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May 16, 2012, Wednesday

Back to a barbarian age

The ancient Greeks called all those who did not speak Greek or could not speak Greek properly “barbarians.” Their urban civilization was indeed quite advanced and they looked down on others who were different. At the time the term was commonly used to denote the Persians but over the centuries it adopted a pejorative meaning denoting anyone associated with cultural inferiority and uncivilized behavior.

Now, after the passing of the first decade of the 21st century, there is reason to believe that the world is regressing into a barbarian age. When the Soviet Union disintegrated and euphoria was at its peak -- embodied in Francis Fukuyama’s by now infamous “The End of History” essay -- we all believed that the world was at the dawn of a more civilized and predictable phase in history. After all, the world was no longer to be narrowly defined between socialism and capitalism, and the tension that dominated under this bipolar system was about give way to a more prosperous and cordial global order.

What happened instead? Political identity is no longer defined in many countries around what sort of economic model should be applied but we are now back to the very primordial identities that once dominated our political behavior and determined the group to which we belonged or were seen as belonging. We are no longer socialists, conservatives or liberals. These days we are first judged by what tribe we belong to and more increasingly what faith we believe in.

I am constantly reminded in Europe and the US that I am a Muslim. When I travel in the Middle East, I am reminded that I am a Sunni. The Middle East is being ravaged by barbarians who want to divide the world into Sunni and Shiite. We can no longer make any political assessment without entertaining these ethnic, religious and sectarian identities. We are truly back to the Middle Ages. All of our accumulated knowledge, sophistication and political culture seems to have been lost. The Middle East is pervaded and increasingly infected by the sectarian rivalry between the Shiite Persians and the Wahhabi Saudis, who are now fighting proxy wars all over the region. As if we are all in agreement with the Saudis’ extremely harsh interpretation of Wahhabism, we Sunnis find ourselves in the same camp.

I have long made the argument for democracy and human rights in Syria. However, I am disgusted by the shameless usurping of these modern values by those who forward a very primordial and primitive agenda. Those who want to fight a proxy war in Syria have blatantly hijacked the push for a normal democratic order in Syria. The Syrian people’s need for more dignity and proper representation, their desire for a less corrupt and more just order has been stolen from them by these barbarians. Salafis who bomb the streets of Damascus are just as guilty and barbaric as Assad’s killing machine. They both must be condemned.

From Bahrain to Yemen, from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon to Egypt, everywhere the emergence of the religious and sectarian identity is visible. True, the Arab Awakening is an irreversible historical process. However, it is a shame that we have to go through a thoroughly barbarian misery first to understand that a normal democratic order needs to be established based on more sophisticated parameters. Turkey is a unique country. While we observe with much frustration what is occurring in the Middle East, we need to appreciate once again our own historical processes and of course our republican past. With all its sins and shortcomings, the secular order we established over the last eight decades has taken hold and promises to support our sociopolitical order. The cradle of civilization, the heartland where the three monotheistic religions emerged, the region that we call today the Middle East is riven by a return to barbarism. History will record with great shame these years -- if not decades -- when such a precious region fell prey to the thirst of barbarian bloodshed.

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