Bloggin’ – Week 3

This week’s readings addressed the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the corresponding power struggle between European actors in order to secure their interests in the region. I thought investigating the motives of these European nations, namely France and the British Empire was particularly interesting. The British Empire’s primary motivation came out of protecting the “crown jewel” of India, as noted early on by Kamrava in “From Territories to Independent States.” This in turn was the reason that the British sought to secure the Suez canal, as the quickest maritime route to India from continental Europe, and also their land presence in Iran. I wanted to understand more regarding precisely why the British were so obsessed with maintaining their colonization of India, so I found a very nice lecture from Gresham College in England, called “India: The Jewel in the Crown,” linked to below. What I understood as being the historical significance of India as a colony had to do entirely with trade. India allowed the British to participate in trade with China, as well as providing resources such as spices, textiles, porcelain, etc. And additionally the British could also capitalize on India’s superior man-power for military purposes. Also, considering the fact that the British had last their New World colony to the American Revolution, they probably needed to reaffirm to themselves that they were a successful empire by at least retaining India. This is all sort of silly, since I remember learning once that the Queen of England had never even set foot in India in the whole history of its colonization by the British. Oh, imperialism. France was just as guilty of this, however, and they attempt a similar self-affirmation in their claim to Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia.

So, it was not too surprising to find that the British Empire and France secretly drew up the Sykes-Picot agreement, without the consultation or consent of the Ottoman Empire, as to how they would split the remains of the collapsing empire. It was interesting to then read about the “local” nation builders who either rejected the influence of the Europeans, or strategically accepted their offerings of help.

*Terrible segue* The Balfour declaration also had an interesting history, and historical ramifications. As an American-Israeli Jew, I have a hard time looking at the issues regarding the creation/existence of the state of Israel objectively. That is pretty hard to do when your family and friends live in and are dependent on the security of the state! However, it is important to maintain objectivity in one’s historical perspective. Theodore Herzl is a celebrated historical figure for many Jews (those who believe that Israel should at all exist). I remember learning in school about how the initial proposition made was to establish a Jewish State in what is now Uganda or Argentina – a place where the Jewish people had little-to-no history or claim to. That is what makes the current, tiny plot of land that is Israel so contested. I know that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only one of a 40-50 year lifespan – but that’s looking through the nation-builder lens of things. What *is* a conflict of thousands of years is the fact that many different people have historically laid claim to that tiny piece of land, and the really tricky question is, what or who determines rightful, sovereign ownership of contested territory? I certainly disagree with the right-wing rhetoric that is prevalent in Israel today, which is influences by the media’s agenda, as it is everywhere…but I do want to believe that there is a way to please every party and respect everyone’s humanity. That was an explicit requirement of the Balfour declaration, after all.

It is fascinating how the nations carved up in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire all saw different long-term outcomes, and although it is pointless to wonder, I’d be curious to see what would have become of the region if not for the British, French, Italian and Russian interference.

“India: The Jewel in the Crown.”

Week 3 Blog

Prior to this class, I had a limited understanding of how heavily involved Britain was across such a broad expanse of the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot Agreement becomes yet another exchange that allowed British administration into Middle Eastern psyche.  As a class, we have already encountered The D’Arcy Concession as well as The Tobacco Concession of 1891, both of which caused widespread distrust within the country of their leaders, the Shah of Persia and Naser Al-Din Shah.

Carving up a country with no regard to the populations within these lines causes major conflict between these people, as we have seen manifested in our millennial world, a century after the conception of this Agreement.  It seems irrational to have an English diplomat – who understands little to nothing about Middle Eastern geography and cultures- divide up such a diverse region. However, can the violence over territory disputes (i.e Israel-Palestine) be attributed back to The Sykes-Picot Agreement?  I think that Bernard Lewis would be of the thought that Middle Eastern people can do much better in making peaceable border agreements and leave the bloodshed out of it.  A particular quote from What Went Wrong linked Lewis to this idea inexorably.

