The first time I visited the small strip of land that lies sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea on her west and the Jordan River on her east I began to understand how truly complex the Middle East is. That small strip of land is deemed sacred and holy by all three of the world's Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To some, that small strip of land is indisputably Israel. To others that small strip of land is indisputably Palestine. Regardless, to many of the world's faithful, that small strip of land is undeniably no other than The Holy Land
Although many people across the globe consider this geographical area The Holy Land, it is at the same time a land which, since her beginning, has remained clasped in the grips of a very un
-holy and destructive cycle of violence and war. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and pagans alike have claimed, fought for, conquered and ruled her over and over again, and to this very day, she has found no peace. She is a land with the power to divide and cause strife like no other; a land which not only places religion against religion, nationality against nationality, and ethnicity against ethnicity, but a land which even puts Jew against Jew, Christian against Christian, Muslim against Muslim, Israeli against Israeli, and Palestinian against Palestinian. She is a land greatly divided, where hatred abounds. She is a land that, for those who call her home, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jew, is desperately in need of discovering the reality of peace in the Middle East.
However, the reality of peace in the Middle East by and large seems like an entirely un
-realistic prospect. For the most part, it seems as if there is very little – or more bluntly said, next to nothing at all – peaceful about the Middle East, and during my first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, this was brought to life for me in a much more vivid way.
It was there I realized how much indiscriminate hatred abounds to this day, just as it seemingly has for much of human history. It was there I began to see how allegiances – political, religious, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and everything else under the hotter-than-hell Middle Eastern sun – dictate and control nearly all aspects of people's daily lives. It was also there I began to understand how incredibly deeply and intractably people hold to these aforementioned allegiances, and how far they will go to protect, and stand-up and fight, and even die for them. And it was there I grasped how destructive these allegiances can be when held to whole-heartedly, without reservation, forever.
It was also there I began to mull over whether constitutional democracy – at this stage in history – is the most effective form of governance in the Middle East if some semblance of peace in the region is to be a reality.
While Saddam Hussein was an absolute monster who brutally murdered his own people, the country was not an all-out bloodbath between competing sectarian and religious groups during his rule like it has been since. Iraq was not a constitutional democracy under Saddam in any way at all, yet the country did experience a more manifest reality of peace while under his control.
The now-deceased Hafez al-Assad, and his son, the current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, were and are no less brutal than Saddam when it comes to slaughtering their own people to quell any dissent. However, it is also fair to point out that for nearly four decades they were able to keep Syria's multiple different religious and ethnic groups (all with not-so-favorable views of each other) living and working together with a good amount of civility. Yet look at what has become of Syria today, and where she seems to be heading.
And finally, a look at Egypt under the deposed former president, Hosni Mubarak, who ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 40 years, in comparison to Egypt since his ouster will show the same: the reality of peace in the Middle East, at this day in time, may only be possible when countries are held together under the rule of strong, dictatorial regimes. And as much as that goes against what many Americans hold to more strongly than possibly anything else – an uncompromising belief that democracy is best for all nations and all peoples everywhere – it may simply not be the case in the Middle East. Or at least not now.
Because there is so little, if any at all, understanding between the many different religious, ethnic and social groups in most Middle Eastern countries, and people whole-heartedly believe in and hold to their particular religious or ethnic group's specific beliefs entirely, fear and distrust run rampant between the plethora of different religions, sects, and ethnicities found throughout the Middle East. But what should one expect? Ignorance always breeds fear.
Long-term peace will never
be possible in the Middle East as long as people continue to remain ignorant about the beliefs, customs, traditions and lifestyles of others, especially when they consider the others their enemies. Without ever learning about the so-called enemy – which for most in the Middle East designates anyone who is even the slightest bit different from you in any way, shape or form at all – people will always continue to live in fear of those who are different from them. And that is true amongst any people-group in the world. It is also increasingly true about us here in America as well.
How much do you and I know about those we consider to be our enemies? How much of our fear of those who are different than us is grounded in a realistic understanding and knowledge of them and the things of which we are fearful and distrustful? Make no mistake about it, some of those we consider to be our enemies undoubtedly are. However, some are not. And I would be willing to bet that many of our fears would likely go away if we merely spent some time learning about and trying to accept that others' beliefs may not be as dangerous as we think they are, and that our beliefs may not always be as divinely-inspired as we may believe they are.
But that is a long-term process, and one that for now is a far-flung possibility for the Middle East. Recent, and even not-so-recent history has shown us that the reality of peace in the Middle East can only be kept in play by the dictator who unites his divided people by giving them something to fear that is greater than their fears of each other.