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March 26, 2011 3:24 AM   Subscribe


 
This began with America's invasion of Iraq eight years ago

More like: This began a long, long time ago...
posted by XhaustedProphet at 3:39 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


TFA: Those borders are being redrawn in the 21st century by force, by wars and by popular uprisings. This began with America's invasion of Iraq eight years ago, which crushed the central regime and created de facto ethnic enclaves.

...

More like: This began a long, long time ago...

There wasn't a huge amount of time in the 21st century before the US invasion of Iraq.
posted by pompomtom at 4:10 AM on March 26, 2011


The writer seems to start from the assumption that the Middle East was stable and cohesive before the dawn of the XXI century. A somewhat surprising assumption coming from an Israeli journalist.
posted by Skeptic at 4:42 AM on March 26, 2011 [16 favorites]


It seems to me to be improving. Of course we shouldn't call North Africa (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) the Middle East, because that's just geographic illiteracy. But obviously the North African uprisings are having an effect on the middle east. It will be interesting to see how things go.
posted by delmoi at 5:59 AM on March 26, 2011


The writer seems to start from the assumption that the Middle East was stable and cohesive before the dawn of the XXI century.

Um, no, he tells you about all the books he's read for several paragraphs.
posted by Artw at 6:20 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The writer seems to start from the assumption that the Middle East was stable and cohesive before the dawn of the XXI century.

On the contrary Benn explains how it was destabilized and made incoherent at the dawn of the 20th century by the European powers, in the context of the breakdown of the Ottoman empire in the 19th C.
posted by lathrop at 6:30 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


On the contrary Benn explains how it was destabilized and made incoherent at the dawn of the 20th century by the European powers, in the context of the breakdown of the Ottoman empire in the 19th C.

But weren't things "stable" during the Ottoman Empire in a similar manner to how these modern individual states have sometimes appeared "stable", under the repressive control of authoritarian autocracies?
posted by floam at 6:57 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems to me to be improving. Of course we shouldn't call North Africa (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) the Middle East, because that's just geographic illiteracy. But obviously the North African uprisings are having an effect on the middle east. It will be interesting to see how things go.
posted by delmoi


actually delmoi, not mentioning north africa as part of the middle east belies geopolitical ignorance. that's why when you hear people talk about MENA within the context, for example, of the pro-democracy movements you're hearing them say "Middle East North Africa".

these are all arab majority countries that see themselves as a continuum of ethnicities, separate from the rest of asia, africa and of course, europe. ethnicities that were once aggregated into a rather vast and powerful series of islamic empires.

so it makes sense for Tunisia to be the catalyst of the pro-democracy movements and for Egypt to have legitimized them. that whole area was the seat of the Umayyad empire, the largest and most powerful arabian/muslim empire. saudi arabia may control mecca but egypt has always been the paragon of intellectualism and modernity in the arab world (especially after the fall of Al-Andalus).

these days, where egypt goes intellectually so too the rest of the arab world.
posted by liza at 7:17 AM on March 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


The foreign policy of Israel, even before statehood, has always been built upon the rivalries of Arab and Muslim neighbors. Furthermore, pan-Arab and pan-Islamic unity has relied to a great extent on hostility toward Israel, which for its part has preferred the separatism and nationalism of its neighbors. The more states there are in the region in the future, the easier it will be for Israel to maneuver among them.

pan-Arab and pan-Islamic unity is a fiction that is so utterly contradicted by the facts it does not merit serious consideration - unless you are an American right wing evangelical (apparently the audience for this article.)

Indeed, the author seems to concede that what is happening in the "middle east" at the moment illustrates that there isn't even any pan-Egyptian, pan-Libyan, pan-Saudi, pan-Bahraini, pan-Yememni, pan-Syrian, etc. unity. Moreover, the phrase "pan-Islamic" is seemingly ignorant of the Sunni-Shia divide.

My Arab friends are pretty happy with what is happening - only because it is a change from the miserable status quo of the last half century. Not one seems to have a clue what will emerge.

And old and wise Jewish friend recently mentioned to me that he has obtained Swedish visas for his family in Israel. "Just in case," he said. He obviously does not share the optimism of the author.
posted by three blind mice at 7:26 AM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


pan-Arab and pan-Islamic unity is a fiction that is so utterly contradicted by the facts it does not merit serious consideration - unless you are an American right wing evangelical (apparently the audience for this article.)

What about the Ba'ath Party?

Also, the American right wing is definitely not the audience for this article (actually, Ha'aretz's english articles are usually translated from the hebrew edition). See David Remnick's New Yorker article on the newspaper for more information on its role in Israel.
posted by beisny at 7:46 AM on March 26, 2011


liza: “these are all arab majority countries that see themselves as a continuum of ethnicities..."”

A small point: many of them are certainly not Arab-majority. Even Iran isn't Arab-majority, not to mention Libya and Tunisia's even smaller Arab minorities. I somehow don't think that's what you mean, however.
posted by koeselitz at 8:06 AM on March 26, 2011


What about the Ba'ath Party?

Fits in pretty perfectly with what he said actually: ...a fiction that is so utterly contradicted by the facts it does not merit serious consideration...

