Why Does the Middle East Matter?


In his book A Peace to End All Peace, David Fromkin emphasizes that,“the fall of the Ottoman Empire was one of the history’s major upheavals. It was a political earthquake. As he third millennium and the first century dawned, we need to look into the lesson learned. The redrawing of the borderlines of the Middle East changed the map forever.” Why is the West interested in keeping the region in the conflict? Why haven’t the lessons that Fromkin discussed been learned? Why haven’t Blair’s perceptions changed from the past 50 years?

  1. Fromkin, David, A Peace to End All Peace

Chapter 58: “Churchill and the Question of Palestine,” pp. 515-529

Chapter 61: “The Settlement of the Middle Eastern Question,” pp. 558-567.

  1. Tabler, Andrew, The Lines that Bind: 100 Years of Sykes-Picot

“Introduction,” by Andrew Tabler, pp. 1-2.

“Repairing Sykes-Picot,” by Martin Kramer, pp. 79-84.

3.Blair, Tony. “Why the Middle East Matters,” April 2014.


The above texts summoned the idea of the bias fragmented lens that the West views the world through, yet again as told by Blair. In defining the Middle East as Oriental and attempting to explain the clash of civilizations, the West has historically analyzed issues of violence and development as separate individual cases while withholding from connecting the common elements [religion being one of them]. In Blair’s speech, he acknowledges that local factors unique to each region play a role but that religious identity is a unifying factor that shapes one’s view of the world & the role of policies and religion in the East. [A very controversial statement, but he speaks of faith & arrives at plausible actions to help cultivate the East-West dialogue]

After reading Blair, the questions that arose for me were: Can we treat the discussion around political ideology surrounding religion and terrorist acts of extremists as we do Democrats who believe in Keynesian economics and Republicans who believe in Supply Side economics? As a political scientist, we often shape things first in efforts to understand them to get our bearings, but is that reshaping process limiting? Do distinctions in motives play a positive or negative role in how we define the world view of those in the Middle East and how they view religion and politics

Blair also mentions that although those who follow a strict Islamist political agenda don’t approve of political violence, their ideology inevitably creates the soil in which extremism can take root. [Some people have the gift of finding the good in bad situations and others turn light into darkness. Does this make the initial soil unclean? Can sinful, tainted human minds and souls redefine the beauty and purpose of faith? Should we limit interpretations of religious faith and separate it from politics?]

In addition, Blair speaks on why Islamist ideology is dangerous because it conflicts with how modern economies work- through creativity and connections. For example, the determining factor for the President’s approval rating is often the economy. If his|her economic polices fail, they can change them and institute a new economic system to jumpstart the economy. A prime is example would be when Democratic President Obama, bailed out the banks on Wall Street- a very conservative tactic he used to get America out of the recession. Blair says Islamist ideology is not a competing view of how society works where other views are equally valid, rather it is exclusivist [the end all be all| stagnant | unchangeable]. Blair states that the distorting feature within the Middle East which inhibits intervention & political revolution is the struggle between those who want the region to embrace the world [politically | socially | economically] & those who want to create politics of religious difference and exclusivity.

In reference to the issues with the “western lens” Blair says we have to change our approach to the region to one that is coherent and sees it as a whole – commit & engage. [I sure do hope he doesn’t think that categorizing the East as Oriental is the way to go (as we read about in Said’s text last week)] Choosing a side to work with to bring about peace means making a distinction between the roots of Islam and those who want help in mobilizing and forming coalitions. In order to reach this point, we need people who are committed, engaged, consistent and relentless, who are willing to do the leg work without shortcuts & learn all there is to know about the ins and outs of Islam & it’s many interpretations to discover a peaceful way to deliver interventions.

In “The Lines That Bind” Tabler says that the issues in the Middle East are due to weak governance and leadership which thrives because of the concentrated power held by a small elite. He makes mention of federalism and how it could be used to remedy the issues in the Middle East. This is interesting because when the Founding Father’s wrote the constitution they were unable to come to an agreement around how much power should be reserved to the states. It is an ongoing debate today, so if it isn’t playing out well in a developed western country with religious and economic freedom, what are the chances that it will fear well in the Middle East? [Just Asking, Lol] One takeaway question from the Tabler, is how can we empower these regions that have leadership issues to address, without imposing what we may think to be a silver bullet policy that ends up doing more harm than good? Empowerment doesn’t necessarily mean physical intervention. Empowerment is also not forced. It’s kind of like the “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” phrase – empowerment is about leading by example and showing people how to fish instead of catching the fish and just giving it to them. Does America know how to play this position?

Most importantly, before intervention one MUST know the historical accounts that have shaped the regions that we seek to assist. The Middle East has endured British & Russian Invasions who’s influences shaped their politics and the way that they view western nations. In “A Peace To End All Peace”, Fromkin chronicles the relationship between western and eastern countries from the First World War. British officials tried to hide their meddling in middle eastern religious affairs by pretending they entered as patrons of Arab Independence – which was false. I would like to see the literature that speaks to how the East can redefine how they view western civilizations and intervention tactics to point us in a direction of mutual understanding! What works and what does not? Everyone involved deserves a seat at the table. Westerners are not the sole experts on Western religion, politics and culture & there is a unique richness in the contributions from those who actually live and experience what we are studying. We can’t undo the damages that caused distrust, we must unlearn and then learn how to build ties in order to intervene effectively. We must water the soil.


Whitney F. Martinez |Political Science, M.A., C.G.S.
Ph.D. StudentDepartment of Politics & Government|School of Social Science, Policy & Evaluation
M.B.A. Candidate/Research Assistant, Drucker School of Management
 Founding President, Phenomenal Voices
Marketing|Communications Director ’17-’18, Drucker School Student Association 
National Society of Leadership and Success   
 Claremont Graduate University 
Adjunct Faculty, Department of Political Science
School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Chaffey College
5885 Haven Ave, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91737

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