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Arts and Culture

Zachary Karabell on the Middle East

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Posted on Aug 8, 2008
book cover

By Zachary Karabell

(Page 2)

That they believed in a larger cause doesn’t excuse the consequences. Men like Lawrence of Arabia, Sykes and of course Wolfowitz may have believed that their actions would serve the interests of progress, stability and the greater good of the region, but they also believed that their societies were more advanced and positioned to teach the peoples of the Middle East a lesson in civilization and democracy. They viewed local rulers, whether Faisal in Iraq in the 1920s, Abdullah in Jordan in the 1920s through the 1940s, the Shah of Iran from the 1940s through the 1970s or Iraqi exiles like Ahmad Chalabi, as well intentioned but underdeveloped wards, teenagers in need of guidance and occasional sternness. That the Arabs and Persians had developed their own cultures and civilizations over the course of 2,000 years, had thrived when the West was mired in chaos and darkness, and had their own sense of the past and the future was largely discounted by these kingmakers and ignored except as interesting academic factoids of days long gone.

One of the wiser comments from the various players in these stories comes from Ja’far al-Askari, an Iraqi notable who led one faction during the tumultuous 1920s, who remarked to Gertrude Bell that the Iraq independence was not something that the British could grant or impose. “My lady, complete independence is never given; it is always taken.”

For Americans especially, heirs to a revolutionary tradition that established the independence of the United States from Great Britain in the late 18th century, that should have been obvious. But somehow, the American past was never used as a guide to American policy in other regions. Americans cherish their streak of stubbornness and independence, and tend to reject foreign ideas and influences. Americans would never accept with open arms a foreign power invading under the guise of liberators, yet many fully expected that the Iraqis of 2003 would do just that. More than a century of history to the contrary was overlooked and discounted.

Meyer and Brysac are perhaps too modest in their approach; they are content to tell the stories, framed by the cautionary lesson they want to impart, but without directly speaking to the issues of today. They are traditional historians, wary of drawing too many simple present-tense conclusions from a past that is complicated and messier. But if they pull their punches, they still manage to offer a panoply of stories with contemporary relevance and resonance. It would be wonderful if future generations of American leaders took some of this history to heart. But while we have been reconsidering the wisdom of U.S. actions in Iraq, it’s not clear that we have begun to examine the limitations of power and the dangers of unrealistic visions of how the world could be. Balancing idealism with realism has never been easy, but it would be refreshing not to continue tilting with windmills in the deserts of the Middle East.

Zachary Karabell is the author of several books, including, most recently, “Peace Be Upon You: Fourteen Centuries of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence in the Middle East,” published by Alfred A. Knopf.


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Issywise's avatar

By Issywise, August 14, 2008 at 9:03 am Link to this comment

Cyrena

Here is what you said:

“But, isn’t that (and hasn’t it always been) the arrogance of the Western white people? Of course it has. They didn’t just start doing this a century ago. They’ve been doing it far, far, far longer than that. Destroying cultures and civilizations established long before they even knew what a civilization was.”

To which you added: “because for some odd reason, the arrogance and hubris seems to be genetic.”

I don’t dispute your presentation of the last five hundred years of Western imperialism. Don’t have to in order to point out that your viewpoint is racist. 

All I dispute is that specific behaviors–including arrogance, hubris, destructiveness and such complex social phenomena as imperialism, are genetically tied to race.

It is just as racist to say imperialism, arrogance, hubris and destructiveness are genetically tied to the white race as it is for idiots to assert certain other behaviors (I won’t recite the all-to-well-known list) are tied to an African genetic ancestry.  You have become your own nightmare–only reversing the victim.

Your history is racist in its parameters: The modern West has exhibited imperialist behaviors, but so too has every other ascendant empire in history, regardless of what race the imperials happened to be. That you ignore that larger history is a result of your racist perspective.  It is a self-deluding self-selection of evidence to prove a point you already had unchangeably fixed in your attitudes—a prejudice, in other words.

My reference to the Old Testament was to illustrate the broader occurrence of imperialist behavior in history: the imperialistic genocide God supposedly mandates-through Moses, recounted in Numbers 23,  took place 2,500 years ago—long before there was a West.

What do you make of the imperialism of the Muslim ascendancy from the 8th to the 17th Century? Are the sieges of Austrian Vienna (a Western empire and city) in 1529 and 1623 by the Muslim Ottomans too far back in history for you to incorporate them in your anti-white people racist historical theory?

Have you ever met an educated Vietnamese? They can tell you of more than a thousand years of imperialist oppression, with the West’s turn being only a brief interlude at the end.

If you don’t hold racist theories, just say it–and mean it when you say it: Say, “ I do not believe evil behavior traits are genetically tied to race.” 

You’ve had many opportunities to say that. Instead, you say the opposite and rationalize yourself by grabbing on a part of history and ignoring a much larger part.

I don’t defend the West’s historical racism and imperialism. I only point out that your viewpoint is racist too.

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By cyrena, August 14, 2008 at 6:04 am Link to this comment

