"In peace or war, the ultimate refuge—the sanctuary of all that is humane—lies distilled within the warmth of the kitchen."
Journalist Paul Salopek pauses in the middle of his 21,000-mile Out of Eden Walk from Africa to South America -- Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego -- to reflect on the food
shared with him during his time in Israel and Palestine. "Watching the women of Nablus move briskly, efficiently, purposefully about their tasks, chatting, often joking (about men, politics, life), I am reminded of all the meals that admitted me briefly into the conflicted lives of Israelis and Palestinians." [more inside]
The militant Sunni group Isis has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria.
This is not the first border we will break, we will break other borders," its spokesman warns. Standing on a border sign he threatens to "break the borders" of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. [more inside]
Forty maps that explain the Middle East.
Includes sections on Middle East history, the region today, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and oil, Iraq and Libya, and "points of light." [more inside]
Saudi Arabia's royal family are planning to demolish a library sitting on the remains of Prophet Muhammad's birth home to make way for the imam's residence and a presidential palace
. The Saudi royal family are adherents of Wahhabism
, a radical branch of Islam; by their beliefs, they have destroyed many Islamic heritage sites
as they consider the preservation of relics of Muhammad's life to be akin to idolatry.
In two weeks of blood and fire, one of the greatest intellectual
and cultural legacies
the world had ever seen came to an end. Crushed under the hooves of a mighty foe (in one case literally
), a dynasty
, an empire
, a city
, and a library
all disappeared. It was perhaps the swiftest and most complete collapse of a civilization ever, still felt to this day
. Now, how about for some context? [more inside]
In 2011, the CIA declassified documents admitting its involvement in the 1953 coup that overthrew Iran's elected government and installed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, details of which were first first disclosed by the New York Times
in 2000. Timeline
. However, they refused to release them to the public
. Today, the National Security Archive research institute has (after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit) obtained and made the 21 documents public. "Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, the National Security Archive is today posting recently declassified CIA documents on the United States' role in the controversial operation. American and British involvement in Mosaddeq's ouster has long been public knowledge, but today's posting includes what is believed to be the CIA's first formal acknowledgement that the agency helped to plan and execute the coup
. [more inside]
"To the world of today the men of medieval Christendom already seem remote and unfamiliar. Their names and deeds are recorded in our history-books, their monuments still adorn our cities, but our kinship with them is a thing unreal, which costs an effort of imagination. How much more must this apply to the great Islamic civilization, that stood over against medieval Europe, menacing its existence and yet linked to it by a hundred ties that even war and fear could not sever. Its monuments too abide, for those who may have the fortunate to visit them, but its men and manners are to most of us utterly unknown, or dimly conceived in the romantic image of the Arabian Nights. Even for the specialist it is difficult to reconstruct their lives and see them as they were. Histories and biographies there are in quantity, but the historians for all their picturesque details, seldom show the ability to select the essential and to give their figures that touch of the intimate which makes them live again for the reader. It is in this faculty that Ibn Battuta excels."
Thus begins the book, "Ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354" published by Routledge and Kegan Paul
. Step into the world
of "the first tourist
" who made his mark as the world's greatest traveler
before the age of steam. [more inside]
This weekend marks the time of the Hajj
, a core pillar of Islam in which great tides of humanity
venture to the ancient city of Mecca to honor God.
Predating Mohammed's birth by centuries, the pilgrimage comprises several days of rites
, from congregation like snow on Mount Arafat
and the ritual stoning of Shaitan
to the circling of the sacred Kaaba
cubical monolith Muslims pray toward daily
) and kissing the Black Stone
(colored by the absorption of myriad sins, and believed by some to be a fallen meteorite
While the city has modernized
to handle this largest of annual gatherings -- building highway-scale ramps, gaudy skyscrapers for the ultra-rich
, and tent cities the size of Seattle
-- it remains mysterious, as unbelievers are forbidden from entering its borders
Richard Francis Burton became famous for touring the city in disguise
to write a rare travelogue
, but contemporary viewers have a more immediate guide: Vice Magazine
journalist Suroosh Alvi, who smuggled a minicam into the city to record The Mecca Diaries [alt]
, a 14-minute documentary of his own Hajj journey.
Browse the manual
to see what goes into a Hajj trip, or watch the YouTube livestream
to see the Grand Mosque crowds in real time.
Knowledge and Power in the Neo-Assyrian Empire
may sound like a dry website, but its subject and content is fascinating. In the 7th Century BC King Assurbanipal
built a library
that was to contain all the world's knowledge. Destroyed by the Medes in 612 BC, the library was not rediscovered until the 1840s
. 28000 clay tablets
written in Akkadian
have been found. 1600 can be read online
, all translated into English. It's a somewhat overwhelming amount, but there's a lovely highlights section
, which even includes pictures
of the pillow-shaped
. For a thorough overview, you can listen to the In Our Time episode about the Library of Nineveh
. The most famous text to have been found in Nineveh is undoubtedly the Epic of Gilgamesh. The story of its decipherment
and the controversies that ensued, is interesting in its own right.
Lessons from Past Western Incursions in the Middle East.
A speech by Juan Cole
at the New America Foundation
in which he discusses his new book, Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East
, and the relevance and lessons of Napoleon's expedition in Egypt to the current American occupation of Iraq. A shorter version, covering many of the same points, is in this article: Pitching the Imperial Republic
What was Jiroft?
An ancient civilization in what is now southern Iran that was lost to history until very recently. Many beautiful artifacts
have been dug up. It is claimed that writing originated with the Jiroft civilization
and that this is the legendary kingdom of Aratta
, subject of one of the world's oldest works of literature, Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta
. There is dispute over both. Either way, it certainly was a commercial hub
as early as 3000 B.C. The site has been extensively plundered
in recent years, but is so rich in artifacts that excavations can go on for decades.
22 basic suggested readings on the Middle East
from history professor and informed commenter on Middle Eastern affairs Juan Cole
On the night of April 27th, 1805,
US Marine Lt. Presley O'Bannon
led a ragtag army of Greek, Arab and Berber mercenaries in a desperate charge
into the teeth of the fortifications of
(now Libya). The
defenders inexplicably turned and ran, leaving behind loaded cannons which,
turned around, secured victory for the US in its first land battle in the old
In recognition of his bravery, Lt. O'Bannon was given a
(no, the other
) had led O'Bannon,
six other US Marines, and the five hundred odd mercenaries across six hundred
miles of North African desert in order to replace the usurping
of Tripoli, Yusef, with the rightful heir, his pro-American older brother
Shortly after the battle, Yusef reached a peace with Col. Tobias Lear, the
American Consul to Tripoli, and hostilities between the US and Tripoli ceased. Eaton, O'Bannon, and
Hamet Karamanli, along with the Marines and most of the Greeks, departed
aboard American warships, leaving the Muslim mercenaries behind in Derna.
Who started the crusades?
Catholic historian Thomas Madden argues that the crusades "were not the brainchild of an ambitious pope or rapacious knights but a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslims had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world." Given all the talk about the crusades in the wake of 9-11, an accurate understanding of the history seems important. But is this accurate or just Catholic revisionism?
A survey of the political climate surrounding President Clinton's strike against bin Laden.
Warning: ancient history (1998). Was he really "wagging the dog", or did he have a valid objective after all?