Lewis states, “If the peoples of the Middle East continue on their present path, the suicide bomber may become a metaphor for the whole region, and there will be no escape from a downward spiral of hate and spite, rage and self-pity, poverty and oppression, culminating sooner or later in yet another alien domination—perhaps from a new Europe reverting to old ways, perhaps from a resurgent Russia, perhaps from some expanding superpower in the East. But if they can abandon grievance and victimhood, settle their differences, and join their talents, energies, and resources in a common creative endeavor, they can once again make the Middle East, in modern times as it was in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, a major center of civilization. For the time being, the choice is theirs.”

By tacitly accepting the motive behind their aggression, we are discounting their ability to use intellectual force to mend tumultuous relationships.

Kamrava’s, From Territories to Independent States makes a poignant argument in the opening paragraph by stating that history does not exist in a vacuum.  Britain had a clear need for their presence in the Middle East- to safeguard their coveted asset, India.  The British also need Egypt, for the Suez Canal, as a transit path for trade and military strategy.  They then use southern Anatolia and Istanbul to win the Allied support of Italy and Russia for the impending World War 1, which was revoked in October 1917. The Sykes-Picot treaty introduced English and French spheres of power that maintain present, particularly in the Syrian Civil War on behalf of the French.

Continuing on the Kamrava trajectory, The Age of Nationalism, proved to be a useful chapter to supplement our understand of class discussions.  His definition of nationalism is simply, “attachment on a national scale to a piece of territory, reinforced by the common bonds of identity such as shared symbols, historical experiences, language, folk-lore, and whatever else creates a sense of commonality.” How quickly can nationalism follow or re-form around a community divided by Englishmen, I wonder.  He mentions that often times these common bonds include religion, which may be true of the Middle East but less so in Westernized countries.  Perhaps this is only because of the dominant  presence of Islam in the Middle East versus a vast mixture of religions in the US due to immigration and other historic influences.  Like Kamrava said, History does not exist in a vacuum.

Start-Up Culture In Failing-States


I will aim to address the role of entrepreneurialism in the Middle East’s quest to stabilize and modernize. How does conflict and instability in Egypt help or hurt the creation of new businesses and how can these new ventures aid in the overall goals of their society? What types of constraints do these new ventures face and how do they help or hurt their success?

I will research the types of start-ups being created and their success rates – whether economically or in other terms. I will examine what type of government infrastructures currently exist and the effects of conflict and instability on said infrastructures. I will examine a historical background in early Western entreprenuerialism and how it led to the current conditions in the Middle East. How do US sanctions and difficulties entering global market places affect their ability to succeed? Does that matter? I plan to use a mix of sources including case studies on particular enterprises. I also plan to interview entrepreneurs from these regions.

Working Thesis: Modern start-up culture will and does play a crucial role in the redevelopment of failed-states (failing largely from imperialist proto-entrepreneurialism) and the disruption of the problems facing instability and stagnation in conflict regions.

In the face of near total disintegration of societal infrastructures, it is incredibly interesting to examine how progressive thinkers in leading start-ups can overcome the difficulties facing them to create a better world for those around them.

Research paper Abstract

The purpose of this research paper is to find a connection between the policies of the French mandate in Syria and the current Syrian Civil War. The goal is to show that the favoritism of the French to certain groups such as the alawites and the heavy handedness of the French rule of the region is a factor in why Syria has erupted into chaos. This will be shown by analyzing the French rule of Syria, both from a modern perspective and a historical one, using sources from the period of the French mandate to get a better insight into the politics of the French rule. Alongside this, sources from all sides of the current conflict will be used to examine the reasons for why the rule in Syria broke down. Using the historical and modern information, a link between the rule of the French and its aftermath and the root causes of the Syrian Civil War will be made. This research will show that addressing these causes can be a good step in a permanent solution to the conflict.

