Conflicts in the Middle East
This article is especially for those who seek better knowledge of the situations currently going on in the Middle East with several historical accounts and political explanations of what sparked some of the heated encounters between Middle Eastern nations.
Islam is a religion known to promote peace and tolerance and denounce violence and aggression unless provoked. But then, the Muslim world, ever since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), have engaged in countless wars and are ridden with conflicts and disputes, worse still, with each other. Many would ask why are Muslims, who worship the same God and practice the same faith never seem to come to terms and unite. Instead the Muslim world has always been rocked by wars and dirty political games. The objective of this paper is to look at some of the conflicts that had and is still happening, subsequently proposing the prospects for the achievement of peace.
Theologically, the conflicts between Muslims, which emphasises the concept of brotherhood, can be explained by the fact that Prophet Muhammad’s prayer, where he asked Allah S.W.T to spare Muslims from hurting each other, was rejected. The first ever major conflict was the war between Sayyidina Ali and Sayyidatina Aisyah , which was known as the Jamal War. I have classified the conflicts and disputes into two categories, the Inter-nation conflicts, which is the conflicts between countries e.g. Iran-Iraq, Iraq-Kuwait, Syria-Lebanon and Israel-Palestine and the Intra-nation conflicts, which is the conflicts within a country itself (civil wars) e.g. Lebanon Civil War, Iran Islamic Revolution and the Shiite-Sunni clashes in Iraq.
Let us now look at the case studies in the Inter-Nation conflicts. One of the most well known disputes is the Iran-Iraq War, considered as the first major war between third world countries and is officially the longest conventional warfare in the 20th century (8 years). Historically, Iran and Iraq had always had cold and tension-full relationships, especially in terms of territorial claims. When Iran underwent the historic Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, it plunges into a state of political turmoil. Iraq (led by Saddam Hussein At-Tikriti) seized this opportunity to redress its grievances with Iran, simultaneously accusing Iran of inciting similar movements in Iraq while at the same time demanded back the lands that Iran seized from them. These events were followed by successive border clashes where eventually in September of 1980, Iraq attacked Iran. External forces also play a major part in this conflict. In the early 1980’s, US – Iraqi relationships were changing for the better, where they improved trade relations as Iraq’s oil industry reached its pinnacle and the US opened its universities to Iraqi students. In the course of the Iran revolution, many US citizens were taken hostage, and this established a common interest between the US and the Iraqis, subsequently engaging in arms dealing which further strengthened Saddam’s course in waging war against Iran.
The Iran – Iraq War brought about major damages and casualties. In total, US$350 Billion in damage was suffered by both parties and the cost of the war itself was estimated to be about US$1190 Billion. Furthermore, 157 Iranian towns were destroyed an 1800 border villages were literally wiped off the map. Both countries’ economy suffered steep declines in oil revenues and productivity. Socially speaking, many minority groups were displaced as the true victors of the war were the prevailing parties, The Ba’ath Party led by Saddam and the Theocrats of Iran. Any prospects for peace still remains elusive as even now, Iraq suspects Iran of providing assistance to Shiites in the Shiites ongoing conflict with Sunnis (in Iraq).
The next case study of interest is perhaps the most well known conflict of all, the Israel – Palestinian conflict. In the past, many Arab leaders voiced disagreement to a creation of a Jewish state, of which falls upon deaf ears and eventually became a reality in 1948. Since then, Israel engaged in countless conflicts with its neighbours where it succeeded in acquiring the Sinai Desert and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria and Jordan’s West Bank. But its biggest conflict was and still is with Palestine, especially over the holy land of Jerusalem and Baitul Maqdis.
As a result, the Palestinian people were oppressed by the Israelis, who were backed by their staunchest ally the U.S. As this went on, the Palestinians’ patience were severely tested and as a consequent, in the 1960’s the Intifada or the uprising was launched. This conflict went on for decades and is still under global scrutiny. It is not short of peace efforts though, the Geneva Convention, Camp David and numerous other UN organized peace talks were just some of the many occasions where leaders from both sides tried to sort their differences out, only to be met with short term or virtually non-existent success.
