The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

WINEP’s @PhillipSmyth: 300 footnotes (but only 5 from Arabic sources) falls far short in proving Shiite discourse is anti-Sunni

WINEP has another long report that merely emphasizes the old point about WINEP’s limited usefulness: When their researchers try to go deeply into a matter that they have little direct familiarity with, and apparently little language ability in, they are great at collecting and synthesizing reams of English-language reports and publications (although so often they cite their own work in a footnote as proof of a point!) but in all this effort they usually fall short in laying out a convincing case.

Phillip Smyth’s new report here reflects the WINEP line which is desperately trying to push the “shiite problem” back to the center of American discourse – since the Obama administration may be on the verge of an historic rapprochement with mainly shiite Iran and since here in Lebanon and elsewhere the US is actually in the same intel/military trench as some of the pro-Iranian groups for the first time in more than 30 years (excluding Afghan war cooperation of course by G.W. Bush in 2001-2002).

The mission is therefore to show that the Shiites are more dangerous for US national interests and Israeli interests (no distinction is usually ever made) than the likes of ISIS, Nusrah and Al-Qaeda – and that they are just as sectarian, racist, hate filled, unreasonable etc – and can only be dealt with by force and pressure and violence in the end.

Smyth’s report attempts to prove that the iran-led/backed mobilization effort is deeply sectarian, hate filled anti sunni etc (and prima facie that the “shiite problem” is a bigger threat to US interests – the result here is what we are all now used to: Al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers come off as merely fighting the “real” evil Iran/hizbullah etc…. i.e. they are not that bad and not that dangerous in the end. As but one example, Smyth talks about “grains” of truth – only – to the deluge of reports showing how ISIS, NUSRAH and like minded groups have violently suppressed and killed minorities, especially christians.)

The problem is that Smyth literally marshals ONE example to show that the pro-shiite discourse – the vigorous shiite narrative used by Hezbollah et al. on occasion – turns into an anti-Sunni and sectarian and hate-filled against the Other just like the other side represented by ISIS, Nusrah etc: And the proof… one poster where the Saudi king allegedly stands in as the evil Yezid.

His thesis is therefore:  “In effect, the messaging strategy is fueling the growth of extremely sectarian outlooks among Shiites, an end, at least in the short term, desired by Iran.”

— No proof is also offered throughout the lengthy report for this claim that the “extremely” sectarian outlook is “desired” by Iran. Now, this MAY BE TRUE… I am inclined to agree there may be truth to this…. but Smyth does not seem to care to offer any proof for this large claim.

He then proves  his core thesis, by pointing to the finger: “In this narrative, the rebels are often likened to the evil Yazid. In some Shi ite militia imagery, Zainab is shown giving her symbolic speech or pointing her finger at the Saudi king Abdullah, who supports the rebels and makes for a useful Yazid stand-in.”

Well, that is it…. for the 88 pages we get literally ONE example of actively “anti-sunni” discourse… and not merely proudly shiite – or specifically shiite referencing – discourse (Smyth even quotes nasrallah at one point where he makes the point about how he is going to depart from the norm and talk as a shiite, although smyth fails to see the importance of this excerpt.. and he is later forced to repeat one line from a nasrallah speech on Jersusalem day – talking in laudatory/proud terms about shiites – twice in order to “prove” his larger point).

Smyth also, in WINEP fashion sometimes, just doesn’t cite any evidence for a major claim here about Fadlallah: “Likewise was the image appropriated of Hezbollah “spiritual advisor” Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, who in his lifetime was critiqued by Iran for distancing himself from velayat-e faqih and later declaring himself a marja taqlid (source of emulation), a direct affront to Ayatollah Khamenei. Following Fadlallah’s death, Hezbollah recast him as a lower-ranking religious leader completely in line with the group’s leadership and, by extension that of Iran.

— Hmm, this may be true – but no evidence is provided.

My favorite part is that Smyth actually uses Richard Engel’s kidnap story to prove a point about how shiite fighters in syria are intensely Shiite (which is not surprising and does not prove his overall polemic in any case). Smyth should take care here after Brian Williams’ example…. it may be true…. but not a good cite for a think tank paper!”The IRGC role was given credence after NBC News correspondent Richard Engel and four members of his news team were kidnapped for five days in late 2012 before escaping during a firefight at a checkpoint. According to Engel, his kidnappers were “openly expressing their Shiite faith”

and were “trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”
Finally – the core problem is that Smyth writes about a subject that is only really explored through the original language. After all, his polemic is about the discourse itself – and religious discourse no less!
300 footnotes later and we discover that there are only five references to arabic original sources. It is simply not credible to do a long report that so directly and so deeply involves the original language as the main issue, and not cite, not use and not ponder the original material.
So after 88 pages, the reader has a lot of weblink synthesis, but little improvement in his or her actual understanding of the matter at hand.
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Written by nickbiddlenoe

February 17, 2015 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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