The decline of the nation-state in the Middle East
Source: TRT World
By Dr Yakoob Ahmed, who is a PhD graduate from SOAS, University of London. An Ottoman historian, he is currently teaching Islamic history at Istanbul University and was a visiting fellow at the Modern Turkish Studies Centre at Istanbul Şehir University.
The nation-state project hasn’t worked in the Middle East and is fragmenting across the world. Can it be salvaged?
It’s now been around 100 years since the notion of the modern ‘Middle East’ started to be shaped, following the collapse of the Ottoman domains due to the impact of World War I. The emergence of the nation-state as an alternative model was to herald a new era in human history. One which would reflect the pinnacle of human progress, the detachment of religious morality within the political system in the guise of secular politics – and an exclusive configuration of identity-based on language, ethnicity and the new borders within which the citizens of the nation-state lived.
Orientalist historians argued that due to Ottoman ‘decline’, the nation-state was the inevitable consequence to emerge from the ashes of the Ottoman world. Facilitated by the self-serving European powers the new states established a programme of nation-building in an attempt to emerge from the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Allied forces.
The importance of the ‘states’ and citizen’s religious identity as the main marker of one’s belonging was to be replaced by the newly constructed national imagined community within the borders and rules of the new secular nation-state. If the newly formed nations in the image of their victors were to successfully emulate the nation-states of the Western colonial nations, then a move away from the Ottoman domains was deemed necessary as the idea of empire was to be despised in favour of more manageable, smaller entities.
Inclusive empires (multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual) such as the Ottoman one, were to be replaced by exclusive states as the founders of the new nations, presenting progress as a central feature of modernity and using educational systems and the printing press to suggest that the new nations were here to stay forever as the zenith of human civilisation.
But 100 years on, is this really the case?
Commentators are now regularly asking whether the nation-state, in a region that rapidly rose from the ashes of the Ottoman domains, is now starting to show signs of decline or even combustion.
It is then worth asking, if so, what signs reflect such notions? And is it possible to think of an alternate future beyond the nation-state model?
As technology dictates our lives and access to resources and the ability to travel becomes easier, the identity of the global citizen has gradually started to replace that of the citizen of the nation.
In the semblance of empire, the United States has become the sole superpower in the world, its exportation of American ideals, culture, symbols and model of consumerism have started to create homogeneity in global patterns of being that go against the exclusivity of national identity.
A by-product of global capitalism, which the USA tries to regulate in its image, and the impact of the Internet and social media have meant that much of the world has started to subscribe to identities based on practices as consumers rather than loyal citizens of any given state. In that sense, the uniqueness of the US is that it is not merely a nation but an idea.
Supranational tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple have largely managed to manoeuvre outside the jurisdiction of any given nation-state. On a state level and a human level, globalisation has gradually eroded at the exclusive identities that each nation-state had fashioned. The Americanisation of the world has rendered a global community of individuals who lack any real individuality, instead of exhibiting a global sameness in expense to the national self.
With people losing trust in national politics and its institutions, be that the media, educational systems, and governments, it could be argued that the politics of a century ago are drowning in the rapid developments of the 21st Century.
The answer to these problems lies in:
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