The Post-American Future of the Middle East

April 21 2022

“It seems fantastical,” Kenneth Pollack argues, “but observers may soon look back on the late 20th century as a period of relative stability in the Middle East.” Despite the ongoing conflicts, there were few regime or border changes during those years and “no states were conquered and eliminated outright.” The 21st century may prove very different. (Free registration required.)

As new military and civilian technologies emerge, and as the United States contemplates a smaller role in the region’s internal affairs, Middle Eastern states are finding it increasingly difficult to know who holds the strategic upper hand.

For nearly five centuries, an external great power has always functioned as the region’s hegemon and ultimate security guarantor. The Ottoman Turks conquered much of the Middle East in the mid-16th century and ruled over it for nearly 400 years. When the Ottomans fell in World War I, the British took over and played the same role for roughly the next 50 years, until they abandoned their imperial commitments east of Suez in 1968. Reluctantly but eventually, the United States took over and shouldered the burden for the next half century.

The American exit from the Middle East has created a security vacuum. The most violent, aggressive, disruptive forces are all rushing to fill the void—led by Iran and its allies. . . . Iran’s burgeoning sway and the United States’ unseemly retreat have panicked U.S. allies in the region, leading some to band together in previously unimaginable ways. Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates, for instance, have joined Egypt and Jordan in burying the hatchet with Israel by signing the Abraham Accords. Saudi Arabia seems likely to follow, albeit perhaps not until King Salman passes.

These countries’ former hatred of the Jewish state has given way to a pragmatic appreciation for the country’s military might and willingness to use it against Iran. Many have celebrated this newfound amity as the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Even setting aside the unresolved misery of the Palestinians, however, such a perspective overlooks the fact that this is a war coalition in the making, and its ultimate purpose is belligerent, not pacific. Meanwhile, Qatar, Turkey, and half of Libya have banded together out of mutual sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood—a bizarre platypus of a military alliance with little to bind them strategically.

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Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter