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10-08-2015, 23:04


The Middle East is one of the most unstable regions in the world today. In part, this turbulence is due to the continued interference of outsiders attracted by the massive oil reserves under the parched wastes of the Arabian peninsula and in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf. Oil is both a blessing and a curse to the peoples of the region. Another factor contributing to the volatility of the Middle East is the tug-of-war between the sense of ethnic identity in the form of nationalism and the intense longing to be part of a broader Islamic community, a dream that dates back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The desire to create that community—a vision threatened by the presence of the alien state of Israel—inspired Gamal Abdul Nasser in the 1950s and Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1970s and 1980s and probably motivated many of the actions of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. A final reason for the turmoil in the Middle East is the intense debate over the role of religion in civil society. It has been customary in recent years for Western commen- tators to label Muslim efforts to return to a purer form of Islam as fanatical and extremist, reflecting a misguided attempt to reverse the course of history, and there is no doubt that many of the legal and social restrictions now being enforced in various Muslim countries in the Middle East appear excessively harsh to outside observers. But it is important to remember that Muslim societies are not alone in deploring the sense of moral decline that is perceived to be occurring in societies throughout the world. Nor are they alone in advocating a restoration of traditional religious values as a means of reversing the trend. Movements dedicated to such purposes are appearing in many other societies (including Israel and the United States) and can be viewed as an understandable reaction to the rapid and often bewildering changes that are taking place in the contemporary world. Not infrequently, members of such groups turn to violence as a means of making their point. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that a deep-seated sense of anger is surging through much of the Islamic world today, an anger that transcends specific issues like the situation in Iraq or the Arab-Israeli dispute. Although economic privation and political oppression are undoubtedly important factors, the roots of Muslim resentment, as historian Bernard Lewis has pointed out, lie in a historical sense of humiliation that first emerged centuries ago, when Arab hegemony in the Mediterranean region was replaced by European domination, and continues today. The world is reaping the harvest of that long-cultivated bitterness, and the consequences cannot be foreseen.