News & Events

Battling perceptions: Minorities in the Arab world – We must move away from the overriding narrative that ‘sectarianism’ is the natural state of the Arab world

By Rachel Shabi,  April 10, 2014

Zaid al-Ali, author of The Struggle for Iraq’s Future – How corruption, incompetence and sectarianism have undermined democracy, says that “ancient hatred” was similarly invoked by Western analysts and media as the only plausible explanation for the deadly unravelling in Iraq following the 2003 US-led invasion.

“They would describe a society where everyone hates each other and can’t get over it – that’s just the way we are,” he says. This constant messaging has consequences – not just that the post-invasion plans drawn up by US occupiers in Iraq were catastrophically premised on this supposedly innate hatred, hobbling the country, gutting political life and sowing the seeds of perpetual instability.

“US media has a very powerful impact, articles are translated across the region,” says al-Ali. “This idea, that it is just a given that people in this region despise each other – it percolates and people start picking up on it.”

One worry is that, in the face of constant, terrible bloodshed along ethnic or religious lines, and given the prevailing “sectarianism” narrative, a generation on the ground may come to believe this to be the natural state of things.

But it requires a serious case of political amnesia to view the Middle East through a historically sectarian lens.


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