More from RELS 348: Empire, Colonialism, and Religion

Just like what John McLaughlin says in his story “The Middle East conflict with 3 dimensions,” USA Today, 6 April 2015, never in modern times has the Middle East been so chaotic. The Islamic State has built a nominal “caliphate” in big parts of Syria and Iraq, eliminating the border between the two countries established in WWI; Saudi Arabia and Iran both are against Islamic State, but other issues are there in both Syria and Yemen. In Yemen, the government supported by Saudi has fallen to Iranian-backed rebels. Egypt is militarily striking back against extremists in Libya and has been allied with Saudi Arabia in Yemen against Iranian rebels. When Iran and Saudi Arabia, the leaders of the two religious sides Shia and Sunni are battling each other. All adds up to a conflict with five dimensions. Arabs vs. Persians, terrorists vs. regimes, terrorists vs. each other, Sunnis vs. Shias, democracy vs. authoritarian.

Beginning in the late 15th century, Europeans led expeditions across the world in an attempt to expand their territory and power. During this time, they exerted not only political and economic influence upon the lands they discovered and claimed, but also socio-cultural, and, most importantly, religious influence. This historical process that lasted for almost four centuries until the 20th century is known as colonialism. European colonial powers artificially created states according to their own imperial needs, and implemented a widespread sectionalist policy as to effectively govern their colonies as well as the indigenous population, leaving a legacy of bitter religious and political conflict.

For example, by establishing a new government of their own in Lebanon, France drew borders around the nation within which their Maronite allies would become the population majority and eventually assume socio-economic and political power over the Druze, Shia, and Sunni Muslims. As a result, Lebanon is now festered with sectarian conflicts that are becoming more and more intense with the deteriorating economy. Yemen is no exception to such issues, as exemplified by the aggressive antagonism between Saudi Arabian monarchs, comprised mostly of Sunnis, and Iran-allied Houthi rebels, comprised mostly of Shias.

The Shia-Sunni conflict is the one of many consequences of European colonial policies that endorsed sectarianism in the Mid East. Thus, the political and religious chaos that inhabit the Mid East today, as represented by the dispute between and amongst various ideologies, groups, and denominations like the Christians, Catholics, and the Islamists, can be attributed to a history of wrongful domination by European colonialists.

nlee

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