Sorting Out the Middle East

Bernard Lewis was born before the fall of the Caliphate in Constantinople and has been studying Islam since before most of us were born. Of the region, he says we should “Enable them to achieve or recover their freedom, to which they are entitled no less than anyone in the world… . Our job is not to create democracy. Our job is to remove obstacles and let them create their own.”

Lewis doesn't compare the threat of radical Islam to that of communism, as many of us old cold warriors (myself included) like to do. He thinks it is more like Europe on the eve of World War II. He worries that the terrorists have a global reach and enjoy some support, but free world is not united against them. "If Churchill and his team had to face the same sort of opposition as does President Bush, Hitler might well have won the war," says Lewis.

Lewis has written many books about the Middle East. I have included some of them as well as a few others on the linked list. I was inspired to look into the subject by the pseudo-wisdom we so often hear on the subject. People who don't really know much about the history pontificate about the quagmire we have stepped into.

Many people don't remember that Arabs themselves displaced indigenous or earlier peoples. History does not conveniently begin with their conquests, which in fact destroyed ancient cultures that made those artifacts now sitting in so many western museums. And many of the people in the region today (Turks, Kurds, Persians, Black Africans, Berbers etc.) are not Arabs. One of our big misconceptions about the region is that it is a unity. A quagmire we in fact may have stepped into is the ethnic and religious division. Sunnis and Shia have hated each other more and longer than either hated outsiders and the Arabs have oppressed the Kurds for a millennium. Some people may be looking for payback, or fearing it. It is complicated, but maybe not in the way we think.

We should learn from history, but we should learn from the right history.

Posted by Jack at December 13, 2005 9:33 PM
Comment #102207

Another book to read is T.E. Lawrence’s “Seven Pilars of Wisdom” - Lawrence was a British officer in WWI who lived with Arabs carrying out his mission of supporting the Arab revolt against the Turks. Larwrence was instrumental in getting disparate tribes to work in a somewhat coordinated manner that was greatly to the advantage of Britain, and also, to the Arabs, although post-war political manuevers left the Arabs with less independence and a less organic set of states than they might have preferred. Also, the Arab Revolt indirectly supported and set a stage for numerous anti-colonial episodes in the following decades, resulting in a number of major shifts in power (I’ll leave the value judgements on those to others…) Lawrence wrote eloquently and offers a powerful set of views on Arab culture, one that most of us Westerners probably are not familiar with.

Posted by: Matisse Enzer at December 13, 2005 9:57 PM
Comment #102208

Doh. “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” (not ‘Pilars’), - I can’t spell worth a damn :-)

Posted by: Matisse Enzer at December 13, 2005 9:58 PM
Comment #102211


I was just reading “Paris 1919” about the peace treaty after WWI and today, by coincidence, I got to the chapter that included the Arabs and Lawrence. The Arabs were clearly badly treated after the war. How different the world might have been.

Posted by: Jack at December 13, 2005 10:20 PM
Comment #102215

Jack, he is right about leaving them to find their own way.

But then you ruined it by saying: “People who don’t really know much about the history pontificate about the quagmire we have stepped into.”

As if that meant something. I would reply: Many who really do know a lot about history including having lived through a quagmire in Viet Nam or the Korean War, know too well how to spot a quagmire when they see one.

And I love this line of yours, Jack: “We should learn from history, but we should learn from the right history.”

I interpret that to mean we should ignore all history that does not support our ideological viewpoint on any particular topic. Well done, Jack. Subtle!

Posted by: David R. Remer at December 13, 2005 10:40 PM
Comment #102218

Hi Jack,

“He thinks it is more like Europe on the eve of World War II.”

I’m a fan of Bernard Lewis but that is complete nonsense. Muslim terrorism and rampant nationalism are quite different.

Posted by: LouisXIV at December 13, 2005 10:51 PM
Comment #102239

Oh come on now, the greatest block to Islam becoming democratized IS Islam. I like how this author believes it will sell in that region. there is hope in some ways with this new generation but it’s surely not full proof. Why are the right looking so hard for threads of evdence that democracy will sell there? I better not answer that huh?

