The Middle East on my mind

I’m about to speak on a topic which I have very little expertise. Actually, I’ll probably talk about several topics on which I have very little knowledge. You know what they say, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. In my case, well, I must be positively lethal.

Throughout the ages, or at least since bottled water, the water cooler has been fertile ground for inane chatter on topics folks have very little real knowledge. Friends, today was no exception. I was involved in a conversation about the Middle East, politics, and the history of human civilization. Pretty heady stuff for the water cooler, eh? Yeah, I’ve never been one to do something so cliche as to play Monday morning quarterback. Nope. For me it’s Tuesday morning Secretary of State. What exactly, pray tell, were we talking about? It all began with a simple statement: “Iraq is just so fragmented, with so diverse and antagonistic groups of people, that they’ll never be able to replicate the kind of united democracy the western nations have been able to sustain.” Now there’s a statement to chew on during your smoke break (or the non-smoker’s equivalent thereof). For me, the statement occupied my mind well beyond the normal confines of an afternoon break, defined by my employer as “fifteen minutes.” No, my mind was as good as paralyzed for durn near the duration of the afternoon. I kept asking myself, “why?” Why is Iraq more fragmented? Why can’t democracy succeed? What makes this situation so different? In a moment of ignorant inspiration, it occurred to me that maybe they didn’t get their ass kicking like the rest of us westerners did 1500 years ago. I’m not up on my Middle Eastern history, but it seems to this middling educated man that western civilization was a story of one brutal conquering after another. Call it the assimilation of ideas by brute force. Could it be that the diverse ways of life championed by innumerable western tribes simply disappeared after being beaten and absorbed by stronger tribes? Could it be that this process was faster in Europe because there is more continuous land that can actually support human life? (Let’s face it, there are large stretches arid desert in Iraq that no one thought worthy of fighting over through the ages.) So despite being the cradle of civilization, maybe they’re just late to the game of “survival of the fittest culture.” Maybe their struggles now are no worse than our ancestor’s were 1500 years ago – except for man’s evolved capability to kill one another. Hey, we’ve come a long way from broad swords, baby! Who knows how our own history would be different if they had C4? I’ll bet those suicide swordsmen had it WAY harder than the modern day equivalent, not to mention they were spectacularly less efficient, and met their end a lot more slowly and painfully. (Note to the discriminating reader: I realize there’s no such thing as a “suicide swordsman.”)

Here’s one more ignoramus question, before I leave you to your own devices this evening. Am I completely off base wondering if there is an odd dynamic between the liberators and the people being liberated, in world history? We’re supposed to be in Iraq to “liberate Iraqis from the tyranny of Sadaam,” so where’s the love, man? The French helped liberate us from Britain, and we helped liberate the French from the Germans, so where’s the love, man? We helped liberate the Chinese from Japan, so where’s the love, man? Is it possible that pride, in the long run (and after the initial euphoria of being liberated) causes a little resentment over the need to be liberated? Is possible that Iraqis, being a particularly proud people, from a civilization and a cultural tradition that has been around longer than almost any other, is all the more resentful over the need to be liberated?

None of this may be terribly well spoken, based on a good understanding of history, or terribly original, but it made for interesting conversation at the water cooler.