Nationalism is a phenomenon being dealt in double standard by aggressive powers. In one hand they degrade national and religious identities of the target countries and societies; on the other hand, they unstabilize the national faithfulness of the target countries and societies –mainly the Islamic countries- through persuading the nationalism and combining it with sectarism. Consequently they make crisis among the societies. Therefore nationalism is a significant challenge threatening justice supporters, especially Islamic movements and it is also a menace in front of Muslims unity. In the present paper efforts were made to study the formation, background and slumps of the nationalism.
Nationalism is a slump in human beings society which has imposed countless pains and oppressions upon them. This phenomenon is an animal character in human based on aggression and seeking superabundance. Nevertheless Islam as the last and most completed divine religion has always faced numerous conspiracies and plots by powers seeking hegemony and predominance over the world. Much more than other religions, Shiite has dealt many challenges and fights by insane individuals and group powers seeking hegemony and domination among whom ethno-centrists are very perilous.
Nationalism is a challenge which has always threatened humanity and especially the Islam world. It has been always misused by powers. At the present time, the world faces a milestone in its history. After the elapse of anti-imperialism leftist groups, the hegemony system considers that its interests are solely jeopardized by Islam and Shiite, nationalism acts a frame or tools for religious, cultural, political and social differentiating and also for secularism and terrorism.
Confrontation of nationalism against Islam has a long background, by the way after the triumph of Islamic revolution in Iran it has been misused as a plot for Islamophobia and conflict against Shiite by western powers. Indeed they stimulate the Sunnis against Shiites and widespread the differences among Muslims. They also differentiate the Shiites aiming at their religious unity.
Unfortunately the fortification of Sectarianism and the spread of secularism and terrorism are outputs of nationalism. It is also a confrontation of tribal identity with that of religious one whach has brought many menaces infront of independence, governance and honor of Muslims.
In the present study the concepts of nationalism and religious and ethnic identities are explained at first. Then nationalism will be clarified in view of Islam. The background of confrontation of nationalism and religious identity in Middle East countries, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be given in detail. The main objective of this paper is to study the many types of threats infront of Muslims.
Keywords: Nationalism, Sectarianism, Terrorism, Secularism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a nation or race. Based on the emotion and feeling of human beings, this identification is evolved as proclivity towards a especial tribe or territory at first and then as nationalism. If nationalism is honored and considered as the axis globally, nationally, or triabally ethnocentrism is made in which the individual judges his or her own culture as absolute and other cultures are solely judged by the values and standards of one's own culture. The ethnocentric individual will characterize it as often leading to pride, vanity, beliefs of one's own group's superiority, and contempt of outsiders.
Nationalism has manifested itself in various countries in two different forms. First, in the form of liberation and independence movements against a backdrop of foreign aggression, and second in the form of the hegemonic ideas and ideals of one nation against other nations, or of one particular ethnic group against other ethnic groups in the same country. These manifestations have been characterized as positive and negative nationalism, respectively.
Identity both individually and/or socially reflects the truth and nature of a phenomenon. Human beings possess numerous social identities, most importantly national and religious identities. National identity refers to a sense of belonging to a particular set of social, historical and cultural beliefs and common characteristics constituting the conceptual framework of this kind of identity. National identity is formed through national self-consciousness. National self-consciousness is defined as awareness of one’s national culture, national character and a sense of national “we.”
Religious identity, on the other hand, refers to a sense of belonging to a religion which both constitutes the cornerstone of the national identity, and defines the transnational identity as well. This kind of identity is formed through divine and dispositional self-consciousness, reaching beyond nationality and geographical borders. In Islamic societies there is no conflict whatsoever between religious identity on the one hand and ethnic and national identity on the other. On the contrary, the former enriches the latter, making it more human in character. Conflict arises when ethnocentrism and ethnic prejudice become the rule, and when there is no divine self-consciousness to speak of. In such a scenario, an identity crisis will follow, the most salient features of which include self-alienation, divergence, and social and ethnic tensions.
