Friday, May 27, 2016

Modern Life in the Middle East

History Book Club
Wednesday, May 25, 2016

 Modern Life in the Middle East and the Islamic State  
Wednesday, May 25, 2016: Modern Life in the Middle East and the Islamic State. Iraq from its formation after WWI, Syria, the Caliphate, Origins of conflict, Sunni vs. Shii vs. Kurds vs. Alewhites Vs. Wahabi vs. ?   Modern technology with Seventh-century ideas, Impact of USSR and U.S. in Afghanistan, U.S. combat in Iraq; Arab Spring; Turkey and Islam, Jordan, The Gulf States, Egypt, much more.

Dabashi, Hamid, Iran, the Green Movement and the USA: The Fox and the Paradox;
Zed Books, London, 2010.

            Dabashi, born in Ahvaz, Iran in 1951, received his education in his hometown and then at Tehran University.  He then moved to the United States where he received a dual Ph.D. in Sociology of Culture and Islamic Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. He has taught and delivered lectures in many in American, European, Arab, and Iranian universities. He is a founding member of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, as well as a founding member of the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University. He has written 25 books.

Dabashi begins this book with an ancient Persian tale of a majestic lion who ruled over a jungle. A weak but wily fox had earned a good relationship with the lion, which meant that whatever was left over from the lion’s kills, the fox could enjoy.  The lion grew old, his hair began to fall out, and the fox, with his clever skill, urged the lion, to look for a cure to his deficiencies.  The lion consulted his royal physicians, who advised him to eat the heart and ears of an ass, and he would be restored.

It turns out that the lion is the United States, the wily fox is Iran, and the ass is the rest of the Middle East.

Dabashi traces the modern history of Iran, beginning when the wiliest of foxes outsmarted Jimmy Carter, then President of the United States. The Shah of Iran was chased out of his country, and soon after student activists invaded the American Embassy on Takhte Jamshid Street in November 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage there for 444 days. They were released just as Ronald Reagan took the oath of office to relieve Carter, in 1981.

Reagan built a firewall around Iran by arming Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and arming the Taliban in Afghanistan to resist the Soviet Union, which had invaded the country.  Saddam began a war with Iran that lasted eight years.

Reagan’s “firewalls” metastasized.  Saddam became a regional monster and so did the Taliban.  When Saddam decided to invade Kuwait, then President George H.W. Bush formed a multi-national force to push him out. 

The Taliban managed to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but at the same time Osama bin Laden created his al Qaeda.

Next, al Qaeda carried out the attacks of September 11, 2001, which caused then President George W. Bush to retaliate by invading Afghanistan that same year. Two years later, feeling that the American action in Afghanistan was effective, he invaded Iraq.

Since 1979 the Iranian Islamic Republic has stayed on, and Dabashi’s story is about a Green Revolution which took place in 2009.  This demonstrated that the Iranian people, who had grown weary of the Shah and Savak secret police and the corruption in 1979, were growing weary of the Mullahs and the Basij voluntary militia and the repression and corruption again. 

The Green Movement acted as a catalyst to help distinguish between the morally corrupt and politically opportunist expat opposition and their American, Israeli and Saudi backers; and the main and healthy body of principled aspirations for democratic change in Iran.  

            In the larger historical and geographical context of the Green Movement, as a result, it bloomed early like a fragrant flower, to paraphrase a beautiful poem of Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000), the Iranian poet of liberty, announcing the winter had ended, and gently blended into the Arab Spring, forever changing the geopolitics of the region. This is not to suggest that the Green Movement "caused" the Arab Spring. 
            It simply means the fate of millions of Iranians and Arabs is not that different from each other, and their historic march towards liberty is far more organically linked than the miserable sectarianism and racism that on the surface mars that collective fate.
            The Green Movement announced the end of post-colonial ideology, almost identically to the way in which the Arab Spring ended a vicious cycle of domestic tyranny and imperial domination.
            As the Green Movement receded from the public space into the underground, it began occupying a sphere that will continue to thrive under the radar of the violent changes that now ravage the region from Iraq to Syria. As such, it will remain a prototype for a non-violent civil rights movement, a perfect model for the region at large, as the Arab and Muslim world goes through massive revolutionary changes.

