How Arab Colonialism Conquered the Middle East

How did the indigenous peoples of the Middle East outside of the Arabian Peninsula become “Arabs?” A perspective on colonialism.

ProgressME Magazine
ProgressME Magazine
7 min readJan 18, 2016


By Medea Jaff

Photo Credit: WikiCommons

With the refugee crisis escalating by the day, we are witnessing a massive influx of refugees into Europe, risking their lives journeying across heavy seas in flimsy rubber boats.

European countries have taken in more than they can handle, yet none of the rich Arabian Gulf countries have taken in a single refugee, even though they are situated close to the areas under attack. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has offered to finance the building of 200 mosques in Germany for the refugees. Why mosques? Why not housing to ease the burden on Germany and other European countries? Why not take in three million refugee families which can be accommodated immediately in the already existing camp in Saudi Arabia? Three million fire-proof tents with air-conditioning are sitting there empty. To tackle these questions we would have to look into a brief history of the region.

When referring to the Middle East, people automatically assume that one is referring to ‘Arabs’ and ‘Muslims’. So how did the entire region become Arab-Muslim when in fact it is a region composed of a diverse mix of ethnicities and religions?

Originally Arabs were a minority in the Middle East; they existed predominantly in the Arabian Peninsula. How did they expand? What happened to the other nations around them? Did they vanish?

Originally Arabs were a minority in the Middle East; they existed predominantly in the Arabian Peninsula. How did they expand? What happened to the other nations around them? Did they vanish?

The answers to the last couple of questions are, no they did not vanish, they are still living on their ancestral land to this day, yet have had very little international recognition or none at all. Arabs have managed to convince millions in the region that they share the same identity.

This didn’t happen overnight, it took many generations until the original identities of these peoples were wiped from their psyche. This campaign started with the Arab-Islamic conquests of neighbouring nations, through these invasions nations were made to submit to the new religion, Islam, as well as submitting to a whole new identity, the identity of the invader. Languages were banned, new generations opened their eyes to one language, Arabic, albeit Arabic dialects which carry much of the regional languages to this day. In fact, it’s almost impossible for an ‘Arab’ from Iraq to understand an ‘Arab’ from Morocco, and vice versa. After all, why would a Moroccan understand Babylonian or Sumerian words? And why would an Iraqi understand the Afro-Asiatic Tamazight/Berber language?

The ultimate aim of the Islamic invasions was to amass great wealth under the pretence of spreading Islam. The proof of this is how in the year 644 AD the Islamic leader Umar Bin Al-Khat’tab gave orders not to advance across the River Indus into Sindh after he learned that the region was poor and relatively barren, rendering it of next to no use to the Caliphate.

While some nations managed to ethnically survive to this day, the majority of the nations under Islamic-Arabian control gradually came to be known as Arabs too. This was the first phase of the identity crisis from which the new Arabs suffered, but this was only the beginning.

Another term we’ve heard is ‘The Golden Age of Islam’, where thinkers and scientists flourished in Baghdad, the capital city of the Abbassid Dynasty (mid 8th century — mid 13th century). In this era the caliphs (rulers) offered the essential funds for research and the appropriate environment for growth. Like modern-day research, the opportunities are found where the funding is; therefore thinkers and scientists flooded into Baghdad from around the region, where they were welcomed to carry out their work. Many of these men were not Arabs, but adopted Arabic names as a form of respect for the caliph who has welcomed them, and to be able to integrate into their new environment. Sibawayh, who is known as the ‘Father of Arabic Grammar’ was himself not an Arab, but of Kurdish-Persian ethnicity from eastern Kurdistan (modern-day Iran).

Many of the much revered scientists and thinkers of the time were either atheist or agnostic, and were either persecuted or killed for apostasy in the name of religion. Amongst these men were Ibn Al-Haitham, Al-Jaahidh, Al-Kindi, Ibn-Sina, Al-Farabi, and Ibn Rushd. One of whom was burned alive along with his home, while several were put under house arrest for the rest of their lives.

The persecution of these men was triggered by the famous Imam Al-Ghazali, who announced that Mathematics is the work of the devil. That was the beginning of the end of the ironically named Golden Age of “Islam.”