Islam and Ethnocentrism
The holy Koran, emphasizing the equality of all human beings, introduces ethnic status not as a basis for social interaction, but rather, as a means of recognizing one another. According to Koranic teachings, Taqwa (fear of God) is the principal touchstone for measuring the degree of one man’s superiority compared to others: “O ye folk! verily, we have created you of male and female, and made you races and tribes that ye may know each other.
Verily, the most honourable of you in the sight of God is the most pious of you…” (4). The holy Profit also has repeatedly shown his disapproval of ethnocentrism, examples of which are quoted below: “O ye folk! All of you are the sons of Adam, and Adam was created out of clay. The Arabs have no superiority over non-Arabs except in terms of Taqwa.” (5) “Let those who are proud of their ethnic origins set their pride aside, and let them kno that these glories are nothing but woods of the hellfire.” (6)
Muslim religious scholars and intellectuals have also criticized ethnocentrism (or its new form of nationalism) as the basis of political and social interactions amongst human societies, and particularly when it is transformed into an ideology or discourse. Shahid Motahhari expresses his view on the issue in the following words: “excessive admiration for one’s nation has posed a very formidable challenge for the Islamic world in the present age. In addition to the fact that the very idea of chauvinism is opposed to the teachings and principles of Islam (because all elements are equally important in Islam), this idea constitutes a formidable obstacle for the unity of the Muslims” (7).
Elsewhere he writes: “the promulgation of the idea of ethnocentrism, or what has come to be labled as ‘nationalism,’ promoted and supported by colonial powers in Islamic countries in the form of pan-Arabism, pan-Iranism, pan-Turkism, pan-Hinduism and so forth, has been pursued in order to challenge the idea of Islamic unity, which has the potential to tear up colonialism by the roots.” (8) Allamah Eqbal Lahuri has also characterized excessive admiration for one’s national and ethnic identity as a mark of savagery, emphasizing religious identity as an alternative. Here is an examples from his poems:
We are neither Afghans, Nor Turks, nor Tartars/We are all branches of the same tree
Prejudice and discrimination are forbidden to us/As we are flowers of the same spring.
Loving one’s land and kinsfolk is an instinctual drive whose origins can be traced back to the beginning of human life on earth. This love and admiration is not incompatible with Islamic beliefs and values as long as it does not amount to prejudice, domination or hegemony. Prejudice and search for supremacy have transformed the admired love for one’s kinsfolk into excessive ethnocentrism, leading to the formation of a political and intellectual current called ‘nationalism.’
Experience has shown that prejudice and blind emotions form the basis of nationalism, and exacerbate ethnic, religious, cultural, political and social conflicts, Hence their incompatibility with Islamic teachings and values.
The Origins of Ethnocentrism and Its Incompatibility with Islam
Following the holy Proffit’s death, some opportunists and enemies who had apparently accepted islam but had in fact kept their animosity in secret, attempted to resuscitate the spirit of Arab prejudice. When Mo’aviyah Bin Abu-Sufyan transformed the institution of Islamic caliphate into one based on inherited monarchy, tribalism and racial prejudice found their way into the fabric of the Islamic society.
During the nineteenth century, nationalism culminated in Europe, and found its way into the Islamic world through the influence of the first colonizers. Nationalism as an imported political way of thought had a double function in the Islamic world. On the one hand, it brought about conflicts in the Islamic world, leading to the partitioning of powerful Islamic countries such as the Ottoman empire, iran and Egypt based on the ideas of pan-Arabism and pan-Turkism. On the other hand, it gave rise to Islamically inspired independence movements in some countries. In both cases, However, nationalism brought about harmful consequences for the Muslims, because those countries which had apparently regained their independence from European colonizers actually remained politically, intellectually, economically, culturally and militarily dependent upon the colonizing powers. In the following excerpt, Mohammad Eqbal Lahuri gives the following picture of the Ottoman empire:
The Ottoman is ruler of his own kingdom/He has a knowing heart and seeing eyes
But do not wreckon that he is free from the foreigners’ bondage/Because he is still a captive in their hands. (10)
In order to further illustrate the opposition and incompatibility between nationalism and religion and the exploitation of this phenomenon by the West for dominating the Islamic world, several regions will be briefly examined.