It won’t sell the best I think we can hope for is (1) a diplomatic push towards gradual democratic change (2) a means of keeping nuclear capacities out of their hands (WMD and the like) and (3) The consistant infiltration and combatting of terror (4) understanding that these skirmishes amongst themselves are quite ongoing. And the innevitable (5) Get that oil privatized throughout the midlle east whenever the opportunity presents itself as it keeps ‘caliphate’ wanna-be’s contained to some extent whence ever they should emerge.

these areas are quite blocked by Islam as a political and even sociological entity. We can take that region to a place of democracy with time I believe but we have to set up schools that are not either propagandic or extremist religious arms of the state (being monetary support of the schools themselves).

I like the democracy friendly notions of Islamic society but the truth is it is not time yet and it is a long DIPLOMATIC haul.

Posted by: Novenge at December 14, 2005 12:13 AM
Comment #102241

And (6) if I may add to that list, stop the funding and support of Israel as it makes our influence all that much harder to sink into muslim (sociological sense of the term) society in the middle east. As they were brought up very anti-zionist this will improve our sell.

Posted by: Novenge at December 14, 2005 12:29 AM
Comment #102250

Follow the written history of the Masonic and Free Masonic Orders and you will see a whole new picture of the history that you and Mr. Lewis speak of. The civilization of the Middle East which allowed the three major religion to grow is not a quagmire. However, it does represent the true problem that the Human Race faces in dealing and learning from the Right & True History of the Human Race.

President Bush and his Inner Circle of WHIGS should of studied this history prior to going in to Iraq and engaging OBL on the War on Terror. The Radical Islamic Movement is not new nor has it effected the beliefs of millions of Muslims; nevertheless, the history and teachings that they speak of is based on Ancient Indian Aryan Teachings (ie The Man is always Right regardless). This same type of mentality can be found in the President’s speeches and those of his inner circle. Wanted Dead or Alive, Stay the Course, and my favorite on The President is always right all feed into the mentality boosted by OBL and Company.

For is or is not America and other countries a Fable Nation? This single question dates back to the begining of Hummanity’s Civilization in the form of what is a Righteous Nation? Since not even America can say it meets this mark, OBL and Company has used this promise from “God” to declare war against those who wish to fulfill this promise made by the “Creator” of Humanity’s Civilization of Laws.

Considering the President and Leadership of the Republican party slamming “The Poor” over taxes, not willing to offer a “Livable Wage, and a host of other issues design to limit the Freewill of the Individual is it any wonder why most Americans are begining to awaken to the fact that we are in a political quagmire.

And until our leadership wises up and takes on the problems faced by the need to be a civilization of laws than our hope of winning in the Middle East based on terrorism will fall short of the mark. Because oppression and appeasement might of worked when the citizens were not educated; nevertheless, America was designed and has steadyily on the course that it is “We the People” who rules over “I the Person.” A fact that President Bush has not figured out for in his 2004 Election bid for did he not say “I know what is Right for America?” Seems to me that even a year later the Republicans still have not learned why OBL and Company voted for the President. Why change that which you know you already can beat?

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at December 14, 2005 12:59 AM
Comment #102255


In speaking of masonry or masonic influence you mean within our nation’s democratic foundations as they did have a good deal to do with it’s progressivism of that time or it’s eastern mysticism origins (largely fable)? the point seemed a little ambiguous.

Secondly you are saying that the president is tweaking his speeches so they resonate amongst fundamentalism/wahabists and the like?? I’m aware we have that history of tailor-made speeches/sentiments within the cold war era (Ask not what your country can do for you…) I just really haven’t seen it here with Bush. “They hate freedom” speeches appeal to these factions somehow??

