The Middle East Mess

Recently, PBS broadcasted a documentary “Letters From Baghdad” which tells the story of Gertrude Bell, the British writer, traveler, and expert enormously knowledgeable about Palestine.  Ms Bell, in the early 20th century, advocated for Palestine self rule and self determination following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.  Modern Iraqi borders bear Ms Bell’s efforts.

The Middle East we know today presents a bewildering array of seemingly intractable  contradictions.  The Israeli-Arab impasse, the Shiite-Sunni conflict, and what makes one want to be an infamous suicide bombers, seem to defy logic.  

Gertrude Bell, however, foresaw this Middle East dysfunction.  On one hand, she opposed the Balfour’s Declaration which called for a Jewish homeland because she didn’t believe the Arabs could accept giving up land to Israelis.  On the other hand, Ms Bell worked diligently advising British Governors how to best administer the region.  Subsequently, Bell proposed boundaries creating and defining an Iraqi State. Bell thought these boundaries would encompass a State internally balanced (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd) and that no one sub-group would have enough power to rule over the others. 

Time and the sheer destructive influence of oil wealth have shown Gertrude Bell’s hopes to be unfulfilled but most surprisingly, modern scholars are just as befuddled on how to nurture a modern Middle East.  Events such as George Bush’s Iraq War, Israel’s West Bank expansions, and the Sunni Saudi Arabia face off against Shiite Iran present puzzles in the 21st century.  Oil (and the greed that follows), irrational and incompatible religious traditions, and millions of poor and largely uneducated residents characterize the Middle East but do not suggest how to end the nonsense. 

For example,

  • in Yemen, norther tribesman (Houthis) allied with Iran are fighting against Saudi backed “government” troops and in the process destroying everyone and everything in their way.  Why? 
  • Hezbollah and Hamas militias allied with Iran continually are plotting to attack Israel.  Why?
  • Israel, simultaneously, nibbles and then gobbles Palestinian land on the West Bank claiming that the bible said the land was Israel’s. Why?
  • And, what makes anyone think that blowing themselves up and killing other innocent men, women, and children makes sense?  Why?

A little more than 100 years after Gertrude Bell’s work the Middle East remains a mess. 

Explore posts in the same categories: Iraq, Uncategorized

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