Archives For Fall 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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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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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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The politics of war and revolution in the Persian Gulf

Conflicts of the late 1970s through the Gulf War of the 1990s have demonstrated the significance and fragility of the Persian Gulf, an area that contains over 60 percent of the world’s reserves of oil. Because of the importance of these oil reserves, every conflict in this region becomes an international event. While the collapse of the Soviet Union has reduced U.S.-Soviet tensions it has created new problems for the world and the Gulf region.

Political, economic, and religious interests of the region overlap oil interests to create complex regional issues.  Basic problems such as the problem of national identity and political legitimacy have remained unresolved and have taken a back seat to oil interests. For the most part, the Arab states have resisted the forces of democratization that have been sweeping the world and have remained monarchies.  They use their oil wealth to maintain their power, reinforce tradition, and crush or dominate their political rivals.  The relative stability of these states is attested by the fact that of eight Persian Gulf states, only Iran and Iraq have experienced revolutions during this period.

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Twelfth century Arab philosopher al-Ghazali used methodological skepticism to answer two of the main problems of philosophy: (1) how knowledge is acquired and, (2) how can one justify that knowledge. Seventeenth century French philosopher Descartes dealt with the problem of doubt in lockstep with al-Ghazali and came up with the same solution (Najm 133). It is evident that Arab philosophy significantly, albeit indirectly, influenced Western philosophy. Is it possible that Descartes was influenced by al-Ghazali? A close comparison of their epistemological methodology and results gives reason to believe that Descartes was influenced by al-Ghazali, but there is no conclusive proof of it (a paper).

Divergent Backgrounds

Al-Ghazali, a prominent philosopher, theologian, and jurist of Sunni Islam, lived between c. 1055 and 1111. In his most famous work, the Incoherence of the Philosophers, he advanced a nominalist critique of Aristotelian science developed later in 14th century Europe. In the Incoherence, he rejected and condemned some of the teachings of Aristotelian philosophy, while accepting and applying others. One of al-Ghazali’s contributions that greatly influenced Latin medieval thought, through the works of Averroes and Jewish authors, was his resolution of seeming contradictions between reason and revelation (“Al-Ghazali”).

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict stems from Jewish-Arab claims to the land of Palestine and the wider, more general, Jewish Arab conflict. There are two main solutions being brokered to bring an end to this conflict: the one-state solution and the two-state solution. I am in favor of the two-state solution.


The one-state solution calls for a single state or Jews and Arabs giving each equal rights under the law. The main problem with this solution is that regardless of whether the state of Israel should have been created on Palestinian land, it was and was and is internationally recognized. Furthermore, the creation of Israel was and is intended as a Jewish state. A change in the status of Israel as a Jewish state would in essence mark the beginning of its end, as Arabs would soon outnumber Jews.

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The total available water supply in the Nile River Basin is about 74 billion m3, but demand has risen to about 90-142 billion m3. Egypt’s demand is about 70-75 billion m3 and Sudan’s is about 32 billion m3. Egypt is willing to allocate 2 billion m3 to Ethiopia, but Ethiopia’s demand is about 5 billion m3. Demand from the equatorial states is about 5 billion m3. Thus, there is a deficit of 16-68 billion m3 (Soffer 69-70). Rogers and Lydon (308) predict that Egypt and the Sudan will exceed their own water resource bases by 2025.

This deficit is clearly a problem. Furthermore, faced with water shortages, Egypt and Sudan oppose any change in the status quo of the division of Nile water. Egypt’s average annual population growth rate is 1.682% (2008 est.) and the Sudan’s is 2.134% (2008 est.) (CIA – The World Fact Book). Most experts agree that Egypt and Sudan will be forced to cooperate. However, Egypt has very little incentive to change the status quo and Sudan lacks the power to do so (Soffer 71).

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Islamic Eschatology

Christopher Hurtado —  October 10, 2008

An Islamicized Christian element explained

He then reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: The Dajjal would appear in my Ummah and he would stay (in the world) for forty – I cannot say whether he meant forty days, forty months or forty years. And Allah would then send Jesus son of Mary who would resemble ‘Urwa b Mas’ud. He (Jesus Christ) would chase him and kill him (Muslim 1520).

Both the Christian and the Islamic traditions hold that the coming of the Antichrist signals the coming of the apocalypse. Both traditions also hold that Jesus Christ will return at that time, although the circumstances of his leaving the Earth in the first place and his role during the apocalypse differ between the two traditions. What is entirely at variance between the two traditions is the belief, set forth in the above quoted hadith, that Jesus Christ will return to the Earth before the apocalypse to kill the Antichrist. In fact, this idea is not even supported by the Qur’an, but appears only in the Hadith and in later Islamic literature (Esposito 21-22).

A metaphor and its meaning in relation to its eschatological context

(6790) Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The inmates of Paradise would see the inmates of the apartment over them just as you see the shining planets which remain in the eastern and the western horizon because of the superiority some have over others (Muslim 1477-1478).

The metaphor in the above quoted hadith seems to imply that there may be varying degrees of glory in the Islamic paradise, an element seeming to bear some resemblance to LDS thought, but not attested to in Christian or Jewish thought. The apartments over the those who dwell in paradise, visible to them just as the planets above us are to us, seem to imply a dwelling place in paradise of a higher order than that of the observers below.

An element seeming to bear some resemblance to LDS thought, but not attested to in Christian or Jewish thought

(6796) Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The first group of my Ummah to get into Paradise would be like a full moon in the night. Then those who would be next to them; they would be like the most significantly glittering stars in regard to brightness, then after them (others) in ranks (Muslim 1479).

Another element of Islamic eschatology bearing some resemblance to LDS thought, but not attested to in Christian or Jewish thought, appears in the above quoted hadith. Here, it seems even more explicit that there are degrees of glory in the realm of Islamic paradise. Furthermore, the comparison of these degrees of glory to celestial objects of varying degrees of luminosity very closely resembles that found in LDS scripture, specifically in section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Although a similar comparison is made in 1 Corinthians 15:41, it is not clear in 1 Corinthians that Paul is referring to degrees of Glory without the clarification offered in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Works Cited

Esposito, John L. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. New York. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Muslim, Imam. Sahih Muslim. Lahore, PK: SH. Muhammad Ashraf, 1976.