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Conflicts in the Middle and Far East involving religious intolerance

Kurdistan, Kashmir, Myanmar, & Gaza

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Overview:

There are a number of, long-term conflicts in the Middle East, India, and in Myanmar (formerly called Burma). All have are at least partly caused -- and continue to be fueled by -- religious intolerance:

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Kurdistan:

This is a country that does not appear on world maps. It is the homeland of the Kurds. They are a fiercely independent Muslim ethnic group with a population of about 15 to 20 million. They occupy a mountainous territory in parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran, along with a tiny part of Syria and a miniscule part of Armenia. About 98% of Kurds in Iraq follow the Sunni sect of Islam; 2% are Shi'íte. In Iran, approximately equal numbers of Kurds are Sunni or Shiíte. 14

The territory shown in yellow is predominately Kurdish:

Kurdish population concentration

Early in the 20th Century, the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East was collapsing. The Treaty of Sevres in 1920 created the modern states of Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait. The treaty made provision to create a separate Kurdish state at some time in the future, but that never materialized. Kurds in Iraq attempted to carve out a semi-independent state from the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. The Kingdom of Kurdistan lasted less than two years, from 1922-SEP to 1924-JUL. 13

Currently, none of these five countries appear willing to grant the Kurds their own homeland.

  • Iraq is now governed by a Shi'íte dominated government and actively discriminates against the Kurds, partly because of their adherence to the Sunni sect of Islam. However, there is some movement in Iraq to at least give the Kurds a degree of autonomy. Kurds and the rest of Iraq face a common foe, in ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- an extreme terrorist Sunni group who are creating a small-scale genocide.

  • Turkey's leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 repudiated the Treaty of Sevres and its promise of an independent Kurdistan. Kurdish uprisings were suppressed during the 1920s and 1930s. Turkey has refused to recognize the Kurds as a minority cultural group. The Kurdistan Workers' Party, (a.k.a. PKK), has been fighting a long-term guerrilla action in southeastern Turkey seeking independence. 14,15

There is no real provision in international law by which a religious or cultural group can obtain autonomy or independence. If there were, then the Kurds would almost certainly vote to create a new country of Kurdistan and live in peace.

There is a significant religious component to this conflict. Even though the vast majority of Kurds, Turks, Iraqis and Iranians are Muslims, they come from two traditions within Islam: Shiite and Sunni:

  • The current central government in Iraq is dominated by Shi'ítes and the predominately Sunni Kurds are discriminated against.

  • The government of Turkey is secular an the Kurds have a strong Muslim faith.

  • The government of Iran is dominated by Shi'ítes, and that portion of Kurdistan that is in Iran is half Sunni.

The prospects for peace and a united, independent Kurdistan appear remote.

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Kashmir:

This is an area between Pakistan and India, and has been claimed by both, even before the two countries achieved independence from Britain in 1947. Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim; India is mainly Hindu. Two wars have been fought over this land: one in 1947-8 and one in 1965. Three UN resolutions have called for a plebiscite to decide whether Kashmir should join India or Pakistan. Although a vote was originally agreed to by both countries, India reneged on the arrangement when it became obvious that they would lose.

Kashmir is currently divided by a line of control (LoC) into a southeastern region controlled by India and a northwest area under the rule of Pakistan. If tensions develop into a war, there may well be massive loss of life, as both countries have densely populated urban areas and each now has a few dozen nuclear bombs with crude delivery mechanisms.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reports:

"... the Line of Control (LoC) ... divides Kashmir on an almost two-to-one basis:

  • Indian-administered Kashmir to the east and south (population about nine million), known by India as Jammu and Kashmir state; and

  • Pakistani-administered Kashmir to the north and west (population about three million), which is labeled by Pakistan as "Azad" (Free) Kashmir.

Also, China also controls a third, small portion of Kashmir. 16

A new complexity has emerged recently: there is a substantial interest by the people of Kashmir to form a country independent from China, India, and Pakistan. Again, there is no obvious mechanism to resolve this problem in the near future.

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Myanmar:

This country, often referred to by its earlier name, Burma, is located to the East of India and is west of Indonesia. Until recently it was a dictatorship ruled by an oppressive military junta. President Thein Sein has been widely praised for recently introducing major democratic reforms in the country. It remains one of the most ethnically divided countries in Asia.

In Rakhine State in the western part of Myanmar, violence broke out during mid-2012 between the ethnic Rakhine, who are primarily Buddhist, and the Rohingya who are primarily Muslim. The United Nations considers the Rohingya to be one of the most persecuted minorities on Earth.

In late 2012-OCT, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:

"The vigilante attacks, targeted threats and extremist rhetoric must be stopped. If this is not done ... the reform and opening up process being currently pursued by the government is likely to be jeopardized."

The estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in the country are stateless. The Myanmar government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh; they are denied citizenship.

Since the violence began, hundreds have died, and many tens of thousands of Rohingyas have fled their homes and taken up residents in camps. The Free Rohingya Campaign (FRC) reported on 2012-OCT-28 that:

"... 50-100 boats full of Muslims escaping mid-Rakhine State violence remain afloat at sea, some for 4 days and with women and infant passengers that have already died. These boats have been denied awaiting UN and INGO relief and refuge and pushed out to sea by national military and border security, despite President Thein Sein’s assurances otherwise. Other Muslim boats have been attacked with no reported survivors when attempting to come ashore in near Taung bro, Northern Maungdaw Township." 5

We are unable to verify the accuracy of this statement.