The closest thing to pan-Arabism was the old Nasserite experiment, and that turned out just swell.
posted by xqwzts at 8:08 AM on March 26, 2011


The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun, Robert Kaplan.
posted by stbalbach at 8:11 AM on March 26, 2011


Winston Churchill sure fucked some shit up.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:13 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


actually delmoi, not mentioning north africa as part of the middle east belies geopolitical ignorance.

I get your point, but there is a difference between the geographical Middle East, and the geopolitical MENA. delmoi is quite right in saying North Africa is not a part of the geographical Middle East.

Even Iran isn't Arab-majority, not to mention Libya and Tunisia's even smaller Arab minorities.

What? Iran is not an Arab nation, but Libya and Tunisia most definitely are.
posted by xqwzts at 8:15 AM on March 26, 2011


In his new book "How to Run the World" (Random House ), which was published just before the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Parag Khanna, a researcher at the New America Foundation, predicts a world comprising 300 independent, sovereign nations in the next few decades, as compared to about 200 today. At the basis of this fission is what Khanna has called "post-colonial entropy": Many states have developed from former colonies, he observes, and since their independence have "experienced unmanageable population growth, predatory and corrupt dictatorship, crumbling infrastructure and institutions, and ethnic or sectarian polarization." Exactly the same reasons can be used to explain the current vicissitudes in the Arab countries.

In many cases, writes Khanna, current borders are the cause of internal strife - for example, in failed states like Yemen, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his view, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not "America's wars," but rather "unexploded ordinance left over from old European wars, with their fuses lit on slow release."
I would agree with much of the article, except for this point. The setup may be European, but the perpetuation of the houses of cards across the middle east have been knowingly perpetuated by the United States ever since we deposed the European powers as colonial masters of the area, signaled with our rejection of the invasion of Egypt by France and England and Israel in the 1950s during the Suez crisis.
posted by notion at 8:18 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


xqwzts: “What? Iran is not an Arab nation, but Libya and Tunisia most definitely are.”

Tunisia is apparently Arab-majority (my mistake) but there are more Berbers than Arabs in Libya. But it can be debated whether Arabized Berbers are actually Arabs, I guess.
posted by koeselitz at 8:36 AM on March 26, 2011


Juan Cole: All Hell Breaks Loose in the Middle East
posted by homunculus at 8:47 AM on March 26, 2011


It seems to me to be improving. Of course we shouldn't call North Africa (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) the Middle East, because that's just geographic illiteracy.

The term "middle east" seems to be often (mis)used as a synonym for "the Islamic world", with Afghanistan, Morocco and even Indonesia (WTF?) lumped into it.
posted by acb at 8:52 AM on March 26, 2011


So, I disagree with a lot of TFA's author's conclusions, but I do subscribe to a version of this paradigm:

In his view, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not "America's wars," but rather "unexploded ordinance left over from old European wars, with their fuses lit on slow release."

Except that I susbstitute, or at least complement "European wars" with "the Cold War." My somewhat hawkish position on interventions over the last few decades has never relied on the party line (e.g. WMDs & al Qaeda in Iraq) so much as sense of obligation to remove, or at least support the removal of, the remnants of the parade of horribles we installed or maintained under Realpolitik, and to whose exploitation and abuse we have left suqsequent generations. That doesn't have to mean adventurism, given how poorly out attempts at neocon-style preemption have generally gone, but it certainly makes me sympathetic to requests for support like the kind that came from Libya.

So far as Israel is concerned: Israel's current government is such a bad fit for the moment, it makes me want to cry. I think most American Jews are displeased with Israel's muted and suspicious reaction (at least on the international stage) to what's been happening in the region, and their rather clumsy inability to keep from being baited, by renewed rocketing and bombing, into action against militants that can only be counterproductive considering that wider context. Michael Oren (the Israeli ambassador to the US) has been on TV trying to put a happy face on things, but what he's saying feels like a canned message to placate American Jews. I'm not sure it enjoys any real credence in Israel.

What happens if Palestinians start staging their own non-militant mass Third Wave/Tahrir Square style protests? Could a non-violent Palestinian protest movement disturb daily life within Israel enough (by direct effect or media attention) to bring about any progress? I mean, I know that they don't have access to the interior of Israel in those kinds of numbers, and have fragmentation or cross-cutting of loyalty in their political community that might make an Egypt style movement unlikely (due to the way Gaza and the West Bank are administered currently, and because they have been engaged in a long-running resistance such that it is almost its own institution)--but it seems like some kind of mass demonstration movement in the style of this Spring is likely to adapted and adopted there too, if this thing keeps rolling on.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:56 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once upon a time there was a Near East, but it seems inexplicably to have become part of the ever-growing Middle.

But I think the redrawing of national boundaries is more difficult, and less likely than Benn supposes.
posted by Segundus at 9:15 AM on March 26, 2011


What happens if Palestinians start staging their own non-militant mass Third Wave/Tahrir Square style protests?

That would called a miracle.
posted by clavdivs at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


snuffleupagus: " What happens if Palestinians start staging their own non-militant mass Third Wave/Tahrir Square style protests? Could a non-violent Palestinian protest movement disturb daily life within Israel enough (by direct effect or media attention) to bring about any progress?"