By Issywise, August 12 at 8:37 am #
cyrena
It isn’t you I’m “attacking.” I’m confronting your expressed viewpoint that imperialist and militarist behavior are a racial trait.
~~~~
I didn’t express this as a viewpoint Issywise, and so….you’re STILL full of it.
WHAT I SAID..(a few dozens times) and as a response to this article, was that the WEST..and SPECIFICALLY the WHITE EUROPEAN WEST, has spent 500 plus years, invading, occupying, and colonizing much of the rest of the globe, and for the most part, that has taken place in places where there are people of color. White Europeans colonized AFRICA, THE AMERICAS, THE MIDDLE EAST, and parts of ASIA. What is it about that, that you find so impossible to accept, when it’s documented all of the place?
Since the original colonization and slaughter of the Natives in North America, (as well as large sections of South America by Spain, Portugal, and others) the “New World” western white people, (as in, the US) have done exactly the same thing, and they continue to do that to this day.
Allow me to share the ‘writing’ from two plaques that are affixed to a large stone situated in premises of the Country Courthouse in my home city.
“IN HONOR OF THE FIRST WHITE WOMEN AND CHILDREN OF THE THRITY FAMILIES WHO MARCHED THROUGH CALIFORNIA WITH THE COLONIZATION EXPEDITION OF JUAN BAUTISTA de ANZA AND CAMPED NEAR HERE MAY 1776.”

Santa Barbara Chapter
Daughters of the American Revolution
1930

The other one, on the other side of the rock is identical except that it says WHITE MEN..blah, blah, blah.

I did not write this Issywise. The Daughters of the so-called American Revolution did, in honor of their colonization conquest, led by yet another European White Person, (one of many) Juan Bautista. (Sounds like a chap from Spain, eh? Or, maybe France). Who much cares Issywise? They were obviously WESTERN AND WHITE, just like ALL OF THE OTHER CHARACTERS mentioned here in this book review, who did the exact same thing in the Middle East.

Do YOU think there was any racism involved in those multiple efforts to take over multiple other countries? Yes? No? Maybe so?

Do YOU think there might have been a tad bit of an “Imperialistic Mentality” in the take-over of ALL THESE PLACES, by what just happened to be WHITE WESTERN people, while the places that were controlled and ruled just happened to be PEOPLE OF COLOR? Arabs, Africans, Indians? YOU TELL ME!

Do ya think that this mentality of arrogant assumption that these WESTERN WHITE people had in deciding that ALL of their colonized subjects and THEIR civilizations and cultures were somehow inferior, might have had a tad bit of racial component to it? You tell me.

Is it some sort of a culturally genetic thing? Is that not an oxymoron? You tell me.

When Hitler was going about measuring the noses of so called Aryans and comparing them with Jews, and determined to create the ‘perfect’ *Aryan* specimen, do ya think there might have been just a tad bit of a racist component there?

Did I ever suggest that ALL WESTERN WHITE PEOPLE were inherently racist? I DID NOT. My one white grandma wasn’t a racist, but my white (Irish) great-grandfather (on the maternal side) was. (and a rapist to boot!)

Issywise, you’re the epitome of perfidy and deceit. A quasi-intellectual con-artist. You may fool some of the people, some of the time, but not me.

Report this

By cyrena, August 14, 2008 at 6:02 am Link to this comment

Part 2 of 2

Now, on a different note, just to point out how disingenuous you are, you asked me this question earlier on, and since it had nothing to do with HISTORY, or the fact that WESTERN WHITE people have colonized much of the rest of the globe, I didn’t respond. But, let me do that now…

•  “Have you read the Old Testament? Are you familiar with the history of the expansion of the Islamic empires and how they were governed.” (from your post number 174568)

First, why in the hell would I look to the OLD Testament for a history of how the West has colonized the rest of the globe, and specifically those parts of it that are made up of people of color? More importantly, why do you keep referencing RELIGIOUS TEXTS in nearly all of your posts, specifically to denounce them? (or at least to denounce Islam and Shari’a Law?) And yet you refer me to the OLD TESTAMENT to learn the history of the West?  Are you crazy, or do you just get turned around in all of your own bullshit?

To answer your question though, just for the record. I’ve read very limited chapters and verses from the OT, and decided that I didn’t need to be terrorized by such literature. If there are any non-violent parts to the thing, I must have missed them. I don’t believe in burning shrubbery (unless we can use that as guide for lighting up GW’s ass) and I’m not into fire and brimstone, and people being petrified into salt or stone or whatever it was they got turned into.

The New Testament is fine as far as the story of Jesus goes, even if it isn’t true, and can’t be verified. I’m fine with that part, but I’ve read it once, so I don’t need to keep going back to it. I already know what it says. It’s a religious text, and for the most part, I don’t keep up with the religious part of history, and I’m not interested in what passes for religion today. I’ve got my own, and we’ve passed it along for a really long time, and without a text.

I’m actually far more informed on the Qur’an, because I have what I would consider to be a base level knowledge of Sharia Law. It makes considerably more sense (at least to me) than anything I’ve ever been able to fathom from the Christian Bible.

Still, none of that has anything to do with my claim (and response to this book review) that WESTERN WHITE people have been practicing arrogant imperialism for centuries.

Oh by the way..those questions I posed earlier? They were all rhetorical questions. You NEED NOT RESPOND.

I *do* think you should see a shrink though. And nope, that’s not one of my specialties.

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By Bboy57, August 13, 2008 at 5:00 pm Link to this comment

Boda-Bing. European imperialism and a secret deal to carve up the Middle East between Enlish and French territorial interests. Now since the end of WWII pops in the American imperialist venture into the region and adaopt an economy sustainable on only one major component, Arab Oil.
It has robbed this generation and more of their American birthright of peace, freedom and properity.

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By Issywise, August 13, 2008 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

Fadel Abdallah

I know it makes it easier for those who advocate violent zealotry to demonize those who disagree with them, but I am no Zionist. As I said, I was inquiring only to measure your take on the spirit of the Muslim world. The Zionist say that you will never stop short of their obliteration and so any concession is fruitless.

Until there are changes in men’s hearts, there will be no peace and your heart is full of the stuff that ensure more violence and war.

I was reacting to what you wrote and that speaks loud and clear for itself.

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By felicity, August 13, 2008 at 11:29 am Link to this comment

Reading Fadel’s comments reminded me of King Leopold II of Belgium who claimed ownership of what he called the Belgian Congo in around 1885.  As his personal domain (76 times larger than Belgium) he was free to extract as much rubber from the land as his forced native labor, kept in line through enslavement and mutilation could gather and process.

Interestingly, his claim was recognized by 14 European countries and the United States of America, that shining example of a Democracy.

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By Fadel Abdallah, August 13, 2008 at 8:36 am Link to this comment

To Izzy-the-Unwise:

Not answering the Israel-Palestinian settlement question, but rather changing the subject with another question, eh? Can I infer from that that you think Israel should be obliterated from the face of the Earth? It is a matter of God’s will, isn’t it?
=======================
Well, I knew from the first time you had a knee-jerk reaction to my name and post that you’re one of those ugly Zionists or Christian Zionist fanatics posing as a secular! However, I ignored answering the question about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, because it was not central to this thread, unless, of course, you believe that Israel is at the center of the world, as your God-given gift to humanity!

However, since you insist, herein below my answer implied in the words of no less than David Ben Gurion himself, who said: “If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?” Quoted by Nahum Goldmann in Le Paraddoxe Juif (The Jewish Paradox), pp. 121.

Additionally, the late Pan-Arabist leader Jamal Abdel-Naser (one of my heroes) said: “What was taken by force, cannot be restored but by force.”

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Issywise's avatar

By Issywise, August 13, 2008 at 5:01 am Link to this comment

Fadel Abdallah,

You ask:
__________________________
I leave this statement to speak alone for itself..Is the relativity of justice part and parcel of the cultural art of our so-called great American democracy?!
___________________________

To which I answer yes and add that the reason is because we are mere humans, just like those who seek certainty by basing their government on theocracy.

There is no more justice to be found by empowering prelates or Imams with dictatorial power—including the power to define the law, than is found relying on Western “relativity”—due process and secular law.

Religious scholars digging through ancient texts to find God’s own answer for every contemporary political,  social and legal issue provide no more justice than is found in the Western system you sneer at.

You and the Pat Robertons have the word “relativity” in common. You believe that justice can be less “relative” if somebody is empowered to dictate law and justice under the auspices of reading God’s mind.

While “mandate from God” is the most common foundation for societies throughout human history, basing the authority of the state on self-supposed direct appointment from God’s is a mere human arrogation; a vanity, a self-glorification that was specifically rejected by the founders of this “so-called great American democracy.” They took the more modest approach that wisdom is more likely found in the consent of the governed rather than embracing some individual or individuals as God’s direct mouthpieces here on Earth.

With both Godly designated dictators and religious scholar digging-out God’s will from ancient texts the end result is always the same: God’s will always turns out to be what the the religiously appointed individuals personally prefers. It’s not less relative. It is only more immodest and tyrannical.

The notion that democracy is contemptible because it is the work of man and a Sharia (or Christianity) based government is divine is both self-glorifying and self-deceiving—it is a vanity that, according to my reading of the texts you and Pat Robertson rely on, undoubtedly offends God.

The history of governments (authoritarian and democratic) doesn’t demonstrate a superiority of justice in theocratic authoritarian states; nor is it demonstrable in today’s world.

In fact, if God’s will is knowable, what is the point of social institutions such as free speech, right to dissent and procedural due process? In democracies, these are protected right held by the governed as part of their role in self-government. If one knows God’s will, coddling apostates is not necessary. 

Before you continue to pour acidic hate on Western civilization, you would do well to learn about it. Discover why the peoples who happen to live in it have been ascendant in recent centuries even as the Islamic world (with no functioning democracies) has faded from its heights of glory. The fulcrum is theocratic domination of government and society. We rise because we’ve rid ourselves of it, even as you descend even further into it.

If “relativity” means secular governance, it is more “just” than religious tyranny.

*** 

Not answering the Israel-Palestinian settlement question, but rather changing the subject with another question, eh? Can I infer from that that you think Israel should be obliterated from the face of the Earth? It is a matter of God’s will, isn’t it?

You don’t get to pour acid all around with having some of your own acid beliefs challenged.

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By Fadel Abdallah, August 12, 2008 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment

Today, all by accident, since I don’t regularly watch TV, I watched Keith Olbermann’s Count Down program, on a piece under the heading “Justice Swerved.”

Remember Alberto Gonzalez, the ex-Attorney General under the neocons’ democracy?! Remember how bad he was and how he was forced out, but never persecuted, for violating the laws of our so-called great democracy and justice system?!

His successor in this great “democratic” post, Mr. Casey, has come up with another great gift to democracy and justice by declaring that “not every violation of the law is a crime.”

I leave this statement to speak alone for itself, without any further personal comment! However, I pose the following question: Is the relativity of justice part and parcel of the cultural art of our so-called great American democracy?!

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Issywise's avatar

By Issywise, August 12, 2008 at 9:37 am Link to this comment

cyrena

It isn’t you I’m “attacking.” I’m confronting your expressed viewpoint that imperialist and militarist behavior are a racial trait.

Imperialists and militarist sometimes “justify” their depredations with hateful racism, but it is no more defensible for you to identify those behaviors as a racial trait as it is for them to use race as a “justification” for their depredations.

Ironically, I agree with about 98% of what you say on this site and others. However, I don’t think you should be vending reactionary racism back into the social ether. It is a poison no matter what direction it blows in from.

I can and do disagree with you on this one point without being a right-wing ideologue. You can’t comfort yourself by dismissing my point with a general dismissal of me as something I am not.

It is my one point that is your huckleberry and it should be—race is not tied to behavioral propensities, least of all society-wide efforts like imperialism.

I think you will better serve the advocacy you make for many just and important thngs by guarding against tying them to assertions of racist perspectives. It’s like the burp in the aria—people only remember the burp.

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By cyrena, August 12, 2008 at 6:12 am Link to this comment

By Issywise, August 12 at 4:00 am

“I am exactly what you need—an open engagement of ideas and facts in the marketplace of ideas.

Otherwise your hatefulness will bounce to and fro in an endless cycle of mutual self-congratulation. Heck, I can find that on Fox News. It isn’t so special.”