The Arab Middle East
The Western colonizers have pursued nationalism in the Islamic world in general, and in the Middle East in particular, with the aim of posing a challenge against Islam and Islamic thought. Through promoting reactionary ideologies such as Arab nationalism, and through the formation of the Zionist movement in the Middle East in the hands of the Arabs themselves, they accomplished what they could not accomplish through three centuries of Crusades. Christian missionaries from different countries including Britain, France and the United States of America were sent to the Arab countries. In 1847, they laid the foundations of Arab nationalism through the formation of an association in Beirut. Samuel Zuymer, a famous missionaire, expresses his opinion on the issue of Arab nationalism in the following words: “The formation of ethnic/national groups is the first step towards the final eradication of Islam.” (11) The British succeeded in partitioning the Ottoman empire by appealing to pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism, and promoted pan-Turkism in Turkey and Zionism in Palestine. Secular pan-Turkists rose against Islamic values in Turkey. Racist Zionists, supported by the British, oppressed the Palistinian Muslim population and occupied this holy land. Pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism were defeated by Zionism. As one Arab scholar later remarked in a conference entitled “the Islamic world relationships conference” held in Mecca in 1968, “I swear by God that Islam had nothing whatsoever to do with this battle. It was not a battle of Islam versus Israel, but one of Arabism versus Zionism.” (12)
The Case of Iran
Following the partitioning of the Islamic Calaphate’s territory during the Abbasid dynasty and the emergence of local and regional governments, the vast land of Iran lacked any national sovereignty or political unity, until the Safavids laid the foundations of the new Iran as a powerful Islamic state through unifying various tribes and ethnic groups on the basis of religious discourse. After the fall of the Afsharid monarchy and the advent of European colonizers in the Persian Gulf and the Indian subcontinent, numerous efforts were carried out to gain dominance over Iran and other countries of the region. These efforts have been going on up to the present era.
The Sabotaging activities of the British began with fomenting religious differences and inventing new religions. The Baha’i and Wahhabi sects were forged. The Wahabi sect in Saudi Arabia through excommunicating Muslims and Shi’ites in particular, and the Baha’I sect in Iran through the invention of a heretical religion posed a serious threat against the unity of the Muslim people in the region. These sedicious activities, incited and supported by the British, were followed by excessive nationalism during the Pahlavi era.
Nationalists from all ethnic groups addressed themselves to the task of fighting Islamic symbols and fueling the flames of disunity amongst the Islamic Ummah. Their activities included expressing excessive love and admiration for ancient Persia, the glorification of the Arian race, cleansing Persian texts from Arabic words and expressions, Forcing muslim women to unveil in the public based on blind imitation, undermining the role of the clergy and giving preference to Western culture in all the walks of life.
Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, ruling elites dependent upon foreign support alongside liberal and nationalist political groups paved the way for foreign influence and interference in Iran and sacrificed the country’s independence through marginalizing religion and separating it from the sphere of political power.
Following the 1979 revolution which provided Iran with independence in the real sense of the word, these groups staged a number of ethnic insurgencies based on religious differences in Baluchistan, Kurdistan and Turkmensahra. Inspired by Arab nationalism, Saddam Hussein, the now dead Iraqi dictator imposed a war on Iran. Supported by the US and other Western powers, the nationalists, Liberals and Communists seized the opportunity to organize and carry out a propaganda war, terrorist attacks and various kinds of economic, social and security sabotage operations against the new government.
