Archives For December 2008

Introduction: The Perils of Ignoring History

Written during and immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and first published in 2004, the 2005 edition of Rashid Khalidi’s Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East bears a new introduction, taking into account what Khalidi terms twenty months of U.S. mismanaged occupation. Khalidi covers what he deems the true motives of the Bush administration in invading and occupying Iraq and what he terms their perilous disregard for history.

Chapter 1: The Legacy of the Western Encounter with the Middle East

In chapter 1, Khalidi goes over the history of Western intervention in Middle East politics from World War 1, through the period of colonial expansion, and into the present. He adeptly compares and contrasts the history of past Western European intervention with present U.S. intervention. In so doing, he draws parallels between them meant to demonstrate the imperial colonial nature of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. He points out that while most Americans ignore this history, Middle Easterners don’t.

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As seen in recent campaigns, there is a tendency among politicians to conflate all religious fundamentalist movements into one. Wahhabism is widely perceived as the beginning and end. Did religious fundamentalism arise in the Middle East with Wahhabism, inaugurating a continuously expanding, homogeneous and monolithic Islamic fundamentalist movement under unified leadership? As a matter of fact, no, it did not. Middle Eastern religious fundamentalism is much older than Wahhabism, heterogeneous, and fragmentary.


Religious fundamentalism did not arise in the Middle East with Wahhabism. Abdul Wahhab, the eighteenth century founder of the neo-orthodox Wahhabism movement was influenced by late thirteenth century to early fourteenth century Islamic fundamentalist, Ibn Taymiyyah. In the four centuries between them there were other movements as well.

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Christopher Hurtado —  December 22, 2008

Hizbollah was a splinter off of the Amal militia funded by Iran during the Lebanese civil war that attempted to wrestle power from the Maronites who had held it under Lebanon’s Confessional System since 1932. The Maronites had been given this power by the French based on the 1932 census, which was probably cooked to begin with and outdated at the time of the creation of Hizbollah. The confessional system divided up cabinet posts and parliament seats among the Sunnis, Shi’a and Druze, but it gave the Maronites control of the parliament and the presidency. After the PLO’s Black September defeat in Jordan, it moved fighters to Lebanon and sided with the Sunnis, Shi’a and Druze against the Maronites. The Maronites had their own militia, the phalange, which killed a group of PLO fighters setting off the Lebanese civil war. After the 1979 revolution, following the formation of the Islamic Republic, which replaced the Shah with the Ayatollahs, Iran attempted to export the revolution to Lebanon. The Shi’a in Lebanon were most receptive to this. However, the head of the Shi’a militia, Amal, rejected Iran’s offer of funds, weapons, and advisors. Hizbollah splinters off and accepts the aid Iran offered.

Perhaps most intriguing and perplexing among Aristotle’s writings is his theory on how the human intellect passes from a non-thinking state to a thinking one. Aristotle assumed that human thought reflects reality in a distortion-free manner. He also assumed that inborn qualities would taint the thoughts acquired by the human intellect, thus preventing it from performing its proper function. As a result, he took the human intellect to be a “part of the soul” with the ability to “become each thing” but with no nature of its own (De Anima 3.4.429a 10, 21-22; 429b 6). Next, he argued for the presence in the soul, as in all things, of “matter” and a “cause” or “agent” which leads the matter from potentiality to actuality. Thus, Aristotle posited, alongside the potential or material intellect capable of “becoming all things” via the acquisition of all thoughts, an active intellect capable of “making all things” via the making of all thoughts. (De Anima 3.5.430a 10-15).

The meaning of potential intellect and active intellect and the relationship between them are not clear in Aristotle’s De Anima. Is the active intellect part of the human soul or separate from it? (Davidson 3-4). “If the active intellect is entirely independent of the body, how can we reconcile it with Aristotle’s prevailing view of soul as the form of body” (Bunnin and Yu 11-12)? These questions have perplexed philosophers, who have tried to answer them, for two thousand years. Among them were ancient Greek commentators, medieval Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophers, and European philosophers. Each of them carefully studied Aristotle, looking for the answers to these questions. In his writings they expected to find the key to man’s essence, his fate, and the structure of the universe (Davidson 3-4). I will demonstrate that the Averroist interpretation of Aristotle’s active intellect is most consistent with Aristotle’s system and, at the same time, that Aristotle is consistent with Plato on this subject, justifying the Neoplatonist interpretation of Aristotle.

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Camp David I was an agreement between Begin and Sadat exchanging Egyptian recognition of Israel for the Sinai, entailing Egypt’s switching its affiliation from East to West and leading to Egyptian economic and political liberalization. Egypt’s change of affiliation occurred in the context of the Cold War. Sadat came to power in Egypt following Nasser’s totalitarian nationalist regime. Nasser’s Egypt had been socialist and in alignment with the East. Sadat pursued an Egypt first policy over the ideology of fighting for the liberation of Palestine. He began sending signals that he was willing to recognize and negotiate with Israel in exchange for the Sinai and investment capital from the West. This entailed moving Egypt from socialism to a free market economy, which led to the intifah (opening) of Egypt’s markets. Bread riots resulted from the intifah. Politically, it meant moving to a multi-party system, but Sadat chose the heads of the opposition parties himself. As for Israel, the head of the Likud government, Begin had to make some concessions of his own. In returning the Sinai to Egypt, Begin had to relent on the Likud party’s Greater Israel ideology.


