Unwrapping the Intricacies of the Middle East

By: Johnny Waltz

Middle Eastern societies have historically been plagued for thousands of years with unprecedented turmoil and conflict that perplexes many in Western Civilizations. The general impression by Americans is that the entire region is caught in a murderous quagmire of hostilities where oppression and terrorism are the norm. This was further cemented into the collective psyche of the American society after the devastating attacks on September 11, 2001, where we were warned that “sadistic” terrorists were waiting to attack America once again and that freedom was at stake. In direct response to this, the birth of the Global War on Terror was set into place in order to defend the nation from the imminent threat of terrorism. Many in America were completely clueless as to why a collection of individuals from a particular region that was thousands of miles away would hate our nation so much that they would commit such a monstrous act. The mainstream media spoon-fed the masses with President George W. Bush's ideals that the terrorist attacks were an assault on democracy because Islamic extremists hated the American way of life. This sugarcoated version of the troubled relations between the Middle East and the Western nations was far from reality. The overall situation in the Middle East is considerably more complicated than any concise black and white definition could provide simply because the underlying conflict owes in large part to culture, religion, politics, and the persistent interventionist policies of the West. One fact can remain certain is that the conflicts in the Middle East cannot be extracted from their culture because of the Arab tribal mentality that influenced Islam and its followers perception toward any outsiders who were not Muslim. Tribal Influence and the Birth of Islam Throughout human history, every civilization has struggled to develop some semblance of control not merely to survive but to flourish as well. For early Arab tribes they organized into established groups of relatives where the central role of each individual member was to protect the tribe from outsiders. The primary key to this was deterrence, which rests exclusively in the sense of parity between adversaries. This provided a balanced opposition where any potential invader would know that if they engaged in a conflict it would simply not be an inconsequential clash rather it could be in direct opposition to a tribe that was equivalent in magnitude to his tribe. The optimal configuration of the tribal system intended to produce a clear sense of unanimity while providing acrimony against any external aggressors. It was honorable then for the male warrior to protect their tribe and not doing so would bring shame. According to Philip Carl Salzman,

Balanced opposition is a ‘tribal' form of organization, a tribe being a regional organization of defense based on decentralization and self-help. Tribes operate differently from states, which are centralized, have political hierarchies, and have specialized institutions--such as courts, police, tax collectors, and an army--to maintain social control and defense. [1] Prior to the Islamic faith, various tribes were ungoverned and did not necessarily have a defining vision for the future. Muhammad knew the intricacies of this tribal mentality and his endeavor to bring together the various feuding Bedouin tribes in a cohesive element was a revolutionary political triumph. Muhammad's introduction of Islam provided a structured set of laws, which provided a method for all of the tribes to live together. The exact interpretation of Islam is submission, which by means of the Qur'an assembled the complete assortment of tribesman together “who collectively became the umma, the community of believers.” [2] Muhammad successfully formulated a focus for the tribes in a collective purpose, which was to serve Allah as Muslims. With the newly assembled holy army (‫/خيش المقدسة‬jaysh al-muqaddas), the tribes were now willing to fulfill their religious obligation to spread Islam and eliminate any infidel nonbelievers in the way. This was the start to what has become known as the Islamic conquests and a substantial contributor to the thousand-year continuation of violence in the Middle East. Birth of Muslim Conquests and early Caliphates Although most of the rapid expansion of the Islamic empire happened after the death of Muhammad, his resolute leadership did help to engage the Arabian Peninsula and set the precedence for the subsequent growth of Islam. Muhammad made a pilgrimage to Medina in order mark the tenth year of the migration, which provides the Islamic rite of hajj that each follower is to make in their life. While there, he delivered an enforcement of the ideals of Islam in what is known as The Farewell Sermon. In this sermon, he further made it clear that there was only one almighty god who is Allah and in essence was a clarion call to dispel unbelievers. Muhammad said, O people, your Lord is One, and your father is one: all of you are from Adam, and Adam was from the ground. The noblest of you in Allah's sight is the most godfearing: Arab has no merit over non-Arab other than godfearingness. Have I given the message? -- O Allah, be my witness. [3] Shortly after his farewell hajj, Muhammad died on June 8, 632, which his passing left a major struggle over who would be his successor. Umar ibn al-Khattab nominated the successor to be Abu Bakr, which was accepted and he was immediately made the first caliph under the Rashidun Caliphate. The Rashidun Caliphate conquered present-day Syria, Armenia, Egypt, and parts of North Africa. The Muslim Conquests did not actually reach the borders of modern Europe until the succession of the Umayyad Caliphate.

