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The only force that has ever challenged the primacy of Islam in the Middle East is that of race and biological nationalism. All other imported ideologies – from liberalism to Marxism – have eventually been demolished by the fear of hellfire and the promise of Elysium. Racial nationalism is an exception to this rule because it connects with a memory only half-eliminated from the Near-Eastern mind; that of ancient heterogeneity and genetic distance.

It has been well observed that Islam tends to distort racial distinctions; that – despite the imagined brotherhood of belief – an Uygur has no more in kind with a Yemenite than a Turk has with a Russian; that Pakistanis have more in kind with Hindu Indians than Muslim Afghans; that the peoples gathered under the term ‘Arab’ derive from separate ancient communities each of which once had a civilisation of its own; that the ancestors of the Iranians authored a religious system from which Islam borrowed many of its concepts, but which they are now compelled to regard as ‘heresy’. Every part of the Middle East had a history prior to Islam and the memory of this history has never been conclusively eliminated by it.

The unspoken contest between race and Islam can be widely observed today. For example, ask a Muslim member of the Iranian diaspora what he thinks of Islam and he may answer positively. But if you ask what he thinks of the Arab conquest which led to the Islamisation of Iran (and thus directly to his faith) he will spit fury. This awkward contradiction is repeated across the Islamic world. In Afghanistan, many devout Muslims still practice pre-Islamic rituals associated with ancient Persia, despite the Taliban having ruled such activities as un-Islamic. Like the Iranians, the Berbers harbour a grudge against the Arabs who Islamised their region whilst simultaneously upholding the religious consequences of that invasion.

Western strategists have noted these tectonics for a long time. It has been standard practice to ‘divide and rule’ the Islamic world, and to see opportunity in its numberless rivalries. But this has usually been too bulky for my liking. The division of Sunni and Shia is not enough to fragment the Islamic world in such a way that it loses power. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Sunni world is vastly more powerful and would trounce the Shia in a situation of open conflict. More interesting and workable in my view, is the resuscitation of Muslim racial consciousness. This alone can re-fragment a bloc of humanity that is being forced into a great power by our generalisations.

By drawing attention to the fact that these peoples were once distinct and have become blurred over time, we might strike gold where we are now striking rock. At the very least, we could sow a new confusion for the Islamist project in that region.