“Arabs today are like brothers and enemies at the same time. Each subgroup brandishes its religious or ethnic identity to confront the other subgroup in a futile war, in which all will lose … In short, the fall of Arabism as a unifying identity will mark the start of a series of civil wars among brothers. And once those wars start, nobody knows when or how they will end.”
After colonial era in the Middle East, the focus was on creating an overarching Arab and national identity. But, at this time, religion was not a problem; it used to be a private matter. Evenmore, asking people about their religion was simply rude. Intermarriage was common because of the big religious diversity. The cataclysm moment came with the Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979. Moreover, Saddam’s invasion of Iran in 1980 was billed as an Arab war against Persians. This situation reflects a real religious differences and defines “otherness”, but it has always been linked to power, resources and territory; elements more political than religious. And now, events in the Middle East are amplifying sectarian sentiment, specially the vicious war in Syria. So, thanks to all the people who have worked hard to fire the Middle East, sectarianism has certainly raised its ugly head in recent years. As Juan Cole, a US academic and commentator on the Middle East, explains: to say that Iran backs the Houthis for religious reasons “is like assuming that Scottish presbyterians will always support Southern Baptists because both are forms of protestantism”. To solve problems in the Middle East we have to start understanding that it is the geopolitical context that gives this conflict its sectarian hue, not the other way round.