NOTE October 8, 2014: This post will likely continue to be preceded by DRAFT. My apologies to Prof. Beeman if I missed his point(s). The very interesting additional opinions (below) are as expressed (interpreted) by the writers, including myself.
Last night (Sep 18, 2014) I was one of about 35 persons who had a great opportunity to learn a bit more about the tangled web of people, countries, events and history that make up the contemporary Middle East. Our teacher was William Beeman of the University of Minnesota. The program was part of Citizens for Global Solutions MN “Third Thursday” program. It seems a good time to dust off a couple of maps I had cobbled together about the region, in 2005 when the Iraq War was raging, and more recently, in May, 2013, when the Syria Crisis was in an earlier phase, and I found a map to at least define the area in a blogpost.
Iraq environs ca 2005001 (click on link to open)
Syria and environs in 2013 (below):
(click to enlarge)
These maps preceded ISIS (or ISIL) as the case might be.
Professor Beeman of the University of Minnesota gave us an endless stream of information which could be interpreted in 35 different ways (by every one of us in the room) and millions of different ways by anyone else who has even the slightest interest in the topic. The greatest gift of a good talk is to encourage the recipient to think….
Prof. Beeman (photo below) is an acknowledged expert on the area, and respected as a scholar who understands and appreciates the culture (also diversely defined). He gave us many insights and well-informed opinions. I won’t even try to pretend that I have correctly “translated” him. What I offer are some fragments I gleaned from our two hours, and I’ve invited others I know who were there to add in their own fragments if/as they wish.
The Middle East is yet another example of the failure of colonialism and ignorance and disrespect by the western powers. For instance, England and France basically carved up the land that now makes up the Middle East, without any regard for the diverse cultures living within the area. As Dr. Beeman said, they “worked from a map” when they decided who would get what after WW I.
He was highly complimentary of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), and especially Gertrude Bell, both of whom understood the peoples of the region from having lived among them.
It is impossible to pick out a single one or two points that were most significant. I paid special attention when Beeman took some time to point out that the word “Christian” includes a great plenty of differing beliefs, albeit centering on a dominant personality, Jesus, and Islam with Mohamed is really no different. Yet, I will hear people, Christians usually, regularly clumping all Muslims as if they were all the same even though, Muslims are as diverse as Christians.
The discussion of tribal cultures was also very interesting. In my opinion, in the United States, from an ethnic standpoint, the word “American” no longer has any particular “tribal” meaning in the ethnic sense. But tribes are useful from the standpoint of dividing people for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage, so in our country there are constant attempts to create “us” versus “them” scenarios (“tribes”, as it were) for the purpose of winning. This becomes particularly intense during this absurd American election season: the Republican “tribe” versus the Democrat “tribe”.
Dr. Beeman suggested that a crucial actor in resolving the ISIL and other regional dilemmas in the Middle East is likely Iran.
Of course, much has been invested over many years in making Iran, along with Cuba and North Korea, part of the infamous “Axis of Evil”. So the U.S. blunders along, ill suited to get a solution, even at the point of weaponry, and its major client state, Israel, is not very helpful.
There are so many facets to the current problem that it is hard to devine what might end up being a solution. Of course, enter partisan politics. Crisis is good, and having somebody to blame for the crisis, is even better.
We must do better.
from Gail H, Sep 21 (referring to above session): At the Third Thursday Forum last Thursday, “America’s Confusion in the Middle East”, William Beeman provided an excellent overview of the historical, cultural/religious, and geopolitical context of that region to help us understand what’s been happening there recently.
For those who missed it or would like to hear more from Dr. Beeman, [here is] an article by him that was published in the Huffington Post, U.K., on July 31, 2014 BeemanShiaSunni. The article, “Will There be a Shi’a-Sunni War in the Middle East? Not Likely”, includes some of the same information.
from John B, Sep 19: The Citizens for Global Solutions meeting in Minneapolis last night was interesting, informative and, yes, a bit frightening. One take-away for me is that the USA seems to be led around by the nose by the radical Zionists in Israel. Their complicity in the geopolitical machinations and trumped up fear of Iran have made the USA look, once again, like bumbling stooges. I agree with many, who express the opinion, that Israel is standing in the way of developing an effective strategy to deal with ISIL which could include Iran, possibly Turkey, maybe even Russia. There are many other matters of conflict which the the Middle East countries and religious bodies need to work out. Not the least is the ongoing aparteid involving Palestinian interests and Israel.
A necessary disclaimer: I am not anti-Semitic. I admire many things about modern IsraeI. I love the Jewish religion, its culture and highly regard the contributions many, many Jews have made in science, government and the arts. If, in fact, the Ancient Israelites were GOD’s Chosen people, does that give modern Zionists the right to bully American politicians and wield its power in the halls of our government? By all accounts this is what is occuring. This is an “undiscussible”. It is yet another example of our broken political system. Maybe this is what America deserves; this could be payback for our meddling in the affairs of so many nations over the years. Lots of dirty hands need washing.
