THE REVENGE OF GEOGRAPHY
WHAT THE MAP TELLS US ABOUT COMING CONFLICTS AND THE BATTLE AGAINST FATE
To quote Robert D. Kaplan “In order to understand today’s current events—religious conflict, war, and political instability—one need look no further than a map.” Cartography is an interesting and most fascinating subject, especially if one wants to study history and can we understand more about our present world by studying maps. There are many different and diverse subjects that are related to maps such as, and not limited to the following: Toponymy, Hydronymy, Demonym, Ethnonym (polito-ethnonym and topo-ethnonym), Diaspora, Exonym, Endonym, Onomastics, Critical Cartography, Geoinformatics, Historical and Thematic Maps.
Here are several maps worth considering when looking at the current geopolitical tension and conflict in the Middle East.
If one looks at the maps (ancient and modern) and this post will only briefly look at 2oth Century maps, one can obtain a clearer understanding of where we are at today regarding some of the conflict in the Middle East. The Chester Concession approved by the congress of the newly founded Republic of Turkey on April 10, 1923, allowed United States development of oil and railways. It was an award of the significant importance and marked the introduction of U.S. capital for the first time on a large scale into the Near East. The same type of agreement (Baghdad Railway) was a major cause of the anxiety which led the Ottoman Empire to World War I. Germany had obtained concessions from Ottoman Empire which allowed German companies to construct railways. (Wikipedia)
The Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent, in 1683
Some view the Twentieth Century as ‘One Hundred Years of War’ and the first quarter of that century was riddled with conflict that saw changes and a shift in the balance of power. One poses the question here are there any parallels here between the first quarter of last century and the Twenty First Century. Whatever the answer to the question may just be found in our history and if history can teach us anything, may it be the wisdom to not make the same mistakes again this century.
The last Caliphate was The Ottoman Caliphate which ended with the abolition when the National Assembly that had been newly created and declared Turkey as a republic 1923 circa. After almost seven hundred years the empire ceased to exist and with this new government a sweeping set of changes occurred under Atatürk and one such reform was that the National Assembly abolished the Caliphate on March 3, 1924. The caliphate was the core leader concept of Sunni Islam, by the consensus of the Muslim majority in the early centuries.
There have been calls by groups such as the Mujahideen, al Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, Jemaah Islamiyah and now the newest call by what was ISIS and now has been altered in name to Islamic State, for a new Caliphate. To understand better this current situation in the Middle East, one has to have a better understanding of the differences between the current Shia-led Iraqi Government ( eighteen provinces in Iraq) and the religious groups within the country and the sectarian violence between Iraq’s religious groups.
The Shia majority in Iraq have some groups that support the Assad regime in Syria, which many Sunni factions stand against and now there has been an galvanizing effect between the two countries with this newest stand by the Islamic State aka ISIS. The map below shows the June military situation with who controls what geographically.
Pink light-Syrian Government
Pink dark – Iraqi Government
Grey – ISIS
Yellow dark – Syrian Kurds
Yellow light – Iraqi Kurds
The Hadith, or the translation and or reporting of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad is most controversial and includes Sharia Law. Sunni and Shia hadith collections differ because scholars from the two traditions differ as to the reliability of the narrators and transmitters. Narrators who took the side of Abu Bakr and Umar rather than Ali, in the disputes over leadership that followed the death of Muhammad, are seen as unreliable by the Shia; narrations sourced to Ali and the family of Muhammad, and to their supporters, are preferred. Sunni scholars put trust in narrators, such as Aisha, whom Shia reject. Differences in hadith collections have contributed to differences in worship practices and shari’a law and have hardened the dividing line between the two traditions. (Wikipedia)
So what we have is a most highly complex religion that has become polarised. Shia and Sunni beg to differ on religion. Now one can see where some of the conflict begins as one side claims that their belief is more in line with the Muslim faith. Okay so how did we get to where we are today in the Middle East where brother fights brother and state fights state. The Hadith – Muhammad al Bukhari (810-870 AD) travelled for eighteen years through various Islamic lands and then returned home to Bukhara where he wrote a consequential text (Sahih al-Bukhari) the central collection of Hadith, or “narratives” taken from the life and words of Muhammad.
Other Hadith have been written, but al-Bukhari’s is considered by Sunnis to be second in authority only to the Qur’an (Koran) and gives a guideline covering thousands of activities from birth to death. In the Qur’an (Koran) the following is of concern regarding tensions in the Middle East because of the relationship between the Jewish State of Israel and the Muslim world. The Qur’an (Koran) is a 114-chapter recitation that Muslims believe God spoke through the Prophet.
In Chapter Five of the Qur’an (Koran) (Surah 5 – Al-Ma idah) Section Eight: Relations of Muslims with Their Enemies 51- O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors:* they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily God guides not a people unjust. The * note here states the following footnote: That is, look not to them for help and comfort. They are more likely to combine against you than to help you. And this happened more than once in the lifetime of the Prophet, and in after-ages again and again. He who associates with them and shares their counsels must be counted as of them. The trimmer loses whichever way the wheel of fortune turns.
There is much angst and multi-generational hatred and mistrust that still lingers between various sectarian groups. Between Sunni & Shia there is a complex battle which we are witnessing today in the Middle East. Now, if we are to also add to this the complexity of adding the state of Israel into the situation, it becomes even more complex. Without a doctorate in theology one is left a tad perplexed by the complexities of the various religious groups in the Middle East…Judaism, Alawite, Sunni, Shia for example. So what happened in the middle of last century at the end of the second World War, and did the action have a reaction creating the messy situation today?
At the end of WWII the Middle East was divided into specific sovereign territories. At the end of the Second World War, the region’s states finally obtained independence. But the creation of the State of Israel and the failure of attempts to create Arab unity left the Middle East deeply divided.
The borders were drawn without regard for the wishes of the people living there, or along ethnic, geographic, or religious boundaries – they were truly arbitrary. It is important to note that even today, political borders in the Middle East do not indicate different groups of people. The differences between Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians, etc. were entirely created by the European colonizers as a method of dividing the Arabs against each other.
The trajectory that was set for the last century had roots back to the conflict that was left over from the previous century…and so it goes without saying that the trajectory that we have set for ourselves as a species, was done so in the latter half of last century. As the United States of America is about to celebrate on the 4th of July, maybe every American can make a change by giving some serious thought to making their government responsible and changing foreign policy.
In the 21st century, U.S. influence remains strong but, in relative terms, is declining in terms of economic output compared to rising nations such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, and the newly consolidated European Union. Substantial problems remain, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the specter of nuclear terrorism. Foreign policy analysts Hachigian and Sutphen in their book The Next American Century suggest all six powers have similar vested interests in stability and terrorism prevention and trade; if they can find common ground, then the next decades may be marked by peaceful growth and prosperity. (Wikipedia)
If anything is certain regarding the future of the Middle East it is that human history will record more unnecessary conflict and war that is a mixture of economics, politics and religion that the writer terms “Horribilis”.