Very recently (2005), there were glimmers of hope for peace as Ariel Sharon (then Prime Minister of Israel) made a move to cease several key territories, particularly the Gaza Strip. This again was short-lived as Israel’s move was alleged to be an effort to deviate global attention from its real intention which is to expand Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Another peace ‘myth’ was when Hamas and Fatah became political players in the Palestinian striving towards a stable government and state. In the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s website it was reported that the Israeli attack on Jericho and the kidnap of prisoners demonstrates the fiction that there is a functioning Palestinian government and the ongoing attacks serve as a reminder that Palestine is still virtually under Israeli dictatorship . This conflict has resulted in disastrous consequences, where 4000 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis lost their lives . It also undermines any efforts towards betterment in education, as 850 schools were forced to close. Economically, Palestine suffered an alarming 51% drop in GNP, and 69% of firms were also either permanently or temporarily shut down.
Are there any hopes left for these two nations? The answer again remains elusive, as even though they are not short of peace efforts, they are not short of hatred either, which further dampens any aspirations for reconciliation. This was purported by the fact that Israel had the backing of a major superpower, the U.S, who is a traditional enemy of the Muslims, particularly the Arabs. Western Media have always portrayed Palestinians as terrorists , implying their support for Israel. This was highlighted by the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad when he lashed out at the Israelis by saying that “the Jews ruled the world by proxy” and the US is part of it. Unless these issues are tackled first, it would be literally impossible for Palestine and Israel to come to terms with each other.
Now let us move to the Intra-nation conflicts, starting first with the Iraq sectarian clashes. During Saddam Hussein’s reign, the Shiites were severely oppressed , and ever since the U.S led coalition forces invaded Iraq on March 20th, 2003, the situation became increasingly dire. Aside from insurgent attacks on the coalition forces , the Sunnis and Shiites became increasingly hostile towards each other, especially after the US tried to help implement a democratic government. The main cause of the tension was that the minority Sunnis feared a similar oppression, as was experienced by their Shiite brothers (during Saddam’s reign), would befall them if the majority Shiite party would win the elections. The situation became worse as clashes became common and fatality counts start to increase, where on January 5th and February 25th (2006), suicide bombings killed 49 people and injured 137 others. The highlight of the clash came when Sunni insurgents destroyed a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra, North of Baghdad.
All these events conjured up the very question of is life any better compared to life under the Saddam regime; where some claim this is the case, but others would disagree. As the situation remains ever turbulent, one would wonder whether Iraq would ever be stable again, some claim that only the withdrawal of coalition troops is the solution, a claim strongly dismissed by the US, who themselves are losing their own credibility.
For our second case study in the Intra-nation conflicts, let us focus on the Islamic Revolution of Iran. Ever since 1926, Iran was ruled by the Pahlavi Monarchy, who embraced western ideas and policies, but at the same time limiting freedom to their people. Due to this repression, Iran’s modern middle class, who was denied political freedom, the Traditional Middle Class (Ulama and Bazaaris) who were alienated and devoid of opportunities as well as the Working Class all went hand in hand to launch a revolutionary movement, led by the radical Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini.
The launching of the movement weakened the ruling government. Eventually on the 11th February, 1979, 16 years after the start of the revolution , the last of the Shah resigned, officially signifying the collapse of the Pahlavi monarchy and opening the door for a more conservative and strictly Islamic government to be established. It is highly debatable as to whether the revolution provides better opportunities and freedom for its people, or are they actually more repressed than before.
Hence we have seen the types of conflicts that had and are taking place in the Muslim world. It seems that conditions are becoming increasingly unstable and although peace efforts are made, along with the assistance of external forces e.g. US, Britain, France and Russia, the situation remains unsatisfactory. In most cases, even these external ‘assistance’ come under question as some claim they come with hidden agendas which, in the long run would eventually benefit the external forces instead. This, coupled with the fact that the Muslim world continue to be filled with long term grievances and redemption have played down the prospects for peace to be achieved. It is imperative that major efforts be made and Muslim leaders give their full cooperation, set aside their differences and forgive past sins, for only then will we see progress. Another conclusion that we can make is that the conflicts are not all about religion but more importantly revolving around the issues of oppressions, political games, territorial disputes and historical grievances.