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Current Issues

in the

Middle East



a graduate class project of

Fairleigh Dickinson University
by

Mahmoud Aboud Alexandra Acosta

Idrees Mohamed Ali Anwar Al-Barout

Mohammed Al-Hadrami Nageeb Al-Jabowbi

Waheed Al-Shami Abdullah Al-Shammari

Adel Al-Sheikh Eve Burnett ‘Matankiso Chachane Ahmad Daoudzai

Johannes de Millo Naseer Ahmed Faiq

Khalid Faqeeh Bobette Jansen Nikolaos Kouroupis Shihana Mohamed

Siham Mourabit Chan Pee

Lila Ratsifandrihamanana Tania LaumanulupeTupou Sanaa Eltigani Uro
Editor

Ahmad Kamal

Published by:

Fairleigh Dickinson University

1000 River Road

Teaneck, NJ 07666

USA
May 2009

ISBN: 978-1-61539-567-5

The opinions expressed in this book are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken as reflecting the views of Fairleigh Dickinson University, or of any other institution or entity.

© All rights reserved by the authors

No part of the material in this book may be reproduced without due attribution to its specific author.


The Authors
Mahmoud Aboud is the Permanent Representative of Comoros
Alexandra Acosta is a Graduate Student from the USA
Anwar Al-Barout is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of the UAE
Mohammed Al-Hadhrami is a Graduate Student from Yemen
Nageeb Al-Jabowbi is a Graduate Student from Yemen
Waheed Al-Shami is a Graduate Student from Yemen
Abdullah Al-Shammari is Vice Consul of Saudi Arabia
Adel Al-Sheikh is a Graduate Student from Yemen
Idrees Mohamed Ali is First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Sudan
Eve Burnett is a Graduate Student from the USA
Matankiso Chachane is an Admin Assistant at the Permanent Mission of Lesotho
Ahmad Daoudzai is a Graduate Student from Afghanistan
Johannes de Millo is Second Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Monaco
Naseer Ahmad Faiq is a Graduate Student from Afghanistan
Khalid Faqeeh is First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia
Bobette Jansen is a Graduate Student from Germany
Ahmad Kamal is Senior Fellow at the United Nations
Nicolaos Kouroupis is Consular Agent at the Consulate General of Greece
Shihana Mohamed is a Graduate Student from Sri Lanka
Siham Mourabit is Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Morocco
Chan Pee is a Graduate Student from Malaysia
Lila Ratsifandrihamanana is the Permanent Observer of the African Union
Tania Tupou is Senior Advisor at the Joint Observer Mission of the Commonwealth
Sanaa Eltigani Uro is Consular Assistant at the Permanent Mission of Sudan
Index of Contents

Introduction Ahmad Kamal 1

Definitions and Limits Mahmoud Aboud 7

Linguistic Commonalities Chan Pee 17

Cultural Influences Khalid Faqeeh 25

Jerusalem – Crucible of Religions Alexandra Acosta 33

Inter-Faith Dialogues ‘Matankiso Chachane 45

Israel – a Jewish View Bobette Jansen 57

Palestine – an Arab View Mohammed Al-Hadhrami 71

Western Influences Idrees Mohamed Ali 83

Russian Influence Ahmad Daoudzai 95

Shia-Sunni Divide Abdullah Al-Shammari 107

Baath and Muslim Brotherhood Nageeb Al-Jabowbi 111

Democratic Traditions Anwar Al-Barout 123

Terrorism and Extremism Tania Tupou 133

Minorities Eve Burnett 147

The Red Sea Adel Al-Sheikh 159

Water Problems Siham Mourabit 169

Migration Flows Nicolaos Kouroupis 181

The Impact of Oil Waheed Al-Shami 193

The Search for New Technologies Johannes de Millo 203

Iran and its Nuclear Program Naseer Ahmad Faiq 213

The WMD Free Zone Proposal Shihana Mohamed 221

The Role of Women Sanaa Eltigani Uro 235

African Union and Arab League Lila Ratsifandrihamanana 243


Introduction

For all the pride that we have in our respective nationalities, and in the countries in which we believe we are rooted today, the fact remains that the true center of our world lies in the Middle East. That is the focal point of our spiritual being, that is where our energies are sourced, that is where all global conflicts appear to merge, and that is where all solutions will ultimately be found.

None of this should be surprising. With more than five thousand years of recorded history and civilization, this Middle East is where it started for all of us. This is where humans teamed together in thought and enterprise, giving birth to the very fundamentals of our existence today. This is where the great river civilizations first started. This is then where the three great revealed religions of the world were born and developed.

It is odd that, with such a positive contribution to thought and history, this should also be where the greatest disagreements and injustices of humanity should be found. How does it happen that the cementing center of our existence, the very binding force of our belief, should have turned into such a disastrous pot of simmering and bubbling tensions and conflict? How and why have men and women of conscience and goodwill metamorphosed into agents of death and destruction? How does a land that should bring us all together, turn into an arena that divides us so totally? How does a land of learning and tolerance become one that epitomizes only injustice and suffering?

