Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Are you Divisive, Secessionist or Isolationist?

Are you Divisive, Secessionist or Isolationist?

Sunday, 26 June, 2022 - 10:15

Whenever disputes erupt between an Arab and a Kurdish faction in Iraq, the former slanders the latter with a ready-made accusation: you are a secessionist. Masoud Barzani, and his late father, Mullah Mustafa before him, broke the world record for facing this accusation the most times.

Christians in Lebanon are also met with a ready-made accusation whenever they stand against a radical faction in the region: You are isolationist and divisive. All they have to do is reach into the safe of age-old insults and extract the insult whose applicability begins with the late Emil Edde, or Ignatius Mubarak, and endures to this day, when it is levied at Samir Geagea.

Of course, separatism, secessionism and isolationism are dog whistles for accusations of allying with Israel, if not at present, then inevitably at some point in the future, and if not in fact, then in intention.

Of course, this assessment is not amended by the fact that “isolationists” and “separatists” might have close ties to many Arab countries. Indeed, what defines “isolationism” and “separatism” today is the relationship with Iran, not with the Arabs.

Defamation is having a strong season. Its fertility has been boosted by the fact that it is Iran and its subordinates who see Lebanon’s “isolationist” politicians and their “secessionist” counterparts in Iraq as hindrances to their influence. Let the knives shine and stab profusely then. In fact, the Iranian alliance is home to the largest factories manufacturing epithets and labels. As a rule without exceptions, the most ideological always have the longest tongues.

We remember, by the way, that “secessionism” was first broadly thrown around as a lethal accusation in the early 1960s, when Syria separated from the “United Arab Republic” that had brought it together with Egypt in 1958.

At the time, the vast majority of Syrians saw this unity, which had been established at the behest of a few of their officers, as having imposed a system they could not stand. Their freedoms were severely curtailed and their economy was squeezed dry and made dependent. A few other officers thus, broke with this unity by subordination as though they had been apologizing for what the first group of officers had done three years earlier. However, since Gamal Abdel Nasser represented Arab radicalism at that time and was the CEO of manufacturing epithets and titles, millions of Syrians became accursed on being damned secessionists.

Those advocating this epithet were not at all concerned with what the Syrians had wanted for themselves, nor what they had gone through and been trying to get rid of.

If a population of nearly five million in the early 1960s composed of mostly Sunni Muslim Arabs could be dubbed secessionist, what deters anyone from applying this label to the Kurds of Iraq, who are not Arabs, or the Christians of Lebanon, who are not Muslims, or any other minority, be it religious or ethnic?

In fact, 1963 was the year of the “responding to secession” in Syria. The Baath Party came to power in what was a watershed moment: one of the few parties to object to the secession (despite having approved it at first), the Baath joined in on the military campaign against the Kurds of Iraq, or the “rebel Barazanite separatists.” The Baath of Syria and Iraq had still been a single party at the time, and so the Syrian branch helped the Iraqi one during its campaign against the north.

After that, this same Syrian Baath became a pioneer in using the term “Lebanese isolationism,” as part of a strategy to subjugate the Lebanese, be they “isolationist” or not, and blackmail them with this damned label.

The truth of the matter is that this political culture’s problem is multifaceted: as the experiences of the Baathists in Syria and Iraq most clearly indicate, the worship of unity neighbors its erosion: the regime makes everything in its disposal to fragment society, elevate certain segments and privilege them while marginalizing others on a sectarian or ethnic basis. If the excluded voice their discontent with this exclusion, they become the dividers and separatists...

The principle in force: those screaming as they are being beaten, not the ones doing the beating, are undermining the country’s unity. It is those who react to the action and call it by its name, not those who perpetrate the action and disguise its name.

This entire situation is buttressed by a culture with no democratic sensibilities and can’t be burdened with the smallest or weakest factions, their concerns, or their particular cultural make-up.

Putting forward the basic questions thus, becomes a treacherous act in itself: treachery, according to their theory, is Iraqi Kurds not being enthusiastic about “Iraq’s pan Arabism” or Lebanon’s Christians not being thrilled by the prospect of sacrificing their country to fight Israel. As for the Syrians breaking with the glorious bonds of Arab unity that curtailed their freedoms and devastated their economy, it is an unspeakable crime?!

Once again, then, we see ideology being deployed against freedom and people’s will - the ideology whose advocates claim to be the only ones to hold the truth and know what is right and do not accept any other points of view or testing their ideas empirically in real life.

The dilemma facing this group is that it is in crisis, and one of the sides to its crisis is the combination of its linguistic fondness of unity and its tyrannical actions destroying what remains of unity.

And because this is the case, the area becomes an unbearable geographic space, or a ship that is sinking as those who can escape, flee. Thus, the right and fair question in our region stops being “why do you want to separate, isolate or divide,” but “why do you want to remain united?”

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks