Sectarianism, what?

If you’d have asked me 5 years ago what sectarianism is, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. I don’t think it really mattered to me and I don’t think it was so widely discussed. Yet now, you cannot escape the term and the consequences. Sectarianism has, in my eyes, never been so prominent or eminent – not just in the Middle East – but also in the West. And it ain’t pretty. We – as humanity – have built up this desire and necessity to occupy ‘our’ countries and be of only one predominant, majority race/ethnicity/religion.

Israel-Palestine is a perfect example of this desire for a sectarian divide. It’s deemed impossible (not just by Israelis, but by Palestinians too), that they can co-inhabit the same ‘country’/area of land because one group are Jewish and the others are Muslim and Christian. Then there’s Iraq. Iraqi Shia’s suffered intense abuse under the rule of Saddam Hussein yet Sunnis and Shia’s appeared to live peacefully together. Yet now, those days seem to be long gone. Moreover, Syria – you have the Alaawite Shias ruling over the Sunnis for years and years and now – boom, explosion and no one can get along. Iran too, oppressing Bahai and Sunnis alike. Saudi Arabia, oppressing Shia. Regional ‘friendships’ built on who is Sunni and who is Shia. Lebanon – Sunnis, Shias, Christians… all in a melting pot.

Africa – Sudan – Ethnic Arabs and Blacks slaughtering leading to the potential genocide in Darfur. Then there’s Rwanda in 1994 – the Tutsis and the Hutus where almost 1 million people were brutally murdered in less than 1 month. Theres the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar who are constantly killed and oppressed for their religion.

So can these different religions/ethnicities and races ever get along? Are the ‘quiet’ stable nations all simply waiting to explode into some kind of hatred or is this just a ‘phase’ where different individuals will have to eventually learn to get along with each other and all will be fine and dandy like in the West? But is the West even fine and dandy? I mean, we have the rise of nationalism, of fascism, racism, hate crimes. We want to leave the EU ‘make Britain British again’ (whatever that means). We’ve got Donald Trump who hates immigrants and refugees and wants to make ‘America great again’. WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!

It all boils down to one thing right now. Apparently, we all hate each other and can’t live together peacefully if we have different religions, cultures and skin colours. We feel the need to ‘dominate’ others, we have to have power and oppress people who could have power just because they’re different from us. We LOVE power too much and we’re happy to resort to the worst kind of violence to maintain that power. I mean REALLY? Is that the sort of world we live in? Where we can’t integrate, we can’t just respect each other and be kind? We can’t live peacefully and harmoniously because we can’t possibly have someone who’s slightly different having power and control.

There are so many states in this world that are oppressing people for being different. For the fear of them having power. There is a lack of knowledge, respect and understanding of different communities across the world which is causing conflict and severe sectarianism issues. The attack on Kurdish Iranian teenager Reker Ahmed in Croydon shows our inability to respect difference.

When the power of love is greater than the love of power, the world will know peace. 

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Forgotten states: Eritrea

Eritrea is finally hitting the agendas of mainstream journalists and the media despite the plight of Eritreans being an issue for over a decade. The African state is surely a prime example of western national interest. With the worst human rights record (arguably) in the world, lifetime military service and religious persecution (Sunni Islam & Orthodox Christianity make up the majority of the population and little else is accepted), it really shouldn’t have taken this long to hit the agendas. But here it is.

Eritrea first hit my radar about 3-4 years ago when I met a number of Eritrean teenagers through voluntary work I do in London with young refugees and asylum seekers. I knew absolutely nothing. I found myself questioning – why are they here? I felt naive. One only has to do their research to see how bad it is and since then, my empathy goes out to all Eritreans but also, praise. Their strength and intelligence never fails to amaze me. But first, lets go back to the beginning.

So Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after a long and bloody war. In the beginning, people were positive. Women had been given a role in fighting, the country had united despite ethnic and religious divisions and finally, the country could have its own democratic country and constitution. Well, not so fast. Isaias Afewerki wasn’t about to let that happen.

Isaias made it clear from the early stages that it was to be a one party state and everyone was going to obey him. Not only that, he took on a very defensive stance – that attack is the best form of defence. Isaias fell out with most of his neighbours – Yemen, Djibouti and most bitterly, Ethiopia. The Ethiopian anger remains – albeit Cold War style. Due to this need to defend himself, he introduced military service for both men and women from the age of 18. This military service has become indefinite. This alone is enough to make parents want to send their children away. Of course, thats not so easy either. I have heard first hand accounts of parents/young people being imprisoned for trying to escape without permission – many parents in prison and labelled as ‘human traffickers’ (smugglers) for wanting to send their children away. Eritrean borders are on the whole guarded with a ‘shoot to kill’ policy meaning if anyone is seen escaping over the borders thats it. Game over. If you do escape, it’s not all gravy then. African countries, just as with Palestinians in the Middle East, tend to make Eritreans stay in refugee camps where they live to rot away with nothing to do. This makes their best bet Europe.

The journey to Europe includes horror stories too with many dying along the way whether it be from dehydration, the horrors of smugglers or the dramas of Libya. Smugglers are renowned for violence, sexual exploitation and well, you name it, to get as much money and exploit desperate individuals as much as possible. Unfortunately I’ve heard accounts of this ending in young people’s siblings or friends dying. If you make it past that, theres Libya. Libya has faced its own turmoil since the overthrow of Qaddafi in 2011 meaning that those trying to reach Europe’s shores often have to face ISIS (many girls end up as sex slaves) and Libyan prisons. Again, I have heard of numerous occasions where individuals have been kept in Libyan prisons for a very long time – regardless of their age.

We all know how the European story goes – the boats sinking – but to Eritreans, it seems the risk is well worth it.

I can’t imagine the plight Eritrean individuals that I know have been through. The sheer repression of the largely unknown African state should not be kept quite any longer. The insane amount of human rights abuses and threat to life are beyond anything anyone in the western world can and should have to comprehend and they simply should not be allowed to happen any longer.