I stand opposed to any US involvement in the ISIL, Syria and Iraq situation. Yes, to some extent our nation has directly contributed to the mess in the middle East. Let’s not make it worse. A very ugly possible future is lurking in the background.
response from Dick B: I agree with John’s sentiments. I’ve been to Israel (1996, right before Arafat was elected, before the Wall). I’ve visited Auschwitz and other horrible places of the Holocaust in 2000, with a group of 40 that was half Jews and half Christians. (I turned 60 the day we were at the ovens in Auschwitz. It is impossible to describe adequately how it felt to be in that horrible place, and others such as the Schindlers List camp near Krakow, and Terezin, Czech Republic, etc.) But the Israelis idea of a short term solution is catastrophic for everyone, including themselves, long term. Just my opinion.
There is an unfortunate “no talk” rule about this issue. I’m glad John brought it up.
from Joe S, Sep 19: Thanks for your candid remarks, with which I generally concur. As one of the more faithful attenders of our Third Thursday Forums, you are probably ware that we have discussed Israel/Palestine on several occasions and will, I would guess, do so again.
from Gail H: I very much appreciate your comments, John and Dick, and your courage in raising this issue! Those who criticize Israeli foreign policy (which, by the way, is led by an ultra-Right government) are no more Anti-Semitic than those who criticize American foreign policy are unpatriotic. I agree that it has been ‘taboo’ to openly and candidly examine Israel, although that has begun to change as Israel’s excessive violence has become increasingly difficult to defend.
I joined CGS-MN because those who attend Third Thursdays seem thoughtful, well-educated about global affairs, and unwilling to accept without question what we’re told by our politicians and by our media. They don’t ‘stand’ on ideology, but want to hear from scholars such as William Beeman who can expand our understanding of events with historical, cultural, and geopolitical information and reasoned analysis.
In my opinion, Professor Beeman’s talk last Thursday, the questions asked by audience members, and the discussion which here has ensued shows CGS at its best. I am so proud of our organization!
from a retired lifelong American who’s also lifelong Moslem and grew up in a vibrant Moslem community in rural America: (His comments refer to a film in progress about Arabs in America. You can view the film trailer here. Included with his comments were these two items: British Mandate Summary and Lord Balfour_r3
(To the film producer) Thank you. I enjoyed the trailer very much.
A few things mentioned caught my attention:
My Dad and his brother also immigrated here to escape induction into the Ottoman Empire’s army as one of the persons in your trailer indicated
There were words from a Palestinian girl that reminded me of the British Mandate. She may be able to expand on it. I am having an interesting discussion with a couple of past co-workers on the Middle East mess created by the British. One is from England and they have provided me with much information that helps me understand the conditions that led to the immigration of so many Arabs from that part of the world. The first attachment [link above] is a summary of the British Mandate and the second is more descriptive of the background. Further back in history, the Ottoman Empire resulted from a local Turkish leader named Osman organizing an army to drive the Crusaders out of the middle east after 500 years of slaughter by wave after wave of Crusaders. But in short, all the problems we now experience in the Middle East were caused by the British, that same entity that felt they should rule the US before the Revolutionary War that the British still call an insurgency. It bothers me that we have become the new Great Britain feeling we are the ones to go around the world and tell other nations what to do and believe.
I’m sure you know the story of Lawrence of Arabia, the trusted soul that got the Arabs into WWI, but if not, I can expand on that for you.
There was discussion of Christians in the Middle East. The Middle East populations were predominantly Christian until the crusaders slaughtered most of them. There is an interesting article in the June, 2009 issue of National Geographic on the Christian Exodus from the Holy Land. Most Lebanese Christians live in the central area of Lebanon. They align themselves with Hezbollah because they do not trust the US and its western allies. We label Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorists, but both organization we created as relief organization to aid the victims of the US backed Israelis attacks. My grandfather returned to his Lebanon birthplace to live out the rest of his life after my grandmother died. After a few months he returned to N Dakota. The reason was that the Israelis would fly over southern Lebanon and kill the occupants for target practice during periods of calm. As the result of our foreign policies and undying support of Israel, Hezbollah has taken a more active role in military defense of their people. Hamas on the other hand has focused mainly on relief activities. We still refer to them as terrorists to appease Israel. But they are hardly militant. They have been shooting these small rockets into Israel to draw the world’s attention to their plight after the withdrawal of Jewish settlements and the establishment of the siege. Notice how quickly the news media shifted from the recent Gaza incident. The people of Gaza have the choice of sitting back and starving to death, or raising a bit of ruckus every now and then to draw attention to their plight
If you are a student of biblical history, the siege is the process that Moses and his people used to claim the homeland of the ancestors of the Palestinians 3000 years ago. Canaan consisted of a series of small city states and the Hebrews would besiege one and when their armies would come out to drive the intruders away, the people of Moses could easily defeat them, then they would go into the city and kill slaughter the women, children and elderly males, and then occupy the city as their home. This continued through five generation from Joshua through Gideon. Much on that subject on the web.
Note comment from Howie, in comments section below. This illustration applies to the comment and my response to it.