Countries begin for a multitude of reasons. They might be built around ethnicities, religions, conquest or revolution. Some are so old that their specific origins are shrouded in more myth than fact. And some countries are simply drawn on a map by politicians thousands of miles away.
At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani will discuss the effects of such contrived states on the greater Middle East, from Morocco to Pakistan. He will be joined in conversation by scholar Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and expert in radical Islamic terrorism.
Haqqani hopes to bring some history of the greater Middle East, which is unified by its predominantly Muslim religion and experience of colonization.
“The phenomenon we are encountering in that entire region in the form of, for example, ISIS, or in the form of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, are actually the product of identical causes,” Haqqani said. “The people of the region are Muslim. They were part of Islamic empires, but the countries they live in today do not necessarily represent the identities they have had through history.”
Countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan have conflict between ethnic and religious sectarian groups, Haqqani said, because colonial powers left authority in the hands of one group when they departed without much regard for local politics.
This discrepancy not only spurred internal violence, but intra-state conflict as well.
“The reason why Arab states all have used Israel as a unifier is because it’s easier to unify people against an external enemy than on the basis of acceptance of one dominant group,” Haqqani said.
Pakistan did the same with India, contributing to the decades-long tension between the two countries. Amid the current interior and exterior conflict, though, Haqqani sees some hope.
“Now with the entire region in turmoil, we have an opportunity to revisit that entire question,” he said. “Should post-colonial Middle Eastern states be dominated by either military rules or ethnicities or sects, or should they have the political and ethnic, multi-sectarian liberal constitutions that will allow people to be part of a bigger state?”
America might be able to help in the creation of these new, liberal constitutions; however, it must understand the context of the situation before it tries to do anything.
“My main joke about Americans is that Americans do a lot of things well, but they don’t do history well,” Haqqani said. “America is the only country in the world where, when you say, ‘That’s history,’ you really mean that’s irrelevant.”
This lack of understanding has meant that America has often tried to solve one problem — like Saddam Hussein in Iraq — only to create more, Haqqani said.
“Therefore, what I’m trying to do is introduce an understanding of history, in an understanding of contemporary events, especially in the Muslim world,” he said. In this, Gartenstein-Ross, with a wealth of information on terrorism in the Middle East, will be able to help.
“[Gartenstein-Ross] would be able to give an American perspective to a question that Americans must understand with the help of a non-American like me, and then possibly an American like Daveed would help that understanding process,” Haqqani said.