Research Paper Abstract

Following the terror attack in 2001, Al Qaeda was the primary focus of national security in America, although overtime, ISIS continuously grabs national headlines. While focus has shifted to ISIS, Al Qaeda has begun to re surge among the distractions, especially overseas. Both groups have somewhat similar ideologies and goals making it difficult to conclude which group poses a more significant threat internationally, and in the United States. In order to analyze the risk of each group, comparisons will be drawn between the development of each group, the nature of terror attacks from each group, profiles of the recruits, and the leadership. It will also be important to explore the range and mechanism of networking each group has throughout the world, their access to funding and weapons, and the sustainability of the two groups. Considering the combination of these several factors, American security should ultimately re-focus on Al Qaeda, because its ability to network through relationships rather than force and its sustainability create a more dangerous threat than ISIS. Analyzing the nature of the threat that both ISIS and Al Qaeda pose is significant to national security, as there is only limited funding and manpower and focusing on the wrong threats may allow America to fall into potentially avoidable traps.

Istanbul (not Constantinople): Can we achieve harmonious minority-representing government in the Middle East?

  1. If the Millet system existed today, could the Middle East have peace between the majority and minority groups?
  2. I will answer this question using case studies — looking at the lives of Kurds, Armenians, and Jews in the times of the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia as well as modern day Turkey. I have already found many scholarly articles looking into the Millet system and minority groups.
  3. Working Thesis: Allowing for semi-autonomy, as was seen in the Millet system, is the only foreseeable way for religious and ethnic minorities to receive representation and security within a larger governing system.
  4. We see the Middle East as a volatile region with constant ethnic/religious clashes — but this was not always the case. Times of peace are not unprecedented, and the story of the evolution of the lives/treatment of these minority groups is paramount to understanding this.

In the times of the Ottoman Empire, the Millet system allowed for semi-autonomous existences for ethnic minorities within the empire. Although the system was grandfathered in from the former Constantinople, and not without its share of flaws, it allowed for relatively fair and balanced representations and treatment of both ethnic and religious minorities. This has historically been upheld as a great success in promoting both inter- and intra-ethnic cooperation and peace. The purpose of this work is to compare the lives and political representation of several minority groups in modern day Turkey to that of the Ottoman Millet system. The primary goal of this comparison is to understand what the current treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, namely the Kurds, Armenians, and Jews, is in the region. By understanding the evolution of the Millet system to the modern day, this paper hopes to understand what key elements compose a harmonious government system.

Media Motives toward the Middle East

The central question I aim to answer is how Western mainstream media portrays the Middle East through journalistic devices. I will answer this question through the use of specific examples in the media over time, specifically in the 15 years before and after 9/11. A myriad of books and articles on the subject exist in the Pitt library system as well as the Carnegie system. Specifically, Pens and Swords by Marda Dunsky (2008) will be an essential tool in my research. I would also like to examine how different media outlets (CNN, BBC, FOX, etc.) have manipulated the news to suit their individual interests. Something I am curious to integrate would be Middle Eastern media in relation to the United States, but I will figure out if I have the available space in my Research Paper as I progress with the subject.

Working Thesis: The way American mainstream media portrays the Middle East has changed in the past 30 years, specifically relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict, post 9/11 sentiment in America, and the Syrian refugee crisis, depending largely on the media outlet presenting the news.

Why should we care? This is simple. We encounter the media every single day, advertently or inadvertently. I have always wondered about the other end of the spectrum, Middle Eastern media, and what is being said of the US. There are politics surrounding mass media that we’re unaware of and I think the investigation of it would be both fruitful and interesting.

Week 2 blog posts

Good work on these posts, everyone. I am looking forward to discussing whether secularism is a precondition for modernity and how this debate intersects with those on orientalism.

As you all prepare your abstracts (due Tuesday by class time on this blog), I wanted to remind you of my office hours from 11-12:30 on Tuesday in 3901 Posvar. I am available to sit down with any of you individually to discuss what you’ve written.