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Wael Nawara Headshot

The Ultimate Divide

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Yesterday, 2-3 million Iranians supporting Moussavi flooded Tehran streets. Today, the streets are flooded again, this times from the two sides, as Ahmadinijad supporters also went in to show their numbers before the local and foreign media. Until now, these demonstrations are held at different places of Tehran avoiding bloody confrontation. But what about tomorrow and the day after?

The recent events in Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon and even inside the United States, show that we are experiencing a deep divide in our world. You can see it and you can touch it. It affects elections like the ones we have recently seen in the U.S., Iran and Lebanon. It crosses boundaries of geography, ethnicity, religion or cultures. The new divide is not sectarian. We have seen in Lebanon that both the Hezbollah-led alliance and March 14 coalition had Muslim and Christian factions. This divide is not nationalistic. We have seen some right-wing American neoconservatives publicly or secretly wishing that Ahmadinijad would win the elections so that a final confrontation between the U.S. and Iran would imminently draw near. Islamist fanatics also supported Ahmadinijad for what appears to be different reasons, but really it is because of the same motive. A quest for confrontation. A death wish for the bloodiest self-fulfilling prophecies of all time, Armageddon.

The new divide cuts deeply through our societies. It disrupts peaceful coexistence in our homelands and our world. It brings the threat of civil war closer to our towns and cities. It competes to control our media and our education systems. In one way, the new divide could be seen as being between the moderate and the traditional. The old and the new. Between the liberals and the conservatives. Between the fanatically religious and the secular. Between those who believe in changeable human laws and those who insist on following what they see as the timeless divine will of God. Between things we can debate and things which some consider to be unbound by time, place or logic. But ultimately, the divide is really between those who believe that our problems can be solved through dialogue, diplomacy, economic cooperation and even sanctions; and those who believe that war is inevitable. The divide is between those who believe that we, with all our differences can co-exist, and those who believe that it is either us or them. Between those who think that we can differ but still maintain amicable relations and those who think that either you are with us, the good, or you are against us siding with the axis of evil. The divide is between fear-mongers and promoters of xenophobia on one hand and those who simply believe that people are more or less the same everywhere on the other.

The national divide in Egypt, Lebanon or Iran is not a simple political disagreement within one agreed framework. It is often a disagreement on the nature of the framework which should govern agreements and disagreements. The debate in Washington about torture is not the result of a political disagreement. It represents a disagreement over a basic moral question, are the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights truly universal? Do Geneva conventions apply equally to us and to others? Are they only binding for others or are they binding for all of us? The same divide occurred a few years agoover whether or not the United States has the right to invade Iraq, without a United Nations mandate or a consensus from the international community. The problems in Pakistan are not caused by a minority or an isolated rebel group, they represent a national divide between a large portion of the population who supports or at least sympathizes with Taliban with its extremist and violently confrontational ideology, and moderates who want to resolve conflict through peaceful means and dialogue.

Needless to say, the absence of an effective and fair International Justice System stands behind the widening of this divide and the empowerment of the extremist ideology. When peaceful means failed and failed for decades, violence started to be marketed as a potentially more successful alternative.

The clash of civilizations assumes that a country or a group of countries belong to a distinctive civilization. Funny enough, the new roles of globalization weaken the validity of such classification. The truth is that the clash is happening within each society. It is a clash of mindsets. A clash of values and personal ideologies. The ideological commonalities cut across societies just like global market segmentation takes place. The clash, therefore, can be more accurately seen as a clash between those who believe in tolerance, diplomacy, peaceful struggle and would only consider war as a last resort in self-defense on one hand and those who believe in exclusivity, violent confrontations and pre-emptive strikes on the other hand.

The reason why many Israeli settlers refuse to leave their illegal settlements is because they believe that this land has been promised to them by God. Many Muslims also believe that they must control Jerusalem because of other religious reasons. During the crusades, Christian warriors believed they had to reclaim the holy land. Too many promises for the same piece of land. Muslims, Christians and Jews sadly have come to believe in Armageddon. The final war where God rewards the righteous, the faithful and the virtuous and delivers victory to his chosen people. The trouble is, each party believes that they are the chosen people. As soon as an attack on Gaza takes place, Muslim mosque preachers of the Friday prayers start telling the stories of Armageddon and how "a rock will tell the faithful that an enemy Jew is hiding behind it, so that the faithful can slay that enemy." Funny enough, the idea of Armageddon had no mention in the Koran and was most likely borrowed by late interpreters from biblical sources. Some Jewish sects and more recently Zionist Christians also believe in Armageddon with different intentions, to say the least. On the way to Armageddon, Islamist extremists, right-wing Neocon extremists, Zionist extremists, do all go hand in hand, till they arrive to the battlefield of course, there it will be a different story of which no one will live to tell. Perhaps Armageddon was once necessary as a potent psychological mobilization mechanism for survival in the past. But times have changed. Armageddon has become the scariest self-fulfilling prophecy of all times. But the good news is, as much as it is self-fulfilling it also is surely self-defeating.

The idea that there is a chosen nation, or a chosen people, or children of God, despite being so deeply rooted in the religious beliefs of Muslims, Christians and Jews is self-defeating because it gives moral justification to the notion that some of us are better or "more equal than others". The struggle of who exactly is better will continue to fuel war and conflict till doom's day, AKA Armageddon. One thing is for sure, Man, by his very nature seeks equality and freedom and rejects bondage and inferior treatment. Thus, ideologies which favor one race, one nation or one religion can fuel wars for centuries, but because Man ultimately seeks peace, safety, comfort and prosperity, these ideas are at the end self-defeating.

Armageddon, at least in the way it is currently being taught, is an illusion. Not because wars will never happen. Unfortunately we will witness wars every now and then. But the idea that Armageddon is a final war whereby one religion or one people will win an ultimate victory, military or otherwise, and then reign supreme happily ever after, as the world witnesses "the end of history", will just never happen. Wars, straight or asymmetric will just continue to erupt until a world order of equality and justice is established. Man will always seek freedom, dignity and equality and this will ultimately defeat Nazism, fascism and promoters of any sort of exclusive supremacy to any group, nation, race, religion or civilization. But as for now, this divide will continue, until such time that the ominous promise of Armageddon is finally discredited.

The Iranian experience is a sobering one. The divide is deep and sometimes differences seem irreconcilable. Does each country of the Middle East need a civil war, like the one Lebanon witnessed for two decades, to complete the maturity process, evolving into a society of harmony, coexistence and tolerance? Does the price have to be so high? Is there a way where this evolution takes place peacefully? This is a question for everyone. Governments and citizens alike. In this region and around the globe.