I know what happened in Paris and Beirut is shaking the world right now. But if someone knew how to create peace in the Middle East, which I'm fairly sure is what you're describing, then they ought to be working in foreign policy, not typing out responses on stackexchange. But since you asked, I'll try.
The first and most important thing that will have to happen is Mutual Understanding. It's really easy to say that the Middle East is violent because of Islam, has been violent for thousands of years, and can never become peaceful because it's cursed. This isn't really true. Iran was a US ally up until 1970, and it wasn't until sometime around the Gulf War that the West started to see the Levant as a hotspot for conflict. The mutual understanding I'm talking about here is between three groups: Middle Eastern state to Middle Eastern state (Iran, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, I'm looking at you), Western state to Middle Eastern state (America and Iran; Pakistan and India, I'm looking at you), and Western-ish state to Western state (Russia! America! The Cold War's supposed to be over, so cool it!).
So let's take some time to understand the forces at work here to understand the problem, and why the solution may lie in the problem itself. There are three growing forces in the region which are currently turning it into a hotspot for fury. Bear in mind, this is a gross oversimplification, but hopefully it’ll help everyone understand.
1) Arab Nationalism
Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire – and before it, really – the various regions of the Middle East have become increasingly nationalistic. This makes sense. Rather than immediately give them their independence, Europe initially colonized the Middle East (with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Iran, interestingly the most powerful states in the region), partitioning it between France and Britain. Remember, this was just after World War I, only two decades after the Scramble for Africa. As hard as it may seem to believe, colonialism was still an influence.
They did, though, tell these areas that they would receive their independence “as soon as they were ready.” Palestine – and a number of other regions – essentially said, “Well, now seems good,” but the British and the French disagreed. Zionism, a movement by secular Jews to immigrate to their own state, also became prominent; thus began Jewish immigration to historical Palestine.
I should also note here that those jigsaw puzzle lines are really jigsaw puzzle lines. The border between India and Pakistan, for example, is almost completely arbitrary, and it doesn’t divide the Muslims and the Hindus in a way conducive to peace. Here is a map of the Levant after the British and French divvied it up:
What the British and the French failed to realize here was that there were already ethnic and religious regions here. The diplomats were squabbling over land and resources with no regard to the fact that places like Kurdistan existed. It also ignored the Sunni-Shia sectarian gap, making Iran mostly Shia but gave it a Sunni minority. Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon… they all, frankly, would not exist without Western influence. This is part of the reason why groups like ISIS see Syria as an illegitimate state, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
WWII happened, as well as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass –– and Zionists were infuriated that they did not yet have their own state. Pearl Harbor ended America’s isolationism (at least, it had been isolationist towards the Middle East), created the UN, created Israel, and created the Cold War. All of these were in direct conflict with Arab nationalism, which created further tension.
Everyone wanted political independence because everyone loved their culture, their heritage, and their nations, but the West wouldn’t give it to them.
Basically, at this point, Britain had given up on pleasing all sides in Palestine, because all of their attempts to do so made people more angry. The UN had to deal with this for their very first issue. Because at this point both Israel and Palestine had been promised states, the UN tried to partition it in another jigsaw puzzle… but again, no one was happy about this.
The name of the game was political independence. Palestine had spent years under the Ottomans and more years under Britain. The Zionists had spent WWII as the ignored victims of a genocide. By only giving the both of them “half a state,” everyone was angry.
End of US Isolationism
Prior to the US interacting with the Middle East, most of what America thought about the Middle East was romantic. There were movies set in the Far East, and “Arabia” was an exotic location, not a terrorism destination. It also meant that the United States was finally emergent as a world superpower… and so was Russia.
The Cold War
The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, a proxy war between the US and Russia, still echoes on in that region today. It essentially created the Taliban. Much like how the Nazis were created because of a generation raised on bitterness post-war, today Afghanistan is still very bitter about the things that happened during then. Rightfully so, perhaps. The US actually helped to set up the Taliban during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, even assisting a young rebel by the name of Osama Bin Laden. Obviously, this backfired.
In the Middle East, the UN’s decision to create Israel was widely reviled. For some states, so was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (particularly the “religious freedom” clause). Essentially, it was seen as an attempt by the West to force its ideals on the rest of the world. Eventually, the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam was created to rectify this. Still, it was seen as growing Western influence.
2) Growing Western Influence
In the 1950s, amidst a backdrop of a Cold War, the Middle East became a chess board for the world’s foremost superpowers. As mentioned, the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan (in 1979) would have far-reaching repercussions – including 9/11, years later. President Nasser of Egypt advocated allegiance to neither the Soviets nor the West, while simultaneously aligning himself with the USSR. Meanwhile, the US attempted to balance its alliances with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, with varying degrees of success. Palestine-Israeli tensions escalated, and there was more violence. In the meantime, Iran struggled for political independence, and as a part of this the West began to lose its hold on Iranian oil. The CIA staged a coup to “rectify” this.
