Islam, a monotheistic, albeit multi-sectarian and ethnically diverse religion emerged in the western Arabian Peninsula, formerly called Hijaz, in 7th century BCE, i.e., 600 years after Christianity. Islam was the driving impetus for progress and domination in its first five hundred years of existence, but has been inwardly dormant, due in part to mysticism and European awakening, since the 12th century. As evidenced by the lingering struggle for technological modernizations (and not necessarily Hollywood style westernization) and religious and cultural reformations in Iran and Turkey in particular since the mid 19th century, and further, as influenced by the rapid proliferation of electronic communications, social media and the widening gap between the majority disenfranchised poor and the select rich elites, the people in the so called Middle East (Southwest Asia and North Africa) have re-awakened to once again take hold of their own sovereign destinies and to play the critical role expected of them domestically and in the family of nations.
The current grassroots uprising against the theocratic scrooges or autocratic puppets and their hegemonic linchpins, spanning from North and the horn of Africa, to Southeast Asia supports such a re-awakening paradigm. The fundamentalist crypto-theocracy has also remained an impending predicament in several countries against the organic aspirations of the masses yearning to establish the rule of law, security and sovereignty, modernity, justice and equality, transparency, equality, and peace.
In Iran for instance, the 2,500 year old absolute monarchy was finally replaced with a modern constitutional monarchy by 1906 revolution, which again was by and large violated blithely by the Pahlavi kings. This led to the revolution of 1979 which was hijacked by Shiite clerics and politicized theocracy that has only become ubiquitous since the Safavid Dynasty of 1500’s. As a result, most people’s aspirations have remained unfulfilled. Paradoxically, the subversive instigations by the Neoconservatives of the far right in the west, and as manifested for instance by the recent propaganda movie IRANUM, has only rationalized the tightening of the grip of power against the people in Iran and the rest of the region.
The rapidly growing Islamic world spanning from Southeast Asia to Northwest Africa, is currently comprised of over 1.5 billion inhabitants, i.e., 25% of the world population. Approximately 350 millions of them are classified as the Arab world; however, this designation is somewhat misleading and not as monolithic as perceived by the west naïveté. Although Arabic, one of the Semitic languages of the Aramaic family (which includes Hebrew, Assyrian and Coptic), is spoken in 22 of the 55 so-called Islamic countries, the actual Arabs, more united by the use of the language rather than by their distinct ethnicity or creed is perhaps half their declared population. The Arabs are those whose origin is from the Arabian Peninsula in Southwest Asia. The North Africans, especially the Egyptians, and the Iraqis/Syrians/Lebanese are not Arabs per se; however, they have adopted an “Arab” common culture and language throughout the past 1,500 years. The Iranians are most definitely not Arabs and are of Indo-European “Persian” lineage.
Amongst the predominantly Muslims and the Arabs in this region, there are still distinct historical cultural/religious groups of Christians and Jews, as typified by millions of émigrés in diaspora to the west, Israel and Armenia, and the millions of Copts in Egypt and the Armenians of the Indo-Persian stock and the Assyrians in Iraq. The non-Arab Persians of Iran, Afghanistan, Azarbaijan and Tajikistan, and the multi-ethnic Turkey have a significant number of other religions; Armenian and Assyrian Christianity, Baha’ism, Judaism and Zoroastrianism are eminently present. In fact, Iraq with its close historical, non-Arab ethnic and cultural ties with Iran is comprised more of the Persians due to its 65% Shiites (many originally from Iran) and 25% Kurds than its Arabs (Sunni) minority of no more than 15%.
Fareed Zakaria’s retrospectives on the past 1,000 years of history of the so-called [Muslims and Arabs] in Middle East, albeit more appropriately referred to as merely Southwest Asia and North Africa is indeed insightful.
