Some parts of western Asia and northern Africa are found in the Middle East. In history, Middle East has been very famous, indeed, because it has been the centre for the main activities. Actually; Jewish, Islamic and Christianity religions came from Middle East. However; these days, it has become so popular worldwide due to the riots that are occurring in most of its countries. Sectarianism is the differences that arise between different groups such as religion and political parties and it might be the main cause of these riots. These differences are usually caused by dogmatism and hatred that exist among people. Cultural differences occur among people of different ethnic groups. This essay discusses the differences that exist between the cultural and sectarian groups in the middle East, their main causes, as well as, how the imperial powers and the establishment of ‘Israel’ have contributed to the conflicts.
Middle East has very many cultural and sectarian groups because people in this area form their own unique groups that are different from others, and therefore causing differences amongst themselves. “The elements used to signal the identity of ethnic groups include religious affiliation, language or dialect, tribal membership or shared descent, and regional or local customs.”(Furno 204). The main cultural groups found in the middle east include: Berber, Fellahin, Druze, Bedouin, Kurd, Armenian, Assyrians as well as Nubian. Moreover, there are those Arabs who are closely related to Bedouin and they include the Marsh Arabs, Yemeni and Moroccan Arabs (Furno 317). Sectarian groups include: Shiite, Sunni, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Christians and Jews. Different cultural or sectarian groups may share the same norms and practices. To start with, the Bedouin ethnic group is located in the driest parts of the Middle East because they are nomads. Their large population professes Muslim faith. So, they share Islamic faith with other ethnic groups such as the Druze, Shiite and Sunni. Similarly Armenians, who are located near Mount Ararat, profess Christian faith with people from different ethnic groups. There is also part of the Druze community that professes Christian faith. Moreover, Shiites, Sunnis, Marsh, Yemeni and Moroccan Arabs share religious beliefs because they believe in Muslim faith and constitute a very large population among the Muslims.
Actually, the groups have so many variations; for instance, the differences between Shiites and Sunnis arise due to political conflicts. Both groups compete for power so that they can rule their country. “Whereas the Sunni ruling elite adopted a wider Arab nationalism as its main ideology, the Shiites have preferred Iraqi nationalism, which stresses the distinct values and heritage of Iraqi society" (Jonathan 20). Additionally, the groups differ in rules or principles, customs and law doctrines. Basically, the different cultural and sectarian groups share common norms and values and the major ones are religion and political practices. The common ground behind such resemblance is that most of these groups are made up of Muslims. Therefore, the largest population professes Muslim faith in spite of them originating from different ethnic groups. Also, such resemblance is due to the originality of Islamic religion in the Middle East. Although other religions such as Christianity and Judaism originated from there, Islamic faith formed a very firm foundation.
Cultural and sectarian groups differ in that; people from the same cultural group come from the same ethnic group. They follow their own customs, values, laws and beliefs that are different from other groups. So, the differences between cultural groups always cause conflicts because there are those who do not respect other people’s culture. In the Middle East, people from the same cultural group, mainly live together in one location. For instance, fellahin, an ethnic group, live along the river Nile. Moreover, discrimination and critics may also arise between cultural groups thus causing more conflicts. On the other hand, sectarian groups are formed due to political and religious differences. Major clashes occur between the religious groups such as Christians and Muslims because of different faith and beliefs or between the Muslims themselves due to political differences.
Sectarian groups characterize the various groups in middle east more that the cultural groups. Consequently, lots of conflicts occur mainly due to religious and political differences. “Often when Islam is mentioned negative impressions of fundamentalists, intolerance and terrorism is conjured up; Islamist movements and organizations are automatically linked with terrorism and is blamed…..” (Jonathan 28). The conflict between Shiite and Sunni, in Iraq, was caused by cultural and sectarian differences that existed despite the fact that both groups are Muslims. It was so shocking because one million people were left dead while many others migrated to other countries. The conflict occurred some years back and it led to the expansion of the Shiite community which keeps on threatening the Arabs who are located in the gulf region. Therefore, there exists a grudge between these two communities since confrontations always arise whenever they are together. “However, Iraqi people now believe that it is the USA that is behind the suicide attacks that provoke a sectarian conflict” (Jonathan 36).
Religion and conflicts in Middle East are related. This means that; since the countries are made up of various religious groups, they are more likely to have internal conflicts. Additionally, these countries value religion so much and consider it to be of more importance than other crucial issues such as economy and politics. Secondly, Middle East uses religion to discriminate the minority group. That is; they do not mind about the culture since, “religion is the chief differentiating characteristic between the majority and the minority” (Midlarsky 509). Furthermore, it has been found that, governments that are found in the Muslim countries are more dictatorial. This also applies in the Middle East thus causing riots by citizens who try to fight for their rights. Basically, most of the political and cultural conflicts in these countries are triggered by the religious differences that exist. Therefore, sectarian differences are the main causes of clashes and conflicts in these countries unlike other nations. Arab-Israel war was started in 1948 by the Palestine Muslims who wanted to remove the Jews from their neighboring land. These Muslims believe that the land that was given to the Jewish people belonged to them and that is why they keep on fighting for that land. Moreover, Palestinians believe that Israelites are invaders and that is why they revenge by attacking innocent Israelites using the terror groups. Similarly, the Israelites also try to protect themselves from the terror attacks by using their own military force. Political differences made the soldiers from Israel to attack the government in Palestine since they never wanted the Muslims to ever have a nation that is independent.