Tensions between Nasser and the rest of the Middle East and the western world intensified when France, Israel, and Britain decided to take him down, without consulting the U.S.. Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula while Britain and France offered him ultimatums. Nasser was furious, and so was President Eisenhower. In the UN, the fiasco caused, in a rare show of Cold War era agreement, both Russia and America to agree on something; they both condemned these actions, in the hope of gaining favor with the Arab states. However, because most Arab people and governments liked Nasser more than the U.S. at the time, the Middle East instead became more geared toward not aligning in the Cold War. The Kennedy administration tried to “genuinely” befriend the Arab states, but when Lebanon had a revolt and Kennedy played both sides, his motives became apparent: the United States, and the rest of the west, just wanted to control the “chessboard.” The situation worsened when rumors of Israel’s nuclear weapons began circulating.
Again, Arab nationalism was growing exponentially. Afraid of becoming colonies again, the people of the Middle East wanted their political independence. All of this led to the Six-Day War in June of 1967, when Israel bombed the Egyptian air-force while their planes were on the ground and used this advantage to curbstomp everyone else. Nixon didn’t make anything better when he strengthened relations with the increasingly unpopular Iranian Shah that the CIA had put in place and failed to stop the Yom Kippur War. Things finally took an upswing for the United States with the Camp David Accords, which is why America gives Egypt $2 billion in military aid despite Egypt’s military violations.
This all leads into the Iranian revolution. The Shah began traveling abroad to hide from possible political execution, and the revolutionary government took hold. The CIA, wanting to maintain relations with their favorite Middle Eastern country besides Israel despite their uncritical attitude towards the human rights-abusing Shah, had an agent pose as an American business man named Guy Rutherford began meetings with the new prime minister of Iran. But when President Carter authorized bringing the cancer-ridden Shah to the US for treatment in a grandiose gesture, the Iranian people were infuriated, thinking that the cancer was a hoax to protect the Shah. The students stormed the US embassy, expecting that it was a base for spies and secrets. Master carpet weavers reconstructed shredded papers and found that their prime minister had been meeting with a CIA operative. Now seen as lacking credibility, the moderate new minister resigned. Radicals who endorsed publicly the storming of the embassy took over. Iran-US relations have not since recovered.
In short, growing Western influence did not sit well with growing Arab nationalism. The Gulf War sent everything up in flames. Saddam Hussein, leader of Iraq, invaded Kuwait. The US harshly criticized this annexation, and the Arab world saw this as a double standard. This was just after the First Palestinian Infitada, and Israel had practically annexed Gaza and the West Bank, and the US stood firmly with them regardless. Saddam Hussein offered to withdraw if Israel withdrew from Palestine, but President Bush refused. With Congressional support, the Bush administration expelled Saddam Hussein from Kuwait — first under the guise of protecting Saudi Arabia, then in the bloody conflict we call the Gulf War.
9/11 sent everything into a downward spiral. The terrorist attack killed 2977 Americans, but the wars afterwards killed 210,000 from violence alone. The West is seen in the Middle East as hypocritical and untrustworthy. This is seen in Syria today, where America is only sending aid to “help” the Syrian people after Russia begins taking control.
So far, we’ve seen that growing Arab nationalism results from a lack of political independence, and the result of growing Arab nationalism is growing Western influence. Clearly, these are incompatible, and create a growing gap between the two regions.
3) Systematic Oppression
According to Salem Ben Nasser al Ismaily, founder and chairman of the International Research Foundation, Azzan bin Qassim Al-Busaidi, an economist in Oman, Miguel Cervantes, and economist at the Fraser Institute, and the Fraser Institute itself, “The ‘Arab Spring’ continues to inspire both hope and fear. A denial of economic freedom sparked the turmoil that spread across the region, beginning in 2010, when a Tunisian fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself ablaze after he was denied freedom to sell his wares. Thus far, however, the policy focus of the Arab Spring has been on personal and political freedoms, government reform, reduction of corruption, and democracy, though this is often lost in the ongoing turmoil and, in some places, violence. The Arab Spring also reveals a very human yearning for greater prosperity and opportunity. But, a clear economic agenda has not emerged.”
The current conflicts in the Middle East actually arises from what could be called a desire for Westernization – by a very, very different name – in the Levant. The people desire increased political freedom, increased economic freedom, and increased personal freedom. But paradoxically, the nations of the West that usually promote such ideals have been trying to micromanage the Middle East over the last several decades, as seen in Kuwait, Iran, and even in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (where the US backed regimes are quickly collapsing).
This leads to groups of rebels that want to end the current oppression but do not want Westernization. Groups like ISIS have emerged as an alternative. They oppose the regime: the regimes were set up by the West after WWI, are oppressive, and are therefore illegitimate. They oppose the West: the West set up the regimes, abuses the Levant like a chessboard, and imposes double-standards in the name of “freedom, equality, and brotherhood.” They stand by ancient tradition, and fall back on barbaric methods used in antiquity to assert independence by doing the same things that their free ancestors did.
