There was a time when I eagerly looked for new books on the Middle East and followed the programs on the regions, trying to keep up with the twists and turns of Middle Eastern politics but those days are gone. As Martin Kramer, in a recent blog wrote, If I wrote a book on the Middle East who would read it? Quite true. I cannot think of a recent book on the region which captured my attention or from which I learned something new. I have reviewed a few…most of which I would echo Malcolm Muggeridge’s quote that it is easier to review a book than read it. Most of them today are formulaic in context and poorly written…often in this post-modernist gobbledygook manner that defies comprehension. If I have forgotten one I apologize, but while writing this I cannot think of one that seized my attention. Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami have departed the scene and so have most of the great scholars of Islam and the Arab world. William Muir, David Mangolioth, Philip Hitti, Albert Hourani, Edward W. Lane,….Even the last couple of books by Bernard Lewis were quick rehashes of earlier more weighty studies.
Who still has interest in the middle east.? With a few exceptions the Middle East scholarly community of this country has never been particularly high in learning or teaching, usually more involved in political and or ideological campaigns, particularly those of the Left, with the Arab-Israeli drama always getting the major share attention. This is in spite of the fact that it has never been one of the major issues which have afflicted the region prior to the establishment of the Jewish state.
The debacle of Afghanistan has been erased from public view by a public that is always anxious to move on to the next celebrity event and a state media adroitly circling their wagons to protect the ruling elite establishment.
Moreover, as is usual, most people are caught up in the currents of everyday day life, which is characteristic of Americans, with the added anxiety of the Wuhan virus and inflation, especially those of us on fixed incomes. Many like myself are far more worried about the precipitous decline of America as a nation under the woefully weak leadership in Washington than to worry very much about the Middle East.
The usual factors always presented to describe the importance of the Middle East have been the following;
1.Access to oil at a reasonable price. For a number of years this has not been an issue to get attention. Only about 10% of our oil is from the Persian Gulf and a negligible amount from elsewhere in the Middle East. However, many of our friendly states (difficult to write allies these days) do need Persian Gulf oil.
2.Strategic routes i.e. The Suez Canal, Bab Al Mandab, The Red Sea, the Gulf of Oman, The Persian Gulf and the Hormuz straits. And to Israel the Gulf of Aqaba.
It is also argued that being in the Middle between Asia and Europe the Middle East has importance in terms of air traffic. Here we are talking about the theories of A.T. Mahan, and H.J. Mackinder. Certainly, this had considerable bearing on the strategy of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This bottleneck in resupply of various goods to the U.S reawakens the importance of sea-lanes to the economy of the U.S. resupply to Israel ion time of war has always been an issue.
- The birthplace of the three great religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But in the West, especially Europe, Christianity is a mostly a hollow shell and has little importance. In the US we are following suit. For decades if not centuries, persecution and eviction of Middle Eastern Christian communities has taken place, and with few exceptions, (since the crusades) Western “Christendom” has taken no notice. In fact I have seen in my time in the Middle East, Western correspondents have usually sided with the Islamists. This was particularly true in the Lebanese civil war. It was an earlier manifestation of wokism.For example, most have heard of the massacre of Palestinians at the Shatila and Sabra camps in Lebanon by Christian militia, but how many know of the massacre of Lebanese Christians in the city of Damour by Palestinians and their allies? Or how many know that the bloodier massacre of Sunni Palestinians at Shatila and Sabra camps was perpetrated by Lebanese Shi’a militia during the Civil war phrase known as the “War of the Camps?”
Judaism lives precariously in tiny Israel, surrounded by enemies, and Judaism in the West seems to have lost its appeal with many of the younger Jewish elite. In the U.S. they are frequently on the leading edge of every left wing fashionable woke cause , including boycotting Israel. The current weak leadership in Tel Aviv gives no sense of confidence that Israel, without US support, can maintain its leading edge in military prowess. That support is very unlikely from the Biden administration. The Biden. Administration has been pressuring the Israelis to grant unreciprocated benefits to the Palestinians, for reasons that can only be attributed to the influence of the anti-Semitic “progressive” element of the Democratic party. In France and other European countries, Jews walk the streets in trepidation as the increasing numbers of hostile Muslims and domestic neo fascists look for opportunities to attack them.
