the Arabization, Islamization, & Turkification of West Asia & North Africa
Following the advent of Islam in the seventh century, Mohammed and his followers engaged in a series of territorial conquests, beginning with the conquest of the entirety of the Arabian Peninsula, which had, up until then, not been a unified entity but rather, had been divided by a loose confederation of Arabian tribes, as well as a number of separate kingdoms. Following Mohammed’s death, the Arab Caliphates (empires) conquered the entirety of the Levant, Mesopotamia, Persia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and more.
Contrary to popular belief, the Arab armies faced fierce resistance from many of the Indigenous Peoples of these regions. Ultimately, however, the Arab Caliphates successfully Arabized and Islamized nearly the entire population of West Asia and North Africa, and, as such, the stories of Indigenous resistance have long been lost to history. That said, many Indigenous minorities in West Asia and North Africa have managed to preserve their identities in the face of this colonialism, imperialism, cultural imperialism, oppressive policies, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide.
Arabization refers to the process of growing Arab influence on non-Arab populations, ultimately resulting in the assimilation into Arab language and culture of non-Arab Indigenous populations. This Arabization happened both gradually and by force; for instance, in the eleventh century, the Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah kicked all Jews who refused to convert to Islam out of Palestine. Up until the Arab conquests, Jews had formed the majority of the population in Palestine/the Land of Israel. A recent example of Arabization policies can be found in Algeria: after the French were kicked out of Algeria in 1963, Tamazight, the language Indigenous to Algeria, was outlawed in favor of Arabic.
As a Latina Jewish woman, I see heavy parallels between Latinidad and Arabization/pan-Arabism. Just as Latinidad homogenizes an incredibly large and diverse region of the world (i.e. Latin America) in favor of Spanish (i.e. colonial) culture, thus erasing the specific identities and struggles of Indigenous and other marginalized groups, pan-Arabism homogenizes an incredibly large region of the world (i.e. West Asia and North Africa) in favor of Arab (i.e. colonial) culture, thus erasing the specific identities and struggles of Indigenous ethnoreligious and ethnolinguistic minorities.
Islamization is the process in which non-Muslim societies adopted Islam, either through conquest (most common), proselytization, and coercion. For example, after the Arab Islamic armies conquered North Africa in the eighth century, Imazighen (ethnolinguistic group Indigenous to North Africa) were enslaved, relegated to second-class citizenship (if that), and taxed so heavily that eventually most were coerced into converting to Islam. Though related, Arabization and Islamization are not the same. For example, many groups were Arabized but continued practicing other religions such as Christianity. Additionally, many Islamized Indigenous Peoples continued practicing their ancestral spiritual beliefs through Islamic syncretism (e.g. as is the case for many Imazighen and Kurds, for instance).
Turkification is the process during which Indigenous Populations assimilated (generally by force) into Turkic culture following the Turkic conquest of what is now Turkey in the twelfth century. With the conquests of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922), Indigenous populations, such as Armenians, Pontic and Cappadocian Greeks, Assyrians, Cypriots, Kurds, and more were subjected to violent policies of assimilation, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide (e.g. the Armenian and Greek genocides). To this day, Turkey continues, either directly or via proxy conflicts, to target these Indigenous populations.
Pan-Arabism is a political ideology that advocates for the unification of countries in North Africa and Southwest Asia (the Middle East) in an effort to reunify what was once the Arab Empire. Pan-Arabism is closely tied to the beginnings of Arab nationalism.
The rise of modern Arab nationalism can be dated to 1911, when Arab intellectuals from across the Levant (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and parts of Turkey) met to form an Arab nationalist club with the stated goal of “raising the level of the Arab nation to the level of modern nations.” In 1913, they met for the Arab Congress, where they asserted a growing desire for independence from Ottoman rule. During World War I, Great Britain sponsored Arab nationalism as a means to weaken the Ottoman Empire, so much so that the pan-Arabist flag, which represents the various stages of Arab imperialism, was designed by none other than Mark Sykes, most known for negotiating the Sykes-Picot Agreement (a secret plan between Great Britain and France to carve up the Middle East for themselves). To this day, most Arab national flags, including the Palestinian flag, derive from the pan-Arabist flag.
As stated in the previous slide, the pan-Arab flag was designed by Mark Sykes and was the flag that Arab nationalists used in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire (1916-1918). Black represents the Rashidun and Abbasid Caliphates (Arab Empires), white represents the Umayyad and Fatimid Caliphates, green represents Islam, and red represents the Hashemite dynasty (which at various points in history ruled over the Hejaz [Arabian Peninsula], Syria, and Iraq, and currently rules over Jordan). Nearly every Arab-majority country uses a variation of the pan-Arab flag.
In the following slides, you’ll see a list of flags and symbols representing many (but not all!) nationalist movements/nations of long-persecuted Indigenous minorities. Because of Arabization and Islamization, the once incredibly diverse region has been almost fully homogenized as “Arab” (or Turkish, in some cases).
Countries with flags based off the pan-Arabist flag: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Antisemitism is deeply ingrained and systemic in West Asia and North Africa, so much so that 74% of the population of the region holds predominantly antisemitic attitudes. As such, most of the region, whether Arab/Arabized or not, subscribes to antisemitic tropes and falsehoods about the Jewish People. It’s common for Indigenous independence movements to be smeared with “anti-Zionist” propaganda. For example, the Kabylia independence movement has been accused of being a Zionist plot. Likewise, the same accusation has been thrown at Kurds. The Iranian regime also recently accused “Zionists” for supposedly instigating the current protests against the Islamic Republic.
IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL
The Arab Empire (also known as “Caliphate”) conquered the region of the Levant (modern-day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and parts of Turkey) in the seventh century, some 1,600+ years after the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel. Prior to the Arab conquest, the Land of Israel (renamed Palestine by the Romans around the year 136) had been occupied by the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Sassanid Empire (i.e. Persians), the Greeks and Macedonians, the Roman Empire, and the Byzantine Empire.
The first city in Palestine to surrender to the Arab army was the ancient Israelite city of Beit She’an, followed by Tiberias. One by one, the cities fell to the Arab army. In November 636, the Arab army conquered Jerusalem, though a siege continued for four months, until the Byzantines finally capitulated in 637.
Beginning in 688, the Arabs constructed the Dome of the Rock and later the al-Aqsa Mosque atop the ruins of the destroyed sacred Jewish Temple. It was customary for conquering armies — including the Arab armies — to build religious monuments on top of the ruins of the sacred sites of those they conquered.
Through their conquests, the Arabs established (literal) colonies in various regions, including the Levant. According to Indigenous eyewitness accounts (e.g. Jews and Samaritans in the Levant, Copts in Egypt, Zoroastrians in Mesopotamia), the rapid conquest and colonization of these regions was devastating to the local territories and populations. Early Arab Caliphate leaders encouraged Arabian tribes to emigrate from Arabia and settle in the newly-established colonies for economic purposes (such as to utilize — in other words, exploit — the natural resources). By the ninth century, as a result of forced conversions, coercion, proselytization, and Arab migration, Islam became the majority religion in Palestine, and Arabic had replaced the previously-used languages as the lingua Franca. Also in the 9th century, the Arabs renamed Jerusalem “Al-Quds,” replacing the ancient Hebrew name for the city.
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