Cultures of the Middle East

This essay covers the cultural and sectarian conflicts that have recently taken a worrying trend in the Middle East. While the Middle East has been known to often be in war with a couple of super powers, rarely is the violence and conflict amongst themselves discussed. The United States until recently when they called off all their troops had forcefully intervened to try and restore law and order in an otherwise extremely hostile environment. This essay seeks to uncover the nature of the conflicts inherent in the Middle East, their causes as well as their possible solutions.

The Middle East is made up of Muslims, the only acceptable religion in the area but Israel the only non-Muslim nation in the Middle East. However, even in light of having a shared religion, there have been conflicts amongst the Middle Eastern population to the point of violence. The Arabs are grouped into a couple of different tribes whose cultures differ. These tribal groups are expected to exhibit strength through the amassing of wealth and the strength of their fighters. Tribe members are expected to look out for each other and protect their property, land and wealth from other tribes.

For a long period now, tribal clashes and violence have been the norm in the Middle East, though their seriousness has for a long time been considered to fade in comparison to violence resulting from external foes (Salzman 12). Among the responsibilities of the tribesman is to have the maximum amount of children they can. First of all, many children mean a lot of cheap labor. Tilling the land and tending to livestock especially for the nomadic tribes requires a lot of constant labor. Families are better when it comes to working with their interests at heart compared to hired labor in addition to saving costs. Children, especially boys, are a sign of adulthood as a man with many sons gains respect and are perceived to have a powerful family. A man is looked down upon if he cannot produce children and likewise, even worse for the woman.

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It is also important for a tribesman to grow and maximize the size of their livestock. Livestock is one of the major signs of prestige. They are also a great generator of income for many households. Through the sale of animal products such as meat, milk, eggs, wool and even the animals themselves generates money required to purchase other commodities such as firearms, manufactures goods like sugar, household goods and other goods that are not produced locally. Another reason for maximizing livestock is the need for men to pay dowry to a bride’s household in the event of marriage. Dowry is almost always paid in form of livestock. Livestock also ensures hospitality to guests since they are honored by the slaughter of an animal. Maximizing livestock enables one to be in a position to do this.

Raiding is all too common for tribesmen in an effort to expand their territory. The rule is that men fight men and men are allowed to flee in the event they cannot fight back. Women however, and children are not harmed. Housing is also left intact, that is, no household destruction takes place. In most cases, resistance results in the use of force leading to serious injury and deaths. However, raiding usually creates an almost permanent conflict as the attacked party plans and executes vengeance on the offending party. Usually the attackers wage war and the attacked tribe fights back. However in the event where they are overpowered they are allowed to retreat and escape taking their families and livestock with them and leaving their land open for occupation by the attackers (Freilich 78).

A successful raid brings honor upon the winning tribe since it is perceived as a measure of protecting the tribe or clan. Trying or fighting back that does not result in success often counts for nothing. Victims even though they try are despised and looked down upon. Besides a successful raid, other positions that could earn one honor are acquiring victory over conflicts that have occurred between lineages that are in opposition. Neutral mediators who manage to restore peace between conflicting parties also acquire honor. This is because managing to restore peace amongst conflicting parties is no easy task (Milton-Edwards 48). The above are examples of cultural conflicts that have been completed.

In recent years, there has been an the emerging sectarianism in the Middle East particularly between the Sunni and the Shiite groups. Sectarianism is defined as the hatred or discrimination resulting from one party strongly  believing in a certain perception of a conflicting issue while the other does not or perceives it differently. This has been triggered by the Shiite who for a long time have suffered the suppressing of their religious rituals and cultures and faced discrimination over the centuries. They have managed to embolden and incite the Shiite population into a revival and there are real fears that they may take over power politically in Iraq. As a result horendous violent acts have been perpetrated in Iraq and tension has risen which only serves to worsen the condition since it keeps the conflicting parties in a defensive mode and willing to attack not only for the sake of their beliefs but also for their own safety. Shia Islam is gradually becoming predomiunantly identified though it is constantly moderated by rival loyalty and identity sources. These powerful marks of identity include families, clan, tribe, ethnicity and nation and they profoundly moderate the rising shia Islam.

Over the past few years, violence has risen between the Shiite and Sunnis and there have been an incresing sectarian discourse. The source of conflict dates way back into the foundation of Islam in the seventh century. Iraq is believed to be the scene of the occurences that destroyed tore Islam apart. The prophet Muhammad’s daugter Fatima and husband Ali’s descendants claim that Ali was wrongfully denied the prophet’s mantle and instead it was awarded to the Umayads, a rival dynasty. Ali was later killed in modern day Iraq along with his son and this saw the beginning of matyrdom, discrimination and injustice for Shia islam.

