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Regions of the World Series: Middle East

Written by:
Eugene Lieber
Narrated by:
Eugene Lieber

Unabridged Audiobook

Release Date
June 2006
1 hour 24 minutes
Ancient Civilizations. Ethnicity. Middle East ethnicity and background cannot be generalized. Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and the Fertile Crescent. This region gives rise to remarkable inventions and development including the invention of writing. Persia (now Iran) is a powerful, advanced empire, a thriving civilization, inventive, has a successful agriculture, is often progressive. (3.24.00) = Religion. The concept of monotheism originates in Judaism and is shared by Christianity and Islam. The sense of separatism in Judaism and its strength of religious beliefs may be factors it its survival after losing its homeland and being scattered for centuries. (5.30.00) = The Arab Empire. The monotheistic Islamic religion is founded by Mohammad in the 600s A.D., lasts for 700 years, with Mecca as its base. Factors contributing to its remarkable spread. The Empire excels in literature, science, art, music, architecture, while Europe is still in the Dark Ages. (8.20.00) = The Turkish Ottoman Empire. Ataturk and the overthrowing of the Roman Byzantine Empire in the 1400s. It is a religious based society under secular rule. The recurring theme of modernity and the resistance to it. The Empire collapses after World War I when it supports the losing side. The victors, England and France, break up the Middle East into countries with borders and ethnicity mixes favoring their control for economic exploitation, with oil as the major prize. (12.35.00) = Early 20th Century. Persia (Iran) With its interest in oil, England installs a royal family under its control. Resistance to foreign control of its major resource. Mosadek heads secular government through 1953 when CIA overthrows it and installs the Pahlavi family with the Shah of Iran as ruler. Once again the clash of modernity with tradition. Traditional society in Iran is a rural, peasant society based on the village. For some, the migration of peasants to the city and the urban civilization of modernity is a dislocation, a loss of tradition. For others, especially women, it is a great liberation. The darker side is the Shah's harsh dictatorial regime. The growing unpopularity of the U.S. and the Shah. His regime is overthrown in 1979 and Islamic fundamentalists come to power, with enormous consequences in the area and elsewhere. The ongoing clash between traditionalists and modernity is resumed. After initial popularity, the regime becomes regressive, with women losing their gains. (26.55.00) = Mesopotamia (Iraq). Part of an ancient civilization. Controlled by European powers after World War I who want to secure oil for themselves. Mounting resistance and military coups. In the late1950s Saddam Hussein comes to power and installs a secular leadership. He is a Sunni in a more orthodox Shia country. This leads to the rise of hatreds and great violence. During the Cold War era from the 1950s to the 1980s England, France and the US court Saddam as an anti-communist and major oil source. (34.17.00) = Afghanistan. This is a Muslim country. It has a long history of war lords who control regions of the country although it has a national government (35.20.00) = Palestine. The Promised Land, as the Hebrews see it from a biblical world. Though a small minority they hold on to that faith during the Diaspora and in face of Christian hostility in Europe. In the 20th century the idea of Zionism, championed by Theodore Herzl, that ultimately the place for Jews is Zion, where Palestinian Arabs also have lived for centuries. The rise of Nazism with the Holocaust as its terrifying climax and the slaughter of 1/3 of the world's Jewish population. Jewish suffering continues afterwards in refugee camps. Hatreds are not dimmed. In 1948 England loses control of Palestine which they ruled since the end of World War I. The partitioning of Palestine establishes the State of Israel in 1948. The Arabs see it as an outpost of the West, especially the US. Israel wins Arab wars against it. Arab motives are mixed. Israel, born from the horrors of Europe, is seen by the Arabs as creating horrors. Today, it is a cauldron of danger and violence. Hatreds build and increase over the years with the cycle of terror and retaliation. (42.37.00) = Mid-20th Century. Iran. After 1979 the Islamist fundamentalist government is fiercely anti-American, yet there are behind-the-scenes intrigues concerning Latin America. The 1980s devastating war between Iran and Iraq peters out with no clear victor. Both are Shia countries. It is a conflict of religious versus secular rulers. Despite its brutal dictatorship, the US supports Saddam's Iraq. (45.30.00) = Afghanistan. It has a border with Russia which imposes a secular puppet government, bringing a degree of modernity to a country which is still medieval in many ways. Women have the most gain from this. Resistance by the war lords leads to the the "Russian Vietnam." In the Cold War context, the US aids the Taliban despite their religious fundamentalism. The role of Osama Ben Laden in this war. Russia withdraws and the Taliban come to power imposing a medieval form of government, with repression of women. (49.02.00) = First Persian Gulf War. Tension between Iraq and Kuwait, a small country rich in oil, over control of its outlet port. How Kuwait's personal insults to Saddam, and the American Ambassador's neutral comment about Saddam's intentions influence the start of war. The US intervenes and easily defeats the Iraqi army. The question of stopping at that point versus a regime change. Dick Cheney advises against regime change with the prospect of the quagmire of urban guerilla warfare in Baghdad, but instead, to allow a weakened Saddam counter the fundamentalists. The Kurds in the North, long struggling for independence, are encouraged by the US to rise up. When they do, the US does not help and they are crushed by Saddam. The international embargo affects mostly the Iraqi people. (56.19.00) = Israel. The fundamentalists in the Middle East see Israel as its arch enemy. The classic anti-Semitism rages in the region (57.58.00) = Second Persian Gulf War. Bush, the son, and his neo-conservative advisors, have a world view of American dominance. Further motivation is America's economic need for oil. Questions about America's motivation for invading Iraq. The war seen in context of 9/11. Osama Ben Laden and the Taliban now seen as our arch enemies. The false connection between Osama, Al Queda, and Saddam is seen as deliberately false. The Iraqi army again is easily defeated. What next? Dick Cheney's earlier advice is now disregarded by him and other decision- makers. The neo-cons believe our forces will be welcomed as liberators. Instead there is a vicious and ongoing urban guerilla warfare. The role of US need for oil. The enormous profits of American companies in this conflict. The issue of resistance to an occupying army, followed by retaliation ( = Present and Future. Afghanistan. The Taliban, linked to 9/11, are overthrown. Resistance to an occupying army by the war lords. American public opinion is also opposed to continued deployment of US troops in this country. ( = Iran. Now a theocracy. It has a young population who are struggling for a more secular government. Women have much at stake in a separation of church and state. Iran's fervent hatred of Israel. It's drive for nuclear power and the question of war versus diplomacy. ( = Iraq. ( = Israel. The two-state solution and the issues of borders, economics, and security. The role of terrorism and violence undercuts a political solution. For Palestinians the lack of hope and the promise of Paradise produces suicide bombers. The issue of the economic basis for despair as a context for this. All sides share responsibility. ( = The region is very much in flux, with no apparent solution to a multi-factor equation.
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