Week 5 Blog

In a recent reading for another summer class of mine, Osama bin Laden was analyzed as a ‘transformational leader’.  According to this reading from Robert A. Cropf, a transformational leader is a vividly charismatic person that can convince individuals to abandon their own self-interests for the sake of a greater purpose.  Osama bin Laden used religion as a tangible motive for the murderous acts he persuaded others to execute; religion was the veil used to cover the greater purpose of triumph over the United States.

In Robert S. Snyder’s, “Hating America: Bin Laden as a Civilizational Revolutionary” he discusses similar themes in Huntington’s, “Clash of Civilizations”; particularly in respect to the Arab civilization feeling left behind in comparison to the United States’ modernization and industry.  In the face of a more lucrative oil industry, the Arab world needs to transition away from an autocratic political system to a more democratic one to accommodate rapid social development.  This is yet another comparison to the Western world, which the Arab Islamic states vehemently resist.  Culture is the most important reason why Arab states reject democratization, because it reflects a liberal way of life that defies the patriarchy.

Snyder states, “Arab society is stuck between two poles: a traditional one and a modern world symbolized by America.  In representing an idealized version of tradition, Islamists present themselves as genuine revolutionaries attempting to pull Arab society toward their pole of authenticity and against the alternative pole cast as corruption (“apostates”) and imperials (“infidels”) (339).  This excerpt exemplifies the pressure Arab society faces from the looming shadow that is the modern influence of the United States.  Perhaps this is why extremism can become so outrageous; traditional people desperately clinging to their values in the face of external sources pushing them into a future they’re not ready for.  The West is such an extraordinary power at this point that it can use military, political, and economic resources to protect their interests and economic values.  Knowing this, bin Laden’s idea of jihad as a force against internationalization shows how this apocolyptic terrorism is the most effective stance they can take against such an expansive entity.

“McJihad: Islam in the U.S. Global Order” summarizes this thought quite well, in the inventive, catchy title alone.  “McWorld” is us, a culture dominated by capitalism, while Jihad is what Benjamin Barber defines as “the variety of tribal particularisms and narrowly conceived opposed to the homogenizing force of capital”(3).  I understand the resistance to this universal force, because the homogenization of capitalism wipes out cultural individualism and revered cultural values.  This reminds me of the small mom-and-pop businesses falling prey to the beast that is capitalism.  Their quirky store-fronts are replaced by yet another uniform McDonald’s.  While this provides more convenience to a certain extent, I have noticed a resurgence among our generation for the distinctive, small businesses that have gone away.  Militant Islamists, though their methods are often extreme and inexcusable, have a valid reason to fear the extinction of their religious values from the secular West.  Snyder’s ultimate call for greater liberalization in the Middle East, to extinguish political repression because it breeds political extremism while making political institutions transparent, is a realistic tactic to reform modern Islam.

Works Cited:

Mitchell, Timothy. “McJihad: Islam in the U.S. Global Order.” Duke University Press, Winter 2002. Web. 11 June 2016.

Huntington, Samuel P. Clash of Civilizations. No. 3 ed. 72 vols. N.p.: Council on Foreign Relations, 1993. Print.

Snyder, Robert S. “Hating American: Bin Laden as a Civilizational Revolutionary.” Cambridge University Press, Autumn 2003. Web. 11 June 2016.

 

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.

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.