Europe's Thirty Years War is a warning to the Arab world

  • 15 February 2016

Thinkers, burdened with the difficult reality and subsequent consequences of the rising sectarian, racial and religious tensions within our Arab region and the Middle East, need only to recall the tragedies and bloodshed of the Thirty Years War to understand that religious wars carry the most gravity.

They are often the longest and bloodiest of wars, because their roots stem from convictions, doctrines and sanctities. Whether these feuds among sects and religions are fuelled consciously or not, everyone loses. There is no victor in such wars in which thousands – or even millions – of people fall victim.

I am using this space to sound the alarm for those who play the greatest role in bringing an end to the implementation of the scheme that thrives on chaos and pits followers of creeds, religions and races against each other.

This is not a sounding of an alarm for the extremists and fundamentalists who ignite such wars, as they mean nothing to me. I do not care about these close-minded people who shut their minds to freedom of thought and who listen only to their own voices, merely because they think they monopolise the truth.

I am ringing this bell for the wise, for the intellectuals and for the religious institutions in the Arab and Islamic worlds, for it is they who are the most capable in bringing an end to the chaotic scheme that seeks to redraw the maps of the region with the blood of innocents.

The Thirty Years War, which broke out in Europe during the period between 1618 and 1648, tore the continent apart and earned a marker in history as a prominent event shaping modern Europe.

The series of conflicts that erupted between the followers of the Pope and the Catholic doctrine on the one hand, and the followers of Martin Luther, John Calvin and the reformist Protestant doctrine on the other, remained burning well after the Thirty Years War.

The war represented a significant turning point, laying the foundations of international relations – most particularly, as it ended in 1648 with what is known as the Peace of Westphalia, marking the beginning of the emergence of the nation state as approved by the principle of state sovereignty.

The wisdom of history tells us today that everyone loses in religious wars and in sectarian and religious conflicts. Our region needs to heed this logic, to accept all of our differences, and to embrace tolerance instead of hatred and animosity.

This is only possible through spreading enlightenment, equal partnership in citizenship, and for loyalty to one’s country to come before loyalty to religion, sect and creed.

The Thirty Years War is a wake-up call for the Arab and Muslim worlds. It warns against the violation of national sovereignty and the interference in the internal affairs of other states that is motivated by national pride or ideological blindness.

It additionally serves as a strong warning for Sunni and Shia alike against the threats of political Islam, and for those who seek to politicise religion and to religionise politics to win the spoils of power and deceive the simple minded.

Such groups that serve narrow and factional interests violate the sovereignty of nations by promoting projects that cross state borders, distorting national loyalty, and by monopolising so-called “religious truth”. They become embroiled in gruesome wars against diversity and differences.

The Thirty Years War is a lesson from history that illustrates that the rejection of the “other” and the “non-believer” serves as a road map for sustained misery and devastation, excluding no one.

Just like religious intolerance, sectarian narrow-mindedness and factional lobbying is a recipe for ruin, chaos and the division of people. The dissemination of such hatred tears the national fabric, lays waste to human, material and cultural resources and sets barriers among the people of a nation.

Do we then hold on to peaceful dialogue, embrace our homelands and listen to the wisdom of history in order move towards construction and development instead of destruction and underdevelopment – towards enlightenment and modernity instead of obscurantism, fanaticism and strife? That is the question. A wise person is he who learns from others and comprehends the lessons of history.

Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is the director general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research