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.


Blog Week 4

The Red Template reading which described the U.S. policies in Afghanistan, which was then occupied by the Soviets. The Soviets interest in Afghanistan would be a concern for the Untied States as it was noted, once the state had been seized by the Soviets, it could not return to capitalism. Probably equally as pressing as the spread of socialist influence was the oil that the U.S. would lose if the Soviets gained control. The U.S. was quick to back the Islamic extremest group that was fighting to overthrow the regime, although, this was just to protect foreign affairs with little consideration of the implications this would have on the victorious Islamic militants.

“The framework of US foreign policy-to dominate the world’s resources-had worked quite well for the conservative ideological policy makers in the context of the Cold War. These right-wing veterans were not accustomed to interpreting and formulating policy outside of the cold war context.”

This was definitely apparent as the U.S. supported military operations of the group that would eventually become Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. In the quote above it recognizes this disregard for the implications as the outcome of what we had seen as successful Cold War policies. However, it does not really seem that anything was learned from the U.S. displays a similar tactic again when it agrees to funnel aid to Packistan through ISI:

” The ISI allocated most of the weapons and resources to the most extreme funda- mentalist groups among the mujihadin.”

Again, the United States was concerned with the oil and failed to consider the implications of these decisions, and thought of things through their own perspective failing to recognize the Afghan resistance was so ruthless and ” There were no Thomas Jeffersons on a white horse among the Afghan resistance leaders ” It is interesting at the end when di points out that much of the conflict present today could have been avoided if America had been more concerned with establishing peace in Afghanistan after the soviets withdrew.

Week 4 Blog

The Story of “Almost-s”

This American Orientalism chapter reads like a Ben and Jerry episode. Always so close, but the deal always falls apart. It’s also interesting to me that up until this point in class, the U.S. has generally been a positive but ineffective force in much of Middle East issues. It’s a shame that by the time they do start making bigger impacts, they’re generally bad.

From the earlier period with the Clap commission and UN Resolution 302, the U.S. is promising a great deal of money and resources to establish better infrastructures for a Palestinian settlement. It fails.

Eisenhower tries a more “even handed approach”. “Trouble makers” influence a rejection of the Johnson Plan among Arabs. The Alpha initiative seems promising but after an Israeli attack on Egypt, Nasser puts endorsement on hold while he looks for foreign arms support.

Soviets step in and promise aid through a proxy, and with newfound leverage, Nasser’s demands become unrealistic. This time Israel seems interested –of course.

After several failures of U.S. led missions, the Suez crisis takes priority. At the same time, congress is growing tired of allocating tax payer dollars to a problem whose possibility for a solution they have come to seriously question.

JKF comes into office. There seems to be promise here as he has more of a Palestinian empathy than his processors. JFK launches a quiet mission to the Middle East. Gurion calls repatriation efforts “the best weapon at hand” for destroying Israel from within, but the U.S. again, promises to foot the bill across the board for a solution.

Feldman at the Pentagon believes that trying to latch arms deals with the Israeli’s to a peace agreement will provide the U.S. with the leverage to force a deal. The last mission supposedly comes closer than its ever been to agreement, but still fails. The members of the commission could never even agree why. They do however, comment that a failure to solve the refugee problem ultimately became the “Palestinian problem”.

LBJ comes into office. Within the first 6 months, we see the Fatah and PLO come into being. Although the state department initially doesn’t see a serious threat, they’re trained by Egypt and begin serious attacks. Nasser makes a political speech promising 4 million troops to defeat Israel and alongside the rise of the PLO and Fatah, the rhetoric for the total annihilation of Israel gains momentum.

The Soviets take advantage of this rise, along with the recent coup in Syria, and declare a backing for a “progressive revolution” among Arabs. At this point it’s still clear that the U.S. is providing the best plans for solutions.

At this point we start to see a pattern. Israel, the Palestinian leaders, other Arab leaders, and the Soviets have all continued to act against the best interest of the two parties, whether from stupidity, over-importance of idealism over practical action, ulterior political motives, over use of military force and encroachment, or radicalism.

I can understand the deep frustrations of both sides. But I’m equally frustrated with each of them as I read more and more about the historical events that have played out. The Palestinian leaders have not acted in the best interest of their people, time and time again. The Israelis have also let their continued land grabs and view of the Palestinian people as a whole, be wholly formed by the extremists. Rostow and Rusk predicated to LBJ that the Israeli explanation after the 6 Day War would create grave problems for the rest of the 20th century and make it much more difficult for Arabs to trusts the U.S.’s promise of “territorial integrity” to everyone involved. The Israeli’s could have definitely benefited from some more empathy to a displaced people, much like they themselves experienced in the very early days.

I don’t believe this is some thousand-year problem that inherently has no possible solution. This is a problem of poor leadership and the inability to make tough decisions in the present for a better future. For all the really bad examples of foreign powers interfering in the Middle East, particularly through military force, perhaps this would have been a better case in which a heavy hand from the U.S. ultimately would have made sense. I think the various resolutions examined here as well as other less formal U.S.-led plans, would have put everyone involved in a much better position today. And this is coming from someone who is pretty anti-aggression….




Blog Week 4

In this week readings, I was very interested in Andrew Hartman’s The Red Template, and the lack of foresight on the part of the United States. During the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it was the Islamic fundamentalist mujahedeen that the US used as proxies to fight the USSR. Why would they do this, when they knew from experience that these groups weren’t specifically anti-Soviet, but anti-western. It was these same types of groups that overthrew the shah in Iran, so why not try to limit their involvement? And why was not help given to them after the fighting? All of these decisions, in my opinion, were negligent and shortsighted. The way Afghanistan was used then discarded by the US has had massive repercussion in the region, from indirectly creating the Taliban all the way the Islamic State. A quote from this reading sums it up nicely:

“It was a morale boost that Muslims of the world had not experienced in quite some time. Afghanistan became a launching pad for jihad worldwide, and the USA, with its overreaching geopolitical goals, became the target.”

Afghanistan cannot the only county that has had this fate. How many other parts of the Middle East have been affected because of the cold war? Iran is definitely one of them, along with Egypt.

But enough with the negativity, what can we learn from these mistakes? Especially when we see the conflicts in Syria, I think that the only way that we avoid the disaster in Afghanistan is twofold. I feel like we need to make sure that any aid we send is out in the public eye, so that everyone knows that it was the US that helped bring peace to Syria. This is the opposite of the policies in Afghanistan, where any of the aid we sent was funneled secretly through Pakistan, as to limit the US’s presence. Secondly, there needs to be a real focus on nation building when the fighting does stop. Leaving a country in ruins just like we did Afghanistan will just lead to a country fractured and divided amongst all the different players in the region.

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.” http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/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.