Centered on Civil Liberties & Political Issues, Human Development & Socioeconomic Matters
The existing interminable regional conflicts among several nation countries along with the recurring armed clashes between political factions, fundamental groups and state authorities are now common features of this era.
Since four decades as yet, conflicts and disagreements are becoming more fundamental and conceptual than being circumstantial and temporal. In the Muslim and Arab world, it is about the scope and limits of Islamism and Nationalism, and most importantly about the compatibility and contradiction of each ideology with the other. No wonder, there are profound disputes concerning the constructive elements, causes and effects of these ideologies.
During the past century, Nationalism was the most popular and preponderant ideology of all. Many nationalists relate nationalism to certain common ideology, language, religion, social and cultural traditions. Others interpret it as the racial and hereditary factor brought out from the early days of history. Obviously, nationalism is not purely a theory-based issue: it is an active conception that has vital importance in determining the course of action and policy of any social and political unit.
During modern times, in Europe, nationalism is conceived as a unit of people of common race living together within particular geographical boundaries who share very similar historical cultural and traditional background. This Western European nationalistic tendency grew to which it overshadowed all other ideological dispositions in Europe including liberalism, conservatism and Marxian socialism.
At its origin, the inspirational factors that led to the outburst of nationalism and rise of nationalist movements in several European nations were to eradicate injustice and oppression, and establish a justly shared community. Nonetheless, it was the same nationalist spirit, in its extreme form, that triggered the ideology of ethnocentrism and racism, which gave birth to two Great World Wars. Apart from dissertating about Western perspective of national interests, it was the same extreme nationalistic notion that drove some European nations to colonize most of Asia, Africa and South America.
In large part of our world, we see different nations with different languages, traditions, racial descent and diverse geographical conditions that have dissimilar political units and separate independent states but form a world in and of itself. The most prominent factor among these nations is their common religious belief. The best-known illustration of these faith-based worlds is the Islamic world.
For Muslims, Islam is not just a divine faith to believe in. It is a world in its own nature, rich in culture, traditions and life regulations. To its credit, Islam commands its followers to disregard any criterion of separation or distinction among Muslims and between Islamic nations. Be it of color, race, geographic or language attribute.
During the first centuries of Islamic era, the principles and objectives of Islam were conveyed to the world in such clear and indisputable terms to which most people respected or embraced these universal teachings and thus creating the Islamic Nation or world. Nevertheless, this universal thinking and unity has disappeared with time, instead divisions emerged because rulers then—as many now—did not comprehend or exercise the objectivity of Islam.
Few centuries ago, the Muslim world came under the direct rule and exploitation of western invaders, not to mention the Ottoman rule of the Arab world, at which their cultural and religious identity was threatened, and their material resources were plundered. That prolonged state of Islam forced slumber on one hand, and the colonial dominance on the other, intensified the captivity of Muslim nations producing a defeatist mentality and bitterness in the Islamic world. This resentment of foreign domination, among other things, has strengthen the rationale of Islamist and nationalistic movements all over the Muslim world
However, as the European empires subjugated most of the Islamic world during the last century or so, anti-imperialist resistance was expressed in Islamic terms. Muslims thought of war against imperialism as a form of jihad. The distinction between Muslims and infidels became intertwined with the distinction between the oppressed and the oppressors. Thus and so, hostility toward unbelievers qua subduers was infused with new nonplus meaning of jihad. This had unfortunate consequences on religious minorities in the Islamic world: Jews were deemed collaborating with Zionism and Israel, and Christians were suspected of sympathizing with the Christian West.
Islamism and nationalism are conventionally thought of as opposed ideologies, yet there is often a nationalistic dimension to Islamism. Religious and national identities tend to be fused in many parts of the world. Links between Eastern Orthodoxy and Russian identity, between Roman Catholicism and Irish national identity, and between Hinduism and Indian national identity, are good examples of such connection between nationalism and faith-based ideologies. In all these cases, religion serves as a badge of national identity, likewise in most Islamic countries.
In spite of that, in the 20th century, Christian Arabs played a prominent role in creating the concept of Arab nationalism, based upon common language and culture rather than religion (a point invariably stressed by Islamist critics of nationalism). Nevertheless, in the popular imagination, being an Arab national still means a Sunni Muslim.
Initially, Islamic fundamentalism was fuelled by moral outrage provoked by the violation of Islamic values and religious traditions. However, it became more intense as pious Muslims felt that the foundation of their religious belief is under assault by their very own governments. Exclusion combined with oppression, which was executed by governments, never put them down. Instead, it flares them up to undertake violent protestations and underground activities.
The main core of most Islamic movements is of fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism contains two major dimensions: Reformism and Radicalism. Radicalists, by and large, blame the Western domination of Islamic nations and portray the emergence of nationalism as part of Western and Zionist conspiracy to divide and conquer the Islamic world. Even though the right to a Muslim nationhood is an inherent and consistent demand of all Islamic movements, yet reformists or moderate Islamism lean to share some statehood views with nationalists, and thus present themselves as the soft hand of Islamic doctrine.
For fundamentalists as well as other Islamists, the idea of ‘return to Islam’ and the establishment of an exact Islamic state and society are linked to the goal of overcoming foreign domination. However, the underlying logic of the Islamist argument is more religious than political. For them, Muslims are suffering because they have deviated from the laws of God. And the only way to end their suffering is to comply with God’s laws. Once they conform, God will surely grant them victory. Within that context, they consider the return to true Islam a precondition of regaining self-esteem and independency.
Nationalistic resentment of foreign non-Islamic domination is not the sole source of the appeal of Islamism. An adequate description of what led to the rise of Islamism must also take into consideration the dire social and economic situation in much of the Islamic world.
During the past century as yet, the rapid socioeconomic, cultural and political changes in the world have shaken up most nations and communities. The prolonged harsh conditions of Muslim citizens and their misery, deprivation and backwardness have generated unrelenting urge and aspiration among the Muslim masses for reform. Not surprising that Muslim and Arab nations were top candidates to set sails with that waves of change.
Unfortunately, as the magnitude of suffering swollen up to an unprecedented level, Islamic movements gained momentum to which their arguments (Islam is the answer) became more popular than ever. This is because Nationalists were incompetent throughout the past five decades to lead their pressed down nationals towards security, prosperity and growth.
At any rate, Muslim and non-Muslim nations alike, need peace and security, justice and freedom, education and development so that to become liberal and broad-minded nationals. Be it nationalism or any other civil system, humans need to be free in order to live peacefully and happily. People should have the right to decide for themselves, without any foreign or domestic pressure and tyranny, the form of their own governing system as long as freedom of others is fully preserved.
Diversity of colors, languages, religions, cultures and other differences observable in nature, are manifestations of the richness of societies and nations. These differences and distinctions should not be regarded as divisive factors, but as components of unity and pluralism that would bring in the desired human development.
Unluckily, before entering that state, security and stability of the world will remain daydreams of this time.
Author’s Note: This article is also published at Arabian Gazette