17 October, 2005

"Centuries of Western imperialism and oppression"

I was listening to talk radio Friday morning. I think it was the Diane Rehm show, which I don't like to begin with (but nothing else was worth listening to). She was discussing with Tony Blankley his new book, which has to do with the current war on terrorism. As people are wont to do on such shows, someone called and in his question made a reference to "centuries of Western imperialism and oppression in the middle east." Since Blankley is of British origin, the caller claimed that the British were the prime movers and shakers in these centuries, making a not-so-subtle dig at Blankley's cultural heritage.

An Italian lawyer once made a similar claim in my presence once; for some reason I didn't think about it too much then. Perhaps there was simply too much to notice on that occasion; this time, however, a moment of confusion seized me.

"Centuries of Western what?" I asked aloud. "What was the Ottoman empire, then?" I also remembered the Barbary pirates; that episode of American history was a mere two centuries ago. This hardly suggests Western imperialism and oppression.

Appallingly, this baseless accusation produced no reaction at all from either host or guest. Are they ignorant, or am I?

As I understand it, there were only some decades of Western "imperialism and oppression" in the Middle East, beginning with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire at the conclusion of World War I, and concluding with the creation of the Middle East as we know it at the conclusion of World War II (at American insistence, as I understand it). Consider, for example, the early history of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine. One can give a precise number: three decades, from 1918 to 1948. The period since then has been characterized either by stability in some states (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, Jordan), and instability in others (Lebanon, Iraq, Iran). The region was a scene of Cold War intrigue, with countries switching sides from time to time (to wit, Nasser and Assad in Egypt, the Shah and Khomeini in Iran). Certainly this is an example of Western influence having in some cases a good effect, in other cases an ill effect, but if we want to talk about centuries of imperialism and colonialism, then the West is not to blame for the Middle East, nor even for Eastern Europe.

Does anyone even care about history these days? Has anyone mentioned the Ottoman Empire in all these discussions of the Mideast? Does anyone even care what the truth is, or are facts only a playground for our ideologies?

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