[DEBATE] : How Easy to put Hatred on a Map-Fisk
Salim.Vally at wits.ac.za
Wed Mar 14 08:28:46 GMT 2007
How easy it is to put hatred on a map
By Robert Fisk
Our guilt in this sectarian game is obvious. We want to divide our
potential enemies - Published The Independent (UK) -
Why are we trying to divide up the peoples of the Middle East? Why are
we trying to chop them up, make them different, remind them -
constantly, insidiously, viciously, cruelly - of their divisions, of
their suspicions, of their capacity for mutual hatred? Is this just our
casual racism? Or is there something darker in our Western souls?
Take the maps. Am I the only one sickened by our journalistic propensity
to publish sectarian maps of the Middle East? You know what I mean. We
are now all familiar with the colour-coded map of Iraq. Shias at the
bottom (of course), Sunnis in their middle "triangle" - actually, it's
more like an octagon (even a pentagon) - and the Kurds in the north.
Or the map of Lebanon, where I live. Shias at the bottom (of course),
Druze further north, Sunnis in Sidon and on the coastal strip south of
Beirut, Shias in the southern suburbs of the capital, Sunnis and
Christians in the city, Christian Maronites further north, Sunnis in
Tripoli, more Shias to the east. How we love these maps. Hatred made
Of course, it's not that simple. I live in a small Druze enclave in the
west of Beirut. But my local grocer and my driver are Sunnis. I suppose
they have no business to be in the wrong bit of our map. So do I tell my
driver Abed that our map shows he can no longer park outside my home? Or
that the Muslim publisher of the Arabic edition of my book The Great War
for Civilisation can no longer meet me at our favourite rendezvous,
Paul's restaurant in east Beirut, for lunch because our map shows this
to be a Maronite Christian area of Beirut?
In Tarek al-Jdeidi (Sunni), some Shia families have moved out of their
homes - temporarily, you understand, a brief holiday, keys left with the
neighbours, it's always that way - which means that our Beirut maps are
now cleaner, easier to understand. The same is happening on a far larger
scale in Baghdad. Now our colour-coding can be bolder. No more use for
that confusing word "mixed".
We did the same in the Balkans. The Drina Valley of Bosnia was Muslim
until the Serbs "cleansed" it. Srebrenica? Delete "safe area" and logo
it "Serb". Krajina? Serb until the Croats took it. Did we call them
"Croats"? Or "Catholics"? Or both on our maps?
Our guilt in this sectarian game is obvious. We want to divide the
"other", "them", our potential enemies, from each other, while we - we
civilised Westerners with our refined, unified, multicultural values -
are unassailable. I could draw you a sectarian map of Birmingham, for
example - marked "Muslim" and "non-Muslim" (there not being many
Christians left in England - but no newspaper would print it. I could
draw an extremely accurate ethnic map of Washington, complete with
front-line streets between "black" and "white" communities but The
Washington Post would never publish such a map.
Imagine the Coloured fun The New York Times could have with Brooklyn,
Harlem, the East River, black, white, brown, Italian, Catholic, Jew,
Wasp. Or the Toronto Globe and Mail with French and non-French Canadian
Montreal (the front line at one point follows the city Metro) or with
Toronto (where "Little Italy" is now Ukrainian or Greek), and colour the
suburb of Mississauga green for Muslim, of course. But we don't draw
these Hitlerian maps for our societies. It would be unforgivable, bad
taste, something "we" don't do in our precious, carefully guarded
Passing a book stall in New York this week, I spotted the iniquitous
Time magazine and there on the cover - and this might truly have been a
1930s Nazi cover - were two cowled men, one in black, the other largely
hidden by a chequered scarf. "Sunnis vs Shi'ites," the headline read.
"Why they hate each other." This, naturally, was a "take-out" on Iraq's
civil war - a civil war by the way, that America's spokesmen in Baghdad
were talking about in August 2003 when not a single Iraqi in his worst
nightmares dreamt of what has now come to pass.
Buy Time magazine, dear reader, turn to page 30, and what will you find?
"How to Tell Sunnis and Shi'ites Apart." Helpful, uh? And after this,
are columns of useful, divisive information. "Names," for example. "Some
names carry sectarian markers... Abu Bakr, Omar and Uthman... men with
these names are almost certainly Sunni. Those called Abdel-Hussein and
Abdel-Zahra," (I have never in met an "Abdel-Zahra" by the way) "are
most likely Shi'ite." Then there are columns headed "Prayer", "Mosques",
"Homes", "Accents" and "Dialects", even - heaven spare us - "cars". The
last, for those readers not already reeling in disbelief, tells us which
car stickers to look out for (spot a picture of Imam Ali and you know
the driver is Shia) or which license plate (Anbar province
registrations, for instance) means a probable Sunni driver.
Thanks again. I don't know why the American military doesn't just buy up
this week's edition of Time and drop the lot over Baghdad to help any
still ignorant local murderers with easy-to-identify targets. But will
Time be helping us to identify America's deeply divided society (who has
most rubbish in their gardens in Washington, which bumper stickers to
look for in Dearborn, Michigan)? Will they hell.
I, too, am guilty of playing these little sectarian games in the Middle
East. I ask a Lebanese where he or she comes from, not to remember the
mountains or rivers near their home but to code them into my map. But I
easily come unstuck. The man who tells me he comes from the Lebanese
south (Shia) turns out to live in the southern Druze town of Hasbaya.
The woman who tells me she's from Jbeil (Christian) turns out to be from
the town's Shia minority. Oh, if only these pesky minorities would go
and live in the right bit of our imperial, sectarian maps.
And we go on talking to our Sunni monarchs in the Middle East - we
listen to their raving about the "Shia crescent" - no wonder we hate
Shia Iran so much. And we go on dividing and scissoring up the lands,
and printing more and more of our racial maps and I do wonder most
seriously if we wish to promote civil war across this part of the world,
and you know what? I rather think we do.
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