Friday, 27 June 2014

To the Western Powers: Stop Imposing Colonialist Borders

As the crisis in Iraq worsens, the U.S. continues to insist that the country remain united.  But why?  As I said in a previous blog post, Iraq: A Country Never Meant to be Falls Apart, Iraq is an artificial creation drawn up by former European colonial powers without any concern for the wishes of the different sects and ethnic groups living in it.  So why, then, is the U.S. trying so hard to keep this failed state together?  The simple answer: the Americans fear the idea of self-determination.  And they're not the only ones.  To this day, the European powers have gone to great strides to control current borders, both in Europe itself and abroad.  Essentially, the West never abandoned their colonialist desire to determine the borders of other countries so long as it suits them.

The Middle East: A Land of Broken Promises

After the First World War, it seemed as if the victorious Western powers finally wised up and realized that nation-states created by means of conquest rather than consent should not exist.  Hence, they dismantled the Hapsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire and allowed its various peoples the right to self-determination.  The end result was the emergence of some of the modern European states that still exist today, such as the republics of Austria and Hungary.  The victors of WWI initially promised the peoples of the Middle East that they too would be given the right to form their own nation-states.  Indeed, even before the war ended, the leaders of the Arab revolt in the Ottoman Empire had reached an understanding with the British that would have seen the Arabs achieve independence.  The British also promised the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine, hence the Balfour Declaration in 1917.  As we know, however, the Western powers did not keep their word.

In fact, at around the same time that they were promising the peoples of the Middle East the right to self-determination, the British and French governments were secretly dividing the region amongst themselves.  Thus emerged the ultimate betrayal of the Middle Eastern peoples: the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, which eventually led to the division of much of the region into British and French territories.  These territories were later granted independence, but the artificial boundaries that the British and French created remained, leaving peoples divided and creating new conflicts amongst different sects and ethnic groups that were forced together by the new borders.  The British also attempted to break the promise they made to the Jewish Zionist movement when they decided to appease the leaders of the Arab world.  In lieu of World War II, the British needed the oil that only the Arabs could provide, hence they curtailed Jewish immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine and reneged on the Balfour Declaration.  It was only after WWII, when the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, did the British decide to give up on their mandate in Palestine, turning the issue of Jewish independence over to the new United Nations, which eventually voted to partition Palestine and grant the Jewish people an independent state therein.

The Western Fear of Self-Determination

One hundred years after the Western powers carved up the Middle East, they are still trying to maintain the artificial borders that they created, hence the Americans' desperate attempt to keep Iraq together.  The Kurdish people, who never asked to be absorbed into Iraq or any other bordering country, have the legitimate right to an independent state of their own.  Even the leaders of Israel, America's most important ally in the Middle East, have tried to convince the Obama Administration that they should accept Kurdish independence (see: Israel Tells U.S. Independent Iraqi Kurdistan is 'Forgone Conclusion').  So why won't the Americans budge?  Well, for the same reason that France wants to keep the countries in its former colonial territory together.


It wasn't too long ago that the French intervened in the west African state of Mali to push Islamist terrorists out of the country's north.  After more secular Tuareg rebels seized northern Mali and proclaimed independence, the Islamists overwhelmed them and took over.  The French pushed them out, but instead of doing the right thing and supporting the Tuaregs' right to independence, they instead began assisting the Malian government to reclaim the north without any concern as to whether or not the Tuareg people wanted to remain part of Mali.  Just as the territory of the Kurdish people is divided by the borders of several countries, so to is the territory of the Tuareg.  The reality is that the Tuaregs did not and still do not want to be part of Mali or any other country drawn up by French colonists.  They want and deserve a country of their own on all of their territory.  But of course, neither the French, nor any other Western power want this to happen, just as they don't want it to happen in Kurdistan.  Why?  Because if the West allows the Kurds or the Tuaregs to be independent, it would have to give peoples still under their control the same right.

First Kurdistan, Then...

The fact is that the Western powers are loathe to see any new states emerge from their former colonial territories, or anywhere for that matter, unless they can control what happens.  Hence, it is very difficult for any people who desire a country of their own to actually achieve it.  Say, for example, that France were to support an independent Kurdistan or a separate Tuareg state.  Clearly, if they allowed either of these peoples the right to self-determination, they must also accord the same right to, say, the people of Brittany, Corsica or Alsace - all of which are now regions of France.  Similarly, if the British government were to support Kurdish or Tuareg independence, they should have to support the aspirations of sovereigntists in Scotland and Wales, right?  And how about the U.S.?  If the Americans suddenly changed their tune and opted to support the aspirations of the Kurds and Tuaregs, then clearly they would have to acquiesce to the demands of Native Americans for a return of the lands that the U.S. stole from them.  Yes, the fact is that the countries of the West will eventually have to comply with the demands of some of the peoples within their own borders for self-determination, but if they are truly democracies, then they should have no problem doing so.

Self-Determination: Resistance is Futile

The reality is that the West cannot stem the tide of self-determination.  They can only slow it down, and by doing so they harm countless lives.  There would be a lot less bloodshed if the West just allowed independence-seeking peoples, like the Kurds of Iraq or the Tuaregs of Mali, to go their own ways.  How many people have to die before the West gives up its desire to control the borders of the rest of the world?     


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