Posted by: Novenge at December 14, 2005 1:25 AM
Comment #102260

Capitalism is a largescale business arrangement to oversee the expanse of other markets of business arrangement that’s what is beyond the fable here. They are that to an extent but they do not fascillitate growth but consolidate it to themselves. so what we are actually selling is freedom, I know that sounds canned, but it is freedom from Islamic law (here’s the snag). See that’s where the venture ruptures. To pull apart Islam it takes a long drawn out diplomatic and intelligence venture but the war on Iraq jeopardizes that. How? It steps up the threat of war as a retalliation for not going along and people reject that. See once it goes into democratization (such as with Iraq) it will digress, why because of the forced status of “my way or the highway” (if I may be so hackneyed). they have the vote and they can/likely will, pick and choose leaders that are furthest from the puppeture of the threat itself, that’s us. So they will retreat to cultural Islam which is patr theocratic if in some cases wholly theocratic. Bush isn’t selling this well and it is a sell but it (capitalism) is a political product that divides it from Islam as a political/power entity. The chance of the clerics giving that up is unlikely.

Posted by: Novenge at December 14, 2005 1:52 AM
Comment #102265

We cannot leave Iraq. Whether it be 5 years or 50, we must stay until every terrorist is dead.

Posted by: Aldous at December 14, 2005 3:51 AM
Comment #102271


The Iranian president want to move Isreal to either Europe,the US or Canada.

Please check home pricing in your area …maybe we can do something

Posted by: sicilianeagle at December 14, 2005 6:07 AM
Comment #102273
…Oh come on now, the greatest block to Islam becoming democratized IS Islam.

…these areas are quite blocked by Islam as a political and even sociological entity.

…See that’s where the venture ruptures. To pull apart Islam it takes a long drawn out diplomatic and intelligence venture but the war on Iraq jeopardizes that. -Novenge

Here is yet another example of today’s Democratic Party’s unwritten anti-faith foundation. Just as it is their aim to ‘disinfect’ not only American government but SOCIETY of any faith, Christianity or other; THEIR motives for Middle Eastern involvment are to wipe out all faith, ISLAM or other from both government AND SOCIETY.

This despite the fact President Bush has repeatedly informed us and the world this is NOT a war against Islam. The Rupublican Party was and is the only defense against this world wide DNC campaign against all religious faith .. anywhere.

Posted by: jo at December 14, 2005 6:17 AM
Comment #102276

Hi Aldous,

“we must stay until every terrorist is dead.”

Excepting the ones who are elected to serve in the Iraqi government?

Posted by: LouisXIV at December 14, 2005 7:35 AM
Comment #102282

Interesting. What started out as an intellegent academic discussion about the middle east has devolved into slamming Bush, religion, capitalism, and more ….

Isn’t anyone sick of rehashing the same ole’crap? Where are the new thoughts, solutions, ideas? Instead of constantly complaining, give a solution! For example: Iraq. I watch generals on TV say that they have a plan. Thier boss is Pres Bush. My guess is that like any boss, he delegates decision making to the people under him. The one’s with the experience, knowledge and ability to do the job. If any of you are “the boss”, you understand this. If any of you are the “people”, you understand this. You may not always agree with the boss, but you do the job you’re trained to do. Right? Now comes along someone, not in your field, without your knowledge or insight or information that you are privy to and tries to tell you how to do YOUR job. If you’re a doctor, lawyer or other professional, this totally pisses you off. If you’re the low man on the totem pole, you gotta take it. So why do we assume that “we” (the public, the media) know what the hell is really behind the decisions? We elect the “bosses” (even if you didn’t vote for him, more than 50% of the population did - get over it) and we expect them to utilize the experience and knowledge of the professionals around them. This is what our government is about. If you don’t like the decisions, then you better convince alot more people to get off their lazy butts and vote. (ah, sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?) Talk is cheap. Running a mouth does not get anything done. Come up with better answers and mobilize yourselves to action, not rhetoric. And for pity sake, someone please tell the actors of the world that just because they play politions on TV doesn’t give them doctorates in poly sci.

Of course, I’m a republican and as such, I believe that the DNC is so out of touch with normal American sentiment and values that I’m pretty sure our next president will also be a Republican. And given that thought, I think that we will finish the job in Iraq and the world will be better off. Maybe not to the left’s liking, but better.

Posted by: Ilsa at December 14, 2005 7:50 AM
Comment #102284


Stick around. It happens just about every time someone tries to discuss anything.