Morris, Benny, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, 2009, New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press. 240 pp.
            Americans have followed the drama of Israel since its creation in 1948, and Benny Morris does a good job of filling in some of the blank spots, at least in this reader’s understanding. 
            Although Morris wants us to get an impartial view, this Professor of History at Ben Gurion University in Israel does not give us anything which might approximate the Arab point of view.  I have had Arabs and friends of Arabs try to give me their point of view before, and I was unable to take it on board.  I found that the whole matter of deciding upon a place for a home for the Jews was one that was doomed to cause conflict no matter where it ended up.
            Arabs don’t agree, but the Jews have a pretty solid prior claim to the Land of Milk and Honey, going back over 6000 years.
            Morris tells about the first gathering of Zionists in 1882, which began the drive to find a national homeland. The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 set off a wave of pogroms in Russia and led to the idea of a Zionist organization. Alexander had been a very liberal tsar, freeing the serfs and allowing Jewish merchants in certain areas (that is the “Pale of Settlement”)  to join guilds, and some Jewish children could attend schools.
            Alexander was assassinated by an anarchist, atheistic group called “The People’s Will”, but one of the assassins had Jewish heritage.  
             After centuries of being abused and murdered, with large and small pogroms, the Jews were fed up with always being a minority in any setting. 
            The Arabs in Palestine first developed a national consciousness as Palestinians in the early 1920s.  Up to then, the Arabs who lived in Palestine were simply Arabs.  They were the majority in a land with a significant minority of Jews (800,000 to 160,000 in 1928).
            The extermination of some 6,000,000 Jews by Hitler in World War II created an international impetus to find a home for the Jews.  Britain, which had captured Palestine in World War I, had been leaning toward Palestine as a national home for the Jews since then.  The final decision to bring Jews displaced from Europe fell to President Harry Truman, with agreement of Great Britain, and approval of the United Nations. 
            The central question in this book is whether the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean which was set aside for the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs would be One Nation or Two, whether there should be a Jewish nation alongside a Palestinian nation, or one nation, partitioned. 
            That is the question that has swirled about since 1948.  The Jews knew what it was like to be the minority.  They had done that for ages, and they would not permit that.
Being a Jewish minority with a majority of Arabs?  They would be exterminated.
            The Arabs bitterly resented having the Jews land in Palestine, and they fought it, resisted it, hated it, in every way, from the start until now.
            Could there be a Palestinian state existing in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Israel?  Palestinians have bitterly objected, and have never relented in their demand for ejection of the Jews and “the Right of Return” to the homes from which they had been removed when the Jews arrived. 
            Morris details the many discussions and agreements, or semi-agreements or non-agreements that have tossed around various peace arrangements.  There was the United Nations General Assembly partitioning of November 1947;
The Six-day War of 1967 which resulted in huge loss of territory by the Arabs;
            The Allon Plan of 1967-68 giving back some land to the Arabs, but retaining a strip along the Jordan;
            And there was the infuriating meeting hosted by President Clinton at Camp David in July 2000, that ended with Yasser Arafat not agreeing to anything. 
            The Palestinians have steadfastly opposed any plan that gives them land, including part of Jerusalem, most of the West Bank, etc., etc. as long as the Jews are still around. 
            I was reading about the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in Siberia that Stalin created in 1934. The administrative center is the town of Birobidzhan, population 176,000 in 2010. Of all those, only a little over one percent are Jews.  Some prominent anti-Semites have suggested petitioning Putin of Russia to accept resettlement of all the Israeli Jews there.
            The British and Americans did a heroic think in making the way for Jews to build Israel.  I’m sure all Muslims, especially Arabs, think that move was Satanic.  Some Americans think it was, as well.
            As I finished this book, I asked myself: “What will it take to have peace between Palestinians and Israelis?” 
Future History Book Club Topics
Here are the topics for the rest of 2016.  We encourage you to nominate topics for 2017! 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016: Africa since 1900.  Colonization by Belgium, France, Britain, Germany and Portugal; End of Colonialism; Democracy and Dictatorship; Rwanda; Jomo Kenyatta; Apartheid and South Africa; Congo; Angola; more….

Wednesday, July 27, 2016: American Foreign Policy from the Barbara Pirates to today. Civil War alliances by both Union and Confederacy; Gunboat Diplomacy; Spanish-American War; “He Kept Us out of War!”; Britain and the U.S. in WWII; The Cold War; more.

Wednesday, August, 31, 2016: Germs and Plagues: A history of epidemics in the world. Plague of Athens (429 BC), Plague of Justinian (541 AD), “Black Death” in 1346, Cocoliztli Epidemic in Mexico (1528), Wampanoag Smallpox in 1616, 1918 Flu Pandemic, more.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016: Scaremongering and Witch Hunts in America. Salem Witch Trials, House Un-American Activities Committee; McCarthy Investigations; more.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016:  Political Parties in America. Whigs, Know-Nothings, Federalists, Copperheads; Communists, Socialists, Republicans, Democrats, more.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016: Colonization in America. Jamestown, Plymouth, Gloucester, St. Augustine, Junipero Serra, Roger Williams, Quebec, Nieuw Amsterdam, more.

December:  No Meeting