Major sources of violence in the Middle East

Middle East Violence

Three major sources of violence in the Middle East are religion, nationalism and ideology. Each source contributes to some extent to the violence, depending on the conflict. Some conflicts are largely religious in nature, such as the Shiite uprising in the Sadaa region of Yemen (McGregor, 2005). Others are rooted in nationalism, such as the conflict between Kurds and Turks in southeastern Turkey (Haney, 1999). Most conflicts blend in an unhealthy dose of anti-Semitic racism and anti-U.S. ideology as well, including the genocidal ideologies of Hezbollah (Dershowitz, 2008) and Hamas (Bostom, 2009). Given this myriad causes, and the intransigent nature of most of the roots of conflict in the Middle East, there is little hope in the short for peace in the Middle East. The region has only known peace — and tenuously at that — under the thumb of strong rulers who suppress conflict. While it may be fanciful to propose a patchwork of newly independent states and a steady diet of multilateral dialogue, it is likely that any lasting peace founded on neoliberal solutions would take generations to take hold, as the hatred must first be filtered from mindset of the people.

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Hamas is the ruling military junta of Gaza with a stated goal of wiping Israel from the map (Bostom, 2009). Hezbollah serves a similar dual political-military function in Lebanon, again including a long-term objection of obliterating Israel. Islamic Jihad is an umbrella name for a number of organizations in the Middle East, including Palestine and Lebanon. As with the others, it places primacy on the destruction of Israel. These groups are a threat to the United States. They have sympathizers in the U.S. And view the U.S. As supporting Israel and of lending power to Jews. These groups also have the capability of attacking U.S. interests in the Middle East. There a no circumstances under which negotiation with such groups should be tolerated. These groups are driven by ideology that does not allow for compromise, so no offer of concession from these groups can be taken seriously. They are not trustworthy, and negotiation would legitimize their odious goals.

The PKK (Kurdish Worker’s Party) emerged as a galvanizing force among the Kurdish ethnic group, which exists in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran (Haney, 1999) but its efforts are primarily focused on Turkey and the creation of a breakaway Kurdish state. The group relies on guerrilla warfare and terrorism to achieve its goals, which derive from subjugation of their language and culture by the Turkish state (Bruno, 2007). The Turks fear a Kurdish state in part because the Kurds are such a sizeable minority. The issue is largely one affecting national sensitivity, rather than a pragmatic view of the situation. The Kurds are entitled to their own nation-state, however, as was negotiated in the Treaty of Sevres following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. However, that treaty was negotiated by the Turkish monarchy, and upon the overthrow of the monarchy by Kemal Ataturk the plan was subsequently rejected (Washington Post, 1999). Turk’s take Ataturk’s vision of their country to heart, explaining much of the resistance within Turkey to the idea of a Kurdish state. The Kurds, not surprisingly, have never forgiven the Turks for sidelining the Treaty of Sevres plan. The likelihood of a Kurdish state, however, is somewhat minimal. That there was no talk of one being established in the wake of the invasion of Iraq shows that outside of Kurdish areas there is no political will to address the issue any time soon.

Al-Qaeda is a stateless Sunni army that carries out attacks on Western and Shiite targets. Approximately, al-Qaeda’s ideology revolves around the idea of “puritanical Salafist Islamic reform in Muslim societies and…armed resistance in the face of perceived aggression” (Blanchard, 2005). The aggression does not need to exist in al-Qaeda ideology — the existence of people who do not subscribe to their belief system equates to aggression against them. Thus, their initiation of violence is seen by them as a reaction. Over the years, al-Qaeda has proven or claimed responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah in 2004, the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, various attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan (Blanchard, 2005), the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa. The degree to which the current strategy against al-Qaeda has been successful is debatable, but there is no reason to negotiate with this group. Their ideology is vile and has no room for tolerance. It is a morally suspect action to negotiate with groups that are uncompromising in their hatred, their political illegitimacy and their willingness to use violence against civilians. Killing bin Laden was a step in the right direction with respect to policy against al-Qaeda, as this organization needs to be dismantled and left to fight regional battles instead of targeting Western interests.

My approach to terrorism would probably focus on neoliberal elements of nation-building and the promotion of intercultural interaction. These approaches may be the most effective in the long-run — they have worked very well in formerly truculent, hate-based societies in Germany and Japan, for example. However, such approaches often take generations to manifest results and contemporary policy needs to have greater immediacy. There is collateral damage with respect to direct attacks such as those carried out on bin Laden, or by Mossad, for example. Such attacks tend to radicalize new recruits, often enlarging the threat. However, fostering greater partnerships around the world and intervening in foreign affairs only when truly necessary is a good starting point for policy. When involvement is necessary, it should be swift and bold.

The most significant threat — and it is difficult to ascertain how much attention it is getting — is from home-grown terror. Radicalized Westerners, bearing Western passports, can travel more freely than can nationals of Middle Eastern nations. They may have civil rights as well, and if they are more educated they are more likely to find holes in our security. Therefore, I consider these types of threats to be the most dangerous, and would emphasize combating such threats as a policy priority.

Works Cited:

Blanchard, C. (2005). Al Qaeda: Statements and evolving ideology. CRS Report for Congress. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from

Bostom, A. (2009). Confronting Hamas’ genocidal hatred. American Thinker. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from

Bruno, G. (2007). Inside the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from

Dershowitz, A. (2008). Hezbollah’s genocidal threat. Huffington Post. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from

Haney, E. (1999). Understanding the Turkey-Kurd conflict. InfoPlease. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from

McGregor, A. (2005). Shi’ite insurgency in Yemen: Iranian intervention or mountain revolt? Jamestown Foundation. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from[tt_news]=367

Washington Post. (1999). Who are the Kurds? Washington Post. Retrieved May 6, 2011 from

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