Fast-forward to the 20th century, the region witnessed further Arabisation; this was not carried out by the Arabs themselves, but surprisingly enough by the post-WWI colonial powers. The western powers endorsed the Arab identity in the region, making it harder for other indigenous nations to have an independent voice. Highlighting this era was the establishment of the Arab states; new states with new borders, and one official language, Arabic. The colonial powers also chose an Arabian tribe, the Hashemites, to be appointed as royalty in these new states. This is when the Saudi family came to rule Arabia, and their cousins ruling Jordan, Iraq, and other parts of the region. These royals were chosen based on one criterion only, their allegiance to the colonial powers. A relationship, which to this day has given this family a carte blanche, not only in Saudi Arabia but in world affairs.

In this phase, many of the indigenous nations of the Middle East were put under the rule of Arabs, even though they live on their ancestral land, speak their own language, and enjoy their distinct culture and ancient heritage. The Treaty of Sèvres (1920) saw the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire after WWI, it was in this treaty that the region was divided into states without consideration for the ethnic groups. As a result many nations suffered, namely Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Amazighs, and others. Kurdistan which has a population of around 50 million was partitioned into 4 parts, each given away, land, stock, and barrel, to a neighbouring nation, making the new states of ‘Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey’.

The 1950s saw a new movement, Pan Arabism. This was to be the third stage in the arabisation of the Middle East. It is important to point out that when mentioning the Middle East, North Africa is also included, even though it is not geographically part of Middle-Eastern Asia; but it is yet another result of the Arab-Islamic invasions.

Pan-Arabism saw the rise of revolutions which toppled several Kingdoms in the region, installing Arab ultra-nationalism. Having read the first two stages of the arabisation of the Middle East, you can get a sense of how Arabs would deal with any remaining indigenous ethnic groups in this new stage.

The day before the British Mandate expired (May 1948), the state of Israel was established. The very next day, four Arab armies attacked Israel, starting what is known as the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. This era saw the mass expulsion of Jews from Middle Eastern countries which have been their homes for two thousand years. So Jews escaped persecution from what they had known as ‘home’ and headed to their ancestral land, leaving behind their homes, possessions, friends, and loved ones buried in those states.

Since then, many ethnic cleansing campaigns and genocides have been carried out against indigenous nations of the Middle East. In Iraq, Assyrians and Chaldeans which make up the Christian population in Iraq, were given a choice; either submit to the government and officially change your ethnicity to ‘Arab’, or pay the consequences. The greater majority submitted to the government in order to avoid persecution, while few left their homes and joined the Kurdish revolution in the northern parts of the country.

The Amazighs in North Africa are another such indigenous nation; both Islamisation and Arabisation of their region greatly altered their society and culture, inserting new ways and a new language into their lives. The Coptic Christians in Egypt also suffered greatly and continue to do so, there has been ongoing intolerance towards them, which the state has failed to investigate, including the continuous disappearance of Coptic Christian women and girls.

The Kurdish population in the Middle East has also had its share of persecution; as mentioned before, it is a population of around 50 million, known as the largest stateless nation in the world. Throughout Kurdish history the neighbouring nations have persecuted the Kurds on their own land, from banning their language, calling them ‘mountain Turks’ in the case of the Kurdish region of Turkey, arresting journalists who expose the atrocities committed by the Turkish Forces, to the Kurdish genocide and ethnic cleansing campaigns carried out by the Iraqi government in the mid-late 1980s.

The reason that these nations and others in the region have been persecuted is simply because they refused to submit, they’re the last ones standing. As we have observed, for the past 1400 years, the arabisation of the Middle East has been an ongoing process.

The reason that these nations and others in the region have been persecuted is simply because they refused to submit, they’re the last ones standing. As we have observed, for the past 1400 years, the Arabisation of the Middle East has been an ongoing process.

We come to the current situation, the refugee crisis in Syria and Iraq. When asked why they won’t open their doors to Syrian refugees fleeing from the Islamic State, officials from the oil-rich states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and UAE have made excuses such as our states are too valuable to let Syrian refugees resettle in, and one went on to say that Syrian culture is ‘alien’ to the gulf region.

In short, when it’s about accumulating wealth, they invaded and conquered far and wide, made these nations believe that they’re Arabs, instilled a sense of false patriotism in them, and called them brothers; but when it came to doing their brotherly, or even neighbourly duty, the gulf states have exposed their 1400 year old lie … That they are indeed cultures which are alien to each other. There is no ‘Arab Brotherhood’ and there certainly is no ‘Arab Homeland from the Gulf to the Ocean’’ which they have been chanting for decades.

Originally published at on January 18, 2016.



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