The Modern Middle East

Review :

'Lawrence in Arabia' is a well-researched and well-written book.

The best review I read about this book is here:

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

There are many other reviews which are also excellent, as well. I agree with them, up to a point.

The avarice behind the Western powers' superficial alliance with the tribes of the Middle East in fighting World War II against the Germans is supported by actual letters, documents and recollections from hundreds of sources, many listed in the book. Without question, France and England planned to be in control of the Middle East, making this regional bit and that part (which were soon to be countries) as subservient puppets of their own empires. The Western World wanted to defeat Germany and her allies, but they also wanted to sneak in some looting and theft from their Middle-Eastern 'allies' wherever possible.

Lawrence, to his credit, wanted the Arabs to be in charge of the Middle East once the War ended. He was an amazing warrior on the right side of history - charismatic, intelligent and courageous. He helped knit the various tribes into cohesive troops, and in aiding the cause of wrestling the Near East from the Ottoman Empire and pushing the Turks back to Turkey, gave the Arabs self-respect. However, although Lawrence was heroic, he also was human. The picture which emerges from this book, and many others, shows a complex man who got roughed up by the war as much as an ordinary soldier did. Years later, he no longer had the strength to advocate for the Arabs. He was deeply disturbed by the discriminatory and rapacious foreign policies he discovered that underlay the actions of the democracies and kingdoms of the West.

The book is a real door-stopper, and I think a bit of pruning could have been done, but it truly is a very good book. However, unlike the author and many reviewers, I do not think it includes enough Middle Eastern viewpoints, history and much analysis of the impact of Islam on the politics and rivalries pre-existing before WWI. It's a big book as it is, but a few paragraphs here and there would have given it more of a nuanced tone, instead of one of only 'How the White Man Messed Up the Arabs,' with the usual epilogue stapled in the back, 'They'd Be Rich Democracies Just Like Us IF We Hadn't Been So Greedy and Racist.' The Arabs were already messed up and technologically primitive because of their ongoing regional wars and the religious domination of their culture long before the West discovered them.

The West, then and now, tends to take on ALL responsibility for locally-caused regional problems, which is a kind of paternalism as well as demeaning to the locals, even if it is a well-meant mea culpa. The book describes some of the tribal chieftains indicating they would have preferred the United States to be their patron after the War, instead of the mean English and French, but as recent history has shown (past history, too) nation building is not possible, even if it's the less-rapacious USA as overlords (we only want their resources and their love, not the country, generally).

Afghanistan is seen by the West as culturally Neanderthaloid and laughable - yet how many major powers have now been defeated by those backwoods ignoramuses of Afghanistan The Taliban is poised to take over Kabul as soon as the West leaves. Yes, it's sad and bad, especially for the women, but I'm sure Kabul will only miss all of those dollars pouring in without accountability. But the Afghans have already survived first the English and then the Russian invasions previously, which occurred before the USA and NATO. After all of us have left, not once have the Afghans assimilated anything or changed their customs, which have been solidly in place for centuries. Apparently indoor plumbing, modern medicine and electricity aren't the inducement to modernize as the West expects of many cultures.

(Edit: July, 2017. Currently, the Chinese are attempting to become a patron of Afghanistan...)

Muslim Africa, Asia and the Near East population majorities prefer, support, and vote for, when voting is allowed, theocratic dictators who take all of the countries' wealth for themselves, and who modernize if and when they feel like it, even when our ambassadors/CIA meddle and despite every attempt the West makes to force modern technology and financial partnerships on them.

I could, and have, spoken 900 page tomes myself on how the West and all of its modern ways and secular education models are rejected by Muslim nations.

Muslims had universities long before the West, but today many of their Ph.D. degrees that are awarded are based on an education primarily of Quran-directed science, philosophy and history, despite the availability of religion-free secular studies. What many Muslim doctorate students learn in Middle-Eastern colleges is equivalent to what our Evangelical Christian college doctorate students learn (i.e., Christian doctorate students graduate with the ability to argue using bible-based philosophy as 'science proofs' and logic that earth is 6,000 years old and was created in 6 days by god - a god for whose existence they also have learned certain philosophical-based arguments all of which looks to me quite circular - the world and physics is proof that a god exists because obviously a god made the world because a world and physics exists). Muslim colleges use the Quran the same way as Christian colleges use the Bible as the guiding source and direction of all studies.

Muslim primary schools are segregrated by gender and they are often discriminatory against the many various Muslim sects and tribes. Basic reading/writing is often learned by copying the Quran over and over for 6-8 years in many many many Muslim countries. Graduation occurs when a student is able to recite the entire Quran from memory - often the only measure of qualification for leadership in local politics and business.

They choose their culture as we do ours, despite the West's efforts to infiltrate or invade or trade.

The Arabs are the Arabs are the Arabs (unless they are Persians, which many Americans mistakenly mix up with India's Hindus and Sikhs as a single cohesive 'Arab Muslim' group). Muslim countries, or at least the founding Muslim tribes, have been Muslim for millennia (1,217 years, give or take some decades, using 800 CE as a baseline), and they've experienced multiple local military defeats and invasions and conquests and civil wars long before the USA became a country (America is only 241 years old).

WWI spilled over into their already blood-soaked lands, and then WWII came, but the Arabs have mostly removed the West's influences except for what they wanted to keep. Basically, Westerners kicked the overlord Turks out for them - who all of the Arabs hated. They use the West as a scapegoat, and we let them because most of us believe it, too. However, I still recall my shock, for example, in discovering black Africans sold black Africans to the West for slaves.

A broad reading of multicultural and comparative history books can free you of many delusions. I recommend 'Lawrence in Arabia', but more reading is necessary to fully understand the historical Middle East.


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