~~~~~~

Issywise, I take the first sentence here, specifically the “I am exactly what you need” as a direct threat. An act of terror perpetrated against me. So, while Fadel can certainly speak for himself, let me make it abundantly clear, that *YOU* are the LAST thing I need, and we’ll leave it at that. Your continuing accusations of racism, and the gall that you have in accusing someone of hatefulness just goes beyond any standards of acceptance on this or any other public forum.

There once was another poster on this site, of which you could surely be a clone, or even one and the same person. His name was Douglas Chalmers, and when his appallingly egregious and personally threatening posts finally ended, I hoped that it meant HE had ‘ended’ as well. Now ‘he’ seems to have returned, since it’s difficult to imagine there could be more than one of such a loathsome person on this same, (and obviously one of millions) website.

So, since you obviously aren’t so special yourself, just go back to where you likely feel right at home, on Faux News. Maybe Rush Limbaugh has something ‘special’ for you, and far more to your perverted liking.

Get lost Issywise, because you are NOT ‘wise’.

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Issywise's avatar

By Issywise, August 12, 2008 at 5:00 am Link to this comment

cyrena

I didn’t hijack this thread. YOU are the one who’s put forward a racial theory of history. Not me. You express racist notions dressed up as historical lessons. I think it just as good and necessary that you be confronted as it was good and necessary that Bull Connor’s hateful ignorance be confronted.

By your definition, “democracy” can mean anything. Fortunately for us, John Locke, Charles-Louis de Secondat Monetesque, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton had different and more definite ideas. They saw it a a very specific idea with definable and essential components that must be present for it to function and flourish.

Madison once described it as a cycle: leaders educate the public by their performance in office and the voters, in turn, instruct the leaders with their ballots. The public controls the personnel and policy of the state by choosing the elected representatives who run it.

Any system with any “democratic” features that does not provide that essential link between the public and the government is, in fact, not a democracy. Having religious prelates decide who can stand for election completely breaks the cycle.

I tend to agree with you about our own sick democracy. Even with elections, if leaders attend only to wealthy donors then responsiveness to the public is diminished. It ain’t good, but it is still different from a system where religious officials arbitrate who can be on the ballot.

Fadel Abdallah

Your thesis that the Western democracies have sometimes behaved badly is incontestable—Western imperialism is a historic fact, American slavery and segregation were real.

Non-democracies have also exercised violent chauvinisms—how many people have died over the centuries in Sunni-Shiite disputations? Are war, slavery and imperialism unknown to theocracies?

The difference is, as Carl von Clausewitz wrote before his death in 1831, that when a citizenry feels a stake in their own self-governance the effect is to release “the god of war” into military contests.  The very democracy you scorn is what assures the theocratic totalitarianism you favor will not succeed in an armed attempt to impose itself on other peoples. 

Here is the small point: Hitler never won an election in Germany.  He couldn’t even get a majority vote in the rigged so-called “March” elections—where his opponent were jailed or beaten in the streets. His coming to power represented the overcoming and abolition of democracy, not a consequence of it.

If you build your world view first and then shoehorn every fact to fit into it, any particular fact is meaningless. If you force all incoming information to conform with existing attitudes, you cease to grow. Your “well-documented book” needs be approached with an open mind.

Does your declining to discuss what might be a peaceful settlement in the Middle East mean that you do not believe peace can be had in the Middle East short of the total extermination or forced removal of one of the two contestants?

Are you afraid to openly say so? Shouldn’t the evil Western democracies withdraw their imperialist Jewish intrusion into the Muslim holy lands if they seek peace? 

cyrena & Fadel Abdallah

You both protest that I’ve barged my way into this conversation. With one of you espousing racist notions and the other deprecating democracy and openly preferring theological totalitarianism; with both of you making deterministic use of history, I am exactly what you need—an open engagement of ideas and facts in the marketplace of ideas.

Otherwise your hatefulness will bounce to and fro in an endless cycle of mutual self-congratulation. Heck, I can find that on Fox News. It isn’t so special.

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By cyrena, August 11, 2008 at 6:26 pm Link to this comment

