Friday, 5 September 2014

The Middle East Culture Wars

The tragedy of how the elite media failed catastrophically in Iraq is living proof of just how little the West understands the Middle East. From Iraq to Libya and from Syria to Yemen, the region is encumbered with strife and the issues underlying the conflicts are rather complex. The complexity of the issues is perhaps only matched with the savagery of the hostilities and quite frankly, nobody seems to know exactly how to intervene and stop the bloodshed and resolve the underlying issues.

Recently, President Obama admitted that his administration didn't have a strategy for dealing with the Islamic State group which is based in Syria and which in July made foray into Iraq seizing control of almost a third of that country. That stunning admission by the President underscored just how ignorant the Western world's is concerning the Middle East and the trigger-happy knuckle heads clamouring for yet another US-led intervention in Iraq and Syria are further proof of this ignorance.

To be sure, putting a stop to the violent conflicts across the region is relatively easy but the crux of the matter is in resolving the underlying issues causing the conflicts in the first place. There is no doubt that the US military can respond in a moment's notice should it be called to action anywhere in the Middle East but resolving the underlying issues fueling the conflict is not something that can be resolved militarily. If anything, military action has in the recent past served to fan the embers of hatred for the West and the ongoing vicious cycle of violence.

Seeing the Big Picture

Thanks to new-found oil wealth and the ensuing interchange of good and services, Muslim Arabs today have access to highest standards of living that money can buy. Along with that, the traditional Arab way of life has undergone a complete makeover thanks to the exchange of world views, ideas, and culture that takes place in the marketplace and the global public square. Traditional Arab values and attitudes have been greatly modified and in some cases replaced while in others lost all together. Arabs now proudly live in ultramodern cities and towns, where family and tribal ties tend to break down and where women, as well as men, have equal access to education and employment opportunities.

This trade-off and rapid integration of the Muslim Arabs world into the global scheme of things is highly welcome and unwelcome in equal measure. Whereas the advantages and irresistible comforts of mordern life are highly welcome, the attendant social political and cultural shifts are in some cases diametrically opposed to Arab people's sacred way of life that has hitherto remained untouched for centuries. Unfortunately for the good people of Middle East, the abhorrent changes that have come with modern life in the 21st century are inevitable as much as they are a fact of life.

For the ruling elite in all the autocratic states across the region and especially Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Baharain, the social political change has served to enlighten and empower their populace to stand up for their rights and democratic governance. In the UAE, for example, where the ruling elite are just as paranoid about their grip on power as the House of Saud is across the border, innocent activists are labelled terrorists and coup plotters and hardly a month goes by without Emirati activists being tried and convicted often in absentia to prevent them from going back home.

For the religious types across the region, the guardians of everything moral, the socio cultural change sweeping across the region has sparked in some rekigious leaders an extremely dangerous militant reaction that has led to the horrific 'holy wars' that we are witnessing across the region. For these religious fundamentalists and their followers, anyone who does not subscribe to their doctrines and values and beliefs simply has no right to live. Al-Qa'ida (AQ), Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Shabaa, Ansar al-Islam, Boko Haram, and Islamic State are prime examples of jihadist groups which believe that their way of life is the only acceptable way of and the must become the way of life for everybody else and they stop at nothing in their efforts to impose it on others.

Elements of a Solution

The jihadists across the region and other parts of the world must howevrr be helped to come to terms with the inevitability of the socio political and cultural change and the folly of their crude resistance to it. Contrary to the widely-held belief, the change sweeping across the globe, not just the Middle East, is not the product of American machination or the West as it were, but rather is something that is actually driven by economic and technological forces and as many religious people will agree, spiritual forces, that are well beyond the control of America and all Western governments put together. 

There simply is no amount of bloodshed or acts of terrorism, no matter how vile, that can slow down much less reverse the paranormal process bringing change across the globe. If anything the jihadist resistance to change has rendered the Middle East arguably the worst casualty of the change sweeping across the world.

The jihadists and the region as a whole must accept and learn how to co-exist in the same society with other people with whom they have sharp religious cultural and political differences. It is not reasonable for anyone in this 'new civilized' world which is anything but civilized, to impose their values, beliefs, and attitudes on everybody else, that only ends in conflict. The only acceptable way of propagating one's views in this new age is by being living by your values and beliefs and being a good specimen of their effects and alternatively by gently persuading others to adopt one's values and beliefs.

World powers working to find lasting solutions to the crises in Iraq and Syria and other parts of the Middle East, must realize that the sectarian conflicts are primarily a struggle between elements seeking to use state machinery to resist cultural change and whereas the extremist' murderous campaign must be stopped effort must be put in place to help them accept and cope with change. 

On the other hand, autocratic governments should be helped to navigate the transition into democratic societies. A thorough understanding of the undercurrents in the various conflicts across the region is essential to crafting the appropriate response. Limited military intervention might be necessary in some cases but if only to stop wanton bloodshed, but sustainable solutions to these conflicts will require a totally different approach that takes cognizance of the facts at play and that avoids the counterproductive use of force.

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