I am not defending them. But when people get desperate over the course of generations, they can stoop to levels of barbarism that completely shocks the world. And let’s not forget that part of ISIS’s purpose is to shock the West into apathy and get the US to leave.
Is complicated, but I can give a broad overview, as I stated in the beginning.
Resolution of Intra-Levant-Conflict
Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran would love to see nothing more than the destruction of each other. Israel would also like to see the Palestinian Authority annihilated, and the Palestinian Authority would like to see the same thing.
There are some specific steps that could be made here. Iran needs to stop sending Afghan refugees to fight for Assad in Syria. Saudi Arabia and Iran need to actually make eye contact at meetings. Israel and the PA… yeah, I’m not even going to hazard a guess here.
The overarching idea, though, is that everyone needs to understand the other party’s side.
If the Levant can stop fighting amongst itself, there may be a window for a more lasting peace. A caveat to this, any world leaders who may be watching: stop oppressing your people.
This is President Bashar al-Assad of Syria’s mansion during his kid’s birthday party:
This is Syria.
Resolution of Levant-Western Conflict
Oh, but you’re not off the hook, West. Don’t pretend your leaders and rich people don’t look any happier. Most of you may not use mustard gas on your own citizens, but you do have a hand in this.
Western and Eastern states need to stop backing dictators within the Middle East. Let the people topple bad leaders, don’t back them. And at least try to start dismantling some of the exceedingly complicated double standards. This may well be the most difficult part, although the step above is going to be difficult, too. Bassem Youseff (and Egyptian comedian) and Jon Stewart may have summed it up best:
JON STEWART: I'll ask you one more time, what should America do?
BASSEM YOUSSEF: We want you to fuck off and leave us alone.
JON STEWART: Done.
BASSEM YOUSSEF: But not right away. We could still use the aid money, and a few weapons, and some investments, what I'm saying is if you could fuck gradually off, that would be better for everybody.
So don’t use humans as chess pieces, and we’re good.
Something else to note here is that India and Pakistan need to pull it together. A nuclear exchange between those states could be devastating. I don’t know nearly as much about this conflict, but I do know that Christian-Muslim and Sunni-Shia and Irish Catholic-Irish Protestant tensions aren’t the only religious tensions in the world. Hindu-Muslim tensions are a thing, too.
Resolution of Western-Soviet Conflict
Here we go. The impossible step. The East and West really need to pull it together. Because this is the reason why the United States is willing to back dictators, this is the reason why it’s important that America and Russia have allies in the region.
It doesn’t look like this is going to happen, especially as China’s involvement grows worldwide. But if you want peace, this is what has to happen. Erase the chessboard, and no longer can the East and West use the states in the middle as chess pieces.
The Age of Oppression Needs to End
Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again! / When the beating of your heart / Echoes the beating of the drums / There is a life about to start / When tomorrow comes!
France, whose recent tragedy shocked the world, had a violent period of oppression as well. Actually, the entire western world was not nearly as stable only a few hundred years ago, between Spain’s conquistadors, Britain conquering Ireland and Scotland, the Spanish Inquisition, the English Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the Seven Years War, the American Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the War of 1812, the Napoleonic Wars, all those other wars with France, the Trail of Tears, etc., etc, etc.…
This instability hasn’t ended. It’s just been geopolitically shifted into a place where most of the people on the internet don’t have to worry about it.
We can’t do anything about it right now. But we can hope that by the resolution of the underlying tension – namely America and Russia using the Middle East as a chessboard – will eventually give way to peace and security.
As the values of freedom, equality, and brotherhood spread around the world, there will be oppressors who resist; this is inevitable. But in order to truly let the western values of peace spread to the Middle East, the West needs to stand by and honor its ideology, not pander to oppressors because it is convenient.
Not to mention, we need to learn when to meddle and when not to.
Furthermore, again, Europe wasn’t much better only recently. If we had stackexchange, somehow, while Europe was undergoing all of these revolutions, I’m certain there would have been similar questions: “What can be done to change Europe and America’s violence?”
Time. Time can and will change things – not necessarily for the better. All we can do for now is vow to treat all human beings as equals, and hope that the leaders of the Middle East and the rest of the world will do the same… and hope against hope that one day, the people of the Levant, and Africa, and everywhere else, will wonder at all of those wars, famines, and rebellions for all of ten seconds before taking comfort in all of the blessings - and more - that the developed world has to offer.
EDIT: Ah. A fictional narrative. I see. Let me modify this to apply.
The likely result of instability is likely similar to that above. The solution lies in the question itself: find the roots and destroy it. Other states around the fictional empire's remains must learn to respect its independence, states within must learn to respect themselves. Once the root cause of the violence is found, mutual understanding can, over the course of a century, bring peace. Remember, 100 years ago, the Great War was still the war to end all wars. Change comes, and it comes inevitably, especially when the "peaceful democracies" of your world put their money where their mouths are.