Ethnic and religious diversity enriches the Arab world

Sunday 05/06/2016

Developed countries are seeking to do away with the concept of religious or ethnic minorities in terms of politics, placing the idea of “citizenship” above all such petty divisions. The only majority or minority now is electoral.
A person’s role in public life is no longer tied to sectarian or ethnic background but rather capabilities and competence. This strengthens society in general.
If we were to look at the world’s most developed countries, we would see that, while their people belong to a variety of different religions and ethnicities, diversity is not an obstacle to political and social unity.
On the contrary, the more pluralistic and diverse a society is, the more culturally and intellectually rich it is. This allowed people who live in this society to broaden their horizons and come up with creative solutions to political and social problems.
Arab societies are fortunate to enjoy such diversity; this explains the scientific and cultural predominance that the Arab world enjoyed in the past.
At that time, the concept of the “other” was not applied on ethnic or sectarian grounds but on an ideological basis. This allowed intellectual debate and ideological innovation. This was followed by a period prior to the emergence of the nation-state when divisions surfaced and the “other” became an embattled enemy only to be fought, not engaged with.
Why have we seen this rise in the concept of “minorities” if not to consecrate the idea of division and the isolation and marginalisation of certain parts of society under whatever pretext or justification?
There is nothing worse than society abandoning a genuine part of itself due to baseless fears about this “other” and what it might do. These same minorities are an important part of society and society should like to ensure equal opportunities and dignity to all of its members.
Iraq, for example, is just one country suffering major social upheaval. Iraq has lost, or is in the process of losing, its Kurds, Jews, Christians, Sabeans and Yazidis. There is a mass exodus happening before our eyes. How has this happened?
This happened as soon as it turned them into “minorities” and people began to view this Iraqi as being a Christian and another as being a Yazidi — rather than everybody being viewed simply as an Iraqi citizen.
By portraying certain people as being outside Iraq’s social fabric, they found entire communities ejected from a society of which they had been essential members. As a result, a large proportion of the members of these communities found that they had little choice but to leave their homeland — the land of their ancestors. This became a country that was no longer recognisable to them, let alone a home.
It is truly sad that Iraq’s constitution, which represents the highest law of the land, consecrates and strengthens the idea of “minorities” under the pretext of protecting their rights. Ultimately this has had the opposite effect and completely voided the concept of “citizenship”, which was supposed to guarantee the rights of all Iraqis whatever their religious, sectarian or ethnic background.
Given this, it is no surprise that Arab Sunnis have become such a “minority” that is faced with isolation, marginalisation and outright exclusion. This is based on the sanctification of the majority/minority dichotomy based on ethnic and religious grounds. This is the gateway to fitna (religious strife), which is a fire that does not stop at national borders.
At a time when the world is trying to rid itself of racism and discrimination based on religious or ethnic grounds and break down the walls between peoples, Arab countries are witnessing the beginning of the end of an inner diversity that had been one of their defining characteristics.