By Issywise, August 11 at 11:16 am #
Fadel
Your say:
==================
The word “democracy” is a mercurial relative term reflecting what is in the eyes of the beholder. If “democracy” means “elections,”- which is what it means these days- then Iran is as good a democracy as the U.S….
===================
I think you are wrong. Democracy, at a minimum, requires the consent of the governed and a direct or representative (electoral) opportunity to express their will for government policy. When a panel of religious prelates decide who can and who cannot stand for election, there is no democracy functioning—none.
Moreover, theocracy and democracy are antithetical. Theocracy is based on the expression of God’s will as registered through holy men or interpreters of holy texts. Democracy, as stated above, is based on consent of the governed—it assumes the best policy will emerge from open discussion of policy choices and determination by electoral choices made by the people.
~~~~~

No Issywise, YOU are wrong, and you’re full of shit besides. Democracy is whatever the people decide they want their government to be. It is NOT a US version to be exported around the world.

Fadel’s point, (which is what you missed) is that in the eyes of the beholder, Iran’s set-up is a much a ‘democracy’ as that existing in the US.

As for the rest of your totally unconnected hairsplitting, (directed to me) I told you before that I wasn’t going to continue (or even embark upon) the unrelated topics that you want to address, in so far as chauvinism, imperialism, etc, etc, in non-European dominated cultures. It’s far too broad a topic, and has to be split up in historical time periods.

There are FEW (if any) sections of Africa that have not, at some time, been COLONIZED by the Europeans. That’s just Africa. India was Colonized by the British. Most of the Middle East has, at some point in time, been colonized by the Euros or the US. The occupation of Iraq is an effort at Neo-colonization, and it has failed miserably, slaughtering millions and throwing not only our own economy into a tailspin, but the global balance as well.

If you wanna talk about criminals that happen to be of color, it belongs in a different discussion, because the similarities are there, but not enough of them to connect to the topic of this piece.

Yes, there are criminals in Africa. Robert Mugabe comes to mind. (though even he has been supported by the West) Then there’s another Kleptocrat whose name I can’t recall at the moment. However, the explanation for genocides in places like Rwanda, or Sudan, where ALL of the victims are people of color, has nothing to do with ‘imperialism’ or even ‘racism’ as it is generically defined, but everything to do with POWER that one group wants to exert over another, and that is political and INTERNAL. It has no comparison to the global Empire goals that have been practiced by the WEST, for a minimum of 5 Centuries.

Your high jacking of this thread to assert that *I* am racist, because I stated a fact that is the whole topic of this review…THE KINGMAKERS, is intellectually disingenuous.

And by the way, “democracy” cannot and is not defined by ‘elections’. The whole point in what Fadel was saying is that IF one were using that as one of the criteria, then Iran is certainly as “democratic” as we are.

Truth be told however, the US is NOT a ‘democracy’ in the true sense of the word, or even in terms of it’s electoral set-up. The US was established as a Constitutional Republic, and Iran is set-up the same way. That you don’t like their Constitution doesn’t make it any less a Constitutional Republic.

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By Fadel Abdallah, August 11, 2008 at 6:05 pm Link to this comment

Addendum:

In my haste to respond to Issywise on the issue of his much bragged-about democracy, I forgot to mention my favorite lines on the terrible failures and horrors Western democracies (and yes white men claiming democracy, as Cyrena maintains) have brought to humanity.

And at the top of these horrors is the fact that Hitler was the product of democracy. And so was the United States when it committed all the horrors against the Native Americans and black Americans, of which my dissident comrade and friend, Cyrena, has given you enough of her piece of mind and her historical conscience.

What about the greatest gifts of Western democracies to humanity in the form of WWI and WWII, just in one century, claiming the lives of untold millions of people and leaving many parts of the world in total ruins!

What about the American democracy and its usage of the deadliest weapons of mass destruction ever devised against the civilians of Nagasaki and Hiroshima?!

And what about the two ongoing two savage wars of democratic America, waging now for longer than WWI and WWII,  against the underarmed and underdeveloped people of Iraq and Afghanistan?! 

And what about the horrors, crimes, exploitation and destruction that the so-called modern Western democracies, such as Britain, France, Italy, White South Africa committed against the natives of Africa, Asia and the particularly the Middle East, through the long periods of colonialism and occupation!

And what about the criminal Zionist acts of massacring, dispossession, occupation, and brutality against the native Palestinians by the latest version of the so-called Western democracies that goes under the name of democratic Israel!

Izzywise, you prove to be very unwise when you keep, like a parrot, singing the praises of democracy! And I hope that you can tell that I am an angry dissident who cannot tolerate all the empty and idle talk about the so-called glories of Western democracy! I am so pissed off by the evil of Western democracies to the point that I will take a beneficent dictator over all the Western democracies combined! And if given lease on life with good health, I hope to record my indictment in a fat well documented volume, even if it goes unpublished, censored or blacklisted by your much bragged-about hollow democracies!

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By Dahoumia, August 11, 2008 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I was at first inclined to make positive comments or keep my trap shut, given that I share with Mr Karabell(judging by his book’s title) the desire to see a return to peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews in the Middle East. But now I am wondering whether KINGMAKERS presents the sort of apologia for imperialism that “Sodium” (with whom I seem to be in total agreement) and others have condemned in the review, or whether Mr Karabell read his own views into the book. The subject interests me, but if it presents the skewed analysis which mar David Fromkin’s A PEACE TO END ALL PEACE and that color Karabell’s piece, I think I’d just skip it.

I find the suggestion that there was any idealism involved in the decision to invade and occupy Iraq especially offensive. The neocon view of the Middle East is purely utilitarian, cynical and imperialistic. Paul Wolfowitz seems like a very genial person (when he doesn’t have a comb in his mouth), but his “idealism” is nothing more than a facade for imperialism. And there are many less polished and savory figures in his “posse”.

It may be fair to compare Mark Sykes or Gertrude Bell to Wolfowitz - though even Sykes seemed to be seeing the error of some of his ways before his untimely death, and Bell, unlike most of the other westerners mentioned, did live in the ME and spoke Arabic - but there is precious little common ground between T E Lawrence and Wolfowitz (though the “Wolfowitz of Arabia” sobriquet does capture a sort of ironic humor). Lawrence was a very mixed character, and in the end a failure, but at least he was a failed IDEALIST. At least he had the good grace to allow the guilt due to his sense of his own betrayal of the Arab Revolt to destroy him. The only other idealist I see mentioned in the review is his cohort Ja’far al-Askari.

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By Issywise, August 11, 2008 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment

Fadel

Your say:
==================
The word “democracy” is a mercurial relative term reflecting what is in the eyes of the beholder. If “democracy” means “elections,”- which is what it means these days- then Iran is as good a democracy as the U.S….
===================

I think you are wrong. Democracy, at a minimum, requires the consent of the governed and a direct or representative (electoral) opportunity to express their will for government policy. When a panel of religious prelates decide who can and who cannot stand for election, there is no democracy functioning—none.

Moreover, theocracy and democracy are antithetical. Theocracy is based on the expression of God’s will as registered through holy men or interpreters of holy texts. Democracy, as stated above, is based on consent of the governed—it assumes the best policy will emerge from open discussion of policy choices and determination by electoral choices made by the people.

Democracy ain’t so relative as you seem to think. It certainly isn’t as relative as to include theocracy.

There are those here who indeed would impose a Christian Sharia, but they are not structurally in control of our government as is the case in Iran. They vote, but they don’t arbitrate.

Having said all of this, I appreciate that having ones own homegrown dictator is close to self-governing than having one established by alien imperial power—which at minimum is what happened in 1979.

Israel is faced with a crash wall rendezvous with the conflict between theocracy and democracy. It has taken on many of the forms of democracy, but seeks to preserve theocratic purposes for the state and entitle special privileges for a certain religious group. In the foreseeable future, pure population trends will make it democratically inevitable that those theocratic elements be overturned by registered democratic popular will.  Either the pretenses of democracy must be abandoned in favor of preserving the theocratic elements of the state or democracy will expunge those elements. That is Israels own choice to make and not so long in the future.

Screw you for criticizing my bad spelling. My spelling sucks—so what? I otherwise ignore your condescension and insults and instead ask you a sincere question. You seem a thoughtful and erudite person whom might be able to address the question.

I, like many Americans, disapprove of the imperialism in Israel’s policy. But, we wonder if Israel abandoning its land grabs to strike a permanent settlement with a Palestinian authority would indeed be a settlement for peace. Would not the inertia in the Muslim world be to treat such Israeli “concession” (please, don’t bother—I see the horror of the usage too) as just a point on a voyage to eventual total obliteration of the Israeli state from the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean?

I guess what I’m asking is, supposing Israel were suddenly reasonable on the issues, what would be acceptable to those on the Muslim side of the issue?  The Muslim states are so tentative about any allowance for the existence of Israel and some of the indigenous radicals in the area so vehement—and have been so since before the Balfour Declaration, what hope of peace is there outside of one side or the other completely winning?

The perspective you present so far suggests your insight is one that is almost unavailable to those of us fed what we are here in America.

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By Issywise, August 11, 2008 at 10:03 am Link to this comment

Wow! You come up with a whole new indictment of a whole race of people to defend your previous ones!

White people invented the concept of race…..really?

I see your position now: a fact is a fact and you need not explain why whiteness is relevant in your historical perspective. It is self-evident to you.

So what portion of the evil demonstrable in Western culture is due to the “whiteness” of Europeans? You assert whiteness is relevant. How? To what extent? Did skin color make them eviler people? Must not it today?

You claim a difference between peoples and assert skin color is relevant to it. Yet, you leave it unexplained, just as Strom Thurman and Jesse Helms did in their heydays. They too hid their unexplored prejudices behind indignation—as did Jefferson Davis and John Calhoun in their times.

Do you deny that imperialism, chauvinism and racism is also found in “non-white” races?

So when exactly did evil Western white people invent the concept of race? Was it before the racist caste system took hold a couple thousand years ago in the Indian subcontinent? Was it before the Egyptian, Bantu or Muslim empires were fixed on the African continent with their brands of tribalism and racism? Was it before the Persian, Minoan, Spartan and Assyrian empires existed outside the geographic boundaries of the modern West with their varieties of slavery? Was it before the Aztecs, Incas and Comanches started conquering and enslaving their neighbors? Was it before the Islamic empires enslaved and denied civil rights to non-Muslims they conquered?

How did the white Western people teach the more pure of heart with darker skins the evil Western concept of race even before there was a “West” as you are using it here. As you say, Europe was a backwater even while other continents were exercising high culture racism aplenty.

If your responsibility as a global citizen of the 21st Century is to make sure that the truth of history not be concealed, your first duty would seem to be to rub the racism from your own eyes.

People are people, race doesn’t make one person inherently better or worse than another: no matter how many indefensible assertions you utter to justify a brand of racial prejudice. You keep throwing accusation at a whole race of people and dig your own hole deeper.

Need I remind you that Dr. Kings dream was that all people not be judged by by the color of their skin but by the content of their character; There there were little white children in his dream as well as black?

Your racism builds walls that inevitably must separate those children by teaching that their are racial differences that divide. It matters not from which side of the oppression one obtains his or her racism, it only matters that it is there. It must be overcome and can only be overcome from within. See it, deal with it.

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By Fadel Abdallah, August 11, 2008 at 9:50 am Link to this comment

By Issywise, August 10 at 12:12 pm #

Fadel Abdallah

I re-read this whole article looking for the “evil irrational hatred of Islam” you say is there but don’t see it.
=================
Well, it seems you’re the latest new kid on the block who thinks he knows it all to the point of allowing yourself to get into hairsplitting about what I, Cyrena and others write. If you haven’t learned how to read a text analytically, then I don’t blame you for not seeing the implicit hatred of Islam when the reviewer says, ““Long and difficult negotiations finally led to peace between Egypt and Israel in 1977, before darkness returned after the Shah of Iran was overthrown and replaced by a revolutionary group led by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.” A six-grader in the Arab-Muslim world knows that the Khomeini’s revolution was an Islamic revolution, and when the the reviewer says that “... before darkness returned after the Shah of Iran was overthrown…,” then this implies, analytically, that the Shah’s reign was enlightenment which was replaced by the darkness brought about by the Khomeni’s Islamic revolution.

Another aspect indicating the deficiency of your language skills is your spelling the word “Shah” as “Shaw.”

“The reference to the Shaw was a reference to how the average uninformed Joe Sixpack American on the street saw things back then—that’s the point: getting information into the minds of American readers.”
==============================
This attempt on your part to re-paraphrase the writer words and their implications is another pretentious attitude of yours at falsely claiming knowledge to yourself and ignorance on the part of others!

“Do you really think Ayatollah Khomeni brought democracy to Iran?”
==========================
The word “democracy” is a mercurial relative term reflecting what is in the eyes of the beholder. If “democracy” means “elections,”- which is what it means these days- then Iran is as good a democracy as the U.S., and more importantly better than Israel, which all the proud democratic Americans keep hailing as the only true democracy in the Middle East. This is despite the fact that most of those who ruled Israel in its short history were ex-terrorist leaders or military personalities. Furthermore, if you can call the last two American elections real exercise in democracy, then everyone in the world can claim that their system of government is “democratic”!

Well, given that the Iranian revolution can be labeled theoretically as a “theocracy,” then for sure Israel is a theocracy, and even so the U.S. of the last two elections, because everyone knows that it was the power of the 30 million Christian neocons aided by the neocons-dominated Supreme Court, and further aided by all the “democracy” money could buy; all of which contributed to placing the notoriously evil 21st-century crusader on the throne of the U.S.A.

Finally, if you are not aware of the anti-Islamic Christian-Zionist culture that permeates the political, religious, media, and military life of the the U.S., especially in the last few decades, then you must be living in an illusionary world from which you don’t want to be awaken!

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By cyrena, August 11, 2008 at 7:54 am Link to this comment

How can you defend YOUR use of the terms “Western white people, “ other than by underlying racist suppositions?