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For a long time the Shiite and the Sunni lived together in peace. The Shiite have continued to play an inferior role and the Sunni have for a long time tolerated the Shiites. An example of the unrest occurred in the late 1970s with the happening of an islamic revolution. Which helped promote the Shiite resurgence.

The Iraq-Iran conflict is very sectarian and can be traced back to the old Ottoman-Salvafid struggle. These groups are clearly divided along sensitive religious lines with each convinced that the other is gravely mistaken. The oppression inherent in iraq was what trigered an opposition and this actually materialised in early 1991 when Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait but were forced to withdraw and expelled by an international coalition. There then emerged a rebellion which quickly took shape and taking advantage of the weakness exhibited by the withdrawal of the iraqi forces. And it sought to remove the presnce of the regime from the South and baghdad hopefully completely. According to the Shiite, ruling parties in present day Iraq violent massacres executed by the Sunni were carried out aginst the Shiites during this period.

The United States of America was unable to restore order in thhe few weeks following the Iraq invasion and this is believed to have been a catalyst for the ongoing sectarian conflicts. Their efforts to establish a democratic government were interfered with by jihadis whose aim was to disrupt and frustrate their efforts (Rabinovich 47). They were able to get into the country unnoticed due to the United states forces’ sparse distribution. However, they were able to establish politics along ethno sectarian lines. The iraqis accepted it albeit grudgingly and appeared to be easy with it.

Eventually the large secular middle class evaporated which only made amatters worse. The governments following this establishment were stuck with these ethnosectarian logic and these were aggravated by ethnicity based predominant parties or parties with sectarian agendas. The shiite parties benefited from this new order. This enabled a powerful and well funded organization SCIRI took over the internal ministry along with its security forces (Ellis 77). Eventually these forces all retaliated against the Sunnis and attacked them. SCIRI pushed for an islamic state that would be based on sectarian divisions.

However, today instead of looking like a well organized sectarian state, it looks like a failed state complete with total chaos. Even though the shiites are intent on dividing Iraq the United States of America still supports the Shiites. This has caused the Iraqians to question the intewntions of the United States with a significant number of them concluding that the united States of America had from the word go intended to partition Iraq.

Curently the prevailing atmosphere is one of an unresolved sectarian conflict. Clearly iran is pushing to be the all powerful pre eminent political power in the Gulf. This of course is dependent on the application of their regime and how to use it to profile the country either along ethnosectarian rules or through equality and fainess. Of importance is the role that would be played by the secular middle class who for the moment most Iraqis do not support violence but are kept away by the prevailing and constant violences. It is common for middle class Sunnis and Shiites to intermarry and this may well be an indicator of the prevailing conflicts not being experienced by all. Although this move might be affected by sectarian divisions. They however appear to be unperturbed by this effect especially those who have not faced any violence.

Looking at the state in the middle East it looks like they are headed for a violent warfare mode in which there may be no conflict resolution between the conflicting parties (Lewis, 33). This is where the intervention of the united States of America comes in. this would be in the interest of both the Arabs and the international world. The situation in the Middle East clearly is getting out of hand and there is need for international intervention for their sakes and the rest of the world’s. efforts need to be made to stabilize Iraq and to help its politicical actors to make sound decisions in the interest of the population at large.

For a long time, Israel and the Arab countries have been at war with the Middle East countries attacking Israel severally. The conflict has been about land ownership and eventually Israel gave back the land they had taken from the Arabs. Jews in the Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s suffered a lot of violence. There were killed and injured and eventually a huge number of them migrated from these Arab countries to Israel. The call for a peaceful coexistence has led to less violence and more trust between the arabs and the Jews. They appear to understand that two wrongs do not make a right.

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While Jews in Arab countries are mistreated and killed, Arabs living in Israel are granted full citizenship and even allowed to vote. Israel has proved to be committed to keeping the peace between them and Arabs while ensuring mutual security. This has been a bold move seeing as they are the only Jewish nation amongst twenty one arab countries. The establishment of Israel may actually help in the reduction of violence among the Arabs in the Arab countries. There is also an incresing number of secular middle class Arabs who are devoid of religious affiliations.

The United States however, must clearly state its function in all this and must be willing to leave the Iraqian population alone once peace and calm is restored.


In conclusion, the situation in the Middle East is desperately bad. There is need for international intervention to assist them in restoring law and order and peace, and in establishing a democratic government where the leaders are judged in accordance to credentials and integrity and not along tribal or religious lines. 

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