Marc Lynch writes: A video of a rebel commander eating the lung of an enemy fighter and the horrific scenes of children massacred by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are only a few of Syria’s ever-growing catalog of atrocities. This stuff of nightmares has raised fears that Syria’s civil war is spreading Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict across the Middle East — fears galvanized by the escalating body count in Iraq, the dismal standoff in Bahrain, and the seemingly uncontainable tensions in Lebanon.
Many now see this sectarianism as the new master narrative rewriting regional politics, with Syria the frontline of a sectarian cold war permeating every corner of public life. The Sunni-Shiite divide, argues Brookings Institution fellow Geneive Abdo in a report released last month, “is well on its way to displacing the broader conflict between Muslims and the West … and likely to supplant the Palestinian occupation as the central mobilizing factor for Arab political life.”
Perhaps. But think about how little deep Arab sympathy for the Palestinian cause has actually produced effective or unified Arab official action in its support. Will Sunni solidarity be any more effective?
The sectarian master narrative obscures rather than reveals the most important lines of conflict in the emerging Middle East. [Continue reading…]