Articles

The Middle East, Again

In opinion on August 3, 2006 by karan

A lull in the fighting gives everyone a chance to take a breath and review. Slowly, the explosions in the Middle East, those rocking southern Lebanon, fade into the background just like those rocking Iraq still, daily. Still, the chaos continues.

The truth is, wars in the Middle East are nothing new at all. For the past 2000 years of documented history, war has broken out without fail. That’s true for nearly the whole world over, but especially so for the Middle East, a bone of contention for years between three fundamentally alike and yet irrevocably seperated religions.

Lebanon is fundamentally a buffer state, as is its neighbour Syria to a lesser extent. They’re not quite artificial, but they certainly exist without any more defining characteristic than they occupy an area. Buffer states serve an important role in geo-politics – they keep wars relatively calm, because the war breaks out between a large and a small state instead of two large states.

It’s very important to recognise that I’m not saying here that Israel’s war is legitimate; they were provoked, that’s true, but the scale of their response has been astounding and brutal. The USA has hamstrung itself in its ability to respond because of its openly-declared policies of “pre-emptive action” and Hollywood-esque never-negotiate attitude; it cannot criticise Israel because that would show hypocracy on its own part, and it is already deep in its own mire. And in the world of instant media, the public reaction is swift, immediate and unfiltered.

This is just another war to ride out for the Middle East, as unfortunate as it is.

A coda – a little view on the Middle East and why it’s so unstable.

It is said that man came out of Africa, but it was the fertile crescent that turned humanity from smart hunter-gatherers into the super-species we are today. Agriculture formed the core of moving away from the tribal unit, to something larger. It allowed some to remove themselves from the day-to-day, to dedicate themselves to more finely honed pursuits. At first, this resulted in pottery, practical items, then art, music and sciences. Alongside the rudimentary sciences though, religion also rose, the conjoined twin of science. It’d be hard to claim that the Middle East, the location of the fertile crescent, and the source of the three major monothestic religions, two of which dominate the world today, hasn’t been pivotal in human society. Not to mention it’s the location of the world’s best known reserves of oil, a resource practical and readily employable in a variety of uses. No wonder it’s called black gold.

Israel was created, carved out of the former British Emipre. Artificial states rarely have longevity – see Yugoslavia for a pointed example – but Israel had a unifying factor which drove its success and keeps it established today, the post-WWII legitimisation of the Zionist principles. Inevitably, its presence is somewhat belligerrent, a provocation for the people who once could lay more immediate claim to the lands. In the last 60 or so years of its existance, it has established its own credentials strongly, and I’m not saying it shouldn’t exist. Rather, its existance is contentious, and people will always find an excuse to fight. It seems the Middle East is especially so (I mean, c’mon, all that desert & dry land, and the only water is an inland sea so salty anchovies would have a hard time living there? :P) given its history. The area holds a lot of cultural and historical significance for a lot of people, and that’s going to cause conflict.

The theory I have is basically, were it not for Israel, people in the Middle East would find another reason to fight. It is perhaps cynical, but it holds weight because it illustrates itself well, even when Israel is playing it relatively quiet.

Also, it was highly amusing that Mel Gibson chose this moment to speak his mind, inebriated or not.

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2 Responses to “The Middle East, Again”

  1. Hey, you do write a lot here!

    I just had a question… my middle eastern history isn’t that great (but I’m taking a class on it in the fall), but I heard that a lot of the states in Israel area, including modern-day Lebanon and Syria, were carved out from European colonial territories during and after world war II. I guess the difference was that the state of Israel consisted of mostly transplanted people?

  2. They were – but that was mostly because the European powers had carved out the lands between them following the defeat of the Ottoman empire in WWI. They broadly cover historical states, but yeah, most of the people have been there for a while. You can tell the states were created because their borders are so artificial (see a map; that is also somewhat a factor of the desert geography though). Lebanon also has a mix of religious groupings. In geopolitical terms, Lebanon and Syria are these days really buffer states, seperating larger/more beligerent neighbours from being directly on each other’s borders.

    Israel was created because the international community, following WWII, thought it a way of compensating for the loss of lives, and while it is largely an immigrant state, it has now been around for 60 years or so, so people there have legitimate claims to the land, realistically. See this part of the Israel article on wikipedia for a quick overview. It’s unfortunate that so much blood has had to be spilt along the way, though.

    I’d love to do a course on Middle Eastern history though! Most of what I know is through discussions with people much smarter than I, and perhaps a few hours lost down the back of wikipedia…

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