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(This is the second of a series of two Articles)

By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.

In a previous article, we pointed out that Zionist and Western parties are invested in the fragmentation of the Arab-Islamic region along sectarian and ethnic lines, seeing as this would further strategic Zionist and Western-Imperialist interests.

These parties preach about stability in the region, argue in favor of minorities gaining their freedoms, and speak about fairer borders. Yet they ignore that the region never knew open sectarian and ethnic conflict except after the arrival of Western colonialism.

To be sure, the British had specifically sponsored a Zionist project at the expense of Muslims and Christians in Palestine, while the French sought to partition Syria into Druze, Alawite and Sunni states, and expanded Mount Lebanon to Greater Lebanon, as part of their backing of Maronite Christians there. They also attempted to instigate strife between Arabs and Berbers in Morocco.

The only constant in all their proposals has been maintaining Israel and its security, and subsequently, dispersing the Palestinian people, disregarding their rights, and tearing up their social fabric. Justice is therefore relative and selective for them, and does not apply to the Palestinian people, whether they are Sunni Muslims, Druze or Christians.

Instead, what matters to them is that Jewish colonists can continue to come and settle from more than 90 countries – and who have as many as 70 different languages! The Israelis and their allies like to forget that the essence of instability in the region is intricately linked to the implantation of the Israel at its core, against the will of its peoples, religious communities and ethnicities. In truth, the Zionist project is almost the only issue the peoples of the region unanimously reject and oppose.

The essence of the idea of fragmentation is based on creating weak, squabbling and subservient statelets, which seek to dominate one another by seeking Israeli and Western help, while acting as protective barriers for Israel. These entities would also hinder any project for unification or renaissance in the Arab and Islamic region, because the implementation of such a project would change the equation of the struggle in the region, and begin the final countdown for Israel’s existence.

Is there a risk these schemes for fragmentation may succeed? Well, yes. For one thing, there are several factors that give a fertile ground for these projects to thrive, most notably:

1- The emergence of the idea of nation-state in Europe, and the formation of many countries on this basis; and the spread of this “contagion” in our region—where many ethnicities emerged, e.g., Arab, Turkish, and Persian—made other ethnicities seek independent states. For example, the Kurdish people, who found no framework to express their identity following the abolition of the Islamic banner that had brought them together with other peoples.

2- The dismal and distorted implementation of the idea of Arab nationalism by the regimes, as evident from:

– Presenting distorted Arabism that focuses on racial affiliation rather than language and cultural affiliation, without bringing together all those who speak Arabic in harmony, be they ethnic Arabs or Arab-speaking peoples from other ethnicities.

– Relying on dictatorial, military rule, which repressed everyone, be they Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis, Shia or otherwise.

– Many minorities rode on the coattails of the wave of Arab nationalism in their countries until they seized power, and then went on to refuse any free democratic rule that expresses the will of the people. Indeed, this would have meant that those leaders or religious communities they claimed to represent would lose power, all amid continuous scaremongering within their communities against the consequences of allowing other communities to be in power.

3- Zionist and Western support for projects of fragmentation and partitioning, through their massive network of media, propaganda and political incitement. Those also provide “non-innocent” support to “protect minorities,” and they overemphasize the threats of marginalization, dilution of identity, persecution, and schemes of Islamization or Arabization.

4- Western success to one degree or another in Iraq, that is, in fueling sectarian passions, and the failure of ruling parties – despite the Islamist ideologies of a majority of them – to assimilate all communities in Iraq. In parallel, other parties have gone too far in their sectarian policies, which have perpetuated social disintegration rather than addressing it.

5- The prevalence of sectarian and ethnic identity over national, pan-Arab or pan-Islamic identity in several hot spots. In northern Iraq, the Kurdish identity has superseded Iraqi, Islamic or even Sunni identity. The classification currently in place in Iraq is unfortunately based on Shiite–Sunni and Arab–Kurdish dichotomies, as though the Kurds are not Sunni, or the Shiites are not Arabs, and as though everyone are not brought together by Islam or Iraq.

In Lebanon, the sectarian dimension emerges as a key determinant of policy and government, despite the fact that most parties in power are affiliated with secular and liberal ideologies (with the exception of the Shiite community). Sectarian isolationism is thus rife in the country, and this has started being replicated with political overtones in Syria, Bahrain and Kuwait.

6- Events show that it is not difficult to drag people into the sectarian quagmire, especially with the emergence of extremist groups in each community, and with violence, killing along sectarian lines, and targeting religious figures and holy sites, as happened in Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Lebanon. Such events allow foreign intelligence agencies to infiltrate to inflame tensions and blow up the situation, causing things to unravel in a domino effect that is difficult to stop.

7- The state of instability and the weakness of central governments, some of which are now in transitional phases. This tempts foreign powers to push projects of portioning forward, particularly among those factions seeking to secede; those being pushed to fear the Islamist alternative; or those being enticed that it is now time for them to take advantage of the historical opportunity to achieve their goals.