~~~~~

Not a ‘defense’ Issywise. It is what it is. Is is WESTERN WHITE PEOPLE in the terms for which I have already provided the context. That is to say that Europeans, for the past few centuries…AT LEAST, have invaded multiple other continents/nations, and ALWAYS with the Manifest Destiny mindset, that THOSE civilizations have been INFERIOR to their own, and the the PEOPLE and CULTURES of those civilizations have been INFERIOR to their own…DESPITE THE FACT THAT THIS IS A TOTAL FALSEHOOD.

That these Westerners just happened to be Caucasian, and that the civilizations that they conquered with this arrogant mindset, (and continue to do so) just happened to be people of color, just isn’t my fault Issywise. I can’t change history, even if I wanted to. My only responsibility as a global citizen of the 21st Century, NOW..is to make sure that the truth of that history, doesn’t continue to be concealed. To that end, my interest lies right here in the Americas, since that just happens to be half of my own ancestry, dating back to BEFORE the Western White Euros slaughtered the majority of us.

As for ‘race’, that is a white person’s invention as well. can’t remember who or exactly when they came up with it, but the entire ‘concept’ was in fact ‘created’.

That’s all I have to discuss with you on the subject Issywise. And by the way, my education isn’t ‘fancy’.

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By Issywise, August 11, 2008 at 4:56 am Link to this comment

cyrena

Gee….I thought you said,” But, isn’t that (and hasn’t it always been) the arrogance of the Western white people? Of course it has.”  I thought your use of the term “white people” was intended. Wasn’t it?

When you added, “because for some odd reason, the arrogance and hubris seems to be genetic,” I understood you to be once again pursuing your racist histological analysis.

I too possess a fancy education. Somewhere along the way I was taught that words and language have meanings and that one can usually expect a highly educated person to express themselves with precision.  You did so. It is below in black and white—so to speak.

When you asserted—and reassert, that non-white (I suppose should to be the correct usage in your construct) cultures were and are superior to white European culture, you are drawing racist conclusions out of history when history provides no more support for such a conclusion than it provides support for the conclusions made by racist white people.

When you start throwing out race as a analytic category, you better be able to defend the principle by something more principled than accusing someone else of having a unidentified “problem” or accusing them of having “racial identity problems.” Name calling isn’t a valid argument FOR anything.

Do I have a “racial identity problem” because I don’t buy that the “white race” is genetically and inherently more imperialistic than other races?

You assert you are not being racist. Your own words say otherwise.

I submit that skin color doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it and that if you think it does, you are racist: In fact, the racist who brought an evil racist misconception into this conversation. It wasn’t me who asserted “whiteness” as an explanation for world history in recent centuries.

It matters not how you came by such a blindness—it only matters if it prevents you from seeing clearly.

There are universals of human nature that run through all human societies. One is the self-justifying tendency to see people unlike oneself as different in ways they are not. You have asserted a difference between the races that is not, in my modest opinion, valid.

How can you defend YOUR use of the terms “Western white people, ” other than by underlying racist suppositions?

Do you deny that other societies (that would be “non-white” societies, by your analysis) have exercised racism and imperialism reliably through history too? Shall I provide you with more examples from empires on every “non-white” continent?

Sure, the Europeans and North Americans have been on top in recent centuries and their practice of racist policies have been indefensible and ubiquitous to the point that they don’t even recognize it in themselves, but when the “white people” weren’t on top, other peoples showed just as much chauvinism to justify their imperialism. Do you doubt it?

If someone here has a “racial identity problem,” it is you. It is causing you to distort your understanding of world history. At bottom, white and black have nothing to do with it. The sooner we all appreciate our universal tendencies to self-righteous self-serving chauvinism (look the word up if you don’t see it’s applicability), the sooner we will have learned the obvious lessons of history in spite of our individual “racial identity problems.”

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By Sodium, August 10, 2008 at 11:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Correction:Sorry,in my las post,I have accidently skipped two words in the following paragraph:

“The above two sentences have,at least,five holes that induced me ? ? the objectivity and purpose of writing such an article”

Please correct the above paragraph to read as follows:

“The above sentence has,at least,five holes that induced me TO QUESTION the objectivity and purpose of
writing such an article.”

Thank you for your cooperation.

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By Sodium, August 10, 2008 at 9:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr.Zachary Karabell writes on page 2 at the end of the article the following:

“But we have been reconsidering the wisdom of U.S. actions in Iraq,its not clear that we have begun to
examine the limitations of power and the dangers of
unrealistic visions of how the world could be.Balancing idealism with realism has never been easy,but it would be refreshing not to continue tilting with windmills in the desert of the Middle
East.”

The above two sentances have,at least,five holes that
have induced me the objectivity and purpose of writing such an article.The five holes are centered on the following operative words:

(1)We.
(2)Wisdom.
(3)Iraq.
(4)Idealism.
(5)Realism.

My Comments on each operative word are as follow:

(1)We:I wonder who are the “we”?  If “I” am included in the “we”,I certainly have not requested Mr. Karabell to include me in the above sentence of his.

(2)Wisdom:If the writer thinks,for one single moment,
that there was even a slight wisdom in the destruction,invasion and occupation of Iraq,then his writing must be questioned by those who stood firmly against the war,in the first place,myself included.

(3)Iraq:Under the rule of the hated Saddam Hussein,
Iraq was well known to be a secular government and Saddam and his dedicated and highly educated Ba’athists kept Iran’s ambitious hegemony in check.
Emancipation of Iraqi women was exemplary for the
whole Arab World to emulate.So was Iraq’s educational system and health care as well.Whether one liked Saddam or hated him,one could not deny the fact that under his iron-fist rule,Iraq was a functioning society;and with the help of his highly educated,  dedicated and capable Ba’athists(members of his Ba’ath Party) kept Iran’s hegemonic ambition in constant check.More importantly,Iraq was one of the
original members of the United Nations when it was formed in October of 1945.Therefore,Cheney/Bush’s
blunder in destroying Iraq has resulted in helping
Iran fulfilling its regional hegemonic ambition.

(4)Idealism:Please tell me,what kind of idealism is
involved when the only superpower in the world destroyed the whole infrastructure of a small country
like Iraq? The “Shock and Awe” of Donald Rumsfeld,the
former Secretary of Defense was WAR CRIMES according
to the Fourth Accord of the Geneva Convention.The
WAR CRIMNALS must be brought to justice.Idealism? My
foot!!

(5)Realism:What realism?  A President who claims that he communicate with his God and a greedy Vice-President for oil,for his Big Oil’s connections,
surrounded and directed by a bunch of ideologues of the neoconservatives type,ready to serve the interest of Israel 24 hours a day,seven days a week,are all
blinded by either their delusion or greed or destructive ideology.Such group could not possibly
have the slightest idea about the COMPLEX REALITY of the Middle East,especially a MOSAIC population like
Iraq.