Apart from cultural and sectarian differences, there are also other causes of conflicts in the Middle East. To begin with, they have been fighting for energy resources such as oil; freedom from oppressive leaders and over land. For instance, Libya had been protesting against a very oppressive president known as Kaddafi until his death. Also, the Palestinian Muslims and Israelites have been fighting all along over land. “Palestinians want Israel to comply with international law and retreat to the boarders that existed in 1967” (Midlarsky 494).
Imperialism had so many impacts on the culture and people who lived in the Middle East. To begin with, it caused the split of the cultural groups and surprisingly, they were not offered any land that belonged to them. As a result, the different ethnic groups have a lot of land issues, which causes a lot of conflict, for instance, the Kurds (Said 114).
Establishment of Israel in the Middle East, by the United Nations, caused a lot of problems to those people surrounding the area. Israel land was given to the Jews from all over the world, but, the major problem was that they were surrounded by the Palestine Muslims who were their rivals. The main cause of rivalry between the two groups was; Palestine Muslims did not support the idea made by the United Nations to give land to the Jewish because; initially, the land belonged to them. Due to the creation of Israel, the Palestinians decided that they were going to remove the Jews from that place since it was their land. The neighboring Arabic states supported the Palestinians in annihilating the Jews. “For religious reasons, Palestinian Muslims believe that they must gain control of east Jerusalem as part of any lasting peace settlement”(Errol 480). Creation of Israel made the Palestinians believe that Israelites are intruders and that is why they always fight them. There have been conflicts between these two groups thus affecting the economy of both countries negatively. In addition to that, creation of Israel caused the freedom of the Palestinians to be curtailed since they have to be checked by the soldiers from Israel in the checkpoints. Palestinians even get angrier because, after every terror attack, the Israelites do not allow them to pass through the checkpoints even when going to important places. Besides, the Jews took control of much of their resources such as water. Another factor that humiliates the Palestine so much is that the Israelites encroaches their land slowly by slowly thus causing more conflicts. Therefore, the imperial powers as well as the establishment of Israel are among the root causes of fighting in the Middle East. The Arabs and the Palestinians are usually against the Israelites. Actually, Israel is not a cultural entity but rather a political entity, because, the two governments always attack each other for no good reason. Surprisingly, the Israelites took control of everything in the Palestinian’s land including their government.
In my own opinion, the current revolutions in some of the Arab countries are caused by so many factors other than the conflicting interests among the cultural and sectarian groups. One of the factors is oppressive or non performing government. For instance; in Yemen, “Tens of thousands of people marched Thursday in the capital, Sana’a, demanding an end to the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who's been accused of corruption, nepotism and human rights abuses….” (Said 1984). So, the Arabs in this country portray a very good picture of intolerance to non performing governments. The same case applies in Egypt because the ongoing riots were caused initially by citizens demonstrating against their president, Mubarak, who they claimed to be corrupt and did not improve the economy, which led to escalated inflation causing too high food prices and unemployment. In Lebanon, conflicts were caused by the differences that existed between the ethnic and sectarian groups. The root cause of unrest in Lebanon is the differences that exist between the Shiite and Sunni Muslim. The Shiite Muslim stopped supporting the U.S. government while the Sunni Muslims supported it strongly. So, there is no way the two groups will ever agree. In Tunisia, the riots are due to authoritativeness of the president. Citizens from this country are so much determined to get a government that will allow democracy. Basically, the current revolutions in most of the Arab nations are mainly caused by corrupt and autocratic governments.
From the social-cultural map, most of the people found in the Middle East are Arabs. Therefore, majority of these people profess Muslim faith. Secondly, Jews are only found in one country; Israel. This clearly indicates that Christians are less when compared to the Muslims. Furthermore, Russians are mainly concentrated in the north eastern part. Indians are only located in the UAE.
In conclusion, Middle East comprises many people from different ethnic and sectarian groups who are located in the same geographical setting. The various groups have got a negative impact because their differences are the root cause of the rising upheaval in most of these countries. External factors from other countries such as the United Nations have also contributed to the clashes, for instance, the establishment of Israel by the United Nations on the Palestine land. Moreover, cultural groups also fight each other due misunderstanding caused by different beliefs, customs and principles.