an apologist for Bashar al-Assad, while blaming events in Syria on a US plot.

How did we become reduced to such ridiculous stereotypes?

We have seen over the last couple of weeks how the political tensions in Syria have catastrophically spilled over into Lebanon. This was probably always inevitable. However, it’s certainly not out of religious affiliation that Iran and Hezbollah support the Assads. Likewise, we applaud Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other nations in taking such a tough position on the bloodshed and terrible abuses being perpetrated in Syria, however, once again stances on a political and humanitarian issue have further widened the sectarian divide.

Political stances around the Gulf Union proposal have also been widely portrayed as following sectarian lines, with mass protests by the “Shia opposition” in Bahrain in parallel with thousands taking to the streets in Iranian towns with identical slogans, apparently protesting against closer ties between “Sunni Arab” Gulf nations.

Describing political positions in this manner has the power of a self-fulfilling prophesy. For example, we have seen “Shia” protests in Lebanon and Iraq because they have been told that their co-religionists are being oppressed in Bahrain – and such protests tend to spark a Sunni backlash in a vicious circle.

So as journalists, commentators and observers, let’s try and avoid describing these events in sectarian and religious terms – if only because they are inaccurate. I (still) have many close Shia friends who are loyal to the King of Bahrain and hate what Iran and the opposition are doing. We also know that there are countless Iranian Shia who despise the way their regime behaves towards the Arab world and are embarrassed by the aggression and opportunism of their leaders.

So please let’s not curse the Iranian nation, as if they are collectively responsible for their Government’s misdeeds, and I call on Sunnis inside and outside Bahrain to not lump the Shia together with the protest movement, just as I call on the Shia not to see Sunnis as the enemy.

Let’s not keep going back to the stories of Abu-Baker, Othman, Omar, Ali and Hussein to justify modern realities. Before we are Sunna and Shia we are brother and sister Muslims. Let’s stand together, solve our problems together and banish this terrible sectarian fitnah from the Muslim nation.

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