Identity and the Problem of the Middle East

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The problems of the Middle East are expressions of conflict of identities.  In general, identities of individuals in all societies of the Middle East are based on (and stop at) a reference related to a specific religious or ethnic beliefs - and this leads to the situation that ethnicity and religion are more importnat than humanity.  

Although many people deny it, the truth is that the essence of social relationships in the Middle East is based on discrimination.

Identity in the Middle East - as a concept - regards the specific reference (of religion or ethnicity) as the highest or the ultimate - and this carries the seeds of conflicts with other systems of identification, which equally claim their reference to be the highest and the ultimate.

The General and the Specific

Clarity between the two categories of the "general" and the "specific" - is essential for understanding identity.  The set of all people, or humanity {H} is the general, and any of the subsets of religious or racial categories {Rx} represents the specific element within it.

From an objective perspective (a perspective based on purely intellectual consideration), it is an obvious lack of logic and understanding to regard the specific as a replacement for the general.  


This is not just a theoretical view.  In terms of the principle of Cause and Effect, correct thinking would lead to desirable results, while mistaken thinking would lead to conflicts, and to disasters.  

A cause emerging from a mind which ignores or refuses to discern between the categories of the general and specific, is a cause based on ignorance, and ignorance definitely leads to the effect of disasters.  


Ignorance leading to disasters

The dominating view in Nazi Germany or that of Imperial Japan during the II W W - was an obvious expression of failure of the mind of their ruling authorities to distinguish between the position of the specific (being the particular race) and the general (the set of humanity), mistakenly regarding specific race in a position of being s superior to the general, the set of humanity.


The effect of a mistaken perspective of the mind (or the effect of a conflicting way of thinking) cannot lead to harmonious or tension-free results (when put to application in reality).  

This was the observation of a 13 century Mahayana Buddhist reformer, Nichiren,

as he was clarifying that the cause of people's sufferings starts from ignorance, or from inner illusions about the "identity of the self":


    "If you confuse the general with the specific even in the slightest, you will never be able to attain     

      [Enlightenment], and will wander in sufferings". (*)  


When a specific group disregards its own origin, Humanity, which is shared with other groups, then this specific group leads its individuals to act driven by a confused mind.  Reality of life becomes a display of  clashes of confused people, about who they really are: human beings or religion-defined.


What comes first: Humanity or Religion?

In a globalised world, the question of "What comes first, Humanity or Religion?" has an important meaning for all societies.  It is a question, which answer is dividing the world.

In essence, self identity is based on beliefs and convictions. The quality of people's behaviour is derived from the capacity of their reference of belonging.  An exaggerated sense of belonging to a specific category, will reflect itself in reality in form of conflict, as philosopher Daisaku Ikeda observes:

     "When people are excessively attached to a narrow sense of identity,

      cultural differences can become a source of friction or even conflict"  (**)

This observation suggests that if the nature of the accepted reference for self-identity is narrowminded or exclusive, then problems will inevitably arise.  But it also means that if the accepted reference for self identity features a wider capacity and flexibility - then this would be the most stable and consistent reference of individual's and social's identity.

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Author: Darshams


Reference:

(*)  The Essential of Attaining Buddhahood, The Writing of Nichiren Daishonin, p. 746, Published by The Soka Gakkai, 1999

(**)  Interview with Daisaku Ikeda, Ezmin magazine http://www.daisakuikeda.org/sub/resources/interview/interview2/2003emzin.html

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