Posted by: dawn at December 14, 2005 8:00 AM
Comment #102285

Although I am not of the Masonic Order or Free Masonary nor do I hold any degree in their Ideology, the very fact that their written History of Humanity’s Civilization of Written Laws has been dated back to around 15,000 B.C. Your charge of the Masonic Books being largely fable is answered quickly by not only the find by a English Man in the 1800’s, but the fact that a second set of Sanskrit Books was found in the 80’s or 90’s of the Last Century.

No, America’s economic policies do not follow true Capitalism for if it did than the Bottom Line would not matter (to a degree). However, due to the fact that America has always had to trade on a global scale our economy functions on the Ideology of the Rapitalist. The God Almighty Dollar comes before even life itself and must be protected even if it cost The King all his Men and Kingdom is the why the Money and thus a Nation & Society have to learn to beat The Devil of Civilization st his own game.

True Capitalism believes that every citizen and their family can work together so that they can become Self-Sufficent (ie economically viable and financially independent)as they live a simple productive life. By educating the average citizen on the wisdom of investing in their own inherent best interest instead of offering up taxes than over generations even the poorest American willing to live a simple productive life can enjoy the freedom of freewill based on only a single Principle in Life. You must act in a manner that is found to be Right by Nature according to Society’s Standard not your own.

Now, has America reached that vision of our Founding Fathers? Not really, although great progess in our society has been made over the last 229 years our Eleders and Parents (well hopefully most) knew that the changes and programs that was fought so hard for could not last. However, the wisest among us at the time put America on a natural course lead by “I the Corporation” Hidden from the view of Society and unwilling to be talked about by the Left or Right is the very fact that still exist and that is all of Humanity’s Civilization serves “I the Consumer.”

It is this interwoven Beast of Nature that shows something or some one holds all the knowledge, history, and wisdom known in this great experiment in consumption. What lessons has the Human Race learned from this knowledge since history shows the movement of wheat both East & West in 15,000 BC or the fact that East meet West in the 1700’s has to do with the natural course of Human Events in the world today places Freewill, Knowledge, and Concious right in the middle of an argument that happened tears ago and caused three religions to declare the same god and fight over who is right. The problem is none of our leaders is willing to take on the Beast of Nature that is Unalienable Right by Nature with that which is unalienable Right by Human Nature. An argument still left unsettled even here in America by the Youth of the 60’s.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at December 14, 2005 8:02 AM
Comment #102287

Welcome to

Now you say “that the DNC is so out of touch with normal American sentiment and values that I’m pretty sure our next president will also be a Republican.” I surely hope that Karl Rove and other Spin Masters hired by the Republicans think so. The fact of the matter is that our political parties are in danger of losing their edge if the right group of people come together.

So please be proud of President Bush and the Republicans are in charge; however, as one of their supports do you even have a clue on how to deal with the mess that has been made in Iraq? Because what I have heard from President Bush over the last week is stuff that some in charge was pushing for over a year ago. Even Senator Liberman outshined the President with his idea of selling “War Bonds” to help cover the cost of Iraq. At least that would be progress, since now I have heard of very little. Civil Behavior a stable living in the Land that we control, how much today, how much next month, etc. should be the mark that the Senate takes toward the Administration until all of Iraq is secured and safely turned over to Iraq. Time will tell if the Republicans can stop playing war and actually winning one.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at December 14, 2005 8:26 AM
Comment #102292


I don’t think the Vietnam analogy applies to Iraq except in the case that the war could be lost in the battle of American opinion. Beyond that, Iraq is nothing at all like Vietnam, historically, socially, in regards to ethnic unity. In fact, I can’t think of even one parallel between the two places except that Americans are/were involved with an insurgecy. It is the wrong history to look at.

Even Vietnam and Korea, on the surface more similar, taught very different lessons.


My grandfather was a Mason. Seemed harmless enough. A lot of memorization and any stranger who was a Mason got special treatment.

