Although safely nearly 400 miles away from the Syrian border last week, the fact that Assad’s mortars were falling on Turkish soil was alarming. When the Turks retaliated for the deaths of a woman and her four children in the border town of Akcakale, we all understood why, but we all held our collective breath as well. The last thing that Turks want is war and we were all very aware of the fact that because Turkey is a member of NATO there was a possibility that other members of the alliance might be obliged to take action too.
As it turned out, that didn’t happen but even so, Syrian shells are still falling onto Turkish soil and the Turkish military continue to respond in kind. But then what do you do if you are a basically peaceful country sitting in the middle of a nightmare? And Turkey is geographically in a place that is extremely unenviable right now. Hostile Russia and Iran to the north and the utter madness that is the Middle East to the south. What’s to like?
Safely tucked away in the hidden valleys of Cappadocia there was however a lot of talk about the ‘situation’ which included concerns about the ‘Arab Spring’. A lot of the opinions expressed by those attending our Cappadocian full moon party in a place that looked very much like the surface of some ‘Star Trek’ planet, chimed with my own. They were cautious, worried and sadly pessimistic.
No-one can deny that dictators like Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali were repressive and greedy and their respective countries are better off without them. The new regimes are of a, so far, moderate Islamist nature although both of these new governments are having to deal with extremism. Whether they ultimately give in the demands of the Salafis and others has yet to be seen, but these violent elements do have considerable followings and considerable power. However this is not the main problem, in my opinion. Underlying all of this power play in individual countries and putting the whole issue of Israel to one side for a moment, what we have here is the clash of vast numbers of people split along sectarian lines. Sunni Muslim Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia versus Shi’a Muslim Iran and Syria. That is very simplistic but then at its most basic level, this is simplistic. Majority rule along religious sectarian lines has come to the fore, open, loud and proud in the Middle East and it’s arming itself to the teeth.
How long will it be before the Iranian regime builds a nuclear weapon? Maybe next week, next year, maybe never. But just the threat of such a weapon sends shivers not just down Israeli spines, but down the backs of a lot of people in the Middle East. Forces are assembling to not only rout their enemies but to also push for dominance of an ideology that represents the majority view in that particular nation or bloc.
Why is this happening now? I don’t know, but what I do know is that here we are again, in a world where the majority equals what is ‘right’. And that isn’t always so. When South Africa came under majority rule, that was right, but when Germany was ruled by the Nazis did that make what they did right? Of course it didn’t because majority consensus doesn’t always mean that what is being done is correct. Sometimes the majority are wrong.
If the Middle East doesn’t erupt into all out conflict and ‘merely’ polarises into monocultural blocs so much will be lost. If only Shi’as can live in Shi’a countries, ditto Sunnis, vast swathes of cultural colour and vibrancy will disappear. In addition, the exodus of other religious and political groups will accelerate. Syriani Christians, Sephardic Jews, Yezidis and Zoroastrians are already getting as far away from the conflict in Syria and the totalitarianism of Iran as they can. In places like Egypt and Jordan they are waiting to see what happens, but they are nervous and I really don’t blame them.
Of course one has to respect whatever the view of the majority of the people in a particular country might be. So if people truly do want a theocracy they should be able to have one. But others who do not subscribe to the dominant theocratic model or even the dominant religion (or any religion) should be protected. For five hundred years the Ottoman Empire dealt with the ‘problem’ by allowing people of religions that were not Sunni Islam to administer themselves in line with their own religious rules. Of course a price was exacted for this privilege in the shape of young Christian and Jewish boys who were recruited to the Sultan’s elite corps of Janissaries. And such a method would not work today. But something needs to be done to protect ‘the other’ in our world of increasing polarisation even though I don’t know what that might be.
Last week some Syrian shells fell on a Turkish town and killed five people. Luckily the world did not descend into war as a result of this. But who knows what will happen next week, or the week after, or the week after that?