Middle East Culture Islam Israel Democratization Term Paper

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Roadblocks to Israeli Democratization

Roadblocks to the Democratization of Israel

Israel is a diverse nation with many different sects and cultures within it. When one compares this nation to the United States it would seem as the perfect place for democracy. One would expect it to have a peaceful existence where peoples of all cultures work together for common goals. However, when one examines the history of conflict in Israel they soon find that the nation of Israel is not anything like the United States at all. In Israel there has been little unification of cultures. The various cultures and religious sects have refused to give up any of their own identity and refuse to compromise any of their own interests. The following will explore how diversity represents a major roadblock to achieving peace and harmony in Israel and in the Middle east in general.

Religious Diversity and Fundamentalism

The Holy Qur'an gives Muslims and non-Muslims the right to worship in accordance to their own faith and to have their own beliefs (Mazhar, 1ff).

Unto every one of you We have appointed a (different) law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has given you." (Qur'an 5:48)

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Over one billion people in the world practice the Muslim faith (Farques, p. 109). One of the key differences between the development of Christianity, an extension of the Judeo-Christian beliefs and the development of Islam is that Christianity developed within the confines of an existing government. The Holy Roman Empire placed restrictions on the growth and direction that Christianity would take. However, this is not true of Islam which was the driving force of the formation of the state itself (Farques, p. 109). This fundamental difference led to the development of conflicting philosophies and manners of conducting business both within the state and with others outside of the state.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Middle East Culture Islam Israel Democratization Assignment

Eventually, the evolution of Westernized Christianity led to a division between the affairs of the church and the affairs of the state. However, this was not the case with Islam. In the Christian world, the person must divide their time between politics and spiritual issues. In the world of Islam politics and religion are one in the same. This is a concept that many westerners have difficulty grasping. Cultural practices were not different from the requirements of Islam; therefore it was not difficult to adapt the government to allow for Islamic practices. There are many different sects of Islam, all of which have their own characteristics to add to Islam. The same can be said of the Israeli cultural as well.

The Sunni is the largest group of the Islamic faith, with nearly 90% of all Muslims subscribing to this practice (Ibrahim, p. 323-369). The Kharawaj is another major political force in the Islamic world. When the prophet Muhammad died he had no sons to inherit leadership. The primary point of contention between these two groups is how to decide the leadership succession. The Kharawaj reject the Sunni idea that bloodlines are the most important factor, but feel that the right to rule is divinely granted.

The Sufi practice a more inward version of worship. The Shi'ites are minority in every country but Iran, where they are in power (Ibrahim, p. 323-369). The Shi'ites are divided into several tribes, all with differing beliefs on the location and heirs of Muhammad. The Imamis believe that there were twelve legitimate Imams after Muhammad's son Ali, but that the twelfth Imam disappeared and is hiding in the hills until judgment day. The Isma'lite are the other branch, which feels that Muhammad's successor was his elder son Isam'il, rather than Ali as the Imamis believe (Farques, p. 109).

The Wahhabi are a minority, but still represent an important force in the road to democratization. This tribe originated from the intersection of Ivory Coast slave traders and the spice and silk routes from the east (Farques, p. 111). Wahhabism grew from the unification of warring tribes. They had no former national identity. The military is an important part of these zealots, who collectively stand against political power and the oppression that it brings to the masses. Military expansion is a founding principle of these tribalistic practitioners. They are militant and would be opposed any form of what they considered to be colonialism or imperialism, such as the occupation of the U.S. In the region.

The Deobandis are not Wahhabis, but instead represent a modern puritan Sunni sect (Farques, p. 112). The primary goal of this group is to return India to the pre-colonial social order that existed before the Mughal Empire. Both the Deobandis and the Wahhabis represent extremist religious practices, denouncing music, dancing, and worship of saints as blasphemous. They value Jihad as a pillar of their faith. The Sunnis and Sufis also value Jihad, but do not take the meaning literally. They emphasize an inner-Jihad and revival of spiritualism, rather than physical war as with the Deobandis and Wahhabis.

Democratization may be possible with the Sunni majority. However, the Wahhabis and Deobandis would never allow it because it goes against the basic tenets of their faith. To allow democratization would mean to allow Imperialism, which would essentially mean that they would be absorbed into the Sunni majority. It would mean that they cease to exist as they are now. They would have to give up their beliefs in order to allow democratization. They are a minority, but their militant views and actions have a dramatic effect on stalling the democratization of the rest of the region.

Roadblocks to Democratization

Current and past wars have been the result of a quest by each group to gain their own autonomous space. For them there is no reconciliation or compromise. They feel that they would be compromising their religious, national and cultural identities. In doing so they would give up a part of self. Therefore, the only solution that they can see is to divide the area into zones where each group can live in their own peaceful autonomous existence.

As one can see, the religious orders of Islam cannot be separated from the varied political issues that accompany them. Conflicts that occur within national borders have generally been met with a policy of ignoring the issue. Governments have chosen to give the two groups freedom of choice and to allow them to work out their differences. Occasionally, these conflicts have crossed borders and resulted in larger regional or global issues. Government policies of turn the other cheek have allowed minority conflicts to escalate to persecution. These groups have had to fight for their very existence. They are unwilling or unable to simply forget their trials and persecution that they have suffered and become absorbed into the mainstream society which was responsible for their suffering.

Today, minorities in the Middle East can be divided into several categories. A majority of the religious minorities are of the sects of the Muslim faith discussed previously. However, there are still others in the region such as Jews, Copts (remnants of the Early Christian Church), Greek Orthodox, and Protestants. There are several ethnic minorities that are the remnants of indigenous tribes of the area such as Kurds, Druze, Armenians, Sudanese, Berbers, and Turkomans. There are many that many have a dual minority status, for instance, they may be both a religious and national minority at the same time. This results in the existence of endless subgroups within the region. In the Middle East, governments tend to be more concerned with limiting or suppressing minority power, rather than integrating it into the whole. This policy makes it difficult to establish a democracy in the region.

Democratization in the Middle East, particularly in Israel, means that minorities may lose any voice at all. Those of Western culture tend to see democratization as a unifying force that gives minorities a voice where they previously had none. Take for example, the freeing of the slaves in the South and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which gave minorities a voice and supposedly ended the legal ability to discriminate or persecute them. No such act or ideology exists in the Middle East. The basic ideology to form such an inclusive body simply does not exist. Minorities are targeted and denied equal access and protection from the government. There seems to be an underlying assumption that the way to end the problem is to eliminate the minority, allowing the majority uncontested rule.

This difference in ideology is difficult for the westerner to grasp, but it is the key roadblock that undermines the democratic process in Israel. The general policy of states in the region have been to implement a policy of denial with regard to minority issues. The modern Middle East is the result of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Boundary lines are arbitrary and are the result of imperial… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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