They say that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it; those who do, doomed to watch others repeat it while they stand helplessly by. History explains so much and does provide hints as to possible solutions.

Many people look at the Middle East with a sense of utter futility. How did it become so mad; why are people so violent? What is at the root of it all? The common answer is oil. But the problems of the Middle East began long before the discovery of oil, certainly long before oil became vital to the world economy.

To some extent the roots go back to Roman times or before. While being on the main overland route between east and west created great wealth, it also created great trouble. Wars were fought to control that wealth and empires rose and fell in the process. Divide and conquer made it easier, though once the area became united under a single ideology/religion, Islam, the dynamic changed.

For a while the states created by the original Islamic expansion held sway and presented a united front to Europe. But divisions, natural due to linguistic and ethnic differences and exacerbated by growing schisms within the religion inevitably weakened their power. The last of the great Middle Eastern states, the Ottoman Empire slowly decayed and was finally destroyed utterly in World War I. Yet, powerful groups remained, along with frustrations over lost influence and wealth.

Enter Europe or more specifically England and France. All the borders in the current Middle East were drawn at a conference in 1921, a follow up to the Treaty of Versailles, where those two powers, with the United States – locked into one of its isolationist periods – standing by, quietly trying to advance its own interests without being willing to take an active role. Things might actually have been better if they had.

The boundaries between nations were arbitrary and took no notice of natural alliances or rivalries; it certainly did not bother to consult the local leaders let alone the people themselves. A Hashemite king was placed on the throne of Syria (he actually wanted to be the king of Palestine and had formed alliances with the Zionist movement to try to make it so). England took control (indirectly) of some states while France took the others.

And so it began. Even a proto-Israel was created in 1921, a sort of Jewish enclave around Jerusalem under British control. When you hear of IS trying to create a new Caliphate, the language they use derives directly from the decisions of 1921. And their tactics come from an even earlier much darker time.

But that’s ten minutes.


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