Zakaria is correct to state that although the region was enlightened and prosperous through the eleventh century, it all of a sudden went into a state of reactive ambivalence and inward dormancy for the subsequent millennium. This inward dormancy coincided with the Magna Carta of 1215 in Europe (the commencement of the Europeans crawling out of the dark ages which bore fruits 300 years later in the Renaissance) and the emergence of Islamic mysticism and the invasion of the East Roman Empire. This was followed by invasions of the Mongols, the Persians, the Ottoman Turks, and finally the European colonialists (mainly the British and later the Americans) in the 18th through the early 20th centuries for oil, gas and natural resources. And so, now in 2011 we may have the first reawakening of the Arab/Muslim word after nearly 1,000 years. Again, although there are as many as 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide (about fifty millions in the west alone), only less than 350 million of them, roughly 20% are Arabs bound with a common language and not necessarily with common race or ethnicity. And among the Arabs, there are still distinct historical cultural/religious groups of Christians and Jews, as typified by millions of émigrés in diaspora to the west and Israel, the millions of Copts Christians in Egypt, the Armenian and the Assyrian Christians in Iraq, and Zoroastrians, the Jews, Christians and Baha’is in Persian Iran.
As evidenced by three decades of failed totalitarian rule of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the unpopular and undemocratic political pro-western autocrats and/or the fundamentalist [Islamic] theocrats in the Near East have remained rather ubiquitous for too many decades. The current rapid development which was finally pluralized due to socio-economic and political impasse, removal of subsidies and austerity budgets, and continued repression of human rights, was inextricably inevitable. This reform movement will undoubtedly be reverberated, emulated and intensified through this region and beyond for years to come. The current uprising of the populace in Bahrain, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the non-Arab Persian Iran is just the tip of an iceberg.
Continued unequivocal support for the ruling tyrants from the west (in particular the U.S.) rationalized by the [oil] strategic stability doctrine circumvented the genuine organic aspirations of the indigenous peoples for freedom, democracy, justice and equity in the region. This has had paramount ramifications, including the compromise on the long-term interests of the U.S., since World War II. The ubiquitous social e-media and ease of e-communications have truly made a decentralized e-democracy paradigm possible for all.
In fact, mass repression of political dissent in the region intensified when the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Dr. Mohammad Mosadegh was violently overthrown in 1953 by a CIA covert insurgency to reinstate the Shah, the absolute peacock throne timid monarch that had previously fled the country. Iran under its elected leadership, through a favorable verdict in the International Court in The Hague, had nationalized its natural resources, but this was unacceptable to the Anglo-American oil consortium.
The puppet dictators in the region, with carte blanche, i.e., military and intelligent support from the west/U.S., have always exploited the boogie man diversion schemes such as communism, Islamism, nationalism, anarchism, ethnicism, etc. as a means of repressing their nationals through imprisonment and torture, summary and mysterious disappearances and executions, and pushing the oppositions underground or into exile. There are currently in excess of one hundred million nationals from the Near Eastern regions, mostly of affluent and, or highly educated statures, who have [involuntarily] emigrated and settled in the European and the American continents since the mid-fifties.
And according to the colonial practice of “divide to conquer and rule“, there are also local puppet lackeys within every country, and linchpins within and beyond every nation in the region who resort to exploiting the ethnic and religious divergences to serve their own ulterior motives, greed, power, and absolute control.
Amongst all auto-theocratic establishments in the region, the Saudi “royal’ family comprised of 60,000 self promoting egotistical clan members, remnants of 1932 first time ever government, remains unrivaled due to its exclusive collection of trillions of dollars of wealth and absolute power. Most terrorists on September 11, 2001 and many terror incidents that have occurred since then have been committed and financed by the Sunni (Vahabi-Salafi) sect members, many of whom are from the Royal family of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime is only tolerated by its own citizens through its chronic repressions and violations of human rights, especially against up to its 25% Shiite second class serf citizens. It also creates pseudo-legitimacy for itself through hand outs to less impoverished regimes and radical groups (Al-Qaida) in the region, while giving lucrative oil contracts, and purchasing outdated military hardware from the west. The Saudi regime has built a rather sophisticated propaganda and public reactions infrastructure especially for swaying the public opinion in the west. After all excessive expenditures, their annual budget surplus of nearly $150 billion dollars has recently led to the biggest purchase of military hardware from the U.S. in the amount of over $60 billion dollars. Such massive military capabilities have and will be more used to repress political and minority dissent within the country. For instance, Saudi Aramco, the metamorphism of the Anglo-American Oil Company in the Arabian Peninsula, has been in existence in one name or the other for nearly 100 years. It maintains one of the most costly and effective public relations [propaganda] and image building arms any conglomerate or a government could ever yearn for. Saudi Aramco World Magazine, has been produced, published and disseminated in Houston, Texas, U.S.A. since 1949.
