August 30, 2014

Are Palestinians Shiite or Sunni? – the Palestinian problem ……… 25

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The Palestinian people are divided between those who live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and those who form the Palestinian diaspora. Although the vast majority of the Palestinian population are Muslim, there are very few Shiite Palestinians. Unlike bordering Lebanon, which has a large Shiite community, Palestinians are primarily Sunni. There are also a number of other religious groupings within the Palestinian people, particularly among the diaspora.

West bank
According to the CIA World Factbook, as of November 2012, the population of the West Bank of Palestine is 2,622,544, of which 75 percent are predominantly Sunni Muslims. Around 8 percent are “Christian and other,” with this group including the Druze, a faith that split from Shiism in the eleventh century. However, it would not be proper to refer to the Druze as Shiite. The government of the West Bank is controlled by Fatah, which is a predominantly Sunni party.

Gaza Strip
The population of the Gaza Strip is smaller than that of the West Bank, with around a million fewer people. This population is more religiously homogeneous: over 99 percent are Muslim and predominantly Sunni. Since 2007, Hamas has controlled the Gaza territory, governing it in accordance with Sunni Islamic principles. Although a small percentage of the population are Christians, these are ethnic Arab Christians, and there is less religious diversity in the Gaza Strip than in the West Bank.

Palestinian Diaspora
The Palestinian Diaspora represents roughly half of the total Palestinian population. As a result of the wars of 1948 and 1967, large numbers of Palestinians emigrated to other countries, or were housed as refugees in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. The majority of the diaspora have remained within the Arabian Peninsula, with Chile hosting the largest population outside of the Muslim world. As with the non-diaspora population, the majority of the Palestinian population are Sunnis. However, in Chile, the half a million Palestinians are predominantly Christian.

Other Palestinian religions
There are a number of religions in Palestine that are non-Muslim. The origins of these are often deeply rooted in the history of the region. For example, the Palestinian Christian community is one of the world’s oldest Christian communities. Most of these Christians live outside of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, either in Israel or countries of the Palestinian diaspora. A small percentage of the Palestinian people are Druze, although this group is more commonly found among the Palestinian diaspora than in the Palestinian territories.

(many thanks  Emile Heskey)

August 30, 2014

the battle of Chaldiran – the Palestinian problem ……… 24

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Chaldiran today is a small, sleepy town in northwestern Iran near the Turkish border. Yet, nearly five hundred years ago to the day, on August 23, 1514, the plains outside of Chaldiran groaned under the weight of men and horses and thundered with the sound of cannon-fire and muskets.The Battle of Chaldiran is one of the most pivotal battles in the history of the Middle East. Rather than being an obscure footnote in history, it was a battle of pivotal importance, with results that still reverberate in the modern Middle East. By determining the borders and demographics of the Persian Safavid Empire and the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Battle of Chaldiran created the contours of the modern Middle East.

In the early 16th century, two empires were competing for eastern Turkey and the Fertile Crescent (Iraq and greater Syria). One of these was the Sunni Ottoman Empire, based in western Turkey and Constantinople (Istanbul). While its ruling class was Turkish, the majority of its subjects were still Christians from the Balkans. The other empire was a new creation of the era – the Safavid Empire. The Safavid Empire was founded by the leader of the Shia Sufi Safaviyya sect, Shah Ismail, who was of mixed Turkish, Persian, and Kurdish descent. Starting a series of conquests from a small principality in Azerbaijan in northwestern Iran, Ismail impressively won his first battle in 1501 at the age of 14. By 1510, only nine years later, he had conquered all of the Iranian Plateau and the city of Baghdad. Ismail’s eastern campaigns checked Uzbek power and helped a prince named Babur set up his Mughal Empire.

The sudden expansion of this Safavid Empire was a serious threat to the Ottoman Empire territorially; the Safavids further destabilized the Ottomans by propagating Shia Islam among the Turkish tribes of eastern Turkey (much of Ismail’s forces consisted of Shia Qizilbash Turks). The then Ottoman Sultan Selim I decided to confront the Safavid threat directly by marching east, suppressing the Turkish tribes of eastern Turkey and arriving at Chaldiran, where the Safavids and Ottomans fought on August 23, 1514. The battle ended in a decisive Turkish victory, aided by their mastery of gunpowder technology. Their victory cemented permanent Ottoman rule over eastern Turkey, most of Kurdistan (expect a portion that remained with the Safavids and became mostly Shia), and Iraq. The Safavids, who had depended heavily on cavalry and made minimal use of gunpowder, were shocked by their defeat, which was Ismail’s first and last defeat. He never fought another battle and spent the next ten years of his life drinking. He died in 1524.