Doubtful, since there have literally been hundreds of non-violent Palestinian protests over the last decade. Some of them have been joint protests between Israelis and Palestinians. They often happen with the approval/sanction/noninterference of the Israeli government, and non-interference by either Fatah or Hamas. For a while, there were scheduled weekly protests in the West Bank. I don't know if they're still going on. I do know that for a while last year they were disrupted by harassment from local Settlers.

If you can find a copy of Budrus, check it out. It documents non-violent protests from the Palestinian perspective (meaning, it's from a pro-Palestinian POV.) Background.

The issues the Palestinians have to overcome have a lot to do with their own leadership. Rising up in protest to claim rights which have been denied them by the Israelis won't accomplish anything until they resolve them.
posted by zarq at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]



If you can find a copy of Budrus, check it out. It documents non-violent protests from the Palestinian perspective (meaning, it's from a pro-Palestinian POV.) Background.

The issues the Palestinians have to overcome have a lot to do with their own leadership. Rising up in protest to claim rights which have been denied them by the Israelis won't accomplish anything until they resolve them.


Thanks, that sounds interesting. I'll check it out. I tend to agree with the points about Palestinian leadership. Where were authorized protests taking place? The kind of activity I was envisioning would have to disrupt state sponsored or supported activity somehow. I'm not sure that's possible, or at least not deeply undermined when it's done with the Israel's government's logistical assistance; but the mistrust is so bad on both sides that I suppose it could just be too dangerous to do it without....
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:51 AM on March 26, 2011


Of course we shouldn't call North Africa (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) the Middle East, because that's just geographic illiteracy.

Um. Defining the Middle East:

In the academic community, the term Middle East refers to the Arab countries of North Africa; the Arab countries of Asia; Israel; and the non-Arab countries of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. According to some broader definitions, it may also include the five countries of Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Some might also include Azerbaijan.

I have only rarely encountered Central Asia as part of such a discussion, but North Africa routinely.

There is also this cogent insight:
Whatever unity does exist within the region today is largely functional: it is a unity in relation to the outside world rather than an inherent unity arising from similar geographical and social conditions or from a recent common history.

And yet there is a sense in which the Berber and Arab states definitely see themselves as culturally akin to each other. I don't have a problem with North Africa being part of the so-called "Middle East", because it has long ceased to be a term of strictly geographical purpose. Clearly, these cultural aspects have precedence over the common religion of Islam, as democracy has been well established in states such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and India for some years now, but this has had only limited effect on the course of political freedom in the "broader" Middle East.

While it might not always be the best term, it is hardly one that is unused.
posted by dhartung at 12:56 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


stbalbach: "The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun, Robert Kaplan"


From the linked article:

Yemen constitutes the most armed populace in the world, with almost four times as many firearms as people. It is fast running out of ground water, and the median age of the population is 17.

If you were trying to design a powderkeg country, you could hardly do a better job. I worry for the people of Yemen that getting rid of the current incumbent may be just the beginning of their problems. Unfortunately, given their location the external cavalry, if there are any, are likely to come from neighbouring Saudi. That seems to me to be a situation that's unlikely to end well or soon.
There must be dozens of similar situations across the region which are not so obvious to the casual western observer. Even the most optimistic viewing of the situation would seem to entail a great deal of local unrest for a decade or two until the new polities are more or less settled.
posted by Jakey at 2:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


أنا وأخي على ابن عمي وأنا وابن عمي على الغريب

Me and my brother against my cousin; me and my cousin against the outsider.

That's Pan-Arab unity.
posted by dougrayrankin at 9:41 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


From Robert Kaplan's article: Criticize the Saudi royals all you want—their country requires dramatic economic reform, and fast—but who and what would replace them? There is no credible successor on the horizon.

Ooh! Ooh! I know this one!

We don't actually need to pick a replacement! The Saudis themselves can pick a replacement through a system of representative government!
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:01 PM on March 26, 2011


The term "middle east" seems to be often (mis)used as a synonym for "the Islamic world", with Afghanistan, Morocco and even Indonesia (WTF?) lumped into it.

I can't remember if it was Time's Asia edition or the now defunct Asiaweek, but for weeks after 911, one (or both) of the two mags had this breathless coverage of Al-Qaeda plots in South East Asia. The editor's summary for a lead cover story for one of the issues was something along the lines of, "... all these conspiracies prove beyond doubt that Asia was on the frontline of the War on Terror". Or something like that. The subtext, obviously, was that Afghanistan or Pakistan don't count in "Asia" as Asiaweek/ Time-Asia knew it.

Which, of course, was pathetic; it was roughly the time I stopped reading those rags.
posted by the cydonian at 1:55 AM on March 27, 2011


"As I always said, chaos contagious"

-Bashir Al-Assad.
posted by clavdivs at 10:39 AM on March 27, 2011


"Chaos is contagious"
posted by clavdivs at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2011


"As I always said, chaos is contagious"

-Bashir Al-Assad.
Bashar.
posted by dougrayrankin at 12:53 PM on April 8, 2011


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