Aramco World Magazine purports an egocentric agenda for the Saudi Arabian Sheikdom (formerly Hejaz till the early 20th century) under the pretext of Arab and/or Islamic Nationalism. Anchored on its vast financial resources as drawn from Aramco’s nearly 200 billion dollars of oil and gas revenues annually, the magazine relies on its large number of mostly British “freelance writers,” and Anglo-American editorial boards to generate its articles. Every single article printed or placed online is geared toward fabricating an Arab albeit Saudi Arabian cultural and historical identity, thereby giving the [falsely bogus] impression to a novice reader or a reader that whatever is presented was generated or contributed by the past generations of Saudi Arabians.
The so-called freelance (lucratively paid and exquisite living) authors, many with vested financial interest as employees or stakeholders at Aramco or with hefty remunerations for their “contributions”, are directed to focus on specific themes, but selectively and subjectively attribute contributions to world civilization (many discoveries of the distant past) retroactively to Saudi Arabians. As such, they convolute or discount the national heritage of others in the region portraying them all as the Arab, albeit the Sunni/Vahabi/Salafi historical heritage. The fact that the government of Saudi Arabia is basically a one clan family (sixty thousand cousins) auto-theocracy where its nearly 20% (fast approaching ten millions) Shiite population remain impoverished and non-existent, and that there is blatant violation of human rights (it ranks among the top three for the number of executions each year) and lack of democracy and individual freedom in Saudi Arabia, is immaterial to the Saudi Aramco World Magazine and the public relations arms of the “kingdom!”
The magazine, one of the many official publication organs of the Sheikdom of Saudi Arabia avoids the use of the historically accepted name, the Persian Gulf for instance, and instead resorts to the fabricated superficial misnomer Arabian Gulf. It very rarely gives credits to other nationalities like the Persians, the Jews, the Turks, the Indians, etc. and avoids their contributions or clumps them as Arab and Islamic contributions. For instance, by carefully reviewing a recent article titled, Roads of Arabia in the March/April 2011 issue of this self aggrandizing megalomaniac magazine, the reader’s attention is immediately drawn to a map of the region, where the name Saudi Arabia an many roads stretching across the continents by ending to it is prominently displayed. Again, Persian Gulf is wrongly named Arabian Gulf, and the names of many other countries including IRAN and Israel are not even printed!
For more evidence of journalistic and “freelance writing” adulteries, lease read the following two articles in the recent issues:
When on its surf engine, a search for Persia and Iran yields less than 300 hits. However if you search for Arab or Saudi, you will have more than 3000 hits! Let me once again suggest your reviewing the various article in the percent or past issues of the magazine here.
In summary, the paradigm shift for the indigenous peoples of the Near East, one after another, to reform themselves through education and socio-economic and religious reforms and empowerment is happening NOW. The commonality among the peoples of the region is their spiritual humanism, and cultural rituals and not sectarian or ethnic divides. The west should re-strategize to wind up in the end on the side of the peoples and not unpopular puppets. This will ultimately serve the much anticipated and far overdue interests of the sovereign nations in the region, while affording us in the west the benefit of the strategic stability and mutually beneficial and enhanced economic partnerships and cultural exchanges. Status quo or any other alternatives are doomed to catastrophic failure for all concerned beyond this historical juncture.
Davood N. Rahni is a professor of chemistry in New York. He writes on affairs in the U.S, Near East, Iran, and the environment.
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