But a kind of a technical point about laws and traditions. They never pass from generation to generation unchanged and sometimes they don’t pass at all. No culture actually survives more than a generation. It is sort of like a xerox copy or xerox copies, with each generation less true to the original (although thinking it is). History also has many dead ends. We might find an ancient text or practice and try to connect it with a modern idea, but sometimes it really isn’t there. The ancient Greeks invented a lightbulb. It didn’t work and has little in common with the one Edison finally produced. It was a dead end.

Tracing things back to their original source is always fun. Sometimes you find there is no connection or whole systems of belief are based on an error or deliberate hoax. The modern versions would be things like the Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot or crop circles. Sources can be piled on sources referencing nothing.

It is also true that a contemporary translation might be “better” (or at least more influential) than the original. The Fitzgerald translation of Omar Khayyam, for example, gave the Rubaiyat a much wider audience and influence than it had in its native language. If you are interested in Eastern philosophy, consider the various translations of the Book of the Tao. I don’t know what it means to people in the original Chinese, but an English speaking reader could draw a variety of very different conclusions depending on the translation.

The question is: when does a translation or an interpretation become so different from the original that it is a different work? Anyway, too much off the subject.

Posted by: Jack at December 14, 2005 8:58 AM
Comment #102358
We should learn from history, but we should learn from the right history.

Reading Lewis a fine idea, but readers should know that Lewis has his own ideological bent. Whether his is the “right history” is a matter of some debate. He’s been accused by some other Mid-East scholars and historians of “orientalism” and even of disliking Arabs and Islam. So, reading Lewis needs to be balanced against reading his critics as well as other scholars in the field.

Posted by: Reed Sanders at December 14, 2005 12:30 PM
Comment #102364


Paternalistic and imperialistic is the idea that we can reshape the Middle East through military action. This idea is fundamental flawed, so flawed that the administration knew if they offered it as the reason for the war, they would have been laughed out of Congress.

This attempt at making it seem rational by citing such canted history as Lewis propounds is sophistry at its worst. You know better, but apparently don’t care. If you understood history you would recognize that Bush’s folly in Iraq is doomed to failure.

Posted by: Mental Wimp at December 14, 2005 12:41 PM
Comment #102365

Re orientalism
The least corrupt, most respecting of individual rights, most inclusive and least murderous governments the Middle East had in recent times were by the colonial regimes and their “puppets”. That is also a history we have to consider, even if the idea is very politically incorrect.

That is sad. I hope that Iraq will break that mold.

Posted by: Jack at December 14, 2005 12:41 PM
Comment #102366

Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go. - Hamlet

Posted by: Mental Wimp at December 14, 2005 12:42 PM
Comment #102502

If your grandfather was a Mason than you should know that the reason for “Laws and Traditions” changing from generation to generation is the ever living quest of the Human Race to build a “More a Righteous Nation and Society.” From the very start of Humanity’s Civilization of Laws, “Priests” or “Sages” were asked to seek out the Words of the Divine so that community leaders and citizens could live and be governed by Righteous Laws. The way we are governed, our society functions, and to a great extent how we live our lives regardless of Race, Color, or Creed all can be traced back to the time in history when Humans decided to bring under the Rule of Law those men who chose Rapitalistic Ways instead of the way of the Light of Right & True.

Civilization Evolution dating back over 188,000 years ago clearly shows that Humans have lived by The Spoken Word of Man’s Laws long before they were written. Therefore, by a person using this knowledge in a Masonic or Free Mason Society manner has to allow Reason and Logic to imagine the moment that the first Human spoke in a manner were their “Words were Pure” (i.e. Saying that which is found to be Right and True regardless of who says it). Personally, I place that time around the very first Campfires of Life. This reason and logic comes from the fact that one of the first rules every Human must learn is not to pick up “A Red Hot Coal.” Understanding Human Nature and the need to place things in a natural course of Human Events (i.e. History) so that one can learn, just imagine the discover of fire by Man. Regardless of how man came in possession of this “Tool of Nature,” the Person or People who harnessed this power had to come to a quick understanding on how to deal with picking up the “Red Hot Coals” in a manner that would not burn them. These Laws would have had to accompany the “Fire” as it traveled throughout the land. Nevertheless, as Human Events even show today that some people do not take precedence in these laws when around a campfire. Thus, one can only wonder if the fact that in Human Nature we can safely take the liberty to show that while some Humans will learn from the wisdom of their Elders Words and others may have to “See It in order to Believe It.” Some how or for some reason there still exist those among us that have to pick up that Red Hot Coal for themselves to learn that there are such things as Absolutes in The World. However, this same knowledge and wisdom also shows us that somewhere in the crowd there exist those who want to try and tempt others to believe different. IMO this reason and logic would explain the split documented in DNA of Africans and non-Africans for would not the Elders of the First Campfires chase away those who would not live by the Laws of the Campfire? Other major changes in our societal structure and way of providing for our needs and wants may of changed as we have learned more and more about the “Tools of Nature,” yet at no time or space has the Human Race ever forgot the lessons learned during the Age of Spoken and Written History.

