Letter: History is repeating itself in Mideast
To the editor of THE EAGLE:
It has been said that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, the 21st century has seen great historical blindness already. As Americans, we tend to see the rest of the world as simply not quite up to our current outlook and self-perception. This is myopic.
The rise of violence in Africa and the Mideast is result of changes that have been inflicted on the region by Europeans and Euro-Americans. One factor we regularly disregard is the effect of modernity and capitalism on traditional culture. When we look at the Mideast, we should see how this phenomenon has disrupted traditional social and economic systems. This is one key source of unrest and violence there. It should be no surprise that Western capitalism was targeted on 9/11.
A second factor is that the state boundaries in the Mideast and Africa are the product of colonial and imperial domination, rather than ethnic, social or economic commonalities. Like the Austro-Hungarian empire, these states, like Iraq, are held together by force of power, not the common bonds of a people. Preservation of these states is an imperial ambition.
Third, states like Afghanistan are essentially pre-modern tribal cultures, not unlike the early tribes of northern Europe. Attempting to treat them as modern states is dangerous and foolish.
Fourth, the use of religion to rally the sides in so many conflicts today is not unlike the lengthy "religious wars" of Europe following the Reformation. Those wars were about various princelings vying for territory and power and using religion as a battle cry. The same is true in the Mideast today. When we speak of the combatants as religious groups, we strengthen their propaganda and help to hide the real narrative at work, which includes the factors already mentioned.
Fifth, the collapse of imperial states in Europe and in the Mideast have been driven by the concept of the "nation state," itself a relatively recent invention. While the nation is usually defined in ethnic and cultural terms, it ultimately comes down to what one scholar has called the monopoly to kill and exploit your own people. Iran shows this well.
Sixth, the narrative of "former glory" has appeal in Russia today and it will soon afflict the Mideast. Combined with the above factors, it is a prescription for national socialism and genocide, like that of 20th century Germany.
Seventh, the nice narrative of innocent settlers being attacked by vicious Native Americans was never the whole or real narrative, which also included an intentional and consistent pattern of provocation, retaliation, deceptiveness and deprivations practiced by the U.S. to push Native Americans to either extinction or tiny worthless reservation prison camps. Israel’s leaders have acknowledged that this has been a main part of their strategy in dealing with the Palestinians. It does work to shift control and power, but is it what we should support?
From the perspective of history, it is time to reassess our foreign policy, our rhetoric and our future. Perhaps, this will even lead to an opportunity to tap the resources of peace, hospitality and divine compassion that stand at the heart of all three great monotheistic religions. In this, Pope Francis may be the voice of true leadership today.
RALPH W. HOWE
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