On the other hand, there are a number of factors that inhibit or prevent any potential fragmentation scheme:

1- All schemes of fragmentation, and sectarian and ethnic divisions, will remain mere wishes and desires by the Zionist and Western forces, unless they are aided by local proxies in a sectarian or ethnically charged environment.

In most cases, calls for secession did not get the support of the majority in respective sectarian and ethnic groups, and many still reject to separate from their Arab and Islamic environments, and refuse to be part of weak and isolated entities that would not be able to stand on their feet politically, economically and militarily, unless they place themselves under Western-Zionist domination or protection.

Instead, many in these communities believe in the need to be active partners in the nation’s renaissance, instead of becoming hostile to other communities and peoples in the region.

2- The wider popular framework in our Arab and Islamic region still looks to returning to its unitary and open model of civilization, away from projects of fragmentation and sectarian and ethnic isolation.

3- The rising Islamist, nationalist and pan-Arab parties in the current atmosphere of uprisings and revolutions, are characterized by moderation, call for accommodating all components of the nation and its communities, and relaxing freedoms. These groups also reject isolation, insularity and fragmentation, and seek to provide unitary visions and development-oriented projects that join together both the Arab and Islamic components of the nation’s identity.

4- Any sect or faction that seeks to secede will meet many practical difficulties. For, in addition to the opposition it will encounter in its direct as well as Arab-Islamic environments, it will face demographic and geographical overlaps with its surroundings. This would render any resulting entities surrounded from all sides. Furthermore, such entities may not have all the requirements for independence, their borders may not include all their members or large numbers of other ethnicities and religious communities may reside within their borders. If any particular faction resolves to be obstinate, then this may well turn into endless bloodshed, where the biggest loser would be the seceding faction in question itself.

5- Though many see that Western-Zionist forces stand to gain from sectarian and ethnic fragmentation, there are many other major factions in power, especially in the West, which see in this several major risks. Indeed, fragmentation would most likely lead to a state of chaos that cannot be controlled, in turn leading to the rise of “extremist” Islamist groups to power. This would mean threatening the borders with Israel, for example with resistance attacks against the occupation.

Meanwhile, the collapse of some regimes may lead to the collapse of other regimes allied to the West, which would be replaced by new ones, most likely controlled by groups with pan-Islamic and pan-Arab attitudes. The idea of the fall of regimes and the reshaping of the geography and borders does not always serve the fragmentation process, but may facilitate the emergence of forces of change and aid their projects of renaissance and unity.

6- In the Arab world, the Arab and Islamic identities act as an inclusive framework by focusing on common grounds. For example, despite sectarian diversity in Lebanon (27-30% Sunni, 27-30% Shia, 23% Maronites, 7% Druze, in addition to Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and Alawites), more than 90% of the Lebanese people are of Arab descent.

In Syria, the Arab and Islamic identity is common to more than 90% of the population. In Iraq, the Islamic identity is common to around 96% of the people, while the Arab identity is common to more than 75%. The same is true in the Muslim Arab Maghreb, where regardless of the proportions of Arabs and Berbers, who intermarry and overlap, Islam is common to 99% of the population there.

The Arab and Islamic identities are also common to the overwhelming majority of the people of the Gulf countries and Egypt. Therefore, if Islam is presented in a moderate centrist manner, and if Arabism is presented in an inclusive framework with emphasis on bonds of language and culture, many of the risks of fragmentation can be overcome.

The prospect of confronting fragmentation and partitioning schemes are good, especially if the issue of minorities is addressed on the basis of justice, partnership, and wisdom. Therefore, peoples and political regimes in the region are urged to undertake initiatives in this direction to thwart any schemes of fragmentation and division.

Major countries in the region, especially Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have a key role to make this program succeed. The program must be based on four points:

1- Creating a safety net for the development and advancement of the region, and focusing on common interests and the inclusive identity of the nation.

2- Creating a safety net that prevents any sectarian or ethnic tensions and strife in the region, through:

– Safeguarding freedoms and religious, political, cultural and social rights for all.
– Ensuring that political regimes express the free will of their peoples.
– Preventing any incitement or sectarian domination, and any plans that seek to eliminate or marginalize a certain sect or ethnicity.

3- Heading off any Western or Zionist intervention in the region, and refraining from seeking foreign assistance or alliances in addressing any conflicts, instead resolving them in an Arab-Islamic framework that accommodates the interests and priorities of the peoples of the region.

4- Channeling the energies of the nation toward furthering major causes, especially the Palestinian issue, and focusing on liberating lands and developing people, rather than wasting energies and capabilities in ethnic and sectarian conflicts, where everyone loses and no one benefits except the enemy.

Read the first article: A Reading on the Calls for Sectarian and Ethnic Fragmentation

The Arabic version of this article appeared on Al on 10/2/2013.

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 26/2/2013