ENVI Homework Assignments 1 Middle East
Middle East has a long history, which is very different from Euro-centric worldview. It consists of various nations, religions, political views and economic levels. This heterogeneity leads to multiple local conflicts that affect foreign policies of other countries like the United States.
Traditionally, the following countries are defined as the Middle East: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. First ancient countries like Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia appeared in the Middle East. That is why it is possible to call the region the cradle of civilization. The region is also a place of appearance of three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. From the 8th century Arabs started to spread Islam and the Middle East became synonymous with the “land of Islam”, or “dar al-Islam”.
In the 18th century, the Europeans started to penetrate into political and economical life of the Middle East countries. Britain and France were major players in the colonization of the East. Though, even after the colonization period, the life in the region was not peaceful. Political situation in the countries of Middle East has been extremely difficult in the 20th and the 21st centuries because of local wars, conflicts, and ideological confrontation, which had a deteriorating effect on the development of the region.
The level of life in the Middle East countries ranges from extremely poor to prosperous. For example, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are rich countries with stable economical and political systems, while Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, and the State of Palestine have problems in this regard. Oil is the most important natural resource on which the economic of the region is based. From 1945, mass production of oil started in countries like Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. This led to a formation of OPEC (the international oil cartel) that coordinates the functioning of the world oil market and increased wellbeing of the countries with natural resources. So, it is possible to say that that the keystone of the success of some countries in the region is the presence of natural resources. There is certain interdependence between the states in the region. Oil-rich countries depend on the inflow of skilled and unskilled labor from other countries. Immigrants from poor countries search for work in rich countries. In addition, economically developed and politically stable countries on the Middle East offer big international companies great opportunities to increase the number of their consumers and lower the costs of production. The fact that there are many poor countries in the region leads to a decrease of average hourly payments for workers because many people immigrate to more developed countries to earn money there. This is one of pragmatic reasons why it is good that the United States have good relations with United Arab Emirates.
In the Middle East, it is impossible to separate religion from political life, because there is no religious diversity in the region. The majority of people are Muslims, and in some states the spiritual leader has even more power and authority then the President. For example, the Grand Ayatollah was the one who advised the nation on the best head of the state during the elections in Iran in 2013. In addition, the followers of two different trends in Islam, Shi’a and Suni, start armed conflicts because of religious differences. Shi’a Islam is the religion of the majority of the Iranian people, and about half the population of Iraq. Shi’a minorities live in Lebanon and Syria. Shi’as believe that the imams that descend from Mohammed have absolute and infallible knowledge. There are twelve Imams and there is the last one, or “the hidden imam”, who will return before the end of the world to restore justice. Ayatollahs, who are Shi’a clergy, have a great political influence because it is believed that they know the will of Allah.
Another important religious issue to consider is Islamic fundamentalism. This movement started to develop rapidly after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Even now it continues to threaten the political stability in many countries of the region. For example, Egypt underwent serious attacks of Islamists in response to its supporting policy towards Israel. It is necessary to note that Israel is considered by the majority of Muslims as the key problem in the Middle East. The US support Israel and it causes even more negative reaction towards the country. John Mearsheimer in his book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy calls the lobby a “loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction” (Mearsheimer 12) and writes that this lobby has a great influence on the US foreign policy and affects negatively the interests of American government.
It is also necessary to mention two big Islamic fundamentalist and extremist organizations of the Middle East as the “Muslim Brotherhood” in Egypt and “Hezbollah” in Lebanon. They have their own army and often use the political terror against the enemies of Islam.
All these facts led to a tendency to demonize the Middle East. The American society has stereotypes about Arab terrorists, but Arabs have their prejudices about the US too. Rana Kabbani, a Syrian-born BBC journalist, made an attempt to understand how do Arabs percept the US and what are their arguments to support their position. The make question of the video report is whether the American war against Islamic terrorists is a defensive reaction or just an attempt to have the greatest influence in the Middle East and own the oil. According to the report, Arab people believe that the US undermines democracy in their region and try to impose their alien point of view and lifestyle. Then, they help Israel in ethnic cleansing of Palestine. (Kabbani) As a result, two nations continue to blame each other in all possible and impossible disasters on the basis of stereotypes.
In 2009 Barack Obama, the President of the United States in his speech called “A New Beginning” emphasized the importance of peaceful negotiations in the region in problematic questions like the creation of The Palestinian state and Iranian nuclear program. He noted that the main idea the American government wanted to explain is that the United States are not the enemies of the Muslim world. (CNN 27 January) The reaction of the representatives of the Middle East was not the same. For example, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister fully supported the American leader. In comparison to it, Hassan Fadlallah from Hezbollah said that “the Islamic and Arab world does not need lectures”. (AFP 5 June)
Though, the history of the Middle East is actively creating now. The most important recent events in the region are connected with Syria. On August 31 the U.S. President Barack Obama announced that it is acceptable to use military force against Syria in case they decide to use weapons of mass destruction.
