The idea of the Middle East and Islam has always been shrouded in a mystique that is difficult to unveil. Yet over time and particularly with regards to current affairs, their history and perceptions thereof are becoming more distinct. Zachary Lockman in this essay attempts to dissipate some of the misconceptions we have apparently drawn over time with regards to Islam, the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. At times he is successful, at times he misses the point. In this essay we will discuss the points he raises and examine them with regards to my own beliefs about the points he raises.
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In the first page Lockman relates that in the past the ‘engagements’ we have had with the Middle East has resulted in essence in 11 September 2001. the culmination, he says of 6 decades of US involvement with the Middle East (Lockman, p1). The majority of people living in the US today probably won’t relate to this spectacle particularly well, but that it has some bearing on the terrorist attacks occurred, I have little doubt. Yet he later says that paradigms created by scholars are built on theories that may not be pertinent to modern Middle East (Lockman, p3). Of this too, I cannot fault him.
Having said this, I must honestly admit that regardless of whatever false representations have been made about the Middle East, using it as an excuse for 9/11 is not appropriate. Indeed, understanding the causes and effects of previous relationships with the country may help to solve the problem, but to justify the act is does not amount to solving it. He also talks about the questions we ask and the obvious effect it has on the answers we get.
Here I must agree with Albert Einstein in that it is not so much the answers but the questions that are important. Furthermore, Lockman relates how we have developed largely ‘crude’ prejudices about Islam and The Middle East and that it amounts to racism (Lockman, p4). In response to this I feel it necessary to say that racism, as with any prejudice, is never a one way track. This is the same for all aspects of conflict, both parties have a need to somehow interact on a less than friendly level. If racism or ethnicism has anything to do with it, then it cannot be forgotten the many centuries of hatred between the Jews and the Arabs.
Lockman explains the influence of the Middle East on ancient Greece, but no one, to my knowledge ever denied the presence of the Persians or Asians in Greece at any time. It simply doesn’t appear to be very pertinent to the fact that today they still hold the world to ransom over oil and supposed nuclear bombs. In fact, the presence of the Asians in Greece at the time and the possible influence of other European countries on the Greece we came to know as the father of civilization, only furthers their mastery at reinvention. Then again as we later see, the Romans had the same attitude for the Greeks as the Greeks had for the Romans. They believed Greece to be ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ (Lockman, p15).
Here I may make the conjecture that since the Greeks borrowed from the Asians and the Romans from the Greeks, there was a continuum of ever evolving cultures. Little bearing here puts the Asians in either a good or bad light. Saying that it was really the Asians that eventually broke down Imperial Rome and Greek really does not, in my mind make too much difference to the overall outcome. This is predominantly because at that stage and much later in other countries, the turnover of countries from one “denomination” to the other was rife and that some part of the culture should rub off on the citizens thereof is obvious. Comparatively, it could e said that the Roman influence on Britain and Ireland would be as great as Persia on the Greeks.
Religion is always a delicate subject, mainly because people identify with it in their souls. The constant search for spirituality will always be there. It is unnecessary for anyone to stamp on anyone else’s religious beliefs. The relationship between Islam and Christianity has always been frigid. But this may not be so much because of misconceptions Christians have about Islam , or the equally outrageous misinformation they have about Christianity, but perhaps more to do with the fear of infiltration. This is a common problem, far more common than being isolated to Christians and Muslims. The lack of ability to assimilate others into a culture has a lot to do with the threat of ones own beliefs being outnumbered.
It must be said that the religious destruction between the Muslims and the Jews is probably as bad as that of the Christians and the Muslims. If, in terms of peaceful solutions and fairness, we were to speak of this misinformation, it could be argued that the entire Middle East is contained by Muslims. Would be truly terrible thing to give the Hebrews the tiny, infertile piece of land called Israel? After all they have nowhere else to call their own. If my argument is not clear, then to put it bluntly, I feel the author is somewhat defending the Muslims against the Americans, which, if the odds are weighed up, in the end the prejudice is about the same.
Regarding the Ottoman Empire, many believe that Constantine himself was far from the ideal version of a Christian. And yes, perhaps the West does see itself as a cut above the ‘rest’, but in order to better understand the case we ACTUALLY have to realize that the whole word was NOT Greek, or Roman, American, British or German and it wasn’t Arab either. What makes the world today is the diversity between the belief structures and the cultures.
It is unfair to point fingers at any one culture, saying they were to blame in the long run. Although I don’t think this is the point of Lockman’s writing. I feel that he has raised interesting points but as with all opposing ideas as well, thy can be refuted. No one was around to see that what happened, happened. All conjectures and hypotheses are subject to confrontation and dispute, making it all the less pertinent to the reasons why activities today should affect the overall relationship between the Middle East and the US. My argument is that it boils down to commodities and tolerance and the fact that the blame game never works when it comes to the politics of mediation.
You cannot swap one history for another and pretend it is going to make a difference. If students are more aware of what relationships were like in the past, it may make a slight difference, but has no effect on dealing with current dilemma’s like terrorism and 9/11. These need to be addressed in the here and now with practicality and sensitivity for all parties involved.