Wednesday, December 27, 2023

"Black Wave" helps explain the Mid East Turmoil

 We westerners have a limited perspective on the part of the world that gets disproportionate attention.  The Mid-East is complicated, but definitely impinges on our lives.  Kim Ghattas is from Lebanon and as an internationally respected reporter splits her time between Lebanon and the United States.  She brings a unique perspective for our understanding.

From my perspective it seems that intolerance is a human failing that we all struggle with.  We enlightened ones feel we are above prejudice, but that is not nearly true.  Most of us are almost arrogant that our way of life (or at least what we aspire to) is the best and all others are lacking.  Us seniors tend to think our youth are missing something.  Some of us on the other hand think our saviors are among the young.  It is not a lot different in the rest of the world.  

English Puritans had power.  The people had been concerned about corrupted power and at first welcomed the new rulers.  Playing cards, women acting on stage, music and dance were not allowed.  Fun was considered unpius and even sinful.  But it wasn't too long before resentment of restrictions led to a new monarchy. 

Looking at the Mid-East men feel superior as our women have much more freedom.  Men in power have in one sense been protective, but also possessive.  Rape laws were to protect the purity of daughters and wives.  Over the past little over a century many laws were also made to keep women from getting uppity.  Our past is only marginally better than other parts of the world, but it is easy to forget how the status quo has always been sexist.

Events that go back centuries have set the table for modern dynamics, but the author feels that the year 1979 heralded significant changes.  It was the year of the Iranian Revolution, a major attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.  

Large numbers of Iranians were dissatisfied with with what they saw as a dictatorship of the Shah who had used technology and training from the United States and Israel to control citizens.  Khomeini was more than a religious authority, in fact quite a manipulator who used religion to gain power to control a country. and stretch beyond.

The attack on the Grand Mosque was very upsetting to Saudi Arabian authorities as it housed the holiest location for the Muslim faith.  It was soon taken back from the intruders, but the fear had set in.  Iran felt they should have more control over the holy site.  

The Russians were stepping in after a Communist leader lost power.  The Afghans resented another foreign power.  Muslims everywhere took to join the resistance, including Osama bin Laden.  The United States under President Ronald Reagan wanted to support resistance efforts without declaring war.

Prior to 1979 Iran and Saudi Arabia had been friendly, if not actual allies.  

From this point the author explores connections between several Arab and Muslim countries, notably Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon and Palestine,  There are many murders, shootings and chemical attacks along the way.  Religious extremists gain power and start to impose restrictions such as no music and no theater, but most obviously directed at women.  The United States and other western nations made choices that often made things worse.

Women had ups and downs.  They sometimes had the choice to wear or not to wear a head covering and sometimes lost that right.  Some could vote, some could run for office, but many could not.  Driving was fairly normal, except in Saudi Arabia.   A bright moment was in 2018 when women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to drive.  In that case some of the women who had been agitating for that right were imprisoned, so that the government could take full credit.  Education has been shut down and raised up for women.

My personal view is that it will be women who break down the barriers and increase the democracy in the region which in turn will reduce the violence.  More men are supporting empowering women more.

One "progressive" Arab leader has been Mohammad bin Salman who has done much to "westernize" the culture including for women.  However it seems almost certain that he made the decision to kill Jamal Khashoggi who once had been a friend, but became a most vocal critic. 

A good source of news  for the Arab world is Al Jazeera, that also has an extensive global reporting network. It is easy to assume our usual sources understand the situation, but really we labor under false assumptions.

Kim puts historical research in its place by quoting Soren Kierkegaard, "It is perfectly true...that life must understood backwards  But they forget the other proposition that it must be lived forward".

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