The existing interminable regional conflicts among several nation countries along with the recurring armed clashes between political factions, fundamentalist groups, and state authorities are now common features of modern times. In most of the Muslim world, the core of most political instability issues is related to an old conflict between two main ideologies: Nationalism and Islamism.
Since four decades as yet, conflicts and disagreements are becoming more fundamental and conceptual in nature than being circumstantial and temporal. In the Muslim and Arab world, it is about the scope and limits of Islamism and Nationalism, and most importantly about the compatibility and contradiction of each ideology with the other. No wonder, there are profound disputes concerning the constructive elements, causes, and effects of these two ideologies.
During the past century, Nationalism was the most popular and preponderant of all ideologies. Many nationalists relate nationalism to mutual geopolitical philosophy, language, religion, social and cultural traditions. Others interpret it as the racial and hereditary factors of a community of people who populate certain land or continent. Obviously, nationalism is not purely a theory-based issue: it is an active conception that has vital importance in determining the course of action and policy of any social and political unit.
In this modern era, in Europe, nationalism is conceived as a group of common race people who live within particular geographical boundaries and share similar historical, cultural, and traditional background. This Western European nationalistic configuration spread out to overshadow other ideological dispositions in most of the world including liberalism, conservatism, and Marxian socialism.
At its origin, the inspirational factors that led to the outburst of nationalism and rise of nationalist movements in several European nations were to eradicate injustice and oppression; and establish a justly shared community. Nonetheless, it was the same nationalist spirit in its extreme form that triggered the ideology of ethnocentrism and racism, which gave birth to the two World Wars. Avoiding to discuss the Western perspective of national interests at this time, it was the same extreme nationalistic notion that drove some European nations to colonize most of Asia, Africa, and South America.
In large part of our world, we see several nations that have different languages, traditions, racial descent, diverse geographical conditions, dissimilar political units, and separate independent states but form a world in and of itself. The most prominent factor among these nations is their common religious belief. The best-known illustration of these faith-based worlds is the Islamic world.
For most Muslims, Islam is not just a divine faith to believe in. It is a world in its own nature, rich in culture, traditions and life regulations. To its credit, Islam commands its followers to disregard any criterion of separation or distinction among Muslims and between Islamic nations. Be it of color, race, geographic or language attribute.
During the first centuries of the Islamic era, the principles and objectives of Islam were conveyed in a clear and moderate approach to most of the world at which non-Muslims have either respected or embraced its universal teachings, which led to the formulation of the Islamic Nation or Islamic world. However, this universal philosophy and general concordance have vanished with time; since rigid lines of thoughts and divisions emerged among the masses, mostly because Muslim rulers then—as now—did not comprehend or center their judgments on the objectivity of Islam.
A Few centuries ago, most of the Islamic world came under the direct rule and exploitation of western invaders, not to mention the effects of the protracted Ottoman occupation on the Arab world, at which their cultural and religious identity was threatened, and their material resources were plundered. Besides foreign dominance, the prolonged state of forced slumber in many Arab and Muslim countries has intensified the captivity of Muslim nations producing a defeatist mentality and bitterness in the Islamic world. This resentment of foreign domination, among other things, has strengthened the rationale of Islamist and nationalistic movements throughout the Islamic world
However, as European empires subjugated most of the Islamic world during the last century, which made the anti-imperialist resistance to use Islamic “fatwas” (judgments) to solidify their cause. And hence, many Muslims considered the war against imperialism as a form of jihad since they occupy Muslims land. Actually, the distinction between Muslim and infidel became intertwined with the distinction between the oppressed and the oppressor. Thus and so, the hostility against subduers qua unbelievers were infused with a new meaning of jihad. This actuality, however, has generated unfortunate consequences on religious minorities in the Islamic world: Jews were deemed collaborating with Zionism and Israel, and Christians were suspected of sympathizing with the Christian West.
Islamism and nationalism are conventionally thought of as opposed ideologies, yet there is often a nationalistic dimension to Islamism. Religious and national identities tend to be fused in many parts of the world. The links between Eastern Orthodoxy and Russian identity, between Roman Catholicism and Irish national identity, and between Hinduism and Indian national identity; for instance, illustrate the silent connection between nationalism and faith-based ideologies. In most of these cases, religion serves as a badge of national identity, as in most Islamic countries.
Nevertheless, in the twentieth century, Christian Arabs played a prominent role in the creation and promotion of Arab nationalism concept, as it is founded on common language and culture instead of religion (a point which Islamists invariably criticize and rebuff). However, in the public intellect, being an Arab still means a Sunni Muslim.
Initially, Islamic fundamentalism was fueled by moral outrage provoked by the violation of Islamic values and religious traditions. However, it became more intense as pious Muslims felt that the foundation of their religious belief is under assault by their very own governments. Calling to mind that neither exclusion nor oppression put them down. Instead, it flares them up to undertake violent protestations and underground activities against anti-Islamist governments and political parties.
The main core of most Islamic movements is fundamentalism. Islamic fundamentalism contains two major dimensions: Reformism and Radicalism. Radicalists, at large, blame the Western domination of Islamic nations and portray the emergence of nationalism as part of a Western and Zionist conspiracy to divide and conquer the Islamic world. Though the right to a Muslim nationhood is an inherent and consistent demand of all Islamic movements, yet reformists and moderate Islamists share some statehood views with nationalists of which they are considered the soft hand of Islamic doctrine.
For fundamentalists as well as other Islamists, the ‘return to Islam’ impulse, which necessitates the establishment of an exact Islamic state and society, is somewhat linked to the goal of overcoming corruption and direct and indirect foreign domination. Nonetheless, the underlying logic of the Islamist argument is more religious than political. For them, Muslims are suffering because they have deviated from the laws of God. And, the only pathway to end their suffering is to comply with God’s laws (Sharia). Once they conform, God shall grant them victory and prosperity. Within that context, they consider the return to true Islam a precondition of regaining self-esteem and independence.
The patriotic sense of resentment from foreign domination is not the sole source of Islamist magnetism. An adequate description of what led to the rise of Islamism must also take into consideration the dire social and economic situation in much of the Islamic world.
During the past century as yet, the rapid socioeconomic, cultural and political changes in the world have shaken up most nations and communities. The prolonged miserable conditions of most Muslim citizens have generated an unrelenting urge and aspiration among the Muslim masses for reform. Not surprising that Muslim and Arab nations were top candidates to set sails with that spring waves of change.
Unfortunately, as the magnitude of Muslims suffering swollen up to an unprecedented level, Islamic movements gained momentum in which their philosophy “Islam is the answer” became more popular than ever. All because Nationalist governments and political parties were incompetent throughout most of the past century to ensure security, establish development, and generate growth in Muslim countries
In reality, Muslim and non-Muslim nations alike, need to have peace and security, justice and freedom, education and development so that to become liberal and broad-minded nationals. Be it nationalism or any other civil system, people need to live free from oppression and corruption; otherwise, they would not live in peace and harmony. All people, irrespective of their religions, have the right to decide the form of their own governing system by themselves, without any foreign or domestic pressure and oppression, as long as the freedom of others is fully preserved.
The diversity of colors, languages, religions, cultures and other differences observable in nature, are manifestations of the richness of societies and nations. These differences and distinctions should not be regarded as divisive factors but generative components of pluralism and human development.
However, before most nations embrace similar civil states of mind, security and stability of the world will remain the daydreams of this time.