This cradle of civilization has witnessed a chequered history with a number of milestones, each one of which has had global importance.

First came the initial human migration into this land, drawn by its fertile soil and climate. It was home to several original wild varieties of edible agricultural crops, wheat, barley, and peas, among others. It was then referred to for years as the Fertile Crescent, and it was in that capacity, that it became the land with the first great concentrations of human settlements and towns.

Then came the birth of the three revealed religions as man strove to define his relationship with God, and with fellow man. A long string of holy men and prophets all proclaimed the message of God on earth, and then went through great suffering and oppression to spread this message despite toil and travail. It is, in many ways, the land which best exemplifies survival and faith. The Middle East is thus inextricably linked with the three revealed religions, and the societies that they generated. Judaism emerged first, in an attempt to move the local populations towards belief and morality. Then, from its bosom emerged Christianity, in a renaissance of truth, and a rectification of the confusion that was perceived to have turned people away from the spirit of the divine message into its mundane and temporal letter. Finally, came Islam, as part of the same continuum, with its belief in both Judaism and Christianity as the same single divine message, separated unfortunately into divided rites and procedures. One message with three adepts, each one convinced that he alone was the chosen interpreter and holder of the truth.

While each of the three revealed religions brought the message of love and tolerance and respect for fellow man, much energy was nevertheless dispensed in inter-religion wars and conflicts. The consequent turmoil saw Jews against Christians, Christians against Jews, Christians against Muslims, Muslims against Christians, Muslims against Jews, and each one of the three against its own dissidents. It has been one long crusade after another for more than two thousand years already. Part of this is of course due to the manner in which religion has been used to divide rather than to unite. It is difficult to identify exactly how this started, but the Crusades certainly played an important part. They had little to do with religion initially, and more to do with an effort to create unity in a fragmented Europe by conjuring up an external enemy.

The liberation of Jerusalem was no more than an excuse, which then justified some of the greatest excesses committed by a nascent European society. The first to suffer were the Jews, who were lavishly slaughtered in the name of God, in revenge for what the Christian soldiers considered the betrayal and hence the responsibility for the crucifixion of Christ. From there, it was a small step to take the fight to the Muslims, even though the latter had always seen the Christians and the Jews alike as “People of the Book”, and thus as part of the same family of believers.

The initial wars of religion were thus between the Christians and the Jews. They started in the Crusades, then graduated into the Inquisition in Spain, then into the Pogroms in Eastern Europe, and finally into the horrors of the Holocaust in Germany and beyond. How a people with a common Judeo-Christian heritage could have committed such crimes against their own, remains one of the most surprising aspects of Western European intolerance.

Where the Jews were seen as traitors by the medieval European Christians, the Muslims were perceived by them as spiritual upstarts and charlatans. The Europeans conveniently ignored the fact that the Muslim civilization of the time was far more advanced than theirs, in thought and in learning, and that it was the contributions of the Arabs to science, and medicine, and astronomy, and geography, and mathematics, and the Arabic translations and transmission of the original texts of Greek philosophers and thinkers, that had opened the door to Europe’s own history and civilization after its Dark Ages.

Interspersed in this turbulence and turmoil of wars of religion have been some periods of apparent unity. One such period came during the Ottoman Empire, which lasted a full 700 years from the 14th to the 20th Centuries, and spanned three continents at its zenith. It was the center of interaction between the peoples of much of the “known” worlds for these centuries. In fact, it was responsible for the “discovery” of America, for it was the lock-hold that this Empire held on the trade routes between Europe and the East that led to the effort of Christopher Columbus to short-circuit the dangerous land-locked journey through Ottoman lands by undertaking his west-bound journey around the world to the spices and silks of the East. But no empires last for ever, and the Ottoman Empire was no exception. Pulled asunder by external coalitions and internal divisions, it began a long and slow death, before totally disappearing from the world stage after World War I.

The vacuum left by this slow demise of the Ottoman Empire then gave rise to the forces of possessive envy on the part of colonialist powers. Britain, France, and Russia, all played a major part in the resulting land-grab in the Middle East. This was executed in most cases through outright military conquests, and in some isolated cases through secret agreements in which these lands were partitioned among themselves. All this was part of a “great game” being played out on a table with maps, with no concern for peoples and property. In the process, countries that prided themselves on having discovered the principles of human rights had no qualms whatsoever in jettisoning the human rights of the peoples that they had conquered, and in denying them their fundamental freedoms. The consequences of that most unfortunate period of Middle East history continue to this day, and those who bear the responsibility for this situation do not even acknowledge or blush at their contribution to these later miseries.

The final milestone of Middle East history starts with the discovery of oil, and its convenience as a source of energy in the production and consumption patterns of life in developed economies. Suddenly, control of the region gained enormous strategic importance. New countries were artificially created, new alliances were negotiated, new dynasties were installed, new forts were established. Oil was king, and its rule had to be secured at all costs. It price was externally fixed from the outside, and for long, was kept cheaper than the price of water.