Muslim Expansion Meets Christian Europe In 674, the Ummayad Caliphate laid siege to Constantinople, which was a key battle that pitted the Arab forces against the Byzantine Empire. Initially the raiders were incapable of breaching the Theodosian Walls, and in turn, they encircled the city, which lasted until winter forcing them to pull out to an island nearby. In 677, a major battle ensued between the Byzantine and Umayyad navies, which ended in a significant loss for the Arab raiders causing a suspension of the expansion towards Europe. This lasted for nearly thirty years resulting in a significant defeat for the Arabs at the second siege of Constantinople. Although this certainly was a significant setback for the Ummayad Caliphate, they did finally reach present day Europe in the Conquest of Hispania that occurred from 711 to 718. The Ummayads tried to capitalize on this success with the Battle of Tours known in Arabic as the Battle of Court of the Martyrs (‫ )معركة بلط الشهداء‬on October 10, 732 in present day France. [4] The battling armies included the Frankish and Burgundian military, which was led by Austrasian Mayor of the Palace Charles Martel against the Ummayad Caliphate led by ‘Abdul Rahman alGhafiqi. At the time of this battle, it was widely seen as an epic fight between the most powerful armies of both the Western Europe and Arab empires. The Ummayads had seen a significant number of military successes as they rolled across northern Africa and into Hispania, making them one of the most powerful militaries at the time. At the same time the Frankish empire, which consisted of present day France and Germany possessed an equally impressive military as well. The Ummayad invasion ended in a decisive defeat and the tragic death of their military leader Ghafiqi. Many Western historians contend that this particular battle was a pivotal moment of the early Muslim conquests against Christian Europe and in turn preserved Christianity. An early historian Edward Gibbon expounded on this in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire stating, A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet. [5] The consequent demise of the Ummayad Caliphate ended in the year 750 after being soundly defeated by the Abbasids. This was also the year that Muslims consider when Islamic history split into two where one part would head to Iberia led by ‘Abd al-Rahman and the other stayed in the East, which created a city to be called Baghdad, where the Abbasids would provide their unique impact on history. Many years would elapse before massive battles resumed, which forever cemented sentiments between Muslims and Christians as well as the Middle East and the West.

Islamic Resurgence and the Battle for the Mediterranean When the major battles resumed between Islamic forces and Christian Europe, the Arab forces were organized as the Ottoman Empire. In 1565, the Ottoman Empire invaded Malta, which was directly controlled by the Knights Hospitaller. Truly, this battle should be readily seen as a dramatic climax to the continuous battle for supremacy of the Mediterranean. Prior to the Siege of Malta in 1560, a Christian fleet was completely destroyed at the skilled hands of the Turks at the Battle of Djerba. The position of Malta was strategic for the Turks because of the highly profitable piracy and the slave trade business they operated. According to the Italian-Spanish mercenary Francisco Balbi di Correggio, the Turkish Armada that was originally sent by Suleiman the Magnificent totaled approximately 48,000 fighters, which outnumbered the Christian forces of 6,100. [6] The Knights were led by Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, who himself was a galley slave by the Barbary pirates who were commanded by Turgut Reis. (Knights) In preparation for the ensuing battle, de la Valette advised his Christian army, It is the great battle of the Cross and the Koran which is now to be fought. A formidable army of infidels are on the point of invading our island. We, for our part, are the chosen soldiers of the Cross, and if Heaven requires the sacrifice of our lives, there can be no better occasion than this. Let us hasten then, my brothers, to the sacred altar. There we will renew our vows and obtain by our faith in the sacred Sacraments, that contempt for death which alone can render us invincible. [7] In May 1565, the Muslim siege began as an aggressive assault on Fort St. Elmo, which had a holding strength of only a hundred soldiers. The true intention was to secure the area in rapid fashion but in reality, it took over thirty-five days providing the principal base of St. Angelo more time to prepare. During this massive siege, Correggio wrote that, The darkness of the night then became as bright as day, due to the vast quantity of artificial fires. So bright was it indeed that we could see St Elmo quite clearly. The gunners of St Angelo... were able to lay and train their pieces upon the advancing Turks, who were picked out in the light of the fires. [8] The Christians held on until June 23, which is when the Turks were able to overtake the embattled St. Elmo leaving only nine surviving Knights who were captured while a few others fled. This might well have been a decisive victory for the Turks but it did come at the price of over 4,000 of their own soldier’s lives. After this victory though the land commander Mustafa Pasha was still upset at the Christian infidels insolence and as a clear sign of this he decapitated the imprisoned Knights putting their collective heads on spikes while crucifying their officers in a twisted mockery of Jesus. After De La Valette discovered the headless bodies washed up on shore he responded with his own barbaric form of vengeance. He ordered that the remaining Turkish prisoners be decapitated and in turn fired their heads in a cannon at Mustafa's army.

The siege continued though but now the primary target was St. Angelo where the Turks tunneled below the Christian defenses and under the Bastion of Castile in an aggressive effort to break the encampment by planting mines. This was ignited on August 19, which resulted in a large opening in the primary wall allowing the Muslim warriors to storm through. The Christians held on to the bastion repairing their defenses but in the middle of the melee, De La Valette sustained a leg injured by a grenade. By the morning, the Turks withdrew their forces leaving both fortresses in Christian hands. Overall, the siege ended up lasting for 113 days where an estimated 25,000 Turks were killed and around 250 Christian knights had been killed. [9] In sum, the siege had insignificant impact on the balance of power in the Mediterranean although it did deal a humiliating blow to the Ottoman Empire. Although there were various battles after the Siege of Malta, the once thundering conquests slowed down. The once brilliant idea of Muhammad to band together the tribes in a shared cause fell in disarray and back into their native state of disunity. The complete disintegration of the conquests should not be readily understood as defeat, rather the integrating power of Islam continued on an even grander scale afterwords. The core message of Islam brought numerous communities that were stretched over thousands of miles together with common values and beliefs while sharing a universal aspiration of serving Allah. The last hundred years have been tumultuous for the Middle East, which has seen the harmful effects of colonialism and interventionist policies by the West, which have added fuel to an already smoldering relationship. Middle East and the Last One Hundred Years America's first President George Washington forewarned against getting involved in foreign wars that are of no direct concern of the nation. In his farewell address he stated, The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations to have them as little political connection as possible… Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice? [10] The founding ideals of our country have been seemingly ignored in the last century and replaced with an interventionist foreign policy. The harsh reality however is that a substantial part of the present Middle East crisis was created because of these policies and is precisely why we find ourselves in the mess our country is in currently. Many of our current policies have been hypocritical at best and one excellent example of that is with Israel. Hypocritical Foreign Policy and Israel The core of the ongoing conflict is the disputed mutual recognition of Israel as an independent nation, which the Palestinians feel should not exist after being forcibly evicted from their land.

Israel was created with the generous assistance from chiefly the United Kingdom and America in order to placate the Zionist movement. In all reality, Israel is certainly not independent according to Congressman Ron Paul, who stated, I don't think there is such a thing as an independent Israel doing anything, because I think no matter what they do it’s our money, it’s our weapons, and they’re not going to do it without us approving it and if they get into trouble we're going to bail them out, so there is no separation between the two.[11] The estimated amount of financial aid that America has provided to Israel since 1947 tops out at $105 billion, which paints a coherent picture of the powerful connection between the two countries. By doing this, the decks are stacked against the Palestinians and the persistent call from the American government for peace is merely lip service. The quarrel going on in Israel has zero to do with America or its interests, but by choosing sides, we are simply allowing more blow back from the Middle East. In addition, by arming the Israelis and calling for resolutions supporting Israel, we are truly providing a green light to any atrocities they commit. While it is simply inexcusable to launch homemade rockets into Gaza, it is similarly wrong for the Israelis to institute a blockade of Gaza. This act according to Ron Paul is a "cruel act of war" and is therefore nothing short of genocide. The few individuals that are firing rockets in contrast to the larger population does not give right for Israel to execute collective retribution against everyone in Gaza and America should remain neutral vice loudly proclaiming its backing for Israel. Short History of American Intervention in Iraq and Iran The conflict going on in Iraq today has a direct connection to historical events that occurred 50 years ago. In 1953, the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Moseddeq was irritated that the British were ripping off his countries natural resources. The British turned to the U.S. for help and Dwight D. Eisenhower declared that Moseddeq was a communist and needed to be immediately removed from power. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to topple the Iranian government. This brought the Shah back into power, which was an extremely oppressive regime. It only lasted twenty years when a revolution occurred in Iran, which brought Ayatollah Khomeini into power. The Ayatollah was violently anti-American and created a formidable foe for the U.S. In turn, the U.S. government made a puppet out of Saddam Hussein because he was virulently anti-Iranian. When Saddam started losing the war with Iran the American Government intervened by giving Iraq $5 billion in direct loans and $4 billion in military equipment and chemical/biological weapons, which is officially known as Iraqgate. Saddam turned on America and showed his true colors by invading Kuwait in the summer of 1990, and warned of attacks on both Israel and Saudi Arabia. In response, America sent troops to

Saudi Arabia to evict Saddam from Kuwait and defend the other two countries. The support we provided Saudi Arabia created another powerful enemy named Osama Bin Laden because he was quite irritated at the fact America was defending Saudi Arabia. The American government hand fed Saddam everything he needed to develop an entire army with the technical capabilities to employ chemical and biological warfare. Once he got out of control the U.S. government urgently needed to put him at bay without drawing too much attention to Iraqgate. Iraq's occupation of Kuwait set the perfect stage to demonize Saddam and emphasize the overwhelming urge to take him out, which set the ball in motion for his removal in 2003. Conclusion Looking back into both ancient and contemporary history, we can plainly see that the condition that the Middle East is in is very complex. If Americans really understood the turbulent history that the West has with the Arabian society it would remain relatively straightforward to understand why they hate America. We have been meddling for far too long in conflicts that simply do not involve our country, which in turn has made the strained relations with the Middle East much worse. There certainly is no conceivable doubt that foreign interventionist policies are extremely harmful for America, which the reality is according to Ron Paul is that: Special interests control our policies, while true national security is ignored. Real defense needs, the defense of our borders, are ignored, and the financial interests of corporations, bankers, and the military-industrial complex gain control - and the American people lose. [12] For the American government the foremost policy going forward would be to stop intervening in conflicts that do not concern us. Secondly, we should reduce our foreign aid funds to countries overseas for multiple reasons, which the stark reality is it also avoids our country from covertly choosing sides in issues overseas. From a Christian perspective, we can effectively utilize the love and unity given to us by the Lord. We should pay mind to the first commandment which states, “I am the Lord thy God and thou shall not have strange Gods before Me.” With the various religions in the entire world, we seemingly confuse this with there being more than one God, which in turn can cause the “my god is better than your god” complex. The first commandment enforces the concept that there truly is just one God before us, which should make us become aware there is absolutely no real need to fear other religions because he has absolute control. Instead of throwing stones of hatred, we should open our minds in order to symbolize the love, unity, and peace of Jesus. WORKS CITED [1] Salzman, Philip Carl "The Middle East's Tribal DNA," Middle East Quarterly 15, no. 1 (Winter 2008)

[2] Salzman, Philip Carl "The Middle East's Tribal DNA," Middle East Quarterly 15, no. 1 (Winter 2008) [3] Muhammad, "The Farewell Address Of The Holy Prophet Muhammad," The Canadian Society Of Muslims, April, 1998, http://muslim-canada.org/farewell.htm. (accessed February 10, 2009). [4] Henry Coppee, History of the Conquest of Spain by the Arab Moors Volume II (New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 1881/2002), 133. [5] Edward Gibbon, "Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, Vol. 6," Internet Sacred Text Archive, 1776-88, http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/gibbon/06/index.htm#contents/ (accessed February 10, 2009). [6] Francisco Balbi di Correggio, The Siege of Malta (UK: Boydell Press, 2005), 36. [7] Ernie Bradford, Great Siege: Malta 1565 (UK: Wordsworth Military Library, 1999), 53. [8] R.G Grant, Battle a Visual Journey Through 5000 Years of Combat (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2005), 133. [9] Arnold Cassola, The 1565 Ottoman Malta Campaign Register (Malta: Publishers Enterprise Group, 1998), 111. [10] Ron Paul, The Revolution (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2008), 9. [11] Jihan Hafiz, "Paul: No Such Thing As An Independent Israel," Press Tv, December 28, 2008, http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=79752&sectionid=3510302/ (accessed February 11, 2008). [12] Ron Paul, "Middle East Quagmire," Ron Paul Library, November 14, 2004, http://www.ronpaullibrary.org/document.php?id=383/ (accessed February 11, 2009).

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