It seems to me,the writer has tried implicitly to
grant some legitimacy to what this insane Administration has done to Iraq and its people who have done NO HARM to us.Such a legitimacy will never
be bestowed upon the current Administration by historians of the caliber of Arnold Toynbee,Albert
Hourani and Philip Hitti.

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By cyrena, August 10, 2008 at 9:17 pm Link to this comment

Issywise,

I don’t do personal psychotherapy for individuals with racial identity issues. In fact, mine is an academic focus based on a multi-discipline foundation in the Humanities. So, I was prepared to dismiss your hysterical rant, since I don’t much give a shit about you being white, or any other color. (white is NOT a color by the way).  It real terms, white is the ABSENCE of color.

Be that as it may, I will repeat for your benefit, a shorter version of my post, though it would be simpler if you just re-read it, since you seem to have only focused on one sentence, or actually two words Western and white. I was commenting on the review of this HISTORY book, which happens to be the topic here. For the purposes of *this* conversation, the ‘West” or “Western” is geographically and geopolitically considered to be Europe, and North America, at least for let’s say the past 500 or so years. (don’t wanna drag you back too far). In that context Issywise, Europe primarily consisted of a Caucasian population. There are some exceptions to this, since there existed at one point, other groups…and the Blackmoors come to mind…dating back to before the invasion of the Americas by Spain, Britain, and France. Eventually the Blackmoors were kicked out of Europe along with multiple other ‘unsavory’ people, and wound up in, (among other places) the “New World”.  But that is a side-issue for the moment.

In the portion of my post that sent you off the deep end, I was remaking upon what has been a matter of established history, which is to say that the WEST, (beginning with the Euros) has made a muli-Century habit of invading the rest of the world, and ALWAYS with the established mentality that suggests that ALL the other civilizations that they invade, are INFERIOR to them. Whether it has been the Middle East, (Arabia) or the Americas, or Africa, or the South Pacific, or wherever else they have done their conquering, it has ALWAYS BEEN as if they have been “the” ‘superior civilization, as if such did not exist in the rest of the world.

I will quote from the article again Issywise..

•  “That they believed in a larger cause doesn’t excuse the consequences. Men like Lawrence of Arabia, Sykes and of course Wolfowitz may have believed that their actions would serve the interests of progress, stability and the greater good of the region, but they also believed that their societies were more advanced and positioned to teach the peoples of the Middle East a lesson in civilization and democracy. They viewed local rulers, whether Faisal in Iraq in the 1920s, Abdullah in Jordan in the 1920s through the 1940s, the Shah of Iran from the 1940s through the 1970s or Iraqi exiles like Ahmad Chalabi, as well intentioned but underdeveloped wards, teenagers in need of guidance and occasional sternness. That the Arabs and Persians had developed their own cultures and civilizations over the course of 2,000 years, had thrived when the West was mired in chaos and darkness, and had their own sense of the past and the future was largely discounted by these kingmakers and ignored except as interesting academic factoids of days long gone.”

I will repeat, the Arabs, and the Persians, (and let’s throw in the African and the Native Americans as well) had developed their OWN cultures and CIVILIZATIONS over the course of 2,000 years, had THRIVED when the West” (EUROPE) was MIRED in CHAOS and DARKNESS.

I didn’t mention the ‘chauvinism’, of which you are so sensitive, because that wasn’t my point. My point was that these WESTERNERS, who happen to be WHITE, felt themselves superior to all of the peoples of the lands that they consistently conquered, even though they WERE NOT. Even though these other civilizations were BY FAR, more advanced. The same holds true today.

Here again Issywise, I don’t care about you being without color. Maybe you should get over it as well.

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By Issywise, August 10, 2008 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment

Fadel Abdallah

I re-read this whole article looking for the “evil irrational hatred of Islam” you say is there but don’t see it.

The reference to the Shaw was a reference to how the average uninformed Joe Sixpack American on the street saw things back then—that’s the point: getting information into the minds of American readers.

Do you really think Ayatollah Khomeni brought democracy to Iran?

It may be presumptuous of someone living in a country where party officials void millions of votes in presidential primaries to say so, but is it really a democracy when a group of religious figures decide who can stand for election?

Isn’t Iran a theocracy—as it claims to be?

I think any halfway credible information Americans get about the Middle East is good for Americans. If you go around bemoaning every attempt to deliver information to Americans that isn’t consistent with a world view that sees Iran as a democracy as “hateful,” then perhaps you should make two fists and rub your own eyes clear of the hate that fills your vision.

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By Issywise, August 10, 2008 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment

Blaine Stum,

I re-read this whole article looking for the “evil irrational hatred of Islam” you say is there but don’t see it.

The reference to the Shaw was to how the average Joe Sixpack American on the street saw things back then.

Do you really think Ayatollah Khomeni brought democracy to Iran?

It may be presumptuous of someone living in a country where party officials void millions of votes in presidential primaries to say so, but is it really a democracy when a group of religious figures decide who can stand for election?

Isn’t Iran a theocracy—as it claims to be?

I think any halfway credible information Americans get about the Middle East is good for Americans. If you go around bemoaning every attempt to deliver information to Americans that isn’t consistent with a world view that sees Iran as a democracy as “hateful,” then perhaps you should make two fists and rub your own eyes clear of the hate that fills your vision.

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By Issywise, August 10, 2008 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment

cyrena

————————
You say, “...hasn’t it always been..the arrogance of the Western WHITE PEOPLE?[emphasis by Issywise. Of course it has. They didn’t just start doing this a century ago. They’ve been doing it far, far, far longer than that. Destroying cultures and civilizations established long before they even knew what a civilization was.
————————-
Sure, “Western WHITES” have been incredibly arrogant, racist and imperialistic in recent centuries, but doesn’t history show that ALL people demonstrate that same imperialistic chauvinism when possess of the disproportionate power to oppress?

Isn’t the history of Africa demonstrative of the exercise of that very kind of chauvinism. When disparities of power existed, didn’t the stronger society militarily expand at the expense of others?  Or, do you think the empires of Africa were built on some principle other than military conquest?

So too with the history of Persian and “Arab” empires: were they free of chauvinism, racism and imperialism because they were not run by Western WHITES? Have you read the Old Testament? Are you familiar with the history of the expansion of the Islamic empires and how they were governed.

Consider the native American empires and tribes: Were the mass human sacrifices of the Aztecs or the raiding and slave trading of the plains tribes manifestations of something other than militarism, imperialism and chauvinism?

You assert racist chauvinism and militaristic imperialism is a special characteristic inherent only to WHITE people? You say, “...for some odd reason, the arrogance and hubris seems to be genetic.”

To you, Western WHITE people are abhorrently imperialist and chauvinistic relative to genetically superior people of other skin tones that are inherently more peaceful.

I’m a WHITE person: Should I be ashamed of my skin color! Do I have the evil bug in me, just as you do not! Will you excuse me for the circumstances of my birth because I’ve worked hard to overcome my imperialist birthright and risen to a rough moral equality with you?

What of all the African-American officers serving in the American military? Are they genetically retrograding?

As for the history of this continent, the natives were, in fact, cruelly displaced, but the process was not one driven by racism. There was much racism about for sure, but the process of European settlement of this continent is the same as took place in Europe itself and in Africa and in Asia: Agricultural society created surpluses that enabled support of military institution and development of advanced weaponry. Marginal agrarian societies and hunter-gather societies pushed off their land not because of race, but because their wealth in land was desired.  The components of human nature in operation were more basic and universal than skin color, supposed racial genetics or even racism.

If the enabling social developments had happened to occur in Africa first, you could be writing about African BLACK people as world oppressors….but then you would have had to been WHITE to formulate such a racist thesis to impose on world history.

I’m not making excuses for any racists or imperialists, I’m only pointing out that you state it is a special characteristic of Western WHITE people. You could have said “European imperialism” or Western nationalist imperialism, or American neo-imperialism” but no—it had to be Western WHITE people: Why?

Is it different when Jesse Helms sees only a man’s skin color than when you formulate such a racial theory of world history? Your presentation strikes me as much like a moral version of the racist eugenics of 80 years ago.