The Islamists have, in Western nations, teamed with left-wing militants to keep Western countries roiling with discontent. This is particularly true in the US. It is ironic that the first heads to roll would be that of the leftists under Islamist rule. A good book to read in this connection is Unveiled: How Western Liberals empower Radical Islam. By Yasmine Mohammed.
In my day as a student of Middle East history, the professors were older learned gentlemen, Hanna Batatu, Walid Khalidi, Zeine N. Zeine, Joe Malone, people who knew their subject and expected students to learn.
From that time and going to innumerable Middle East conferences over the past 30 years, my picture of many neo Middle East “scholars” is a youngish fellow in skinny jeans, wearing sandals with an open necked shirt, blue blazer covered with dandruff on both shoulders, and a 4 day growth of facial hair that he spends hours each day carefully cultivating. A sort of Hunter Biden look. He talks and acts like one of the students. His students go off to jobs in the State Department and DOD, thinking that colonialism, imperialism and Zionism are main problems in the Middle East. He thinks that the best book to read is Edward Said’s Orientalism, which has over the years, created of a cult of ideologically driven know-nothings.
I was think of this the other day reminiscing about my early interest in the Middle East, beginning a cadet at West Point. I was not in the top of my class so I had few chances for electives but one I chose was Middle Eastern History study taught by a Captain, whose I name I cannot recall. I was fascinated by the class and could not wait to get into the Foreign Area Specialist program. After some years at battery level artillery assignments I did and I enjoyed my years in the Arab world immensely, even the language study in Beirut. Unfortunately, the language study in the commercial school I attended in Washington D.C. was a bad joke. I never learned the language as well as I should have. As I wrote in a previous blog, I had to endure the malignant personality of my Iraqi Ba’athi instructor. In Beirut I think I was enjoying myself too much in the Lebanese lifestyle, but I pride myself on being better than most working within the nuances of the complicated culture.
I think now how the Middle East of my day has become just another wasteland of fanaticism and ignorance, a playground for power hungry clerics and incompetent equally power-hungry politicians with their vanities fed by the Western politicians who bow and scape to their threats and condescension. Another good book to read how the Middle East fell into the cesspit, read Kim Ghattas , book , Black Wave. It details the destructive momentum of the Iranian revolution and the rise of Islamist fanaticism in Saudi Arabia. Westernization has destroyed any of the pillars of the traditional Islamic society introducing uncontrolled consumerism, presenting nothing acceptable to the inhabitants. Basically one can say that the only aspect of Western intrusion into the governance that has been accepted, are the more advanced methods of population manipulation and security measures.
Nevertheless, we cannot take or eyes off the region. There are two major factors that are of vital importance:
- The combustible elements of the Middle Eastern society cannot be contained within the Middle East. Islamism (political Islam) itself is an imperialistic doctrine, and as the philosopher and thinker, Roger Scruton (The West and the Rest) wrote“for some someone like Khomeini, human rights and secular government display the decadence of the Western civilization, which has failed to arm itself against those who intend to destroy it and hopes to appease them instead.” There are many waiting in the wings to take Khomeini’s place.
- The tide of migration of Muslims, the vast majority good decent people, continues, and one sympathizes with their plight but many will be potentially amenable to Islamist siren calls of Islamic triumphalism (especially when they realize that their safe haven is also an alien civilization, and the streets are not paved with gold.). A point to keep in mind is that these immigrants are not coming to the West because they yearn to become part of Western civilization and assimilate into the Western democratic secular culture. They are fleeing the hell hole the Middle East has become. It is not that the Western lifestyle is more attractive. It is that their homelands have become uninhabitable. They are bringing their tribal and religious prejudices with them. In large numbers they neither assimilate nor integrate. Their pervasive cultural imprinting by morays of a Middle Eastern society is a barrier to accept a secular polity based on civil law rather than religious doctrine.
They come into a decaying Western civilization in which patriotism and religious beliefs have become objects of ridicule. The increasing balkanization of this country can hardly welcome another dividing element.
Spinoza wrote that a nation survives not because of good leadership but rather because it can endure poor leadership.
Let us pray he is right.