The history of nationalism and the failure of its discourse in Iran has illustrated the fact that nationalism not only does not help bring about national unity, but has contributed to national and transnational divergence in all aspects. Given his familiarity with religious teachings, Imam Khomeini remarks: “Nationalism is the main cause of the Muslim people’s miseries. Nationalism sets the Iranian people against other Muslim nations. Ethnicity and nationality are issues promoted by the colonizing powers and their domestic puppets to create disunity among Muslims.” (13) Foreign conspiracies and domestic problems have apparently prevented the implementation of the guidelines offered by Imam Khomeini regarding nationalism.
The Case of Pakistan
In the Indian subcontinent, ethnic tribalism and nationalism were the most important factors leading to the independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan. At the present time, ethnic tribalism still poses a major threat against Pakistan’s security and integrity. It is Islam, and not Pakistani nationalism, which has preserved Pakistan’s integrity. Sectarian and extremist groups, however, have turned this opportunity for unity into a threat against Pakistan and other countries of the region. Pakistan’s religious unity is threatened by religious sectarianism accompanied by terrorism, so is its national unity by Punjabi, Baluchi and Pashto tribalism.
Unfortunately, during the past three decades Pakistan as an Islamic country has turned into an operational base for sectarian groups across the globe. Pakistani terrorist groups such as the Sahabah Corps, the Jangvei Army, the Tayyebah Army, the Mohammad Army, the Taliban and other groups in cooperation with Al-qaedah, not only have posed a major threat against Pakistani national unity and integrity, but also have threatened the security of Afghanistan, Iran and other countries in the region.
The Case of Afghanistan
Afghanistan has long been plagued by ethnocentrism (ethnic nationalism). The cruel oppression of some tribes by Abd-al-Rahman Khan (1882-1901) turned this into a powder keg waiting for a spark to explode. Following Afghanistan’s independence in 1919 and particularly during the forty-year rule of Mohammad Zaher Shah (1933-73), secular and leftist intellectuals with close ties to the ruling elite fanned the flames of ethnic conflicts through highlighting ethnic and linguistic differences so much so that its implications afflicted the country in its entirety.
This tribal ethnocentrism caused the division of the people’s Democratic Party into two opposing groups, namely the “People” and the “Banner” groups. These two groups destroyed both themselves and Afghanistan through their rivalries. Tribalism also caused the division of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin in Afghanistan into opposing groups such as the Islamic Party, the Islamic Population, Islamic unity and so forth. By waging bloody wars among themselves and also with other groups, these groups destroyed both themselves and their country. Today, the same tribalism still accounts for the continuation of war in Afghanistan, thus paving the way for the intervention by foreigners and the enemies of Islam and Afghanistan.
Following the spread of Wahhabism and the ideas of Divbandi through Pakistan during the Mujahedin era, tribalism turned into a hotbed for the growth of terrorist and extremist groups. These groups posed a major threat against the unity of the Muslim people not only in Afghanistan, but in the region and all over the world as well. They also provided foreign troops with an excuse to justify their presence in the region.
The Evils of Nationalism in the Contemporary Age
As historical precedence clearly shows, Nationalism, even if interpreted in its positive and rationalistic sense, will not serve the interests of the Muslim people in the final analysis. Nationalism brought about the partitioning of the Ottoman empire and the division of the Arab world. During the Algerian independence movement, it appropriated Islam for its own ends, but finally opted for secularism. It also plagued other Islamic countries with foreign domination and ethnic conflicts. Nationalism poses the most formidable threats to the Islamic world in the present era, some of which are addressed here:
1- Undermining national and transnational fidelity: In every country, there are two types of fidelity (national and transnational) based on cultural, political, social and religious affiliations. Both types of fedility are considered as part of a country’s national interests, and have to be observed and respected by both the government and the people. National fidelity concerns respect for elements constituting national unity, and transnational fidelity concerns respect for cultural, social and religious elements shared by several different countries. These shared elements are primarily the outcomes of historical interactions among various ethnic groups within a country, and constitute part of its national identity.