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By cyrena, August 10, 2008 at 4:50 am Link to this comment

•  “..There is no one reason for the peculiar capacity of the Middle East to generate shock waves. Take history, a dollop of religion and ideology, mix in a bit of geography, add oil and serve over political sclerosis and corruption with some bad luck on the side, and you get a tumultuous corner of the world where “after a century of Western assertiveness, peace remains elusive and sectarian passions are virulent.”

~~~

Might it not be more reasonable to put the century of Western assertiveness (or what I call aggression) at the top of the recipe as the co-main ingredient? (with the history that is)

~~~

•  “That they believed in a larger cause doesn’t excuse the consequences. Men like Lawrence of Arabia, Sykes and of course Wolfowitz may have believed that their actions would serve the interests of progress, stability and the greater good of the region, but they also believed that their societies were more advanced and positioned to teach the peoples of the Middle East a lesson in civilization and democracy.”

~~~~

But, isn’t that (and hasn’t it always been) the arrogance of the Western white people? Of course it has. They didn’t just start doing this a century ago. They’ve been doing it far, far, far longer than that. Destroying cultures and civilizations established long before they even knew what a civilization was.

~~~~

•  “…That the Arabs and Persians had developed their own cultures and civilizations over the course of 2,000 years, had thrived when the West was mired in chaos and darkness, and had their own sense of the past and the future was largely discounted by these kingmakers and ignored except as interesting academic factoids of days long gone.”

~~~

That’s my point. They same can be said of the entirety of the African Continent, where civilization was first established.

