23 October, 2011

Between Empire and Anarchy: In Current Events

Not part of my original plan for this rather informal series, but I just came across this article from Foreign Policy magazine, and thought it deserved posting. It's disturbing, if not at all unexpected, to see violence against Christians and other non-Islamist minorities on the rise in the Middle East during all the recent turmoil. It's not like it hasn't been happening in Iraq for years. But what's interesting in the article with respect to the question of Empire vs. Anarchy is pretty obvious: Traub gives a bit of overview of the situation's historical background. The line of "progress" since the 1800s has essentially been from  the weakening of the Ottoman Empire to the rise of nationalism, and now to what is essentially anarchy (or at least very disorganized civil war) in much of the Middle East. Nationalism is still strong in the area, as one can see in countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc. But the problem, not the first of its kind in history, but particularly widespread today, is that "nationalism" becomes sectarianism and sects break up into smaller sects and suddenly you have a madhouse with everyone fighting for power.

I'm inclined to think that to some extent this is always a danger with nationalism. People unite into a "nation" and then begin to question whether they all really belong to it or if say, this branch of that ethnic group can really ever "belong". What I'm getting at is the idea that within the nationalist impulse, or rather, the nation-creating impulse (since nationalism in countries that already have a strong sense of national identity is, rather obviously, a different affair), can easily slip into the impulse to keep dividing and dividing along ever-finer political, ethnic, religious, etc lines. And eventually you have anarchy. Which, certainly, is not necessarily violent. But you have only to look at the Middle East (or Africa, or parts of Eastern Europe, or parts of South America, some further back in history than others) to see that violence is far too often both the means and the result of this infinite splintering.

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