Half the world strives for freedom, the other for bullets

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have come along

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
5 min read

At the annual Global Editors Network Summit in Barcelona this week, I was one of many delegates taken by surprise by the head of the Catalonian government welcoming us to the future state of Catalonia. He then went on to talk about the referendum on Nov. 9, which would determine whether the region secedes from Spain.

After the opening ceremony, it was the turn of other secessionists, this time Scottish journalists, to rave about their September referendum determining whether five million Scots would remain part of the United Kingdom.

In the UK, the Scots are not the only ones seeking independence. There are movements in Wales and Northern Ireland that want to go the same route.

Catalonia’s success in Spain might embolden the northern Basque region’s independence movement. Tens of thousands of Basque separatists recently formed a 123-kilometer human chain demanding the right to hold a vote on self-determination, which the Spanish government has rejected so far.

In many parts of the Arab world those seeking autonomy fire shots first and ask questions later

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

Even a small country such as Belgium is susceptible to division after last month’s elections were won by the New Flemish Alliance Party, which also wants more autonomy for various parts the country.

The European Union seems extraordinarily busy these days trying to deal with threats to its goal of uniting people of many nations, languages and religions. What would Europe look like if these independent movements succeed?

Many EU countries have taken issue with the Scottish independence movement, which wants to end the 307-year union with the UK. Some see the rising tide of nationalism as an imminent threat to the continent and echoes of the fascism that spawned Adolf Hitler and other megalomaniacs.

Gaining traction

Several right-wing movements opposing the European Union gained significant traction in the recent European parliamentary elections. Observers say the EU’s control over certain previously sovereign elements of nations has weakened the concept of the state, and led to more nationalistic tendencies. It is clear that many people have a deep desire to feel distinct from others.
Yugoslavia’s experience is a clear example of how nationalism can result in a country dividing into separate nations.

Independence can also be a way for a region to avoid excessive taxation. Le Figaro, the French newspaper, published a report suggesting that the government’s heavy new tax policy might lead to nationalistic revolutions. This is already happening in the eastern French provinces such as Brittany, which could see violent protests.

Ukraine now faces the danger of fragmentation. After the Russian annexation of Crimea, separatists in Donetsk want independence. Bloody confrontation is now likely with the Ukrainian government.

The Arab world is in no better shape. The failed states of Somalia and Libya are likely to be carved up. Sudan, once the largest country in the Arab world, lost its southern part. The civil war now continues under a different name. There are also calls for Yemen’s division, and Syria to have separate regions along religious lines.

And just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have come along and tried to remove the border between Iraq and Syria.

The difference, however, between the Arab world and the Europeans currently, is that competing forces are shedding blood for their causes. There are no referendums held where people lobby for their cause and have the freedom to choose.

Sectarian and religious prejudice endangers states. Once a great power, the Soviet Union collapsed because its unity was based on force and not serious convictions. Countries can only protect themselves by changing within. An army will only protect its people if soldiers have a sense of belonging. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s troops ran away from Mosul because they don’t trust their government.

Yes, the world appears to have gone crazy. On the one hand, there are people seeking independence who are living prosperous lives and enjoying full human rights, while in many parts of the Arab world those seeking autonomy fire shots first and ask questions later. When are we going to change?

This article was first published in Arab News on June 18, 2014.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending