Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is the Middle East map about to change?

Is this the end of the Sunni Arab age, and the dawning of a new era of minority states? asks Lee Smith in the New Standard

"Arabs and Western Arabists typically describe Israel as a European invention stuck right in the center of a region where it does not belong, but this is ignoring the fact that almost half of the Jewish state's population originated not in Europe, or Russia, or even Brooklyn, but in the Middle East. The Jews belong here as much as the their Middle Eastern minorities do, the Christians, Shiites, Alawites, and Kurds. The "difference is that many of these minorities, unlike the Jews in Israel, have signed "on, willingly or not, to the triumphalist Sunni Arab narrative: We are all Arabs. It seems as though eventually this fiction will collapse and some of these minorities will, like Israel, want their own states.

"For decades now "Arabs" in the Middle East have feared Washington's ostensible designs to divide and weaken them. (Despite the obvious fact that America is working hard to see that Iraq, for instance, does not break into three parts.) But a region-wide reshuffling may be in the cards anyway. What might that look like?

"Perhaps Washington is most anxious about its NATO ally Turkey and how it would deal with a separate Kurdish state. But the time may be coming when the Kurds will weigh their choices and might prefer fighting for an independent Kurdistan to defending themselves against their Iraqi compatriots.

"Whether or not Israel manages to kill Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon may be immaterial. If his catastrophic foreign policy loses the Shiite population, the political gains Hezbollah's arms may have earned it over the last 20 years could evaporate. Who is to say that the 150,000 refugees now in Syria will return to Lebanon, rather than head east to Iraq, where Shiites are ascendant?

"Perhaps Syria will return to the days of its ancient Umayyad glory with an unquestionably Sunni Arab empire, and the minority Alawites will move to the Syrian coast, an escape hatch designed ages ago by Hafez al-Asad. The Mediterranean then would be lined with a strip of regional minorities turned toward the West, Alawites, Christians, Druze, and Jews.

Maybe the answer to the region's violence, the refusal of its citizens to accept difference, is in these fragments."

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