Despite the importance of each of these milestones, the fact remains that the focal point of our interest and commitment arises from the Holy Land aspect of this region, and not so much from the ancillary and more mundane aspects of geopolitics or oil or land.

With the centrality of belief that is represented in the Middle East, it seems such a pity that human frailty and such petty interests should have pulled this holy land down to such a low level. This incarnation of the highest levels of belief, of miracles, of the burning bush, of encounters with God, has been confounded with a commitment to no more than earthly clay.

That fundamental intolerance and intellectual arrogance has then been responsible for the situation in which the Middle East finds itself to this day. Its different incarnations came clothed in the armour of imperialism, of colonialism, of self-appointed mandates over others, of outright occupations, all examples of a self-centered and complete disrespect of the other far older and far more advanced civilizations. Small wonder then that the Middle East should be host to so many of our problems today. It has been after all, at the receiving end of a battering ram for so long now.

Another element of complete surprise lies in the manner in which the inter-relationships between the three religions has changed over time. As explained above, the fundamental tensions were between Christianity on the one hand, and Judaism and Islam on the other. There were little or no antipathies between Judaism and Islam itself, and Muslims and Jews lived in relative harmony with each other.

This was true throughout the Muslim conquest of Spain, with no problems whatsoever between Muslims and Jews, or even with Christians for that matter. That was because of the basic Muslim belief in Judaism and Christianity as essential parts of the same divine message, of the Torah and the Bible as holy texts, and of all Christians and Jews as “People of the Book”. It was only after the Christian re-conquest of Spain that the Christian elimination of the Jews really started, and the oppressed Jews were either converted forcibly to Christianity, or had to seek refuge in the Muslim lands of North Africa.

So how did the traditional enemies of Christianity and Judaism then come together in a new alliance to the detriment of the Muslims of the Middle East of today?

We are still too close to the history of contemporary times to draft a final opinion on this question, but the prevailing sentiment is that the answer lies in the newly discovered relationship that has emerged between Judaism and Zionism, or rather the superimposition of “land” on “belief”. The average Muslim respects Judaism as part of his own belief system, and as an integral part of the same divine message. He cannot understand how this belief can be suddenly concretised in a physical take-over of a land peacefully occupied and tilled by others for two thousand years or more. He can understand even less, how a people with whom his relations have been so harmonious over centuries, should be so inured to the consequential sufferings caused to an entire population converted overnight into homeless refugees.

All Muslims understand and respect Judaism. None of them understands Zionism, and none believes that Judaism and Zionism are two faces of the same faith. It is reassuring to them that there is a significant section of Jews who believe the same, and who stand just as firmly opposed to Zionism.

The fact of this fundamental difference does not imply that Muslims are right and that Zionists are wrong, but merely that the absence of understanding on this issue renders the prospects of peace highly unlikely in the near future in the Jerusalem and Israel-Palestine contexts.

From that focal disagreement, problems then radiate outwards in ever expanding concentric circles into the larger Middle East, and well as beyond.

The entire post-World War multilateral system is aimed at ensuring peace and security in our contemporary world. That is the mantra of the United Nations, and of its Security Council. And yet, in many ways, this is World War III already in the Middle East. Conflict has gone on for more than sixty years, and may well go on for another sixty years or more. It has caused untold misery and suffering, untold death and destruction, untold physical and mental costs, untold injustice and frustration, and with no end in sight. Hence the need for cooler heads and less trenchant opinions, and for a re-examination of assumptions and consequences.

Linked to the overt hostility in the region, is a host of other serious dangers. The effects of global warming on arid lands is one such danger. The slow exhaustion of fossil fuels due to flagrant over-consumption is another. The impending shortages of water supplies is yet another. And above all, the consequences of prolonged frustrations and the perceptions of continuing injustices with no recourse are emerging as the last straw.

The situation is fraught with danger and disaster. Some of that has already reared its head, even on Western soils. That was only to be expected in a globalising and globalised world, in which borders are no longer a barrier against external hostile infiltration. We are all in it together now. The quicker we sit down to address these problems jointly, the better the chances of preventing further cleavages.

The real question is then whether this can be done. Since failure is not an option, the question further boils down to how the return to sanity is to be managed.

Much of that may ultimately depend on our abandoning short term policy gains in the interest of long term principles. Many of these have established themselves over time. Respect for sovereignty and private property is one such principle. Tolerance for the opinions of others is another. A common search for justice and equity is yet another.

All this might require a better knowledge of history and international law, and a more honest appraisal of our own short-comings. Will we have the courage to face the gaps between our own principles and our own practices? Will we return to the spiritual underpinnings that have identified the Middle East as the common heritage of mankind, and not the exclusive ownership of any single community? Can we step back from the precipice in a land that is holy to all of us?

The reply is to be found in our own conscience. That is where history will judge us all.





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