Christopher Hurtado —  December 15, 2008

Turkey’s geographical location, between Europe on the one side and the Middle Eastern on the other, positions the nation at the cross roads of both east and west. Turkey holds the distinction of being the only Muslim nation with a viable democracy, a member of NATO, and one that maintains a “strategic partnership” with the U.S. Turkey is also unique in the Muslim world in its quest to join the European Union. At the same time, the Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, and a majority in the administration are Muslims who observe “conservative faith-based values.”  In order to qualify for EU membership, Turkey must practice policies such as human rights and government accountability. With this in mind, Turkey is being very careful with its Kurdish problem, seeking to form policies that honor Kurdish cultural rights and the “Kurdish identity.” Turkey’s desire to join the EU affects both domestic and international policy and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Turkey faces a number of serious challenges at home and abroad. One domestic challenge is maintaining a secular government and a balance between the various factions in a country with a strong Islamic base. Turkey’s push to join the EU continues to be a major focus. A number of Western European countries, in particular the right wing parties of France and Germany, are adamantly opposed to Turkey’s membership in the EU. They suggest that instead of membership, Turkey be given the status of a “privileged partnership,” a position Turkey is likely to reject. A majority of EU governments support eventual membership for Turkey, so the opponents seek to slow down the negotiations with “technical obstacles” and reference to the Cyprus problem.

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Egypt’s pre-eminence in the Arab world is based on history, culture, population, and the political transformation of Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser became a role model for Arab leaders for decades calling for pan-Arabism and socialism Following Nasser in 1970, Anwar al-Sadat broke with the Soviet Union, promoted capitalism, sought American friendship, and made peace with Israel. For this he incurred the enmity of radical Islamists and Egypt was expelled from the Arab League. After Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Hosni Mubarak once again brought Egypt back to its traditional role as a leader among the Arab nations, and led the Arab state’s opposition to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Under pressure for greater popular political participation in 2005, Mubarak’s government passed an amendment allowing for direct election of the President. While pursuing economic reforms, the Egyptian economy continues to be challenged by a growing number of young people in need of jobs. Though Mubarak appears well entrenched, he faces a host of challenges caused by a stagnant economy, rampant corruption, and radical Islamist violence. During the 1980s and 90s Mubarak ruthlessly repressed opposition groups and silenced dissent to maintain stability. Thousands of political prisoners are still held in Egypt’s jails. However, the election reforms have encouraged groups to work toward fairer and more competitive elections in the future. While Mubarak continues to maintain a firm hand on the nation, his successor will most likely face greater demands for reform.

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Syria and Lebanon

Christopher Hurtado —  December 15, 2008


Syria, under Bashar al-Asad who assumed the Presidency in 2000 with the death of his father, Hafiz al-Asad, faces severe problems including rampant corruption, the influx of nearly a million refugees from Lebanon and Iraq, and a stagnant state economy. Its close ties to Iran and militant Palestinian groups and its implication in the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hairir in 2005 isolate it from the West.

A history of repression and autocratic rule during the two decades Hafiz al-Asad held power appears to be continuing under his son as evidenced by the 2006 mass arrests of human rights activists and opposition figures. The government continues to be highly centralized and authoritarian, held up by a large domestic security force. Bashar al-Asad’s power base appears to be shrinking following Syria’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005.

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Petroleum, Politics, and Development

The oil boom in the Middle East between 1873 and 1985 had a profound impact on the living standards of the oil rich countries and neighboring countries that benefited from a secondary relationship to those nations. This did not necessarily lead to effective state building. Because of emphasis on oil the three major sectors of national economies, industry, agriculture, and services, have experienced uneven growth.

Prospects for further liberalization

During the 1980s, liberalization and increased political freedom in these nations have invariably led to opposition movements, which in turn led to repression and a decrease in political freedoms. In Muslim countries of the MENA region political liberalization was offered to reduce reaction to economic austerity measures. However, they were quickly ended when they conflicted with the interests of the rulers.

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The Arab-Israeli Conflict began to develop over the control of the same land once Jewish settlements began to expand in Palestine to the extent that they posed a threat to the Palestinians. While the Israeli Jews were no threat to the sovereignty of other Arab states, they began to use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to gain advantages for their regimes.

Though the Arab leaders have used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to enhance their positions within the Arab Cold War, they have never gone to war against Israel to liberate Palestine nor have they worked together to create diplomatic solutions to the problem. Without real commitment to the Palestinian cause, posturing has replaced substantive dialogue. Arab states demonstrate a great reluctance to take the risks that might actually lead to Palestinian liberation.

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