Sectarian nationalism

Even if, during the last century, the rise in nationalism in the Middle East coincided with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, it would still be wrong to draw conclusions that establish a parallel between them.

The first nationalist currents to emerge in the Ottoman Empire were among the non-Muslims. And they managed to split away or were separated with the support of Europeans who perceived it within the framework of an “eastern problem.”

The nationalism that emerged among Muslims following its emergence among non-Muslim minorities perhaps manifested itself last among Turks. This means that the principle/dominant element of nationalism was first developed in the empires of the West and spread to minorities from there.

As far as we were concerned, the process, on the contrary, first manifested itself among non-Muslims then developed among Muslims and finally spread to what was considered the dominant element i.e. the Turks. By the time the Turks were inflicted by this, the Ottoman Empire was already on the path to dissolution anyway.

Even if Albanian and Arab nationalism hint at the emergence of nationalism in the modern sense, the unifying sense of belonging was still Islam. For instance it is debatable if the split would have been so dramatic were it not for the anxiety caused by World War I.

This process followed a different path in the post-Ottoman period. Arab nationalism became the prominent force by donning the cloak of socialism as well after the Cold War. Turkish and Persian nationalism developed more along the lines of Western currents. Turkish modernization in the Republican period could be considered as the implementation of the Western model in this context.

It is not possible to grasp the difference between nationalism in the West and that in the post-Ottoman Middle East without comprehending the main factor that makes them differ in a sociological and historical context, which is the relationship these societies have with religion.

The West, particularly Europe, is a community of nations with members from different religions. The primary identity that comes to the fore is Europeanness. On a national level what first comes to mind is Germans followed by Protestant Catholicism. Nation and nationalism continue to come to prominence even if belonging to a religion and its impact are felt in a cultural sense as a result of secularization.

Europeans today belong to various religions, or to be more precise, denominations under a national identity. What we consider as denominations e.g. Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox are defined as religion in Western terminology.

Despite all the shifts in conscience and modernization projects, the Middle East still considers itself Muslim first, followed by ethnic identities. Although this stance is officially, on the level of a nation-state, perceived as a secular and Western style, for the majority of the people, religion forms the primary identity and reveals itself through this sense of belonging. Islam continues to be the common fundamental value of this region.

Arab nationalism and socialism were promoted as the unifying element. Prior to the Arab nationalist regimes of the Cold War period, it tried to manifest itself with an identity that was both Arab and socialist with its religion as Islam. Neither Arab nationalism nor the dream of socialism managed to unite the Arabs. On the contrary, leadership struggles led to further division. In any event, socialism went down in history as one of the modern ideological apparatus of tyranny since it found no historical, cultural or sociological reciprocation.

Turkish nationalism based itself on a type of secularism in the Western sense. It adopted the secular transformation of Turkish society and its severance from the world of Islam as an ideology. The Turkish elite perceived this as a trend for civilizational change.

An act of social engineering was implemented that severed us socially and politically from the values that enabled us to sustain our own civilization. It would be apt to say within this context that Turkey was the pilot country where the “theory of modernization,” which was developed in the West was implemented. We literally served as the laboratory to measure political and societal responses to the theory of modernization. The project of Persian nationalism, which was similar, but perhaps less successful in this sense was equally divisive though.

Kurdish nationalism, which has recently been on the rise, is experiencing a highly interesting evolution given that it is a latecomer of sorts.

The awakening with regard to a Kurdish identity in various regions is being shaped by the prevailing sociopolitical climate in the region. The Kurdish movement in Iraq is fundamentally more traditional but remains a movement that had Soviet support in its infancy. Currently it is more integrated with the West, and compared to the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey, it protects its traditional fabric.

Kurdish nationalism in Turkey contains many attributes of the nationalist movements in the Middle East. It started as a movement that was strictly organized along the lines of a Marxist ideology while also literally adopting a secular model outside the bounds of religion. After the Cold War, as it became more widespread, it started paying more attention to religious motifs due to their socio-cultural impact, or to be more precise, transformed into a Western type of nationalism that it had kept as a backup.

The ideal of a strictly secular society became dominant while it was transforming itself from being an armed movement into a sociopolitical movement. It evolved into a model of secularization and modernization that promoted the ethnic identity but also held on to religion as a cultural motif.

Arab nationalist movements eventually went bust and debate over a political and societal model where society and value judgments conform has been taking place for a long time now. The dynamics that emerged from the process called the Arab Spring showed the primacy and non-interchangeability of religion for this region.

While Turkish nationalism has long shed its Kemalist colors, it still continues to determine the basic values of society’s religious affiliation in a different shape and manner. While Kurdish, Turkish and Arab nationalist movements force the secularization of society via official ideological support, broad segments of society – despite ethnic and linguistic differences – find their Islamic identities to be more defining. Despite the nationalist reflexes of political structures, the sense of religious belonging remains deep and a determining factor in the Middle East.

The recently surfaced sectarian-focused divide is a bloody game that seeks to accomplish what nationalist division could not manage for a century and targets primary values. It is a process that attacks both belief and lives…

Two elements are being brought to the fore to tackle the sense of religious affiliation, something which the flag bearers of nationalism failed to annihilate for years: sectarian discrimination and secular nationalism.

Arab, Turkish, Kurdish and Persian nationalist movements were one element of secularization but were not sufficiently successful. But the result of the division created by sectarianism in the name of religion is a match for all of them when it comes to being bloody and destructive. This is called sectarian nationalism; it is destroying religion in the name of religion.

lgili YazlarDünya, English, Siyaset

Editr emreakif on February 10, 2015



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