The Battle of Chaldiran had an enormous impact on shaping the modern Middle East, its boundaries, and its demography. The most important legacy of the Battle of Chaldiran is that it led to the creation of a relatively compact, Persian-oriented, Shia nation-state on the Iranian Plateau. The defeat of the Safavids at Chaldiran prevented them from building a sprawling empire spanning much of the Middle East by denying them control over eastern Turkey and most of Iraq. This led to the border between modern Iran and Turkey and Iraq (successors of the Ottoman Empire) today, and ensured that the vast majority of the region’s Arabs and Kurds remained Sunni.

Many historians are of the view that it was a good thing that the Safavid Empire remained compact instead of sprawling over the Middle East because then it would have overextended itself, only to collapse. The relatively small size of the empire, as opposed to its larger neighbors, the Mughal and Ottoman Empires, enabled the bureaucratic consolidation of a region that has previously experienced several hundred years of political instability. As a result, the state of Iran has a greater coherence to it than its neighbors do, many of whom were ruled indirectly by the Ottomans through tribal intermediaries.

More important than the consolidation of a nation-state in Iran, the battle ensured the spread of Shia Islam within the Safavid Empire. After the battle, the Safavids aggressively promoted Shia Islam within their territories in order to consolidate and separate their empire from its Sunni neighbors. Although this lead to the Safavid Empire being surrounded by a sea of Sunni Islam, historians also believe it ensured that the empire was not absorbed by the Sunni Ottomans. To make sure that Shia Islam became irrevocably accepted by the population, Ismail made it mandatory for Shias to curse the first three Sunni Caliphs, offending Sunnis and leading to continuing antagonism between the Sunnis and Shias throughout the region. Although many Iranians might regret the manner in which Iran became Shia, they accept their Shia identity with pride as a marker of their distinct identity.

It is important to note that Ismail decided to impose Shia Islam on his territories partly due to religious reasons as well. While it is widely known that Iran is Shia today, what is not as widely appreciated is that it was not so until the Safavid Empire came to power. Sunni Islam (and Zoroastrianism before it) was the norm in Iran as it was throughout the Islamic world, with Shias scattered throughout the Islamic world in small, local concentrations — similar to the way in which Jews were concentrated in certain areas throughout Europe without forming a majority in any one region. Ismail’s conquests had the effect of creating a large Shia block in the midst of a previously Sunni region and were essentially the expansion of one small concentration of Shia Islam in northwestern Iran.

The majority of regions today that feature geographically concentrated heavily Shia populations today are those that were either part of or influenced by the Safavid Empire. These regions include Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, southern Iraq, and western and central Afghanistan. These regions are almost completely surrounded by Sunni majority regions that begin almost exactly where the Safavid Empire’s boundaries ended. Ironically, the exception to this rule is southern Afghanistan as it was the Safavid Empire’s attempt to forcibly convert the Pashtun Afghans of Kandahar to Shia Islam that sparked the rebellion that led to the Safavids’ downfall in 1722.

Thus, the Battle of Chaldiran is responsible for the “where” and “why” of most Shia Muslim populations in the Middle East today.

On the other hand, the Battle of Chaldiran led to the transformation of the Ottoman Empire and its dominance of most Arab lands. As the Ottomans secured their eastern flank by annexing Kurdistan and Iraq, they were able to turn west, conquering Egypt and the Levant in 1517. In just a few short years, the Ottomans acquired an Arab Muslim population that vastly outnumbered the ruling Turks and the Christians who had previously made up the majority of the empire. The majority of Arabs thus lost their independence to the Ottomans as the direct or indirect consequence of Chaldiran. Additionally, the Ottoman Empire became more solidly Muslim, orthodox, and traditional as a result, decreasing its ability to absorb lessons from Europe.

Ottoman rule maintained Sunni Islam (the Ottoman Sultan claimed to be the Caliph, after all) over most of the Arab heartland but also led to the relative neglect of Arabs and the Arabic language. The Ottomans tended to rule the Arabs indirectly unlike their Turkish heartland, which was administered thoroughly. This was perhaps a consequence of having such a large, sprawling empire. The legacy of this lack of state-building is evident in Arab countries to this day.
the 500th anniversary of this epochal battle was on 21st of Aug , and perhaps its a good time for us to reflect on its outcome and how it created the modern Middle East. When we consider the various tribal, ethnic and religious cleavages that make up the Middle East, as well as the relatively successful formation of the Turkish and Iranian states, we see the results of the Battle of Chaldiran. Although the battlefield itself is not commemorated with any monument save for the tomb of two of Ismail’s viziers, its impact can be remembrance enough.