~~~~

•  “My lady, complete independence is never given; it is always taken.”.. “For Americans especially, heirs to a revolutionary tradition that established the independence of the United States from Great Britain in the late 18th century, that should have been obvious.”

~~~

Humm, there are a couple of ways we can look at this. We can see it as the original arrogance, in light of the fact that the established independence of the US from Great Britain, was just a continuation of the original theft of the same independence from the original civilization that existed here. Heirs to a revolutionary tradition? I think not. I think heirs to the same colonial mindset that stole the Americas to begin with.

And…it continues. Based on that, I can appreciate the comments from O Dar @ O Dar, August 8 at 5:24 pm. The West has done it’s best to dominate the world under any circumstances, because for some odd reason, the arrogance and hubris seems to be genetic.

Felicity confirms it here…

By felicity, August 8 at 7:46 am #

I don’t know about the rest of the ‘players’ in the history of the Middle East, but Wolfowitz’s devotion to the ‘teachings’ of Leo Strauss has to influence how he regards Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, beleaguered Palestine…

“Strauss believed and taught that the superior intellectually and morally men of insight and superior wisdom must rule. Wolfowitz and his fellow Strauss devotees have an obligation to replace the inferior intellectually and morally rulers of no insight and inferior wisdom with - in the case of Iraq and maybe Iran, George Bush?”

Strauss was an asshole, but a relatively typical one.

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By Dahoumia, August 9, 2008 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If the Bush/Cheney neocons wanted to create a secular, anti-isamic state in Iraq, why would they overthrow the country’s secular government and preside over the transfer of power to theocratic parties from Tehran? I’ve been pondering that question since BEFORE the invasion, and I believe that all evidence suggests that the invasion and occupation was motivated by anti-Arabism, not anti-Islamism.

Second point: Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, who was President of Iran in the early 1980s, said that there were about five hundred executions per day in Iran at that time. Those being executed were not “mere” Shah loyalists; they were leftists, secularists, draft evaders and deserters from the military.

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By Big B, August 9, 2008 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment

Thanks for kudos, Mike.
I have a son in college right now and I have come to the realization that what is wrong with America can be found in our education system. Unless an 18 year old from a middle to low income family wants to borrow upwards of 100,000 dollars, a college education is out of reach. That fact, along with mediocre public schools everywhere but the wealthiest suburbs, has been creating a new class of “surfs” in America. (the surfs being everyone making less than 60 thousand a year, which is most Americans) A generation ago, thanks in part to “New Deal” programs, American wealth was being more evenly distributed. But alas, the 1980’s came, and deregulation has put the working class back in it’s place.

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By Michael Shaw, August 9, 2008 at 9:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hey Big B

IE “Keep in mind, kings and other despots stay in power because of the ignorance of their uneducated populace. The dumber (and poorer) the people are, the more likley you will remain in power.”

That reminds me of the United States as much as it does the Middle East. Look how more than half the population is falling for the “let’s drill for oil everywhere” to lower gas prices ploy. The idea in that is so popular that even Obama has joined McCain in this ridicules notion. It looks like the dumbing and pooring down of our own population has worked wonders for the kings of Wall Street. They have exactly what they want. An undereducated and poor population who believes exactly what they are told to.

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By Fahrenheit 451, August 9, 2008 at 5:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Couldn’t get past the first paragraph.  Pure poppycock!!

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By Blaine Stum, August 8, 2008 at 11:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“I can smell the evil irrational hatred of Islam through this reviewer first paragraph, where the writer is telling us, en essence, that the reign of the tyrannical Shah was enlightenment, which was replaced by darkness due to the non-bloody revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeni, which brought democracy to the country after a a long period of tyranny. But it seems that in the minds of most brainwashed, biased and ignorant Western writers Islam is the enemy and will continue to be even it brings democracy after a tyrannical long rule!”

Just had to comment on this lovely paragraph by Fadel Abdallah. Bloodless? LOL. And that’s precisely why there were mock trials (I say mock because many people put to death were never given a chance to defend themselves) in which the Khomeni’s henchmen sent thousands of men to death by the noose or by the gun? I have no idea what planet you live on, but the revolution was certainly NOT bloodless and you should know that. Khomeni and his men were as ruthless and bloodthirsty as any totalitarian ruler is likely to be.

(Also, I’m not exactly sure what your idea of Democracy is, but a Theocratic republic certainly isn’t what I would consider to be one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the Shah and I’m ashamed America supported his regime…. but to extole Khomeni as a symbol for morality and Democracy would be akin to me saying the same about Bush and his administration).

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By 123456, August 8, 2008 at 6:24 pm Link to this comment

The question of oil isn’t an either/or.

Many people were behind the Iraq invasion, and had different reasons.

Some pushed it for economic (oil) reasons, and some fpushed it for Israel, and still others pushed it for crazed Christian fundementalist reaons (often tied with Israel as well).

Nevertheless, this Marxist way of approaching everything through an economic lense isn’t always right.

The United States is a global empire, and like all empires it wishes to dominate what it can dominate. The Assyrians, Romans, and th Mongols didn’t care about oil, yet they all sought to dominate Iraq.

That is not to say that if Iraq had no oil, then the U.S. would have still done the same thing. But it is to say that even if there was no oil in the Middle East, and no Israel/Zionism as well, then chances are the United States Empire would still seek to dominate the region in some way or another.

Let’s not under-estimate the inherent aggressiveness of state-global power and imperialism, no matter the era.

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By chuckwagoncharlie, August 8, 2008 at 5:43 pm Link to this comment

Interesting comments. Yup,the enlightened ignorant U.S.citizens have figured out WHY we are in the middle east, OIL. Geopolitics to control the oil fields for our oil men. Creating a Democracy in the land of Islam to protect OIL is a joke. Bush and his European buddies want to create a Secular anti-Islamic state so they can have controlled regime change until Islam is irradicated just as Post-Christian Europe has emerged.Post-Christian America is well on its way as well but Islam is a little different. They will fight for their beliefs along with their OIL.

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By msgmi, August 8, 2008 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s ironic that Wolfowitz has shown no cunning and understanding of the ME. He is no wolf, but a witz whose sorcery during the pre-invasion was an illusion spirited by delusion.

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By G.Anderson, August 8, 2008 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment

As all of this is going on, a Naval Task force is on it’s way to blockade Iran. This will probably be the start of World War III.

This will be Bush’s second war in the Middle East, and probably American’s last war.

I wonder if Pelosi will regret taking impeachment off the table?

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By Big B, August 8, 2008 at 12:12 pm Link to this comment

The people of the middle east owe everything they have and all that they have become to the oil in the ground and the colonial powers that need it. the arabs and jews have unwittingly been given stewerdship of what has become the free worlds most precious commodity. The problems created by this situation are obvious. The jews and arabs either don’t realize, or don’t care, that their hate for each other has been used for years by Big Oil to keep the prices and profits of oil high. So long as the Billions keep rolling into the sheiks coffers, and the US props up the Israeli gov with with Billions of our own, the status quo will be maintained.
Also, never underestimate the role of primative, hokey religeons on the societies of the middle east. Keep in mind, kings and other despots stay in power because of the ignorance of their uneducated populace. The dumber (and poorer) the people are, the more likley you will remain in power. This axiom is a constant in human history and unfortunatly, the dim arab people unwittingly take part in this tragic human drama every day. Nothing will change until the oil is gone!

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By felicity, August 8, 2008 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment

The ever practical Dr. Knowitall, of course a natural resource valuable to somebody and sitting in someone else’s country has started more than one war.  (Japan wiped out our fleet at Pearl to give herself time to glom on to the natural resources south of her that she so vitally needed to fight her upcoming war with the entire Far East.)

But, killing hundreds of thousands of men, women and children not to mention thousands of one’s own to get oil doesn’t usually play well in Peoria.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, August 8, 2008 at 10:57 am Link to this comment

What a crock of s**t.  I’ll give anyone a month of straight, non-stop talking to convince me that, were there no oil in the MidEast, the US would give a flying you-know-what about the Iraqis, period.

Conversely, put the trillions of barrels under Sudan or Darfur and see what happens.

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By P. T., August 8, 2008 at 10:11 am Link to this comment

The interests of imperialism (be it British, U.S., or Zionist) will trump those of the indigenous population.  Imperialism isn’t social work.

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By Issywise, August 8, 2008 at 9:54 am Link to this comment

Nice review: informative and well-done.

I would mildly dissent on one point only: The book authors are faulted for not being “traditional historians, wary of drawing too many simple present-tense conclusions from a past that is complicated and messier.” That, it would seem to me, is the very proof of their judgment and credibility as historians. Those who abandon that wariness are not so much historians as advocates.

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By omop, August 8, 2008 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

Snapshots of the socalled ME.. a region of the world that served as the fountainhead of 3 major religions…..as the main crossroad between Europe and Asia for thousands of years is relegated by Western intellects into primitive and threatening individuals.

Without the creativity that went into the creation of “algebra” [not by the Einsteins, or any other who was awarded a Nobel Prize] but by
what is commonly referred to nowadays as a barefooted donkey riding “ayrab” would there exist a Nobel awarding body.

The epitome of ignorance about the Middle East is propagated by zionists in conjunction with racists who only consider the non-israeli Middle East as hunting grounds for oil and human beings. All the socalled Arab nations that make up the Middle East are as varied as say all those who used to make the USSR, 19/20th. century America and the present socalled European Union.

The problem with the Middle East is that socalled Western intellectuals look at and make judgments about the non-israel nations and people through “colonialist colored glasses”.

The mark of true and honest intellectuals is to listen to other more non-biased “native” intellectuals prior to expounding views based on ignorance and/or bias.

Within this context Fadel reads as the most informed.

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By Joseph E. Marsh Jr., August 8, 2008 at 9:11 am Link to this comment
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To say that “One day, Iraq will be part of an inglorious past; it may even become a quaint tale of arrogance and ignorance…”  all by itself offers to the reader “an exemplary… hubris” as good—or as bad—as any said to be on hand in Meyer and Brysac’s book. Truthdig readers are well aware that the effects and consequences of the (armed) takeover and (armed) occupation of Iraq—a thing utterly undeserving of the name “war”—have multiple times and in many quarters been said to be worse than those of the 1258 Mongol invasion, and which—to read Karabell’s review—might one day amount to merely another “quaint tale” like the stories of by-now ho-hum once upon a time “interventions” in centuries past. A quaint tale, perhaps, like the story of the 1258 Sack of Baghdad? Or like other quaint tales, such as “Little Boy and the Ground Zero Club” “The Adventures of the Einsatzgruppen!” “Agent Orange Meets Fuzzy Wuzzy Fetus” and “Daddy, What Did You Do In Nanking?”

Well, a quaint tale for WHOM? Sure as hell not for Iraqis and a whole lot of others under the American gun, not for the people of the Middle East and of south Asia and all the other areas being drawn into this American-inspired nightmare, and not for the American children—the boys and girls, these near-infants being encouraged to murder and to abet murder, gulled for whatever reason into donning a uniform and who are getting incinerated and blown to bits to satisfy the vanity of a dry-drunk Jesus-freak con artist corporate front man and his insufferable “Mr. Other Priorities” sidekick. I am confident that for many generations, a lot of Iraqis won’t be telling “quaint tales” about the American “Freedom Agenda,”  no more than will the 23rd century relatives of the thousands of hideously disfigured 20 year-old GIs be speaking thusly of the burnt blind shrapnel-neutered stump-in-a-bed that went by the name of great-great-great-great Uncle So-and-So. Although Karabell’s assessment of Americans’ refusal to take into account their own history when violently disrupting somebody else’s (history)—e.g., Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, to name but three biggies—is in fact an indictment of Americans as a people with a profound lack of empathy, it is overwhelmingly obvious to me,  personally, that what the Americans have done to the people in Iraq is a monstrous crime, one characterized by incomprehensibly vast homicidal indifference towards the fate of helpless people, a casual exercise of horrendous brutality and lazy viciousness that IF the story of the (armed) takeover and (armed) occupation of Iraq should EVER be reduced, for and by Americans, to a “quaint tale,”  WHEN that story is made over into something other than a horrific crime against humanity for which the leadership of the US—political, military, corporate/business, and media—needs be brought to trial just as had been the Nazis and the German elite, and hanged if necessary, where called for—that will be the day the United States and its people will incontrovertibly have shown itself devoid of conscience, honor, and dignity, and in light of it must be forsaken by all who wish to retain whatever remains of theirs.

This will not be swept under a rug. God have Mercy on the United States of America.

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By felicity, August 8, 2008 at 8:46 am Link to this comment

I don’t know about the rest of the ‘players’ in the history of the Middle East, but Wolfowitz’s devotion to the ‘teachings’ of Leo Strauss has to influence how he regards Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Syria, beleaguered Palestine…

Strauss believed and taught that the superior intellectually and morally men of insight and superior wisdom must rule. Wolfowitz and his fellow Strauss devotees have an obligation to replace the inferior intellectually and morally rulers of no insight and inferior wisdom with - in the case of Iraq and maybe Iran, George Bush?

As is usually the case, ideologies when put into practice tend to end up bordering on the farcical.

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By felicity, August 8, 2008 at 8:14 am Link to this comment

Fadel - I had to read that sentence three times before I was convinced that what I thought I had read, I indeed had. If anything, the Shah was the Prince of darkness.

I have a slight acquaintance with the ME, Yemen, having lived there in the mid-70’s - just enough to be continually dumbfounded at the ignorance of the West when it comes to the ME, individual regions and countries, the diverse religions and sects within, you name it.

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By dick, August 8, 2008 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Foreign entanglements will be our downfall too. Truman started the one with Israel, which has been a disaster for the US for 60 years, with the worst to come.

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By Fadel Abdallah, August 8, 2008 at 7:37 am Link to this comment

“Long and difficult negotiations finally led to peace between Egypt and Israel in 1977, before darkness returned after the Shah of Iran was overthrown and replaced by a revolutionary group led by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.”
=====================
After reading the first paragraph, where the reviewer considers the overthrow of the evil and tyrannical Shah as a return to darkness, I lost interest in both continuing reading the review or ever reading the book itself.

This is another case when I am sadly reminded that those who claim to know the Middle East to the point of daring to write about it are the most ignorant ones that continue to perpetuate the evil colonialist mentality.

I can smell the evil irrational hatred of Islam through this reviewer first paragraph, where the writer is telling us, en essence, that the reign of the tyrannical Shah was enlightenment, which was replaced by darkness due to the non-bloody revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeni, which brought democracy to the country after a a long period of tyranny. But it seems that in the minds of most brainwashed, biased and ignorant Western writers Islam is the enemy and will continue to be even it brings democracy after a tyrannical long rule!

Zachary Karabell you’ve done a miserable job just from the very beginning and your hateful ideology showed it true colors!

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By Terry Thomas, August 8, 2008 at 6:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This book report is going all out to trivialize oil as the primary reason that we invaded and now occupy Iraq. If there was no oil there we would not be there. The wolf compared to any historical figure might hold true accounting in this book that I haven’t read. But those figures were also influence in the last century by those lakes of mid east oil. No one who knows anything about the mid east would argue that there was religious, idealogical and roots that go back to Abraham causing evolved conflict after conflict with ancestory rights to the so called throne. Most of which was of concern to the outside world except the Oriental East. But, not with a concern we have shown with our obvious greed winner take all attitudes, which is rampant in the US, the UK and most of Europe. Oil is the primary reason we are occupying most of the mid east and not any trumped up albeit historical and romantic idealisms or to spread our ignorant version of democracy. Money and greed were our primary motivators.
tp

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