There's a crisis in the Middle East. Ben Ali and Mubarak has fallen and Khadaffi is in a tight corner. There are demonstrations and upheavals, hundreds dead in Libya alone, everything short of war. So where is all this heading? Is it going south? I have a lot to say on the subject and I say it in the following article, a traditionally based analysis of the current Near Eastern turmoil.
John F. Kennedy had a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called Maxwell Taylor. When asked how, say, a cirisis in the Middle East should be solved the typical Maxwell Taylor-answer would be: ”What would Cyrus have done?”
And in today’s middle eastern crisis with revolt in Egypt and Tunisia, upheavals in Libya and Bahrein and demonstrations in Iran and other countries, I too pose the question: What would Curys have done? What does the current crisis mean for the whole region, what does these ”local disturbancies” mean for the whole geopolitical niche we call the Middle East, the Near East, the region that through the ages have been the place for such empires as the Assyrian, the Persian under Curus, Alexander’s realm and the Sassanid as well as the Caliphate and the Ottoman empire...?
What would Cyrus have done? What did Cyrus do we might ask ourselves at first. In the Bible we hear how he marched on Babylon, conquered it and liberated the Jews, rendering him many eulogies. And he probably deserved it too because other sources (like Herodotus) depicts him as a magnanimous ruler. No other Persian ruler compared himself to Curys, he was in a class of his own, rightfully called the Great. – Cyrus marched on Babylon, took it and integrated it in his empire. In time he conquered the whole of the Middle East with Lesser Asia, Egypt, Media, Mesopotamia, Syria and Bactria, the heartland and base of operations being Persia proper. That’s what Cyrus did, he created an empire. There’s nothing historically odd with that. At the same time we had an empire in China and a similar one in India, the realm of Ashoka. And in the west we soon had the Roman empire.
This is the perspective we need to have on the Middle East: a realist view, a perspective steeped in Realpolitik. Beyond the current cries for democracy and liberal reforms we have to see the imperial traditions, see the continuity from the Persian empire over Alexander’s empire and the following realms, to Caliphate and Ottoman empire. There’s no point in myopically asking oneself: ”What is to happen with Egypt, what is to happen with Tunisia, Israel, Libya...?” Instead you have to ask yourself: will a new empire be created in the region? And my answer to that is: probably, yes. Why? Because there have been empires there before.
We have today no problems with a united China, a united India, modern empires as they are, very much like the European Union and the USA. Then why this anguish over the Middle East? Maybe it’s the role of Israel that haunts the analysis. If I were an Israeli I would probably fear imperial tendencies in the region. And to hope for a new Cyrus, an honourable emperor as he is lauded in the Bible, a liberator of the Jews out of their Babylonian captivity, q v above, might be expecting too much. But it isn’t totally inconceivable. The Muslim rhetoric of ”exterminating Israel” I see as an expression of modern nihilism, but beyond the religious divisions there actually is a sense of brotherhood in the region. We Europeans and Americans doesn’t understand that. We focus blindly on holocaust-rhethoric, fearing that a new Third Reich will arise only because of anti-Israel seniment among the muslims. As a contrast I’d like to evoke a certain symbolic event, like the Israeli and the Egyptian general who went arm in arm after signing a cease fire-treaty after the Yom Kippur war. This is near eastern brotherly sentiment, something that bodes good for the (far) future. See here also Mark Knopfler’s 1985 song ”Brothers in Arms”, the gist of which is about ethnic and cultural similarities beyond the religious and political trenchlines. So there is brotherly sentiment around in the Near East, but before an eventual rosy future we must count on fire and brimstone.
The Middle East is in revolt, it topples secular, US-supported regimes and seems, in the long run, to head for muslim populism à la Iran. I don’t personally wish this, I just speculate on the most probable outcome of today’s turmoil. Liberal dreams of 1789-1848-1989 are in this context just ridiculous, as ridiculous as it was to liken Iraq 2.0 with the liberation of France 1944. The Middle East isn’t Europe, it has to be understood on its own terms, on culturally intrinsical grounds. And the basis of modern middle eastern affairs is that the revolution in Iran 1979 redrew the map. Radical islamism is a force to be reckoned with whether we like it or not.
The Middle East is about to recast itself, islamize itself. What that means for Europe and the west is not the subject of this article, although I guess that whatever islamic demonstrations we get here, inspired by the middle eastern upheavals, will simply not have the same elemental force that they have there, the native ground of islam. So what about the future of this Middle East? I surmise that the region will be the master of its own fate henceforth. The US will have no role to play there. It has reached the limits of its powers by bleeding its nose in Iraq and Afghanistan. These lands seem to be rather calm and pacified these days – but tomorrow? The US will go the same way as Alexander and the Romans did: none of them could leave their stamp on the region. The former was assmiliated into a oriental despot, the latter ruled over Mesoptotamia 117-119 AD and then simply retraced their steps and went back home again.
The Middle East is an elusive entity in the geopolitical analysis of the west, as well in ancient times as today. In ancient days the region was rather weak. Now it’s shaken the dust of its feet and rises. You have to admit that even though it would be more comfortable with a ”westernisation” of the Middle East with all-out liberalism, capitalism and nihilism. The US will be forced to retreat, we’re heading for a new Caliphate and the spirit of Cyrus will rest all over it.
Cyrus or maybe ”the twelfth Imam”. Nostradamus for his part predicted that a lawgiver will arrive on a white horse: ”He will elevate the humble, will vex the rebellious, / no rival will be born on earth.” This might render some ridicule from liberal optimists and myopic scholars. Well laugh your heart out then, just don’t come to me and cry when this lawgiver appears on his white horse. The twelfth Imam, the Kalki of the Hindus, the return of Christ: you know what I’m talking about.
The opposition movements will unify the Middle East into an empire. So we’d better stop dreaming about peaceful transformation of the region in to an Ersatz Europe. The coming years won’t be boring, I can assure you that. We are, as Ernst Jünger once said, heading into Terra Incognita where only he survives who have access to hidden, spiritual reserves. Quelle aventure!
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