Wave of Bombings in Middle East
The continued instability in the Middle East yielded on Saturday a harvest of deadly bombings in the region.
Qatar was shaken Saturday by a bombing near a theater where British were playing Shakespeare. One British subject was killed, and several people were wounded. The bombing was done by an Egyptian on the 2nd anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, and investigators are looking for al-Qaeda links. Al-Qaeda is a convenient shorthand, but the likelihood is that the bombing was an expression of a kind of Muslim radical nationalism, resentful of increasing Western dominance in the region.
In Lebanon, guerrillas detonated a bomb in a Christian development of Beirut. The incident raised fears of a renewal of sectarian tensions in that country. The bombing was likely related to demands by minority Christian politicians that the government of Lebanon resign, and the culprits are likely pro-Syrian Sunnis.
Terrorists blew up a Sufi-Shiite shrine in Fatahpur, Baluchistan, about 200 miles from the city of Quetta, killing 30 persons and wounding another 20. Although no one has claimed credit, it seems to me likely that this act was carried out by Sunni radicals with links to al-Qaeda. They have struck at Shiite sites repeatedly, including a Quetta mosque. Some have suggested that Baluch separatists, who want more autonomy from the Pakistan federal government, are behind it. But a separatist movement is unlikely to target a local shrine during a local pilgrimage– it would hit a symbol of federal power. On the other hand, we know that the Deobandi- and Wahhabi-influenced radical Sunni jihadis in Pakistan absolute hate Sufism (mystical Islam centered on saint’s shrines) and Shiism. So what better target for them than a Sufi-Shiite shrine? Such an attack is also an assault on Pakistan’s traditional, ecumenical and tolerant mystical traditions, which the radicals would like to replace with fundamentalist intolerance.
The rebellion of the Bugti tribe in Baluchistan against the government of Pervez Musharraf, which involves a demand that more of the revenues from natural gas remain in local hands, seems to me likely unrelated to the Fatahpur bombing.
These bombings were unconnected, and mean something distinctive in each setting. But they add up to evidence of continued instability in the Middle Eastern arc of crisis.
I think two of them are al-Qaeda-related.
The tragedy is that if the Bush administration had made good on its pledges and actually put Afghanistan on a sound footing economically and politically, instead of abandoning it to turn Iraq into a failed state and center of bombings, we might have made real headway against the radical Sunni jihadis. As it is, Bin Laden and Zawahiri are at large, and al-Qaeda has become a franchise to which local groups affiliate. The locals are the ones who tried to blow up Shakespeare and the Sufi Pir on Saturday. Bush’s cynical use of Lebanese developments to pressure Syria is also implicated in the increasing sectarian tensions in Lebanon. Bush has all along dropped the ball with regard to al-Qaeda, and has been heavy-handed in the Arab world, a very dangerous combination.