political sectarianism: the latest colonial weapon

On a selective memory by Azmi Bishara. It should be read as an antidote to the fatal short-sightedness currently afflicting the Middle East. Whether imposed or self-inflicted, it serves only those with colonial designs on the region.

The identity crisis in the eastern Arab world is a modern phenomenon, not the extension of a condition with deep historical roots. Nor are nationalism and state- and nation-building concepts that conflict with the existence of tribal and sectarian affiliations; they are answers to the challenges of building a modern society. The problem in Iraq, today, is that the country’s tribal and sectarian structure is being forced on Iraqis as a mold for political affiliation. People aren’t born as a nation; nations are built. And in order to build a nation you don’t go delving into history, when there was no state or nation and when all that existed were tribes and sects, as some Orientalists do.

Now, they proclaim, the state has to be turned into a sectarian and denominationally based federation, ie the state has to be deconstructed, or terminated. The idea that Arab identity can serve as an overarching bond for the people and simultaneously accommodate non-Arab minorities simply does not occur to them.

After having identified Arab nationalism as enemy number one, they co-opted Arab nationalist criticisms of the sub-regional state and its dependence on tribal and sectarian groupings and then distorted and turned these criticisms against both the state and Arab nationalism. Now the Arabs are required to recognise tribal and sectarian divisions as the only structural basis for a pluralistic society and to stop thinking of these pre- modern allegiances as possible impediments to statehood and nationalism, as Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries concluded.

Evidently, the rule of political sectarianism and the preparation of the Arab world for the latest colonialist weapon, requires partial collective memory alongside partial collective amnesia.

It’s time to see political sectarianism in its many guises as, at best, a festering band-aid solution and at worst (closer to the mark): “the latest colonialist weapon”. Wake up.


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