The situation considering Syria continues to worsen. The United States and its NATO allies accuse the governmental military forces of the usage of chemical weapons in the south of Damascus August 21. According to Washington, it led to many death and injuries among the civilians. Syrian government denies it and calls the facts fabricated. According to their official position the chemical weapons were used by foreign mercenaries that fight for the opposition.
As it was mentioned earlier, the foreign policy according to which the US supports Israel in the local conflicts might result in numerous negative things for the White House. Syria threatens Israel and the US needs to support Israel. From the analytical perspective, the United States have no interest in participating in the war with Syria. There are two main reasons for it. According to the first one, the Americans do not support this military conflict. Too many of them remember how many young soldiers died in Iraq and the new war will lead to more deaths. The second reason is quite pragmatic: a military conflict is extremely money-consuming. In addition, the policy of the current President was initially based on reducing the expenses on the military forces of the country. From another point of view, the US government has no possibility to keep silence when the information about the use of chemical weapons was disclosed.
James Petras wrote a chronicle of the military presence of the US and NATO in the Gulf and in the North Africa. He is making reasonable points about the nature of that war and its origins. He uses the notion of a “humanitarian war” and “humanitarian intervention” in ironical sense, because those attempts of NATO to impose democracy led to thousands of deaths. Petras writes:
NATO’s War and the Phony “Rebel Uprising” Nothing is more obvious than the fact that the entire war against Libya was in every strategic and material fashion NATO’s war. The casting of the rag-tag collection of monarchists, Islamist fundamentalists, London and Washington-based ex-pats and disaffected Gaddafi officials as “rebels” is a pure case of mass media propaganda. From the beginning the ‘rebels’ depended completely on the military, political, diplomatic and media power of NATO, without which the de facto mercenaries would not have lasted a month, holed up in Benghazi. A detailed analysis of the main features of the conquest of Libya confirms this assault as a NATO war. NATO launched brutal air and sea attacks destroying the Libyan air force, ships, energy depots, tanks, artillery and armories and killed and wounded thousands of soldiers, police and civilian militia fighters. Until NATO’s invasion the mercenary ‘rebel’ ground forces had not advanced beyond Benghazi and could barely ‘hold’ territory afterwards. The ‘rebel’ mercenaries ‘advanced’ only behind the withering round-the-clock air attacks of the NATO offensive. NATO air strikes were responsible for the massive destruction of Libyan civilian and defensive military infrastructure, bombing ports, highways, warehouses, airports, hospitals, electrical and water plants and neighborhood housing, in a war of ‘terror’ designed to ‘turn’ the loyalist mass base against the Gaddafi government. (Petras 51-52)
Many people do not really care about politics and so not think at all about possible ways to promote positive relationships between the American people and the peoples of the Middle East. The conflict situation considering Syria seemed to be a story about geopolitics like a text about the World War I. However, as I have been reading recent articles about it that appear every several hours, I imagined myself living in that country and thinking that tomorrow NATO aviation might bomb my house for the sake of peace and democracy. No need to say that I really disliked this possibility and it seems to me that Syrian civilians think the same way. No matter where people live, in what god they trust and who rules their country, no one wants to die and to lose relatives. The majority of Americans have a stereotypical point of view about what an Arab person is. The first images that are connected with Arab world are terrorism, Islamic radicalism and hijab. It might be funny that a stereotypical Arab wants to kill all Americans, those who survived have to thank Allah and women need to cover their heads. Though, it is not a good joke, but a great problem of public perception that leads to aggressive reaction. Perhaps, more attempts to question Arab people about their desires and understanding that everyone in the world wants to live might lead to positive results in the international dialogue.
AFP. Emirates Business 24/7. “Obama speech widely hailed but foes still sceptical”.(2009). Web.
Armstrong, Karen. Muhammad: a prophet for our time. Atlas Books: HarperCollins, 2006. Print.
CNN,. “‘Americans are not your enemy,’ Obama tells Muslims.” (2009): 27 January. Web.
Held, Colbert and Cummings, John. Middle East Patterns: Places, Peoples, and Politics. Westview Press, 2011. Print.
Kabbani, Rana. Letter to America: how Arabs view the United States. Film.
Mearsheimer, John J. and Walt, Stephen. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. New York:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Web.
Petras, James. The Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack. Clarity Press, 2012. Print.