In Islamic countries, Islam and Islamic culture and civilization constitute part of both the national and the transnational identity, and have a direct relationship to their national and religious identities. Preserving national and religious unity among the Muslim people leads to their progress and empowers the Islamic world.
This unity, however, faces a number of internal and external threats. Internally, authoritarian political and ethnic groups challenge the national unity and the cohesion of the Islamic world through highlighting ethnic and linguistic differences, separatism, cultural and historical divergence, promoting ethnic myths as opposed to national and transnational ones and so forth.
Externally, the arrogant powers exploit ethnocentrism and ethnic differences in the Islamic world to serve their own interests. Support for the Darfur partitionists in Sudan leading to the formation of the Christian state of South Sudan, Support for the genocide carried out against the people of Sa’dah in Yeman, Support for the suppression of the Bahreini people by the Khalifah regime, Support for the suppression of the Qatif people in Eastern Saudi Arabia by the Saudi regime, support for ethnocentrist groups in Afghanistan, Support for Kurdish partitionists in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran are just a few examples illustrating this exploitative policy. Today, for instance, the Iraqi Kurdistan has turned into a hotbed for Zionists’ activities.
As Regarding threats against transnational unity in the Islamic world, The Palastinian issue and the Islamic revolution in Iran are two of the most important issues. Practically speaking, Arab nationalism has remained strictly confined to the individual, family or tribal levels at most. Due to their dependent character, Arab governments and Arab nationalists do not fulfill their responsibilities regarding the Palestinian issue. Furthermore, they create various obstacles in the way of helping other Muslims, justifying this policy as a means to prevent foreign interference in the affairs of the Arab people. Instead of fighting the usurping Zionist regime which has occupied Arab lands, and instead of tackling the conspiracies, aggressive behaviors and interventionist policies of the US in the whole region in general, and in the Arab countries in particular, sectarian Arab nationalism has spared no effort to undermine the Iranian revolution since its victiry in 1979, characterizing it following the US as a threat against the Arab world and even the whole world. In fact, by promoting the project of Iranophobia, they undermine both national and transnational fidelities in the Middle East and the Islamic world.
2- The Growth of Sectarianism: Nationalism has been a key factor in fostering religious sectarianism and extremism. Furthermore, by undermining religious bonds, sectarianism practically serves to strengthen nationalism. In fact, sectarianism and nationalism are two sides of the same coin. Nationalists attempt to highlight ethnic symbols and even primitive customs, at first to show off their influence, and later to survive and dominate other groups. In order to check the spread of culture and powerful progressive political, religious and intellectual trends at both the national and transnational levels, they strongly support absolutist, reactionary and dogmatic intellectual, cultural and religious trends inspired by tribalism and sometimes invented by the arrogant powers.
Nationalists promote the religious sect to which they belong as absolutely superior, so much so that they strive to give it a global nature by any means. Excommunication, terrorist attacks, genocide and occupation are among the instruments implemented by extremist and nationalist sectarianists to gain dominance over others. This, in fact, reflects a kind of cosmopolitanism which eliminates all rational measures of unity for the purpose of universalizing the religious extremism of a particular ethnic group. Sectarianism based on cosmopolitanism is strongly opposed to the positive aspects of nationalism, including resistance against foreign colonialism and aggression. (14)
The US and other Western powers, on the other hand, have helped the spread of sectarianism and national divergence through the projection of the theory of religious and political pluralism onto the Islamic world. The spread of ethnically based nationalism and sectarian conflicts is one of the first measures adopted by Imperialism to change the socio-political map of the region (the Middle East) and the Islamic world at large. Today the Islamic world, from north Africa to southeastern Asia is plagued by extremist sectarianism. Sectarianist groups in various Islamic countries including Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan pose a formidable challenge against national fidelity in their own countries through war, instability and the cruel murdering of ordinary people. They also undermine transnational fidelity through their animosity towards genuine Islamic movements and some independent countries. This is precisely what the US needs for dominating the Islamic world. In fact, sectarianists carry out US commands in the name of fighting it.