In recent years, conflicts and violence in Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma) has been escalating between Buddhists and Muslims. This is a surprising development to many observers, because Buddhism has long been considered a peaceful religion that is strongly opposed to violence.

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The Gaza Strip: This is a small, densely occupied strip of land on the east shore of the Mediterranian Sea.

In 1948, the United Nations created the state of Israel. 1 Surrounding Arab countries were furious, as were the Muslim inhabitants of what is now Israel. Fighting broke out, and some 750,000 Palestinians either fled or were forced from their homes by the ongoing hostilities. Some left before war had even been officially declared.

Governments of the surrounding countries, and the rest of the world were unwilling to take in the resultant flood of refugees. They were forced to occupy what have become long-term camps. Two major wars later, Israel had expanded its borders to include Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank). This incorporates much of the ancient country of Canaan, which religious Jews believe that God gave to them. Meanwhile, a large percentage of Muslims believe that Allah intends the entire Middle East to be Muslim. Thus began a decades-long presence in Palestinian lands by the Israeli army. The Palestinians called it an occupation; the Israelis call it a disputed territory and occasionally occupied lands. Although a trading of land for peace has worked successfully in other parts of the world -- notably Egypt -- it has proven to be an elusive goal between the Palestinians and Israelis. 

The Palestine National Authority is a quasi-governmental agency in the West Bank 2 They planned Infitada II, a popular uprising, to start in the fall of 2000. A visit by Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was considered a provocative act by the Palestinians and used to trigger their uprising. Infitada II was often portrayed in the media as a two-sided conflict between Palestinians and Israelis; between Muslims and Jews. That may be overly simplistic. On the Palestinian side, there are many groups, each with a different agenda. Their goals range from exterminating every Jew in Israel, to coexisting with Israel. On the Israeli side, there are at least three politically powerful groups: the settlers who are illegally living in Palestinian land according to international law, small religious political parties which have traditionally held the balance of power in the government, and secular Israelis who are in the majority. With so many groups with different goals involved in the conflict, resolution has proven impossible.

Hamas is the elected government in the Gaza Strip. They have been locked in a sequence of events that result in regular conflicts with Israel, causing major loss of life in Gaza:

  • Hamas regularly launches rockets into Israeli villages. In 2014-JUL, they managed to land a rocket near the Ben-Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv. This temporarily suspended flights into and out of the airport.

  • Israel, repeating its belief that no country in the world can allow its citizens to be subjected to continuing rocket attacks, reaches its limit of tolerance and attacks Gaza.

  • Unfortunately, Hamas has a policy of hiding its rockets in mosques, schools, apartment buildings, etc, They use their citizens to protect its weapons. Both rockets and people are destroyed in large numbers.

  • A ceasefire is arranged, ending the conflict.

  • The sequence repeats.

In 2014, polls in Gaza indicate a high level of dissatisfaction by the people of Gaza with Hamas. This may eventually cause Hamas to abandon its charter which:

. "... calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea." 17

Alternately, public opinion against Hamas might eventually result in the Palestinian Authority being elected as the government of Gaza.

Both Palestinians and Israelis have been accused by various groups -- including the UN, of crimes against humanity.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Israeli Government's official web site, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is at: http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/home.asp
  2. The Palestinian National Authority has an official web site at: http://www.pna.gov.ps/
  3. "Over 100 died as communal violence rocks Myanmar," Bangkok Post, 2012-OCT-26, at: http://www.bangkokpost.com/
  4. Hanna Hindstrom, "Monk group calls on locals to target ‘Rohingya sympathisers’," Democrativ Voice of Burma, 2012-OCT-26, at: http://www.dvb.no/
  5. "Press Release," Free Rohingya Campaign, 2012-OCT-28, at: http://www.rohingyablogger.com/
  6. James Kitfield, "Joe Biden Was Right About Dividing Iraq," Defense One, 2014-JAN-31, at: http://www.defenseone.com/
  7. Hamza Hendawi, "Iraq's Shiite-Sunni Divide Growing, Huffington Post, 2012-APR-03, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  8. "Al-Sham" is an Arabic term referring to the Levant region of the Middle East.
  9. Raya Jalabi, "Who are the Yazidis and why is Isis hunting them?," The Guardian, 2014-AUG-11, at: http://www.theguardian.com/
  10. "Religion in Iraq," Wikipedia, as on 2014-AUG-27, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  11. "Roman Catholicism in Iraq," Wikipedia, as on 2013-NOV-23, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  12. "US Muslims condemn 'anti-Islamic'' ISIL," On Islam, 2014-SEP-03, at: http://www.onislam.net/
  13. "Kingdom of Kurdistan,"Wikipedia, as on: 2014-AUG-29, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  14. "Who are the Iraqi Kurds?," Pew Research, 2014-AUG-20, at: http://www.pewresearch.org/
  15. Who are the Kurds," Washington Post, 1999-FEB, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  16. Ä&A: Kashmir dispute,"British Broadcasting Corporation, 2012-AUG-07, at: http://www.bbc.com/
  17. Eli E. Hertz, "Hamas Charter, "Myths and Facts," 2011, at: http://www.mythsandfacts.org/

Site navigation: Home page > Religious violence > Worldwide > here

Newsroom report copyright © 2000 by Worldwide Newsroom, Inc. Used by permission.
Other text copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2000-OCT-12
Latest update: 2014-SEP-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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