by Jonathan Rubra
On the 10th of February, Professor Asher Susser of the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, delivered a talk on ‘The rise and fall of the Arab State: ramifications for Israel and the region’. The event was chaired by Louise Ellman MP and hosted by The Henry Jackson Society in the Houses of Parliament.
Professor Susser opened his talk with a clarification of our understanding of the ‘Middle East’, explaining that even the term itself stems from a Western-centric perspective on the region. Continuing with a brief history of the region, he went on to explain that this relates to the region’s history with nationalism; a concept that is heavily responsible for the unity and disunity in the area.
Explaining that language and geographical borders are just one means of dividing the area, Professor Susser discussed the idea that the Arabic world may be more or less unified if religious beliefs were the main form of identity in the area. On this note, he established that even if Islam were the identifying factor in dividing the region, this in itself would be far from ensuring peaceful progress.
Based on the history of the region, Professor Susser discussed the divide between Sunni and Shia as evidence of the disruption of Islam, as well as highlighting the groups such as ISIS that have developed in the region as a result of this divide. For example, the elements such as Sharia that many Sunni groups believe are essential to Islamic culture are not necessarily reflected by Shia groups who uphold a belief in Jurisprudence. It is also worth noting that even this divide is not absolute as there are often divisions even within these branches. In fact, the very notion of political Islam is divisive.
Concluding his talk, Professor Susser discussed how the breakdown of Arab and Islamic unity has impacted Israel. While this in itself is such a vast subject, he emphasised that the lack of stability in the Middle East undoubtedly negatively impacts Israel from a perspective of security; however, one should also be aware that the tensions between Arabic states in the area can also be linked to the development of Israel as the most militarily stable country in the region.