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The role of Islam, foreign intervention and defusing tension in the Middle East

Islam is a major religion in the world, a product in the transition from clan society to class society in the Middle East. It also underwent many years of struggles and wars to in North Africa, Central Asia and South Asia in its history and expansion. Islam became a spiritual and cultural foundation in many countries in the Islamic community and Arab world.

In the last decades, Islam contributed to the overthrow of feudal dynasties and the struggle for national independence. King Faruq of Egypt was forced to abdicate in 1952, Sahir Shah was overthrown in 1973 in Afghanistan, the dynasty of Pahlavi ended in Iran in 1979. Islam played an important role in the national liberation movement in 1950s and 1960s. After World War I, Ottoman empire collapsed and Iraq, Turkey, Arab Saudi, Egypt became independent states; after World War II, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, the Gulf countries, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania also attained national independence.

A matter of concern is that Islamic followers in the world have never been a united force. The history of Islam has witnessed many divisions and conflicts, especially between Shiite and Sunny, and shown different development trends. Most of countries having large Islamic populations choose a moderate approach to relations with other countries, including Western nations. However, there have been extreme Muslim organizations that strive to oppose all of Western values by all means and weapons, even by terrorism which has been condemned throughout the world including Muslim communities for killing civilians.

For recent years, there have been changes in the Middle East towards peace and cooperation instead of conflicts and threats of war. Great powers, especially Russia and USA, played an important role in these changes. However, certain conflicts cannot be solved instantly because deep-rooted disputes involved historical, racial and Islamic divisions. In some cases foreign intervention also adversely affected regional peace processes.    

After winning the general election, the Iran President Hassan Rohani took power in August 2013 and undertook initial steps to improve relations with the US and the West. In his first phone call to President Barack Obama in September 27, 2013, thirty-four years since the Islamic revolution in 1979, President Hassan Rohani proposed to remove deadlock involved the nuclear issue. In October 15, 2013 in Geneva, Iran, UN and IEAE returned for the negotiation about the nuclear program of Iran. This was the first negotiation between the new government of Iran and Group 5+1 (5 permanent members of the Security Council and Germany). It began to create trust amongst parties. Iran Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Javad Zarif presented a breakthrough proposal for “ending unnecessary crisis and opening new visions”. Thereby, Iran stated that they would implement a new nuclear policy for peace, cooperate closely with IAEA, allow international observers to inspect nuclear bases, and gradually reduce nuclear sensitive activities. All of parties regarded this negotiation as the most constructive and fruitful, and highly appreciated the Iran’s proposal. Even, head of US delegation, Mr. Wendy Sherman called on the Congress to suspend and ease sanctions against Iran.

Regarding Syria, US and the West agreed with Russia’s initiative to request Syria to destroy all chemical weapons and the US to renounce the plan of using military solution against Syria. Russia’s initiative defused a risk of war on the brink and prevented a disaster in Middle East. After 3 days of negotiation in Geneva, Russia, US and UN reached an important progress in solving the lingering civil war in Syria by convening an international peace conference in Syria or Second Geneva Conference in November 2013 in order to seek a political solution to the conflict. The Syria Government stated that they would be willing to work with the UN special envoy participating in Second Geneva Conference without any prior condition. In 2013, after becoming a member of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Syria submitted a list of chemical weapon programs and the overall plan for destroying these weapons, and allowed UN inspectors to monitor all of 11 places storing about 1,300 tons of chemical weapons in Syria. This move was highly appreciated by OPCW and UN whom stated that Syria comprehensively cooperated in the complete destruction of the chemical weapon. However, contrary to the effort of Syria government and international community, all of opposition parties, especially Syrian National Council - the biggest opposition organization of Syria abroad supported by  majorities of Arab and Western countries - tried to hinder the convening of Second Geneva Conference and fiercely oppose the government of President Bashar al- Assad.

After 3 years of deadlock, in late July 2013, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbass and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu met in Washington DC, USA to seek a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. Besides, it was the first time in 6 years Israel took a step towards easing blockade of Gaza by allowing construction materials brought into the area. Israel also built a pipeline to double the flow of water supply for Gaza from 5 million m3 to 10 million m3 per year. This was a positive sign that could open a new peace negotiation between Israel and Palestine. US President Barack Obama applauded the decision of coming back for negotiation and pledged to make efforts for the two 2 sides to reach a peace agreement. However, what happened were not as many people hoped for, as the two sides confronted other problems.

One of the major obstacles of peace progress was disunity between Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah controlling West Bank. This division was becoming serious due to the US and Israel’s attitude toward Hamas when they considered Hamas as the legal representative of the Palestinian government. But, the most important reason was that Israel has never given up the policy of “colonization” of Palestinian land. The Israeli conservatives did not recognize the right of repatriation of Palestinian refugees and never accepted land-related demand by the Palestinians, including the demand for location of the capital of future State of Palestine in East Jerusalem. Israel stated in July 2013 that “The idea of a Palestine State in Israel territory is unacceptable” and they considered that the most important things was to build and continue building settlement for Jewish.

In August 24, 2014, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel would extend the military campaign in Gaza until Tel Aviv achieves its military objectives, and that wherever Hamas launches its missiles would be targets of Israeli attacks. He said “Hamas must pay for their crime. Israel will not tolerate whoever attack Israel citizens”. This declaration was stated in a context of the international community making efforts to solve the conflict in this region. However, during 50 days of conflict, over 2,000 Palestinian people died, 10,500 people were injured; on the side of Israel, 65 soldiers and 5 citizens died.

Positive changes in the Middle East have opened a new hope for whoever want and stability in this region. However, this hope is very fragile due to the consequences of lingering conflicts, ‘Arab Spring’, and foreign intervention. More efforts of countries are needed for peace in the Middle East. Therein, some countries driven by national interests may support and recognize illegal governments, even provide money and weapons for opposition forces against legal government. Even several extreme Islamic organizations have used supplied weapons against countries that earlier provided them such weapons. Now, facing the complicated situation made by IS, governments of countries need to have objective approaches in order to make use of positive elements in the Islamic and Arab world, and cooperate in seeking peaceful solutions. Countries trying to take advantage the conflict for national interests may get the consequence of “making a rod for one’s own back” and make the situation more complicated./.

Dang Tai Tinh

The role of Islam, foreign intervention and defusing tension in the Middle EastIn the last decades, Islam contributed to the overthrow of feudal dynasties and the struggle for national independence. King Faruq of Egypt was forced to abdicate in 1952, Sahir Shah was overthrown in 1973 in Afghanistan, the dynasty of Pahlavi ended in Iran
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