Know what I learned at the gym today? I was thinking about compassion still, and trying to see it in other areas in my life where I need to learn about it. I thought of several examples, but one I wanted to share was about Muslims. I obviously have a heart and passion for my Jewish friends and for Israel and for Jewish history and all things Jewish-ish, but I do also have many friends who are Arab and Mormon, or Muslim, or secular Arab. But I do not know them as well, or as much, or understand their modern context as well as I should, I think. It may be that my own defense of or focus on Israel sometimes gets in the way of me better understanding that perspective, which is so necessary for good dialogue. That’s what I was thinking about when I found THIS podcast from BYU, who hosted a Muslim speaker from Boston University.
There are many ancient pieces I have studied, and I have followed the Arab spring, and was there – way too close – as the war was breaking out in Syria. But to step back and put the pieces together politically, of how this all unfolded so fast until suddenly ISIS is the big problem? What happened? This guy really helped, so if you want to understand the Arab-Muslim perspective better (of their own issues, not about Israel), then listen to that podcast. Here are some highlights, though:
You know how the cultural language and ethics in daily interaction becomes kind of the world you live in, and that how you live in that world becomes who you are culturally? This is what has happened in the Muslim world, whether they are secular Muslims or Sunni Muslims or Shiite Muslims. In fact, he said that there are about 1 billion Muslims worldwide, and that 15% of those are Shiite, but 90% of that 15% live in the area between India and Lebanon. But while their numbers were high enough to make them in the majority, they have all these years been ruled by the minority Sunni, getting discriminated against because of their culture (even if not practicing religiously).
Until George Bush, who had the brilliant idea of overthrowing the dictatorship in 2003.
Except we were missing a piece, not living there or being aware of their culture, and what actually happened was that we liberated the Sunnis from dictatorship, but also liberated the Shiites from dictatorship and the Sunnis.
This was a big deal, ultimately taking power back from the minority that had dominated and discriminated against the majority for so long, and gave it back to the majority.
But that’s what democracy does, right? It takes power from the minority and gives it to the majority, just like a dictatorship takes power from the majority and gives it to the minority. That there be some dangerous words up in these parts.
So while maybe Bush got rid of a bad guy, and maybe lots of people were happy about it, and maybe that was great, there was also the new problem of the first ever Arab Shiite state created, while every other Arab state around them was still dominated by the Sunni, even if the Sunni were minority.
This brings us to today, where the Shiites are still all cranky pants about having been discriminated against for so long (and rightly so), which means they don’t want to share power or functions in their new liberated lives because they are so afraid of being dominated again. In the meantime, the Sunnis are angry they lost power, and refuse to accept less than they had before – even if that means supporting ISIS, since ISIS is fighting their shared enemies: the Shiites (because the Shiites are in power, and ISIS are the rebels against the power) and the US (us!) because we caused them to lose power.
The speaker said that we took the Sunni toys away, and gave them to the Shiites, and then told them to co-exist, to “play nice together in the sandbox”, and no one knows how.
This was Arab Spring (see the timeline I posted as it unfolded), which I have written about some before in my rare politics blogs, and it was important because it was the popular uprising (the uprising of the populace, not popular like cool, although it was very cool) that broke down dictatorships.
But Syria watched what happened, and determined not to let it happen there, and that’s why they are in chaos, he said. The opposite happened in Syria as what happened everywhere else: the minority Sunni were ruled over by the majority, and when it looked like the Sunni might take over the people refused to let them.
This has not happened in the western world since medieval times.
This is why, he says, ISIS has become such a big deal, even drawing the young people to them. It’s the Arab Les Mis, except they play dirty, but it appeals to them because it is the first time the everyday, real, regular people are defeating local dictator governments and even defying international powers (whom caused most of the mess in their countries, according to the people who live there). This appeals especially to the Sunnis, who lost their power in 2003, because they see it as a chance to come back and to regain their power and dominance – and for that, they will fight, and for that, they will die.
And it has grown big enough to suck in all the countries around them, so that all the countries are a mess, and no one can take care of themselves, much less help any allies, making everyone dependent on Europe and the US for settling the crisis while simultaneously fighting against them for their own independence.
It’s a mess.
And it’s changing the map.
That’s what all the big fuss is about, actually.
Remember at the end of World War I? Well, that was 1918, so maybe you don’t remember it because like me, you weren’t born yet. But that’s when it was, and when the war was over, a handful of French and a handful of British went off to their secret room where they had snacks and tea and cheese and probably some wine, and they started drawing lines. They drew straws (not really, but maybe), taking turns claiming lands and sorting out which country was which, and creating new boundaries for most everything.
And, for the first time they invited some guy – the guy who is now the grandfather of the current King of Jordan – and gave him 6,000 pounds, and told him he had six months to establish a new country, the place we now call Jordan.
Then they drew new boundaries all over the Middle East and Europe, gave a good toast, and celebrated peace.
Except it was messy, and Europe had to be fixed right away, but they are good at being gentleman, having a good skirmish, and then going back to their corners.
The Middle East, though? It sat there, brewing, no one liking the new boundaries, and everyone constantly fighting over them.
And now it is dissolving, he says.
The map boundaries are dissolving, and that’s why is is such a huge big deal over there right now.
For the first time since World War I, the boundaries are being changed. He said that ISIS has actually erased the boundary between Iraq and Syria, and controls the whole territory. That’s what ISIS means, did you know that? ISIS stands for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, then renamed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Last summer they changed their name to just Islamic State (IS) because they have gained so much territory, but the UN and other governments are refusing to acknowledge that as their name. But this is why it is such a big deal: for the first time since World War I, some random group of people that didn’t even have power have fought for power, taken over territory, and have officially changed the map.
That’s what I learned.
I don’t mean that I learned to have compassion for ISIS, but rather that I learned better the political context in which some of my friends have grown up in, or why other friends who are Muslim are so different than the terrible stories we here. It helped me learn about different pieces, from divisions of culture and religion to divisions within the culture and divisions within the religion. It was interesting and helped me understand some of what is going on a little better, so I thought I would share.