3- The Spread of Terrorism: Sectarianism and terrorism are in fact two sides of the same coin, developing in a context of nationalism. Terrorism, which is totally against Koranic and Islamic teachings, directly threaten’s society’s unity and security through crual murder and intimidation. As the armed form of sectarianism, it severely undermines Muslims’ unity and security both within their countries and at the regional and international levels. Ostensibly under the guise of fighting the US and the infidels (kaffirs), sectarian terrorism actually wages war against Islam and the Muslim people. There is no rational or religious justification to be found for the savage murdering of people in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. These acts of violence only pave the way for the US and NATO forces to kill more and more of the innocent people.
Today, the palestinian issue is the most important concern of the Islamic world. Terrorist groups, however, try to overshadow this issue through fomenting crises in other Islamic countries. By providing foreign powers with an excuse to continue their presence in the region, and by trying to downplay the significance of the Palestinian issue, they serve US and Israeli interests in the region. Their hostility towards Shi’ism and the Islamic revolution in Iran as the only challenge to American and Israeli hegemony in the region is in keeping with US interests.
Given the fact that these sectarianist nationalists have not joined the Palestinian cause, and hence the credibility of their claims to Islam and Jihad against the US and Jewish state is seriously disputed, they strive to redirect these criticisms against Iran, pretending as if Iran and the Unites States are hand and glove with each other, and that iran’s support for the Palestinians is not genuine, but motivated by self-interest. The baselessness of such claims is so obvious that leaves no room for further elaboration. However, there is undeniable evidence proving US and British support for extremist groups which claim to be engaged in Jihad.
4- Promoting Secularism: Secularism is based on the idea of separating religion from social and political spheres, and instead making it a matter of individual choice. Nationalism can serve to undermine religion and finally to eliminate it from social life through creating various factions within the institution of religion and causing division among Muslims. Although the rejection of nationalism has been defined as one of the most salient features of secularism, recognizing national and religious sects and groups by secularism paves the way for their appropriation by secularists themselves.
Soft war officers of Imperialism attempt to prove religion’s inefficiency and substitute religious discourse with national discourse in the context of secularism by exploiting some existing political and social problems and the wrongs perpetrated by some religious institutions or some religious people in charge of political and social affairs in targeted countries. They also exploit ethnic nationalism on the pretext of fighting ethnic domination, thus fueling the flames of ethnic hostility more than ever.
Nationalism defined as the supremacy of ethnic and racial affiliations has historically set national identity against religious identity. Therefore, it is not compatible with religious teachings, and Islam does not accept it. The opposition between nationalism and religion is a challenge which the enemies of Islam have always exploited to their own advantage.
Based on the colonialist maxim “divide and rule” in the late nineteenth century, British colonialism prepared the ground for its domination over the Islamic world and the formation of the Zionist state in the Palestinian territories by promoting pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism on the one hand, and the creation of deviant religious sects on the other. If nationalism and sectarianism are seen as the thesis and antithesis of a dialectical process, terrorism would be their inevitable synthesis: a phenomenon which has plagued the Islamic world in the present era, and poses a serious challenge to the religious unity of the Muslim people. Relying on ethnic and national identities sets these against religious identity, leading in turn to the undermining of Islam and division amongst Muslims.
The findings of the present study show that nationalism, sectarianism and secularism which now have been associated with terrorism are dangerous as the instruments of domination used by the imperialist powers against the security, and national and transnational unity of the Islamic world.
- Sayyed Mohammad Baqer Mesbahzadeh
--Translated by, Dr. Sayed Ali Hasani