Why is that so important to the debate on Iraq and the War on Terrorism in the 21st Century? Because or just because if you are a parent. Actually, it comes down to the point of view on how “We” govern ourselves and those fellow Humans we call Citizens. Terrorism, Tyranny, and Torture may be in the “Eyes of the Beholder” as some Humans would have us believe (Ancient Law). Other Humans believe that Society should rule over the Masses so that a few can enjoy the fullest extent of the Law (Old World Law); however, In America it is “We the People” who has set the standard of The Law of the Land (Modern Law). Up till 9/11, that Authority was not challenged. OBL and President Bush’s failure to prove that their ideology of The Law is the correct one for the Human Race to follow still has not been addressed by either the Democrats or Republicans, why?

By proving OBL’s Sages wrong about the Righteousness of The Law and taking the steps necessary to “Evolve Society” both in the West as well as the East that reflects that knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, our leadership has resorted to violence to prove the point. Might makes Right unless you are wrong and unwise about what to do. A point that many Republicans and Rapitalists in America and the World need to learn. For although Our Founding Fathers gave us the “Societal Tools” required to grow up into a Righteous Nation of Laws, has America’s Society reached that point? As that is the bottom line of OBL’s argument against the USA and other Nations, showing the world a plan that proves otherwise is the only way to win the game and once again be the light unto all Nations of Humanity. Or do we Stay the Course and allow an other 1,000 years of Human Suffering?

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at December 14, 2005 7:34 PM
Comment #102529


MY point was that the selling of democracy (in that region) is the divide between individual and human rights becoming somehow separated from Islamic theocratic implicatory laws. And summarily that the Mullahs aren’t going to give that up easily. that’s not anti-faith that’s reallity.

We have gone in there as the blazing enemy and surely our mess will not win them over. We’ve killed possibly as many as 100,000 people or more. that won’t sell it. We are heavily in bed with Israel that won’t help the sale. There are things we need to do to move steadily towards democratization and that was my other point.

But the opponent such as with Iran and Saudi Arabia is Islamic law over human rights that make no sense beyond even the middle ages. The mullahs have the ultimate power and if democratization means separating mosque and state, which it does to a good extent so be it.

Posted by: Novenge at December 14, 2005 8:59 PM
Comment #102549

This action between the Mullahs of Iran and Saudi Arabia and the rest of Humanity’s Nations is the same political debate that caused America to have an enegry crisis in the 70’s. And while I have to side with the citizens of those nations that nothing has changed in their country over the last 40 years, the problem begins and ends at the way each side fews how one consumes (lives life).

Nevertheless, Mullahs, like the Pope and other religious leaders, must submit to all knowledge that is proven to be absolute fact. Thus, under the current global economy how can each Nation be found to be right? Why does one think is their reasoning for covering women in public? Could it be that the Male does not want the Female to tell them that they are wrong?

Here in America and elsewhere that has become a soceital known fact has it not? And while we may not be perfect the fact that it is still a Man’s World can not and should never change just because of the fact that NO MATTER WHAT!!!!! all men over the age of 10 just has to be Right by Nature.

Posted by: Henry Schlatman at December 14, 2005 10:35 PM
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