…. Talking of Walls

“Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.”
(Joseph Fort Newton)

As the world holds its breath awaiting more shocking ‘orders’ from the new U.S. president Donald Trump, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani came up, perhaps, with the most eloquent criticism on Trump’s insistence of building a separating wall along the U.S. – Mexican border (paid for by Mexico!)

This is a terrible irony; indeed, ironies in reading history, understanding politics, and viewing the future and preparing ourselves to confront its challenges.

Trump, the super-rich businessman, is imagining himself as he takes his first steps in the world of politics, a company boss whose wishes are orders because he or those he represents own a majority share in that company.

Then, there is Trump the president, indebted to the Religious Right that believes the world is divided into two camps: virtuous and evil; and therefore has to pay back extreme evangelist groups. These groups – bolstered by his ultra conservative cabal of Breibart advisers – have used since his election campaign scare-mongering and aggressive propaganda against the ‘extremism’ of Muslims and the threat of a Hispanic ‘deluge’ changing the nature of America within few decades, through Mexico’s borders or the Caribbean Sea.

Finally, there is Trump who hates America’s political ‘establishment’, and detests entente and compromise-based approaches in handling political matters; and is thus willing to make common cause – at least tactically, so far – with all populist and extremist ‘anti-establishment’ forces keen to kill off dialogue and consensus throughout Europe.

This surely is a phenomenon worth serious consideration, and is actually causing mayhem in the U.S.A. as it is bound to be ever more divisive, inflaming the situation internally and causing tension abroad. However, if ever there was one leadership in the world that is not qualified to criticize Trump and his policies, it must be the Iranian leadership.

Yes, this leadership in Tehran, given its ‘achievements’ through the years whether inside Iran or abroad with its Arab neighbors, is the least qualified or entitled to talk about building and bringing down ‘separating walls’!

It is true that Trump’s insistence on building a wall along the U.S.A.-Mexico borders, his ban on Muslims from seven Muslim countries to travel to the USA, his support of dismantling the European Union, and his restriction on American industrial corporations’ benefiting from globalization are all steps that engender doubts and hatred with Latinos, Muslims and even Europeans; but let us have a look at what Iran is doing.

At the moment, Iran ranks second in the world – after China – in the number of executions, many of which target activists and human rights campaigners from the country’s Kurdish, Arab, Balouchi as well as other ethnic minorities.

Furthermore, Iran despite its enormous natural, human and cultural wealth, is suffering from acute economic and social problems including high unemployment and corruption, and is depriving its people of the country’s riches in order to finance regional wars through which the Mullah’s regime ‘exports’ its internal problems. These wars are justified either as a defensive war against foreign aggression pushing the regime to fight in Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a in order not fight in Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz; or as a sign of Iran’s rising power that has led its IRGC to boast that Iran is now a world power capable of confronting and defeating any aggressor, and is in full control of the previously mentioned Arab capitals.

Thus, walls and borders are a problem in Iran’s case as they are with Trump, if not more. It is actually a serious problem. More so, since every time the Tehran rulers abolish a political-geographical border they build psychological borders that are difficult to bring down.

Add to the above, Iran has refused to learn the lessons of its first war with Iraq (1980-1988), and to understand how risky fiddling with history, geography and religious sectarianism is. Indeed, many Arabs did not support the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, but blamed him for fighting a war against a big neighbor whose new rulers had declared their commitment to liberating Palestine, after bringing down a regime that aspired to be the ‘Policeman of the Gulf’!

Those Arabs who refused to support or endorse Saddam Hussein, were then willing even to ignore Tehran’s loud slogans about ‘exporting the revolution’ as well as the sectarian activities of the Iraqi Shi’i Da’wa party. Their reasoning being that starting new animosities based on old gone sensitivities was a dangerous path; and a step that leads to unearthing old grudges and creating new hatred and endless strife.

Still, Tehran continued to escalate its vitriol, and went on to establish its own ‘Trojan horses’ inside its neighboring Arab countries. Soon enough with the genie of strident sectarianism was out of the bottle, Tehran co-operated with what hitherto was ‘The Great Satan’, aiding its occupation of Iraq in order to ensure later that it fell into its arms.

Today, if Qassem Soleimani’s IRGC, his Iraq ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’ and Hezbollah militias have indeed succeeded in abolishing the official boundaries of the post-‘Sykes-Picot’ entities in Iraq and Greater Syria, they have also built on the grounds of fears and grudges blood-stained walls separating the communities of these entities.

Iraq is now Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish ‘Iraqs’, Syria is now ‘Syrias’ of all kinds, and Lebanon too has become ‘Lebanons’ of its sects and factions. Even Palestine, who is supposed to remain united in the face of occupation and its existential threat has become fractured and partitioned between the West Bank and Gaza, thanks to Iran’s eagerness to ‘liberate’ it!

Last, but not least, let’s not forget Yemen and the Gulf States, and how could we?! To begin with, merely reading Iran’s ‘official’ media – especially those controlled by the IRGC – would immediately recall Tehran’s claims that Bahrain was an Iranian territory. As for Yemen, where Tehran has gone even deeper in pre-Islamic history annals in order to justify its military intervention (backing the Houthi rebels), the decision was right to act forcefully to defend the legitimacy and the Arab identity of the country.

Actually, animosities must not be the destiny of the Arab region. Building walls is not a solution; while bringing down state border in order to impose regional hegemony is a sure way to destroy all opportunities for peace.

The Middle East is qualified for cultural co-existence that enriches it and ensures its well-being and harmony. It is not true to assume that nationalisms by themselves are a hindrance, or that sectarian diversity justifies monopolizing the truth and allows for exclusion or accusations of blasphemy.

The Donald Trump experiment is still in its early days, and is expected to be corrected one day, albeit with a high cost; but we must learn the lesson.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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