Minority rights? No thanks!

When so many people face oppression in the Middle East, is there any point in focusing on the rights of minorities?

What we commonly think of as the 'Arab and Muslim world' is in fact a rich and varied mosaic of peoples. Over the last 50 years, many Middle Eastern minorities have been oppressed or have struggled to survive - be they national groups (Berbers, Kurds, Turkomans, etc), religious communities (Christians, Zoroastrians, Baha'is, etc) or both (Armenians, Jews, etc) …

Brian Whittaker

This was the blurb for a talk last night hosted by the London Middle East Institute, and attended by a fascinating collection of representatives from the region's forgotten minorities, even a Zoroastrian lady - one of the few remaining adherents of a faith that once dominated Iran and much of the surrounding area.

The main speaker was Egyptian-born Masri Feki, the founder of a French-based pressure group called The Middle East Pact, who had come over from Toulouse.

"Masri Feki sees minority rights as central to his vision of secular democracy," the blurb said. "Now, more than ever, thriving minorities are the cornerstone of a healthy civil society and the key to pluralism and peace in this troubled region."

{josquote}In most of the Middle East, though, with only a very limited measure of democracy, minorities and majorities are largely irrelevant: prejudice, discrimination, intolerance and bigotry are rife, full stop.{/josquote}

Well, I'm not so sure about that. As Mr Feki rightly pointed out in his talk, ethnic and religious diversity is something that pan-Arab nationalists and, more recently, Islamists, have tried to obliterate. But what's so special about minorities as such?

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