The Roots of Violence in the Middle East
Wars and conflicts in the Middle East in the recent years have increased the wave of violence in the region. Violence that claims countless victims every day. Many believe the roots of this violence overwhelmingly, in the people of the region, meaning their Islamic and religious beliefs. But has the religious belief of the people in the Middle East been influential in the formation of violence in this part of the world? We shall review this matter in this note.
Violence, Mankind, Religion
Extremist and violent religious tendencies are not the cause of viciousness and violence but such behaviours are rooted in other fundamental factors which are usually hidden from views. Most thinkers believe that violence is not inherent to Mankind. Its defensive form is also a historic product regarding the cohabitation experience of Mankind in a period where the basis of living was hunting.
None of the major religions of the world neither in their teachings and nor in their practice and the practices of their founders, have they been violent. On the contrary, they all invite the believers to treat all including their enemies with amicability. As well as monotheist religions, none of the other religions of the world have not been the preachers of violence or war. Since most religions have been founded on the basis of Mankind reaching a better order and life, and their aim is for Mankind to reach a higher degree of human perfection, they reject violence and conflict.
In Quran, verse 8 of Momtaheneh Surah states: “Allah does not forbid you to be kind and to act justly to those who have neither made war on your religion nor expelled you from your homes. Allah loves the just.” Also verse 32 of Ma’edeh Surah states: “Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind.”
The question rises that so what are the causes of violence in the Middle East today? What are the reasons for the appearance of extremist groups in the region who spread violence, and where can the origins of violence in the Middle East region be found? In analysing violent so-called religious groups in the Middle East we must look in other issues, some of which will be discussed in the following lines.
Reaction against secularisation by autocratic rulers
With regards to the reaction of people towards the sudden secularisation by autocratic rulers, in an article published in the Guardian entitled “The Myth of Religious Violence” (25 September 2014), Karen Armstrong writes: “When secularisation was implemented in the developing world, it was experienced as a profound disruption – just as it had originally been in Europe. Because it usually came with colonial rule, it was seen as a foreign import and rejected as profoundly unnatural. In almost every region of the world where secular governments have been established with a goal of separating religion and politics, a counter-cultural movement has developed in response, determined to bring religion back into public life. What we call “fundamentalism” has always existed in a symbiotic relationship with a secularisation that is experienced as cruel, violent and invasive.”
In most instances aggressive and brutal secularism has driven religion towards a violent response. All fundamental movements in Judaism, Christianity and Islam have had roots from fear of destruction, have been convinced that liberal or secular rule is in pursuit of destroying their way of life.
In another part of the same article by Ms. Armstrong, she says: “Very often modernising rulers have embodied secularism at its very worst and have made it unpalatable to their subjects. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic of Turkey in 1918, is often admired in the west as an enlightened Muslim leader, but for many in the Middle East he epitomised the cruelty of secular nationalism. He hated Islam, describing it as a “putrefied corpse”, and suppressed it in Turkey by outlawing the Sufi orders and seizing their properties, closing down the madrasas and appropriating their income. He also abolished the beloved institution of the caliphate, which had long been a dead-letter politically but which symbolised a link with the Prophet. For groups such as al-Qaida and Isis, reversing this decision has become a paramount goal.”
If today, some Muslims run from secularism, it is not because they have been brainwashed by their faith, but it’s because most of them have experienced efforts for secularisation violently.
Many believes that the West’s keenness for the separation of religion from politics are inconsistent with western commendable ideals such as democracy and freedom. In a military coup in Algeria in 1992, the president who had promised democratic reforms was overthrown, and the leaders of the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) or the Islamic Salvation Front who it seemed would win the next elections in a landslide were thrown in jail.
International anger was raised from the way the democratic process was interrupted through these unlawful methods. Since an Islamic government was stopped through a coup, some western Medias expressed joy from this undemocratic action had turned Algeria a safe place for democracy. When the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was similarly overthrown in Egypt, the sighs of relief in the West could be heard. But not many paid attention to the secular military dictatorship which had replaced it and had even gone a step further in crackdowns than during the Mubarak rule.
In fact when secularisation was forcefully implemented, a fundamentalist reaction was stirred. This alongside the backing of some countries of this ideology for their goals and objectives in the region caused a fundamental and violent reaction, a reaction which with the financial backing of regional and international governments, has turned into the biggest human threat in this period in time.
Supra-regional countries interference
One of the most repeated ideas by Middle Eastern thinkers are the supra-regional countries interference in the political, social, economic and even geographic destiny of the Middle East and backing extremist groups to reach their own goals.
Extremist groups in the Middle East first appeared during the occupation of Afghanistan, by opponents of the expansion of communism in the country. With the extensive financial backing of a number of countries, these groups who had formed to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, turned into a branch of religious ideology, which throughout the history of Islam had been criticised by the majority of Islamic scholars and clergy. The ideology which with plenty of money managed to organize in Afghanistan with a security vacuum, was fundamentalism as a result of Salafist ideology.
Salafism or Wahabism is an ideology which is rejected by the majority of Islamic scholars, an ideology which has turned into the main root cause of all the violence in the recent years.
Jihadist and terror groups who always feed from this ideology were seen as a means of rescue from existing conditions among the impoverished of some countries and for some governments as a tool for fighting the influence of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, were backed and supported. The same groups that following the breakup of the Soviet Union turned into pressure tools to reach specific goals and policies, on September 11 brought to the world a new form of terror, which had got out of the control of its organizational order.
Some solutions for ending existing conditions
-Reaction to some policies in the Middle East is one of the main factors that result in the institutionalisation of violence in societies. Efforts to remove these wrong policies can reduce the wrongful aggressive reactions
- Cooperation for reaching the culture of discourse can increase the interaction of thought and create suitable basis for free exchange of information between suffering and vulnerable countries of the Middle East, and bring these countries closer to a higher level of tolerance and discourse, which can reduce the violence rates within these societies and communities.
- Reaching a local and regional solution, welcoming dialogue and collaboration can help those who have any some way become victims of violence, away from blind prejudices and profiteering.
- Today, countries cannot easily launch direct military attacks as during the classic colonialism era. The existence of a democratic, popular and transparent government and free media and political parties, can by themselves be a strong and preventive defence against open military aggression from outside; because presently it is very difficult for domination seeking powers to enter conflicts with a country without the clear agreement of their allies, and enough acceptable support from public opinion. And they need excuses and pretexts to legitimise their actions. Democratic regimes do not give this legal excuse to the capitalist system. The problem arises when individuals or groups in power instead of trying to get the people’s vote of confidence, through serving the country and nation, instead they class with democratic principles. Therefore democracy based on the acceptance of differences is the best solution.
- Peaceful coexistence does not require any form of cultural differences and diversity, because this is almost impossible. In most human societies people have managed to cooperate and coexist alongside each other in amicability for centuries despite ethnic, cultural and religious differences.
- Regional governments must connect with their people with reconciliation, recognise their human rights and accept the free and democratic participation of the people in the decision making systems of running their countries.
- They must accept the unavoidable principle of solving problems through interaction and critical dialogue, talks for reaching common and disagreement issues, and on the basis of equal and just rights and responsibilities.
- Cooperation in joint economic, social and cultural ventures in confronting cultural and religious differences, instead of enmity, and the selecting of the most practical methods and values for the realisation of human development is very important. Also access to democracy, social justice and scientific and cultural development and the conducting of any action which guarantees the best for all the people.
By: Zahra Mirabian
The views expressed in this article are the author's opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ODVV.