(Many thanks Akhilesh Pillalamarri)
August 25, 2014

muslim zion ! – the Palestinian problem ……… 23

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It may surprise readers, as it did me, that in 1981, the president of Pakistan, General Zia ul-Haq, made the following observation in an interview with The Economist: “Pakistan is, like Israel, an ideological state. Take out Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse.”
Zia’s message about the necessity of Islam to Pakistan is less surprising than his choice of comparison.
Why did Zia choose Israel, a state to which Pakistan was, and is, implacably hostile, rather than another Muslim state?
As it turns out, Muslim intellectuals on the Indian subcontinent before and after the creation of Pakistan often considered the parallels between Indian Muslims and the Jews in Europe, between Muslim and Jewish nationalism, and between Pakistan and Israel.

There are some obvious superficial similarities between the way in which Pakistan and Israel came into existence.
The two states, created just a year apart, came into being through partitions that seemed at the time to be post-war Britain’s easiest route to decolonization.
In “Muslim Zion,” Faisal Devji argues that it is not merely the circumstances of their birth that make Pakistan (established in August 1947) and Israel comparable states, but the very ideas behind their creation render them, in Devji’s words, ideological twins.
The most striking similarity between Zionism and Muslim nationalism in South Asia is how both melded the national and religious elements of existing communal identities to build secular political movements.
Both movements were led by a new, university- or self-educated political class whose key figures were irreligious and deeply influenced by European political philosophy.
Devji’s description of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the London-educated lawyer who is revered as the founding father of Pakistan, as someone whose “views of the community he sought to lead indicated a notion of representation not premised upon his identification with them,” might easily describe not just Theodor Herzl (a comparison Devji makes elsewhere in this book), but most of early Zionism’s important ideological figures.
Both movements carried the imprint of the Enlightenment, seeking to replace what was perceived to be clannish and irrational religious communalism with a secular sense of belonging to a people, a nation and a homeland.
The rhetoric of self-determination also influenced both movements, as Jews and Muslims came to understand the dangers of statelessness in a world organized in national political terms.
As a result, both Zionists in Europe and Muslim nationalists in South Asia urged their followers to leave their homes and build a new destiny for their people elsewhere.

Some Muslims in India even believed their legal status was as precarious as that of European Jews.
The Aga Khan, the first president of the Muslim League (the political movement most responsible for Pakistan’s founding), openly worried in the 1930s that, with British influence waning and Hindu nationalism rising, Indian Muslims risked falling to the position of German Jewry under Nazi rule.
Devji, a historian of South Asia at the University of Oxford, is intentionally courting controversy by claiming that Pakistan, as a political idea, is a “Muslim Zion,” and his purpose is presumably to get people to read a book about the origins of Pakistan that emphasizes the universalized modern Islam in the country’s political roots.
Pakistan and Israel are “twins,” according to Devji, because, “despite the profuse use of the word homeland in both countries, as well as the glorification of their territorial and cultural integrity, no homelands can be more attenuated than these, based as they are on a national will the greater part of whose history lies outside their borders.”
He argues similarly that both movements required a conscious rejection of history, geography and demographics, as well as paranoia about being an embattled minority.

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In the Jewish case, the politics of paranoia, it need not need be pointed out, was not paranoid.
That aside, on the one hand, Devji is correct that many Zionists indeed rejected their history in exile and their status as a minority in the Diaspora.
But on the other hand, Zionism also involved a deep engagement with, and re-appropriation of, Israel’s ancient history, geography and even demographics.
And unlike Pakistan, the geography of the modern Jewish state coincides with key sites of Jewish historical and religious significance, and most important, the memory, however distant in the past, of political sovereignty.
If instead of Pakistan, South Asian Muslims had proposed to end their minority status in India by moving en masse to the Arabian Peninsula and establishing a secular-democratic state surrounding Mecca and Medina based on the universal elements in Islam, could anyone credibly call the geography accidental or attenuated? The answer is no, and as Devji suggests, Muslim intellectuals in South Asia had to create a “pure” nationality decoupled from geography precisely because of the location of their new homeland and its distance from Mecca.
They also had to give their homeland new religious significance.
In fact, in another forthcoming book on Pakistan’s origins, Venkat Dhulipala argues that religious Muslims – not just the secular intellectuals – supported the creation of Pakistan because they saw the potential for a Muslim state in South Asia to become a new sacred place, or specifically a “New Medina.”

 (many thanks Simon J. Rabinovitch)
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