Friday, December 5th, 2014...12:11 pm

ISIS redraws the colonial Mideast map

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The boundary between Syria and Iraq has been erased, as ISIS rampages across a vast swathe of territory


In the 19th century, the Middle East lands were part of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). As the world powers of the period, Great Britain (United Kingdom) and France showed interest and intervened in the region; little by little Turkey’s hegemony waned. For example, Greece and Bulgaria gained independence.

The crumbling of the Ottoman Empire peaked during the First World War. In the midst of that war, a British representative, Mark Sykes, met with his French counterpart, Georges F. Picot, and secretly planned how to share the spoils of Turkish territory. They carved up the region, formed new geographical entities and agreed, for example, to let the U.K. control the territories of Palestine and Iraq, and France to control the territories of Lebanon and Syria.

The borders of the territories in the Levant were based on British and French interests, without regard to the needs of and the ethnic composition of those territories. This is the reason for the prevalence of straight national demarcation lines there.

The arbitrary borders led to imposed unions and to artificial divisions among the indigenous inhabitants, which, in turn, generated conflicts. These entities and the borders separating them remained in place until now, despite the political tremors that have taken place during the past 100 years. Those pressures are actually the driving force behind the creation of ISIS (an acronym for the Islamic State in Syria and al-Sham, which also is known as ISIL and the Islamic State).

lSIS’ trampling on those established international borders may be likened to a major earthquake that shifts land masses from their original location because of a pent up pressure deep under the earth’s crust.

To avoid the calamities of a major earthquake, scientists have devised a technique to gradually release the threatening underlying pressure by using explosives to induce minor earthquakes at specific locations. However, the major world powers, instead of releasing the pressures (i.e., conflicts) created by their past haphazard demarcations, by readjusting the borders as needed, have chosen, instead, to enforce the existing national borders and to use force to suppress discontent.

Iraq is a prime example. The U.S. had the opportunity to softly resolve internal conflicts by recognizing the sectarian make-up of the Iraqis, and facilitating relatively minor corrections. The U.S. could have helped turn Iraq into three individual states, for the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Instead, the U.S. became a slave to the concept of preserving the existing borders, and, accordingly, tried to impose unity among the Iraqis. The U.S. even encouraged the misbegotten effort several years ago to draft a constitution for Iraq. American news media showed people waiting in line to vote on the constitution, which was widely hailed as an “historic” milestone. Now, when bombs are exploding in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, hardly anybody cares about that constitution. However, the U.S. is still at it, behaving as if old Iraq ought to be preserved.

Then there came al-Qaida and ISIS, which generated major earthquakes in the region. A redrawing of the borders in the area is overdue, and it is better done now than later. The territories of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, Turkey, Libya and Palestine need to be reshaped. This is the only way to minimize conflicts in the region.

In this respect, the role of ISIS in obliterating the old boundaries of the Levant may have one direct benefit for Israel: If the entity known as Syria disappears, there will be nobody to claim back the Golan Heights.


Moshe Git lives in Minnetonka.

(American Jewish World, 12.5.14)

1 Comment

  • The reason for ISIS trampling on the colonial borders is not to establish new borders which better reflect the ethnic and religious differences in the region. ISIS’s goal, like the goal of all religious Moslems, is to erase geographical borders and establish one worldwide Islamic state. The Quran calls upon Moslems to make war against non-Moslems until Islam reigns supreme in the wold. Only then, will nation-state borders be abolished. Under the worldwide Caliphate, there will be only administrative districts, just like in the old Ottoman Empire (Caliphate).

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